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Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on Transportation and 
Infrastructure, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 2:00 p.m. EDT:
Wednesday, June 11, 2008: 

Federal Aviation Administration: 

Efforts to Hire, Staff, and Train Air Traffic Controllers Are Generally 
on Track, but Challenges Remain: 

Statement of Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D. 
Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues: 

GAO-08-908T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-08-908T, a testimony to the Subcommittee on Aviation, 
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of 
Representatives. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

Each day, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controls the take-
offs, landings, and flights of over 50,000 aircraft. To accomplish this 
mission safely and efficiently, FAA must have a sufficient number of 
adequately trained air traffic controllers working at its air traffic 
control facilities. Over the next decade, FAA will need to hire and 
train nearly 17,000 controllers to replace over 15,000 current 
controllers, most of whom will be retiring. This massive hiring effort 
will occur as FAA begins to implement the next generation air 
transportation system (NextGen), which will integrate new technologies 
and procedures into air traffic operations and fundamentally change the 
role of air traffic controllers from controlling individual aircraft to 
managing air traffic flow. Hence, FAA will need to train experienced 
controllers to use the new technologies at the same time that it hires 
and trains new controllers to operate both the current and the new 
technologies. 

This testimony addresses FAA’s progress and challenges in hiring, 
staffing, and training air traffic controllers in the current air 
traffic control system and in preparing them for NextGen. It is based 
on prior GAO work, updated with reviews of FAA documents and interviews 
with FAA officials, controller union representatives, and other 
stakeholders. 

What GAO Found: 

To prepare for the projected departure of over 15,000 air traffic 
controllers between 2008 and 2017, FAA began significantly increasing 
the number of new hires in fiscal years 2006 and 2007, when it hired 
1,116 and 1,815 controllers, respectively. By contrast, in fiscal years 
2002 through 2005, it had hired an average of 467 controllers per year. 
Retirements are taking place sooner than FAA expected. As a result, FAA 
has had to adjust its hiring targets upward—from 1,420 in fiscal year 
2008 to 1,877, for example. While FAA has met its hiring targets so far 
and is on track to meet its target for fiscal year 2008, it has had to 
expand its applicant pool, in large part because fewer military 
controllers have sought civilian employment since the Department of 
Defense began to offer reenlistment bonuses of up to $60,000. 

As FAA brings new controllers on board, it faces the challenge of 
ensuring that its control facilities are adequately staffed to meet 
their unique traffic demands. In 2007, FAA established staffing ranges 
for each facility based on facility-specific information, such as air 
traffic operations, productivity trends, expected retirements, and 
number of controller trainees. However, FAA’s staffing is not aligned 
with the new ranges at about half of its facilities. While overstaffing 
will provide trained replacements as retirements occur, understaffing 
has potential safety and efficiency implications. As the proportion of 
new hires increases over time, FAA will face further challenges in 
balancing the numbers of trainees and fully certified controllers at 
each facility. Furthermore, with fewer fully certified controllers and 
greater on-the-job training demands, controllers may work more overtime 
hours. Overtime can lead to fatigue, and many controllers routinely 
work overtime, raising safety concerns. Both GAO and the National 
Transportation Safety Board have found that controllers’ work schedules 
can contribute to fatigue and have made recommendations to mitigate it. 
FAA is taking steps to address these recommendations. 

In the training area, FAA faces the dual challenge of certifying its 
new hires to operate today’s air traffic control system as quickly as 
possible and of preparing to train both experienced controllers and new 
hires to operate NextGen technologies. Through training improvements, 
scheduling efficiencies, and greater use of simulators, FAA has, it 
says, reduced the amount of time controllers remain in trainee status; 
however, attrition among controllers in developmental training is 
increasing. It will be important for FAA to monitor the attrition and 
ensure that performance problems are addressed as early as possible to 
avoid unnecessary costs. Preparations for NextGen training are still in 
the early stages—as FAA observes, it is difficult to develop training 
for systems that have not yet been defined. However, GAO’s work has 
shown that further research is needed to determine what training will 
be required to support the transition to NextGen—a transition that will 
involve changes in the roles and responsibilities of air traffic 
controllers as well as changes in technologies. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-08-908T]. For more 
information, contact Gerald L. Dillingham at (202) 512-2834 or 
dillinghamg@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on air traffic 
controller staffing. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is 
responsible for managing the national airspace system and ensuring the 
safe and efficient movement of air traffic. Each day, FAA controls the 
take-offs, landings, and flights of over 50,000 aircraft. To accomplish 
this mission, FAA must have a sufficient number of adequately trained 
air traffic controllers working at its air traffic control facilities. 
Over the next decade, FAA will need to hire and train nearly 17,000 
controllers to replace over 15,000 current controllers who are expected 
to retire from or leave the agency.[Footnote 1] As FAA brings these new 
employees on board, it will be important for the agency to manage the 
process carefully and expeditiously and to maintain the highest levels 
of safety in the national air space system. Furthermore, FAA will be 
dealing with this massive hiring need at the same time that it 
transforms the current air traffic control system into the next 
generation air transportation system (NextGen), which will integrate 
new technologies and procedures into air traffic operations and 
fundamentally change the role of air traffic controllers from 
controlling individual aircraft to largely managing air traffic flow. 
Hence, FAA will need to train existing controllers to use the new 
technologies at the same time that it hires and trains new controllers 
to operate both the existing and the new technologies. 

