TRB Special Report 250 - Air Traffic Control Facilities: Improving Methods to Determine Staffing Requirements reviewes the methodologies by which Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates and applies its staffing standards, examines the feasibility and cost of modifying agency staffing standards and developing alternative approaches for application to individual facilities, and recommends an improvement strategy.
The appropriate level of staffing for air traffic control (ATC) has long been controversial. As a service of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), ATC is almost exclusively staffed by federal employees. Following the controller strike of 1981, which resulted in the firing of two-thirds of controllers, congressional concerns about staffing were focused primarily on the overall size and rebuilding of the workforce. During the 1990s, however, congressional concerns shifted to questions about whether staffing levels are appropriate at the agency s highest traffic locations.
FAA has long had difficulty staffing its ATC centers, terminal radar approach control facilities, and other terminal facilities in metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In addition to being the most demanding locations because of the volume and types of traffic that must be handled, they are among the areas with the highest cost of living. Concerns about stressful working conditions and the amount of overtime required of workers at these locations have been raised regularly by the controllers union and sometimes by members of Congress.
In the aftermath of the controllers strike, FAA developed analytical models for estimating the number of specialists required to control traffic safely. The application of these models to particular locations became a source of controversy between FAA and the controllers union. The committee formed to examine whether these models were sufficiently accurate for estimating staffing levels at specific locations determined that they could not be relied upon for this purpose. The models provide a useful starting point, but the staffing estimates they produce need to be adjusted on the basis of both local conditions and the norms that exist across FAA s workplaces. The committee recommended a process that FAA could follow to make these adjustments.