Controller Staffing and Training at Four FAA Air Traffic Control Facilities

CED-81-127: Published: Jul 9, 1981. Publicly Released: Jul 27, 1981.

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GAO examined conditions related to air traffic controllers at Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control facilities in several areas in the Nation, including Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

FAA officials have stated that staffing levels in the radar room at the O'Hare Airport tower are unsatisfactory, and GAO agrees. Staffing is at 68 percent of its authorized level, and overtime use is higher than at most airport towers in other cities. Controllers attribute the shortages to Chicago's high cost of living and an attempt by the controller organization to discourage controllers from seeking positions at O'Hare. In addition, controllers, for a time, did not volunteer to provide on-the-job training to trainees. FAA has implemented new recruitment and training programs and given supervisors greater responsibilities in the training process. These actions should help correct the staffing problems. At the other centers examined, FAA management felt that the staffing was adequate, as did a GAO evaluation of these facilities. GAO found that trainees had satisfactorily completed developmental training at four facilities but controllers at the four facilities had not met the requirements for proficiency training and adequate records maintenance. FAA provided no methods to track currency in operational performance of supervisors and staff specialists. When computers are not available, controllers must be proficient in handling air traffic by radar. Training in this area has been inadequate due to a lack of a simulated environment for training. However, GAO found no correlation between aircraft accidents and controller staffing levels or training.