My testimony today focuses on FAA's progress and challenges in hiring, 
staffing, and training air traffic controllers in the current air 
traffic control system as well as preparing them for NextGen. This 
statement is based on prior GAO studies and work we conducted in May 
and June 2008, including reviews of FAA's annual controller workforce 
plans and other key documents; discussions with senior FAA officials 
and representatives of FAA's controllers union--the National Air 
Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)--and aviation industry groups; 
and updates of the results of prior GAO studies. We conducted all of 
our work in accordance with generally accepted government auditing 
standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit 
to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable 
basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 
We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for 
our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

FAA Is Making Progress in Hiring Air Traffic Controllers, but New Hires 
May Have Less Experience Than in Prior Years: 

During the coming decade, FAA will be challenged to continue hiring 
thousands of air traffic controllers to replace those who will retire 
and leave for other reasons. In March 2008, FAA projected that between 
2008 and 2017, it will lose a total of 15,483 controllers through 
retirement and other reasons, and our analysis of FAA data indicates 
that about 63 percent of the current controller workforce will become 
eligible for retirement by 2017. However, FAA's data indicate that more 
controllers are retiring sooner than FAA anticipated. As table 1 shows, 
the percentage of controllers retiring within 2 years of eligibility 
has increased from about 33 percent in 2005 to 42 percent in 2007. For 
fiscal year 2006, FAA estimated that 467 controllers would retire, but 
583 actually retired--about 25 percent more than planned. For fiscal 
year 2007, FAA anticipated 700 controller retirements, while 828 
controllers actually retired--an 18 percent increase over anticipated 
retirements. 

Table 1: Years beyond Earliest Retirement Eligibility in Which 
Retirement Occurred, 2005 through 2007: 

0-1: [Empty]. 

Number of years beyond earliest retirement eligibility: 0-1; 
Percentage of controllers retiring: 2005 retirements[A]: 23.4%; 
Percentage of controllers retiring: 2006 retirements[B]: 24%; 
Percentage of controllers retiring: 2007 retirements[C]: 28.9%. 

Number of years beyond earliest retirement eligibility: 1-2; 
Percentage of controllers retiring: 2005 retirements[A]: 9.3%; 
Percentage of controllers retiring: 2006 retirements[B]: 11%; 
Percentage of controllers retiring: 2007 retirements[C]: 12.7%. 

Number of years beyond earliest retirement eligibility: Total; 
Percentage of controllers retiring: 2005 retirements[A]: 32.7%; 
Percentage of controllers retiring: 2006 retirements[B]: 35%; 
Percentage of controllers retiring: 2007 retirements[C]: 41.6%. 

Source: GAO analysis of FAA data. 

[A] Based on 2005 data. 

[B] Average annual percentage based on 2005 and 2006 data. 

[C] Based on 2007 data. 

[End of table] 

To replace these controllers, FAA started making significant increases 
in controller hiring in fiscal years 2006 and 2007, when it hired 1,116 
and 1,815 controllers, respectively. (By comparison, during fiscal 
years 2002 through 2005, FAA hired an average of 467 controllers each 
year.) FAA plans to hire about 16,980 new controllers during fiscal 
years 2008 through 2017. FAA anticipates hiring 1,877 controllers in 
fiscal year 2008, which would bring the total number of air traffic 
controllers to 15,130. Figure 1 shows the estimated numbers of losses 
and planned hires for fiscal years 2008 through 2017. FAA projects the 
total number of controllers will gradually increase from 15,130 in 
fiscal year 2008 to 16,371 in fiscal year 2017.[Footnote 2] 

Figure 1: FAA's Projected Air Traffic Controller Losses and Hiring, 
Fiscal Years 2008-2017: 

[See PDF for image] 

This figure is a vertical bar graph depicting the following data: 

Fiscal year: 2008; 
Planned hires, number of controllers: 1,877; 
Estimated losses, number of controllers: 1,621. 

