Aviation Safety:

Serious Problems Continue to Trouble the Air Traffic Control Work Force

RCED-89-112: Published: Apr 21, 1989. Publicly Released: May 25, 1989.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO surveyed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic controllers, supervisors, and facility managers about working conditions and related aspects of the air traffic control system.

GAO conducted three mail surveys and found that: (1) air traffic controllers and supervisors expressed concerns about various working conditions, including controller shortages, heavy work loads, excessive overtime, low morale, and inadequate developmental training; (2) a safety consultant indicated that overall working conditions at air terminals worsened; (3) 65 percent of the air traffic controllers believed that they handled too much traffic during peak periods, and another 59 percent believed that they worked too long without a break during peak periods; (4) 38 percent of the controllers indicated that they worked overtime more than they wanted to, and about 87 percent exceeded the FAA overtime limit; (5) a majority of the controllers believed that developmental training in such areas as backup systems, traffic control in inclement weather, emergency procedures, and holding patterns was inadequate; (6) about 40 percent of the controllers indicated low morale, but managers did not perceive that as a problem; and (7) controllers, supervisors, and facility managers agreed that shortages of full-performance-level controllers and standard scheduling practices impacted their ability to efficiently control air traffic. GAO also found that FAA planned to institute several initiatives to address work-force concerns, including improving its recruitment, hiring, and training practices and conducting a pay demonstration project.

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