1

Introduction

The National Airspace System (NAS) of the United States is dedicated to ensuring the safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of air traffic through the largest, most complex air navigation system in the world. The system encompasses a vast array of air navigation facilities, equipment, and services; airports or landing areas; aeronautical charts, information, and services; rules, regulations, and procedures; technical information; and manpower and materials (FAA 2013a). Air traffic controllers are frontline operators in this system. They provide separation between aircraft operating under instrument flight rules (IFR) and a range of other safety functions to all types of aircraft and operations. This report examines the methods used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in estimating how many controllers are needed to staff its air traffic control (ATC) facilities and the processes used by FAA in staffing facilities consistent with these estimates. For context, as of the end of FY 2013 the FAA controller workforce totaled about 15,000, with a cost of approximately $2.8 billion (i.e., on the order of 20 percent of the total FAA budget).1

This chapter describes the job of an air traffic controller and notes how the demands on a controller vary across types of ATC facility and types of traffic. The challenges facing FAA as it seeks to establish safe and cost-effective staffing levels are discussed, and a high-level overview of the current staffing process is provided. The chapter concludes with discussion of the committee’s task and an overview of the report’s organization.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER FUNCTIONS AND FACILITIES

Air Traffic Controller Functions

Air traffic controllers are tasked with ensuring the safe and efficient flow of air traffic through the NAS at all times and under all conditions. The primary functions of air traffic controllers who are “on position” are to separate aircraft safely and issue safety alerts (FAA Order 7110.65). In addition, particularly at busy facilities, controllers’ activities support not only safety through other support functions to pilots but also the efficient handling of traffic within the airspace to increase throughput, reduce delays, and increase operational efficiency (e.g., by allowing flight profiles that reduce fuel consumption). Controllers are required to perform a variety of ancillary functions outside their on-position activities, such as participating in mandatory training and Air Traffic Safety Action Program activities and supporting the development, evaluation, and implementation of new technologies and procedures. Fully qualified controllers [certified professional controllers (CPCs)] may provide on-the-job training for partially qualified controllers [developmental controllers (developmentals) and CPCs in training (CPC-ITs)]. Thus, controllers not only spend time on position working traffic but also time off position fulfilling a range of ancillary duties (see Figure 1-1).

____________

1 Air traffic services for the NAS are also provided by 1,375 civilian contract controllers at contract towers and by more than 9,500 military controllers (FAA 2013b).



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 7
1 Introduction T he National Airspace System (NAS) of the United States is dedicated to ensuring the safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of air traffic through the largest, most complex air navigation system in the world. The system encompasses a vast array of air navigation facilities, equipment, and services; airports or landing areas; aeronautical charts, information, and services; rules, regulations, and procedures; technical information; and manpower and materials (FAA 2013a). Air traffic controllers are frontline operators in this system. They provide separation between aircraft operating under instrument flight rules (IFR) and a range of other safety functions to all types of aircraft and operations. This report examines the methods used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in estimating how many controllers are needed to staff its air traffic control (ATC) facilities and the processes used by FAA in staffing facilities consistent with these estimates. For context, as of the end of FY 2013 the FAA controller workforce totaled about 15,000, with a cost of approximately $2.8 billion (i.e., on the order of 20 percent of the total FAA budget).1 This chapter describes the job of an air traffic controller and notes how the demands on a controller vary across types of ATC facility and types of traffic. The challenges facing FAA as it seeks to establish safe and cost-effective staffing levels are discussed, and a high-level overview of the current staffing process is provided. The chapter concludes with discussion of the committee’s task and an overview of the report’s organization. AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER FUNCTIONS AND FACILITIES Air Traffic Controller Functions Air traffic controllers are tasked with ensuring the safe and efficient flow of air traffic through the NAS at all times and under all conditions. The primary functions of air traffic controllers who are “on position” are to separate aircraft safely and issue safety alerts (FAA Order 7110.65). In addition, particularly at busy facilities, controllers’ activities support not only safety through other support functions to pilots but also the efficient handling of traffic within the airspace to increase throughput, reduce delays, and increase operational efficiency (e.g., by allowing flight profiles that reduce fuel consumption). Controllers are required to perform a variety of ancillary functions outside their on-position activities, such as participating in mandatory training and Air Traffic Safety Action Program activities and supporting the development, evaluation, and implementation of new technologies and procedures. Fully qualified controllers [certified professional controllers (CPCs)] may provide on-the-job training for partially qualified controllers [developmental controllers (developmentals) and CPCs in training (CPC-ITs)]. Thus, controllers not only spend time on position working traffic but also time off position fulfilling a range of ancillary duties (see Figure 1-1). 1 Air traffic services for the NAS are also provided by 1,375 civilian contract controllers at contract towers and by more than 9,500 military controllers (FAA 2013b). 7