Fiscal year: 2009; 
Planned hires, number of controllers: 1,914; 
Estimated losses, number of controllers: 1,608. 

Fiscal year: 2010; 
Planned hires, number of controllers: 1,871; 
Estimated losses, number of controllers: 1,599. 

Fiscal year: 2011; 
Planned hires, number of controllers: 1,840; 
Estimated losses, number of controllers: 1,648. 

Fiscal year: 2012; 
Planned hires, number of controllers: 1,764; 
Estimated losses, number of controllers: 1,665. 

Fiscal year: 2013; 
Planned hires, number of controllers: 1,733; 
Estimated losses, number of controllers: 1,624. 

Fiscal year: 2014; 
Planned hires, number of controllers: 1,616; 
Estimated losses, number of controllers: 1,562. 

Fiscal year: 2015; 
Planned hires, number of controllers: 1,498; 
Estimated losses, number of controllers: 1,460. 

Fiscal year: 2016; 
Planned hires, number of controllers: 1,458; 
Estimated losses, number of controllers: 1,394. 

Fiscal year: 2017; 
Planned hires, number of controllers: 1,409; 
Estimated losses, number of controllers: 1,302. 

Source: FAA. 

[End of figure] 

FAA incorporates each year's retirement numbers into its plans for 
future years and has increased its hiring to compensate for the larger- 
than-expected numbers of retirements. For example, the 1,877 
controllers that FAA plans to hire in fiscal year 2008 represent a 28 
percent increase over the 1,420 hires for 2008 that the agency planned 
for a year ago. According to FAA data, the agency is on track to meet 
its hiring target for fiscal year 2008. As of May 30, 2008, it had 
hired 1,290 controllers--about 62 percent of the planned hires. FAA 
recognizes that some of these increases in retirements may be 
attributable to recent labor disputes and disagreements over the 
contract that went into effect in 2006. 

To keep on track with hiring controllers, in 2007 FAA expanded its 
applicant pool to include the general public. Previously, FAA had 
generally limited its hiring to individuals with prior FAA or 
Department of Defense (DOD) air traffic control experience and 
graduates of FAA's Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) 
program. The agency began looking farther afield, FAA officials said, 
because fewer military controllers have been seeking civilian 
employment since DOD established incentives to retain its controllers. 
For example, in 2007, the Air Force began offering reenlistment bonuses 
of up to $60,000 for military air traffic controllers, and the Marine 
Corps offers reenlistment bonuses of up to $40,000. By comparison, FAA 
offers recruitment incentives of up to $20,000 for air traffic 
controllers with experience and retention incentives of up to $24,000 
for controllers who have submitted papers indicating that they plan to 
retire. To further expand its hiring pool, in October 2007, FAA added 
nine new colleges and universities to AT-CTI, bringing the total number 
of schools to 23. Students who have successfully completed aviation- 
related programs of study from these schools are an increasing source 
of FAA hires. The number of AT-CTI graduates hired as controllers 
increased from 195 in fiscal year 2005 to 1,019 in fiscal year 2007, or 
56 percent of hires. 

Hiring a Large Number of Controllers Presents a Staffing Challenge for 
FAA: 

As FAA brings new controllers on board, it faces the challenge of 
ensuring that its control facilities are adequately staffed to meet 
their unique traffic demands. In 2007, the agency established staffing 
ranges for each facility that considered facility-specific information, 
such as air traffic operations, productivity trends, expected 
retirements, and the number of controllers in training. These new 
ranges are an improvement over FAA's historical approach, which was to 
compute the number of controllers needed systemwide and negotiate the 
distribution of these totals to the facility level. In 2007, we found 
that FAA's staffing was not aligned with the new ranges at 104 
facilities--about one-third of FAA's 314 facilities. At that time, 93 
facilities were overstaffed and 11 were understaffed.[Footnote 3] Our 
review of updated staffing ranges and on-board levels contained in 
FAA's 2008 controller workforce plan indicates that staffing is not 
aligned at 45 percent of the facilities. As of April 2008, 145 
facilities are overstaffed and 12 are understaffed. According to FAA, 
the agency is purposefully overstaffing facilities with new hires so 
that they are trained and ready to replace retiring controllers over 
the next few years. However, the understaffing at some facilities has 
potential safety and efficiency implications. 

