Review of FAA's Collegiate Training Initiative as Mandated in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012

GAO-12-996R: Published: Aug 24, 2012. Publicly Released: Aug 24, 2012.

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Gerald Dillingham, Ph.D.
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What GAO Found

The cost effectiveness of the alternative training approach depends on several cost elements that are currently unknown, such as the up-front costs to develop the new controller training curriculum for CTI schools and the duration of the new orientation session at the Academy. However, some direct cost savings to FAA are possible and may be realized under the alternative training approach. These savings include avoiding the cost of pay (salary and per diem) for Academy trainees and not incurring the cost of providing Academy courses for each assigned air traffic control specialization. However, any cost savings could be offset by a number of additional costs that FAA could incur related to the alternative training approach; because some of these costs are unknown at this time, it is unclear whether the alternative approach would be more cost effective. These additional costs would depend primarily on how FAA implements the new training. Also unknown are recurring costs for any additional evaluations FAA would have to undertake to check the accreditation status of CTI schools and to assess graduates' proficiency in the initial specialization coursework. The cost of the mandate's proposed new orientation at the Academy for graduates of CTI schools is also unknown. Another factor that is not known is the extent to which additional course work at the CTI schools will increase students' costs for their training, and whether any such increases in costs will influence students' decisions about how or whether they choose to pursue air traffic controller training. We were not able to determine the potential effect of the alternative air traffic controller training approach on controller trainees because the concept would need further development before comparisons can be made about performance outcomes for such trainees under the current approach and the alternative approach. At the present time, there is no direct evidence that shows the effect of such a difference in training approaches, and our search of the literature did not uncover any similar studies from which to draw. FAA has begun data analysis on the success of graduates of individual CTI schools--from facility training through certification as a full performance air traffic controller--but FAA's analysis does not include information on performance outcomes from the alternative training approach because it is yet to be implemented. Information from CTI colleges and universities may provide additional insight on the viability of the alternative training approach.

Why GAO Did This Study

Section 603 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 required us to review, within 180 days of the enactment of the act, the effect of providing a specified alternative to the current air traffic controller training approach. Currently, one path toward becoming an air traffic controller is by attending a college or university that offers aviation degrees and partners with FAA in the agency's Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI). The current training for CTI program graduates, who have completed the basic air traffic curriculum at their college or university, continues with initial specialization courses at the FAA Academy (Academy), and subsequent air traffic training at their assigned duty station. The proposed alternative training for those graduates keeps basic air traffic curriculum the same, but would shift instruction of initial specialization courses from the Academy to the 36 CTI schools. It would also include a new air traffic controller orientation session at the Academy, followed by on-the-job training at the assigned duty station. The mandate requires us to analyze (1) the cost effectiveness of the alternative training approach and (2) the effect that the alternative training approach would have on the overall quality of the training received by graduates of CTI programs. On July 20, 2012, we briefed Congress on our approach and preliminary findings on air traffic controllers' training costs and the effects of the suggested alternative on the skills and abilities trainees possess as they begin work at an air traffic control facility. This letter summarizes the preliminary findings that we shared with Congress at the July 20, 2012, briefings.

For information, contact Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D. at (202) 512-2834 or