Air Traffic Control:

FAA Enhanced the Controller-in-Charge Program, but More Comprehensive Evaluation is Needed

GAO-02-55: Published: Oct 31, 2001. Publicly Released: Nov 13, 2001.

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Each day, nearly two million passengers on 25,000 flights depend on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Air Traffic Control (ATC) system to safely reach their destinations. Because the ATC system requires thousands of controllers, each of whom typically manages just a section of airspace or one aspect of an aircraft's takeoff or landing, FAA depends on supervisors to monitor air traffic operations and controllers' workload and performance to ensure that the system is operating safely. In negotiating its 1998 collective bargaining agreement with its controllers' union, FAA agreed to a national plan that would reduce by attrition the number of supervisors who oversee air traffic controllers. To avoid compromising safety, FAA will increasingly have its controllers performing supervisory duties as Controllers-in-Charge (CIC) when supervisors are not present. Nationwide, FAA has selected 8,268 controllers to serve as CICs, which is about 55 percent of its air traffic controller workforce. GAO found that the materials for FAA's CIC training program were through and comprehensive, but FAA has little assurance that the training was effectively presented and achieved its objectives. Although FAA assessed training at a few facilities, the agency has not obtained evaluations from most of the students who completed the course or conducted an overall evaluation of whether the training was effective. FAA has not consistently implemented its quality assurance procedures for the CIC expansion. Five of the 12 facilities GAO visited did not have quality assurance measures in place for the CIC expansion, and the remaining seven facilities relied on their existing quality assurance programs to monitor the impact of the CIC expansion. The reduction of supervisors will save FAA $141.5 million, or about $23.1 million less than it estimated. FAA did not factor in the 10-percent premium FAA pays controllers for serving as CICs, which GAO estimates will cost $41.5 million over the five-year life of the agreement, but supervisory attrition has been happening faster than FAA estimated, increasing its net savings by about $18.4 million. To fully assess productivity gains from its initiatives, FAA believes it needs more data. FAA expects to have a system in place to capture productivity data by fiscal year 2002.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In conjunction with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI), Air Traffic conducted a survey to determine the overall effectiveness of the expanded CIC training program. Two surveys were distributed--one survey went to all CICs and the second survey went to CIC instructors and/or managers. Overall survey results indicated that the CIC course adequately prepares controllers for the expanded CIC role. The survey results are further corroborated by the Special Emphasis Item (SEI) findings of Air Traffic Evaluations (AAT-100) and will be utilized in the formulation of the CIC refresher training described later. Overall, based on the survey results, no changes are planned for the initial CIC training program at this time.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that controllers develop and maintain proficiency in CIC duties and that the reductions in supervisors do not adversely affect safety, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Federal Aviation Administrator to evaluate the effectiveness of the CIC training program to verify that it develops the knowledge and skills controllers need to perform watch supervision duties.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to FAA staff and FAA Order 3120.4L, the Controller-in-Charge (CIC) refresher training has been established and implemented on June 22, 2005. FAA requires controllers to have 4 hours of CIC refresher training every year. This training is monitored through FAA's TRAX system. Therefore, FAA has implemented this recommendation and, as of November 29, 2005, this recommendation is closed.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that controllers develop and maintain proficiency in CIC duties and that the reductions in supervisors do not adversely affect safety, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Federal Aviation Administrator to provide periodic refresher training as needed in CIC duties for controllers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to FAA, in December 2001, the Director of Air Traffic, AAT-1, directed all regional air traffic division (RATD) managers to review the findings of the Air Traffic CIC special assessment and ensure that all terminal and en route facilities in their region are in compliance with CIC program requirements. Part of the program requirement is the local development of CIC Quality Assurance (QA) procedures that would allow for the continual evaluation of the program and allow corrective actions to be made where needed. All RATD managers subsequently reported that their terminal and en route facilities were in compliance with program requirements, including the requirement to have CIC QA procedures in place and be effectively utilized. Currently, to help ensure CIC program requirements are being met, scheduled air traffic facility evaluations include an SEI. The CIC SEI generates a review of CIC program compliance at the time the facility is evaluated and requires action by the facility management to correct any deficiencies noted.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that controllers develop and maintain proficiency in CIC duties and that the reductions in supervisors do not adversely affect safety, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Federal Aviation Administrator to better communicate and enforce its requirement that all its facilities have in place CIC quality assurance procedures to measure the effects of supervisory reductions and the increased use of CICs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to an FAA official, FAA has never issued the NATCA/FAA Collective Bargaining Agreement report and is no longer interested in doing so. While FAA tried to develop productivity measures for controllers, these were never finalized and have not been implemented. FAA is renegotiating the labor agreement with NATCA, which makes the 1998 agreement obsolete. FAA does not plan to develop measures of productivity for its controllers.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that controllers develop and maintain proficiency in CIC duties and that the reductions in supervisors do not adversely affect safety, the Secretary of Transporation should direct the Federal Aviation Administrator to assess the productivity of its controller workforce in each of its upcoming annual status reports on the 1998 agreement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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