Within the next several years, the balance of experienced and newly 
hired controllers will shift dramatically, adding a layer of complexity 
to FAA's determination of proper controller staffing levels for its air 
traffic control facilities. Although the projected number of new hires 
each year represents a relatively small proportion of the total 
controller workforce--about 12 percent per year--in a few years, the 
cumulative effect of hiring at that rate on the experience level of the 
workforce can be large. According to FAA, about one quarter of the 
controller workforce had less than 5 years of experience at the end of 
fiscal year 2007. Our analysis of FAA's hiring and retirement 
projections indicates that by 2011, up to 59 percent of the controller 
workforce will have less than 5 years of experience and by 2016 that 
percentage will remain over 50 percent. With such a high percentage of 
newly hired controllers, fewer experienced controllers will be 
available to provide on-the-job instruction to trainees and more time 
may be needed to train and certify newly hired controllers, according 
to FAA. In addition, newly certified controllers may be less efficient 
than experienced controllers in handling the large volume of traffic 
that occurs at large and congested airports. However, the current and 
forecasted decline in air traffic that is being attributed to the 
rising cost of aviation fuel, the subsequent rise in costs to 
passengers, and the nation's general economic condition may provide a 
window of opportunity for hiring new controllers and providing 
experience in a less congested environment. 

Managing air traffic safely and effectively while training new 
controllers will require balancing the numbers of trainees and fully 
certified controllers at each facility. Fully certified controllers 
have completed their training and are qualified to control traffic at 
all positions at their assigned location, and those who are fully 
certified for at least 6 months can become on-the-job instructors for 
new controllers. Our analysis of staffing at the 50 busiest airports 
showed that the percentage of fully certified controllers at each 
facility ranged from 56 percent to 94 percent. (See app. I.) The 
facilities with the lowest percentage of fully certified controllers 
include William P. Hobby Airport (Houston) (56 percent fully certified 
controllers), LaGuardia Airport (61 percent), Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport 
(62 percent), and Cleveland Hopkins Airport and Tampa Airport (both 63 
percent). Facilities with the highest percentage of fully certified 
controllers include St. Louis Airport (94 percent), San Francisco 
Airport (93 percent), Portland Airport and Logan Airport (both 92 
percent), and Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport(90 percent). 

FAA recognizes the importance of balancing the numbers of trainees and 
fully certified controllers. Historically, trainees have accounted for 
less than 35 percent of the controller workforce, but the agency is 
working to determine target ranges for the number of trainees that 
individual facilities can accommodate. These ranges are likely to 
depend on factors such as the size and workload of the facility. The 
speedy development and verification of these data will help to ensure 
that facilities have a sufficient number of fully certified controllers 
to instruct trainees and to safely and efficiently manage air traffic. 
For transparency, it will be important for FAA to include such data in 
its annual controller workforce plan. 

To the extent that retirement rates and the proportion of trainees at 
individual facilities leads to greater use of overtime, the potential 
for fatigue can increase, raising safety concerns. We previously 
reported [Footnote 4] that air traffic controllers at some of the 
nation's busiest airports were regularly working 6-day weeks because of 
staffing shortages, raising questions about the extent to which this 
situation may cause fatigue. In November 2007, we identified controller 
fatigue as an issue affecting runway safety and recommended that FAA 
develop a mitigation plan for addressing controller overtime by 
adopting strategies to attract controllers to facilities with high 
volumes of air traffic and high rates of controller overtime. In 
response to our recommendation, FAA has established a working group to 
develop a mitigation plan and identify recruitment and retention tools. 
FAA has already taken positive steps toward implementing the mitigation 
plan by offering pay and relocation incentives of up to $25,000 to 
controllers who volunteer to relocate to facilities that are short- 
staffed. FAA's initial offerings have had generally positive results; 
volunteers accepted FAA's relocation offer for 11 locations but 1 
location had no volunteers. It remains to be seen whether future 
planned offerings will be successful in achieving the needed staffing 
levels. 

In addition, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has cited 
controller work schedules as contributing to fatigue and raising safety 
concerns. Since 1990, NTSB has placed efforts to address fatigue on its 
list of "most wanted" transportation safety improvements, citing safety 
concerns about the effects of fatigue on air traffic controllers and 
other persons performing critical functions in the aviation industry. 
NTSB noted in 2007 that about 61 percent of controllers work rapidly 
rotating 8-hour shifts[Footnote 5] with progressively earlier start 
times (see fig. 2), and about 40 percent of the controllers in this 
group (about 25 percent of all controllers) are assigned at least one 
midnight shift per week. Many controllers in this latter group work 
what is commonly referred to as a "2-2-1" schedule, which consists of 
two afternoon shifts, followed by two day shifts, followed by one 
midnight shift. For controllers, this schedule provides a longer 
weekend, eliminates the need to work more than one midnight shift in a 
single week, and allows a long recovery period after that one midnight 
shift. However, NTSB found that the schedule is problematic because it 
typically includes short rest periods of just 8 or 9 hours between 
shifts, allows minimal time for sleep when other necessary daily 
activities are taken into account, and may include rest periods during 
daytime hours when quality sleep may be difficult to obtain. 

