Air Controllers Say Staffing Drop Dangerous | KERA News

Air Controllers Say Staffing Drop Dangerous

Dallas – Air traffic controllers have produced statistics showing their number in North Texas decreased about 37 percent in the past two years, while the number of operational errors has gone up.

According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the number of controllers monitoring North Texas air space from the Fort Worth radar facility has dropped from 103 in 2006 to 65.

Darrell Meachum, an air traffic controller and union vice president, says further that the retention of experienced controllers in our area doesn't look good.

Meachum: It gets worse at the end of the year. At the end of the year a total of 32 could retire. That's half the existing certified workforce.

Meachum says part of the problem is a salary schedule that makes it hard to attract top-notch new talent. He says the salary for a new controller is now 30 to 50 percent less than previously. In addition, controllers have no FAA agreement that guarantees annual pay increases, so many veterans find it more lucrative to retire.

The controllers claim that as their ranks dwindle, the number of close calls have increased for the flying public. They say in 2006 planes in North Texas passed too closely to each other 45 times, compared with 59 times last year, and the number of operation errors is on track to be a lot higher this year.

Meachum: No one takes safety more seriously than us. We will continue to make it safe, but the impact on the public unfortunately is delays.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the controllers' numbers may only count fully certified individuals, while excluding other staff. FAA Spokesman Roland Herwig insists the public is not at risk

Herwig: There are not increased delays or are there projected to be for the summer which is the peak travel season. We see no correlation between operational errors and staffing.

The FAA says it has ramped up hiring, but controllers say it may be too late to prevent dramatic shortages. They want the FAA to reopen contract negotiations to address pay and training issues. The FAA spokesman says the controllers already have a contract.