Figure 2: Example of "2-2-1" Rotation Schedule: 

[See PDF for image] 

This figure is an illustration of an example of "2-2-1" rotation 
schedule, as follows: 

Work day 1, 3-11 PM: 
15 hours off duty, 8 hours on duty, 1 hour off duty; 

Work day 2: 2-10 PM: 
14 hours off duty (total 15 consecutive hours), 8 hours on duty, 2 
hours off duty. 

Work day 3: 7 AM - 3 PM: 
7 hours off duty (total 9 consecutive hours), 8 hours on duty, 9 hours 
off duty. 

Work day 4: 6 AM - 2 PM: 
6 hours off duty (total 15 consecutive hours), 8 hours on duty, 8 hours 
off duty. 

Work day 5: 10 PM - 6 AM: 
8 hours on duty, 81 hours off duty (includes Off day 6, Off day 7 
through 3 PM on Work Day 1). 

Source: GAO analysis. 

[End of figure] 

NTSB has recommended that FAA mitigate air traffic controller fatigue 
by working with NATCA to revise controller work-scheduling policies and 
practices so controllers will have enough sleep and to modify shift 
rotations to minimize sleep disruptions for controllers. The 
recommendation was jointly addressed to NATCA because NTSB found that 
the contract between NATCA and FAA stipulated certain scheduling 
practices, such as shift swapping, that had not been evaluated for 
their effect on controller fatigue. In addition, NTSB recommended that 
FAA develop a fatigue awareness and countermeasures training program 
for controllers and for the personnel involved in scheduling their 
work. In supporting its recommendation, NTSB cited four instances from 
2001 through 2006 when tired controllers made errors while performing 
their duties that resulted in serious runway incursions.[Footnote 6] In 
each case, NTSB linked controller fatigue to the work schedule. NTSB 
said that FAA regulations and policies do not adequately consider the 
potential effect of work scheduling on fatigue and performance. 
[Footnote 7] 

To address NTSB's recommendations, FAA plans to develop and implement a 
fatigue awareness and countermeasures training program. The agency also 
plans to convene a working group that includes NATCA to develop shift 
rotation and scheduling guidelines. However, NATCA and FAA disagree on 
the level of cooperation that is taking place between them on this 
initiative. It is critical that FAA and NATCA work together on this 
issue to mitigate the potential effects of fatigue on controller 
performance and aviation safety. 

Training Program Has Expedited Certification of New Controllers, but 
Potential Hurdles Could Affect Further Progress in Training for New 
Controllers and Training for NextGen: 

Quickly training the newly hired controllers will be critical to FAA's 
ability to expeditiously replace the retiring controllers. FAA trains 
controllers in stages, starting with classroom training at its academy 
in Oklahoma City. Upon graduation from the academy, controllers are 
assigned to an air traffic control facility as "developmental" 
controllers, where they receive on-the-job training for specific air 
traffic control positions. Fully certified controllers conduct this 
training by observing and instructing the trainee. Controllers receive 
certification for each position as they progress through the training 
program. 

According to FAA's 2008 controller workforce plan, the agency has been 
making progress in reducing the amount of time controllers remain in 
trainee status, which includes time spent at the academy and in a 
developmental role. In fiscal year 2005, it took 3 to 4 years to train 
an air traffic controller. In fiscal year 2007, it took about 1.9 years 
at terminal facilities and about 3.1 years at en route facilities, 
according to FAA's 2008 controller workforce plan.[Footnote 8] The 
agency attributes this reduction in training time to improved training 
and scheduling processes and increased use of simulators. However, as 
of May 2008, about 2,700 controllers were in trainee status, and it is 
too early to tell how the length of their training will be affected by 
factors discussed previously in this statement, such as the decreasing 
proportion of fully certified controllers available to provide on-the- 
job training. 

Figure 3: Air Traffic Controller: 

[See PDF for image] 

Photograph of an Air Traffic Controller at work. 

[End of figure] 

While trainees appear to be moving through the training program faster, 
attrition among developmental controllers is increasing, from about 6 
percent of new hires in fiscal year 2006 to about 9 percent in fiscal 
year 2007. According to FAA's projections, developmental attrition will 
rise to 14 percent in fiscal year 2008. As of May 2008, the attrition 
rate for the year for developmental controllers was about 7 percent. 
FAA has incorporated this information into its hiring forecasts, but a 
high attrition rate has budgetary implications for FAA--FAA projects 
that the average cost of a developmental controller will be $78,095 in 
fiscal year 2008. It will be important for FAA to monitor the attrition 
rate, track the reasons for attrition, and release poor performers as 
soon as possible to avoid unnecessary costs. 

To achieve further efficiencies in training controllers, FAA has 
initiated a contracting effort--called the Air Traffic Control Optimum 
Training Solution (ATCOTS). ATCOTS would consolidate two existing 
contracts--one with the University of Oklahoma, which provides 
controller training at FAA's training academy in Oklahoma City, and the 
other with Washington Consulting Group (WCG), which provides controller 
training throughout the country at air traffic control facilities. FAA 
plans to award the contract in June 2008 and have it implemented by the 
end of fiscal year 2008. According to FAA, the consolidated contract 
will allow for more consistent training and potential improvements and 
efficiencies in the training. During the first year of the 10-year 
contract, FAA's training program is to remain unchanged. After the 
first year, the contractor may suggest changes to increase the 
efficiency of the training program. These changes would require FAA's 
approval, according to FAA officials. FAA's transition plans for the 
ATCOTS contract allow for 3-month extensions of the University of 
Oklahoma contract and 1-month extensions of the WCG contract to cover 
any gaps between the end of the current contracts and the start of 
ATCOTS. 

FAA employees and other stakeholders have raised concerns about ATCOTS. 
According to FAA employees at the training academy, FAA has not 
addressed how current academy employees would be used under ATCOTS or 
determined what cost and time efficiencies could be achieved through 
the contract. An industry stakeholder maintained that ATCOTS will not 
provide a sufficient change from the current training and said it was 
not clear how the program would meet FAA's training needs over the next 
10 years, especially any unique needs arising from FAA's implementation 
of NextGen. In addition, because of concern that FAA has not 
sufficiently examined the costs and benefits of ATCOTS, a provision in 
FAA's fiscal year 2008 appropriation legislation[Footnote 9] prohibits 
FAA from using any money in fiscal year 2008 for ATCOTS to displace, 
reassign, reduce the salary of, or take any other action that would 
result in a reduction in force for employees at FAA's academy or a 
discontinuation of the academy as the primary training facility for 
controllers. According to FAA, ATCOTS will not affect FAA personnel at 
the academy in any of these ways. FAA also does not anticipate much 
change in the contractor personnel at the academy, since the agency 
anticipates they would be retained by the ATCOTS awardee. With the 
current training contracts scheduled to expire in July and September 
2008, the contract extensions that FAA has in place will be important 
in case the ATCOTS contract is delayed. If ATCOTS is delayed or cannot 
meet its objectives, FAA's workforce plan may not be achievable. 

Both New and Experienced Controllers Will Need Training for NextGen, 
and Further Human Factors Research Is Needed to Support the Transition: 

Further work is needed to develop training for both new hires and fully 
certified controllers to deal with the paradigm shift that will come 
with NextGen. That paradigm shift calls for an increased reliance on 
automation and changed roles for both air traffic controllers and 
pilots under NextGen. In a more automated environment, controllers will 
be less responsible for controlling air traffic--that is, for directing 
specific aircraft movements--and more responsible for managing air 
traffic--that is, for monitoring conditions as pilots control their 
aircraft to maintain safe separation and perform other tasks now 
performed by controllers. Human factors[Footnote 10] will be an 
important aspect of training air traffic controllers to handle both the 
old and the new equipment as the new systems are gradually brought 
online. Our past work has shown that when human factors are not 
adequately addressed, delays and cost overruns have occurred in 
implementing new air traffic control technology.[Footnote 11] 

While some industry stakeholders told us it was too early to begin 
training for NextGen systems that are not close to coming online, 
others said that it was time to begin developing the training to 
prepare FAA personnel and others for the paradigm shift that will be 
required to implement NextGen. Furthermore, a change of this magnitude 
and complexity will require adequate lead time. For example, one 
stakeholder noted that the educational community needs to be engaged 
now so that it can design training and be prepared to teach future air 
traffic controllers and pilots. 

In response to these issues, FAA told us that it is difficult to 
develop training for systems that are not yet fully defined. However, 
according to FAA, it is in the early stages of talking to the 
educational community. Also, the simulation laboratories currently used 
to train controllers can be modified to reflect changes as NextGen 
technologies are deployed, according to FAA. In addition, in fiscal 
year 2008, FAA began a strategic analysis to determine how the 
controller's job will be expected to change as a result of NextGen. In 
fiscal year 2009, FAA expects that this effort will include an 
identification of changes to training for the existing workforce and 
for new controllers. It will be important for FAA to complete this 
effort expeditiously, because NextGen technologies and procedures are 
already being implemented. Furthermore, it remains to be seen how this 
effort will be affected by the lack of human factors research needed to 
support it. 

In prior work, we have identified human factors research as a critical 
research need for NextGen.[Footnote 12] The changes in roles and 
responsibilities for air traffic controllers that will be central to 
NextGen technology raise significant human factors issues for the 
safety and efficiency of the national airspace system. According to 
FAA, verbal communication is a human factors area that requires further 
research and development. Currently, air traffic controllers primarily 
rely on verbal communication to direct aircraft. Because NextGen will 
rely on automated communications, controllers will require training in 
both understanding and operating in an automated communication 
environment. The research to support such training has not been 
conducted, according to FAA. In addition, several stakeholders that we 
interviewed expressed concern that NextGen plans do not adequately 
address human factors research. Although the National Aeronautics and 
Space Administration (NASA) has historically been a primary resource 
for human factors and other aeronautical research and development, its 
ability to provide human factors research for NextGen will be limited 
because it recently lost a significant proportion of its human factors 
staff, according to a NASA official. Understanding what skills air 
traffic controllers will need will help FAA develop an appropriate 
training curriculum for them. 

In conclusion, a safe and efficient national airspace system is an 
essential part of the nation's critical infrastructure. It is a key 
element for domestic mobility and participation in the global economy. 
The steps and initiatives that have been initiated by FAA's Air Traffic 
Organization management team to ensure that there is an adequate and 
competent air traffic controller workforce show progress and are 
commendable. Going forward, it is imperative that both FAA management 
and the bargaining unit find ways to improve their ability to work 
together to ensure that the steps and initiatives are sustained, 
monitored, and periodically revised to ensure progress for years to 
come. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased 
to respond to any questions from you or other members of the 
Subcommittee. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For further information on this testimony, please contact Dr. Gerald L. 
Dillingham at (202) 512-2834 or dillinghamg@gao.gov. Individuals making 
key contributions to this testimony include Teresa Spisak, Kevin Egan, 
Bess Eisenstadt, Bert Japikse, Taylor Reeves, and Richard Scott. 

[End of section] 

Appendix I: Additional Information on Controller Staffing: 

Table: 

Facility name: Lambert-St. Louis International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 29; 
Number of controllers: 31; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 94. 

Facility name: San Francisco International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 27; 
Number of controllers: 29; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 93. 

Facility name: General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 36; 
Number of controllers: 39; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 92. 

Facility name: Portland International Airport;
Number of fully certified controllers: 22; 
Number of controllers: 24; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 92. 

Facility name: Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 38; 
Number of controllers: 42; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 90. 

Facility name: San Diego International Airport - Lindbergh Field; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 17; 
Number of controllers: 19; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 89. 

Facility name: Baltimore-Washington International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 25; 
Number of controllers: 28; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 89. 

Facility name: Phoenix Deer Valley Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 16; 
Number of controllers: 18; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 89. 

Facility name: Orlando/Sanford Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 16; 
Number of controllers: 18; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 89. 

Facility name: John Wayne Airport-Orange County Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 21; 
Number of controllers: 24; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 88. 

Facility name: Centennial Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 19; 
Number of controllers: 22; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 86. 

Facility name: Salt Lake City International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 29; 
Number of controllers: 34; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 85. 

Facility name: Metropolitan Oakland International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 22; 
Number of controllers: 26; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 85. 

Facility name: Washington Dulles International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 34; 
Number of controllers: 41; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 83. 

Facility name: Seattle/Tacoma International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 26; 
Number of controllers: 32; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 81. 

Facility name: Covington/Cincinnati International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 62; 
Number of controllers: 77; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 81. 

Facility name: Philadelphia International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 69; 
Number of controllers: 87; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 79. 

Facility name: Tucson International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 15; 
Number of controllers: 19; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 79. 

Facility name: Los Angeles International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 36; 
Number of controllers: 46; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 78. 

Facility name: Charlotte/Douglas International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 61; 
Number of controllers: 79; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 77. 

Facility name: Honolulu Control Facility; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 64; 
Number of controllers: 83; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 77. 

Facility name: McCarran International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 26; 
Number of controllers: 34; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 76. 

Facility name: Miami International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 66; 
Number of controllers: 87; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 76. 

Facility name: Chicago Midway Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 25; 
Number of controllers: 33; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 76. 

Facility name: The William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 37; 
Number of controllers: 49; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 76. 

Facility name: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 30; 
Number of controllers: 40; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 75. 

Facility name: Detroit/Wayne County International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 27; 
Number of controllers: 36; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 75. 

Facility name: Newark/Liberty International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 27; 
Number of controllers: 36; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 75. 

Facility name: Memphis International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 51; 
Number of controllers: 68; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 75. 

Facility name: Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 21; 
Number of controllers: 28; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 75. 

Facility name: Raleigh/Durham International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 33; 
Number of controllers: 44; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 75. 

Facility name: Denver International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 28; 
Number of controllers: 38; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 74. 

Facility name: Dallas/Love Field; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 19; 
Number of controllers: 26; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 73. 

Facility name: George Bush Intercontinental Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 29; 
Number of controllers: 40; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 73. 

Facility name: Mesa/Falcon Field; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 13; 
Number of controllers: 18; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 72. 

Facility name: Daytona Beach International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 40; 
Number of controllers: 56; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 71. 

Facility name: Ronald Reagan - Washington National Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 21; 
Number of controllers: 30; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 70. 

Facility name: Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 16; 
Number of controllers: 23; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 70. 

Facility name: David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 9; 
Number of controllers: 13; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 69. 

Facility name: Chicago O'Hare International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 47; 
Number of controllers: 68; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 69. 

Facility name: John F. Kennedy International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 24; 
Number of controllers: 35; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 69. 

Facility name: Long Beach/Daugherty Field Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 18; 
Number of controllers: 27; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 67. 

Facility name: Orlando International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 50; 
Number of controllers: 75; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 67. 

Facility name: Van Nuys Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 15; 
Number of controllers: 23; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 65. 

Facility name: Boeing Field/King County International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 15; 
Number of controllers: 23; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 65. 

Facility name: Tampa International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 44; 
Number of controllers: 70; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 63. 

Facility name: Cleveland Hopkins International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 40; 
Number of controllers: 64; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 63. 

Facility name: Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 37; 
Number of controllers: 60; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 62. 

Facility name: La Guardia International Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 22; 
Number of controllers: 36; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 61. 

Facility name: William P. Hobby Airport; 
Number of fully certified controllers: 14; 
Number of controllers: 25; 
Percentage of fully certified controllers: 56. 

Source: GAO analysis of FAA data. 

[End of table] 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] In 1981, over 11,000 air traffic controllers went on strike and 
were subsequently fired by President Ronald Reagan. Between 1982 and 
1990, FAA hired thousands of individuals to permanently replace the 
fired controllers. Most of this hiring took place between 1982 and 
1986. Many of these controllers, as well as those controllers who did 
not participate in the strike, are now eligible or will soon be 
eligible to retire from FAA. 

[2] Although air traffic is expected to increase significantly over the 
next decade, FAA expects that NextGen technologies and procedures will 
allow air traffic controllers to be more productive. Thus, FAA does not 
currently plan for any dramatic increases in overall controller 
staffing through 2017. 

[3] GAO, Federal Aviation Administration: Key Issues in Ensuring the 
Efficient Development and Safe Operation of the Next Generation Air 
Transportation System, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-
bin/getrpt?GAO-07-636T] (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 22, 2007). 

[4] Aviation Runway and Ramp Safety: Sustained Efforts to Address 
Leadership, Technology, and Other Challenges Needed to Reduce Accidents 
and Incidents, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-08-29] 
(Washington, D.C.: Nov. 20, 2007). 

[5] Rapidly rotating shift schedules are characterized by varying start 
and stop times that change too rapidly for circadian rhythms to adapt. 

[6] A runway incursion is any incident involving an unauthorized 
aircraft, vehicle, or person on a runway. 

[7] FAA regulation (14 CFR § 65.47) allows tower controllers to be 
scheduled for up to 10 consecutive hours of operational duty and 
requires that they be given a rest period of at least 8 hours between 
shifts and be provided at least 1 full 24-hour day off per week. An FAA 
order (7210.3) requires that controllers be provided a rest period of 
at least 12 hours after a midnight shift. 

[8] Terminal facilities include air traffic control terminals at 
airports and terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facilities, which 
provide radar-control service to aircraft arriving or departing a 
primary airport and adjacent airports and to aircraft transiting the 
terminal's airspace. En route facilities provide air traffic control 
service to aircraft operating during the en route phase of flight. 

[9] § 110-161. 

[10] Human factors refers to what is known about people, their 
abilities, characteristics, and limitations in the design of the 
equipment they use, the environments in which they function, and the 
jobs they perform. 

[11] GAO, National Airspace System: FAA Has Made Progress but Continues 
to Face Challenges in Acquiring Major Air Traffic Control Systems, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-05-331] (Washington, 
D.C.: June 10, 2005). 

[12] GAO, Next Generation Air Transportation System: Status of the 
Transition to the Future Air Traffic Control System, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-07-784T] (Washington, D.C.: May 
9, 2007). 

[End of section] 

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