OCR for page 7
8 Federal Aviatio Administrat F on tion’s Approac for Determin ch ning Future Ai Traffic Contr ir roller Staffing Needs Air Traffic Controller Fu C unctions First pr riority Separate airccraft safely fro one anoth and the ter om her rrain (on position) Monitor safe and issue safety alerts ety s Facilitate mo efficient flight routes an traffic flow managemen (on positio ore fl and w nt on) Support pilot with functions such as tr ts raffic advisor and basic radar service ries es Worklooad to aircraft op perating under visual flight rules (on position) r t permitt ting Provide OJT (on position) T ) Provide posttraining OJT debriefing of trainees (off position) f f Receive man ndatory refresher and recur rrent training Other Receive addi itional trainin such as int ng, troduction to new equipme ent (off possition— Participate in Air Traffic Safety Action Program, Pa n S n artnership for Safety r may inc clude councils, and quality assu d urance and quaality control a activities outside facility Support broa ader safety ma anagement fu unctions of FA AA activitie es) Provide expe input to FA enterprise programs, su as suppor of the Next ert AA e uch rt t Generation Air Transporta A ation System, and details o safety initi , on iatives FIGUR 1-1 Air traffic contr RE t roller functi ions (OJT = on-the-job training). b cilities ATC Fac Air traffi controller positions an tasks vary significantl among AT facility ty ic nd y ly TC ypes. Figure 1-2 e provides an overview of the vario facility types: termin facilities [airport traf control t w ous t nal ffic tower (ATCT) and terminal radar appro oach control (TRACON) and en rou facilities [air route tr )] ute raffic control centers (ART TCCs)]. The following paragraphs prrovide an ovverview of FAAA’s air tra affic facilities in en route and terminal environmen and of fa a l nts acilities oper rated by priv vate-sector organizat tions under FAA’s Federal Contract Tower prog F gram. FIGUR 1-2 ATC facility ove RE C erview. (SOU URCE: FAA 2 2013b.)

OCR for page 7
Introductio on 9 En Route Environme e ent En route facilities—a referred to as ARTC also d CCs—provid for contro and separa de ol ation of aircr raft that oper within a large section of airspace and are not assigned to towers or o rate n e t o other termina al facilities. At the end of FY 2012, FAA’s Off of Labor Analysis (A , fice r ALA) reported to the committe that, of th 15,063 tot air traffic controllers i 315 FAA facilities, 6,278 (i.e., ju ee he tal in A ust over 40 percent) wor p rked in the ARTCCs. Tw A wenty of thes facilities a located w se are within the contiguou United St us tates (see Fig gure 1-3), an three addi nd itional facili ities are loca in ated Anchorag Alaska (Z ge, ZAN); Guam (ZUA); an San Juan, Puerto Rico (ZSU). m nd , o Each center is divided int four to eig areas of s E s to ght specializatio each of w on, which is thenn partitione into five to nine smaller sectors of low, high, or ultrahigh altitude. M ed t o h More than 750 0 sectors of airspace ex over the continental United State and each sector can v xist es, h vary in size ffrom several hundred to more than 30, h m ,000 cubic miles. While areas of spe m ecialization a well defin are ned and rarely change, se ectors within an area can be opened a closed o combined and uncomb n n and or bined in respon to air traf demand. nse ffic . Each sector is staffed with one, two, or three cont E s h o trollers, depeending on trraffic demannd. All open sectors are staffed with one lead rad or R-sid controller The R-side controller i s dar, de, r. e is responsib for comm ble municating with and mai w intaining saf separation of aircraft a for fe n and coordinat ting other ai traffic cont ir trollers. As traffic increa t ases in a sector, a second or associa d, ate, controller (known as a data, or D-side, contro D oller) is adde The D-si controlle typically ed. ide er receives flight plan in nformation and assists in planning a organizin the flow o traffic wit a n and ng of thin the sector. Infrequent a third (o T-side) co tly or ontroller is ad dded during busy period to support the ds t lead R-si controller. ide FIGURE 1-3 Bound E daries of AR RTCCs in th contiguo United S he ous States. (SOUURCE: FAA, Presentat tion to the Committee fo a Review of the En Ro C or o oute Air Tra affic Control Complexity and y Workload Model, 20 010.)

OCR for page 7
10 Federal Aviation Administration’s Approach for Determining Future Air Traffic Controller Staffing Needs En route centers handle a variety of traffic. Some sectors may have more pass-through or overflights, or international flights, while other sectors may have more nonradar traffic. Different traffic situations require different controller tasks, each with its specific demands. Thus, a simple count of the number of flights within a sector does not indicate a controller’s workload. Terminal Environment The terminal environment includes ATCT and TRACON facilities that manage air traffic in the immediate vicinity of an airport, particularly during ground operations and taxi, takeoff and departure, arrival, approach, and landing.2 ALA data show that, at the end of FY 2012, 8,785 controllers (i.e., just under 60 percent of the controller workforce) worked in the more than 290 terminal facilities. Towers Controllers at towers typically manage air traffic within a range of a few miles of the airport (see Figure 1-2). Tower controllers manage takeoffs and landings, ensure minimum separation between aircraft both in the air and on the ground, transfer control of departing aircraft to TRACON controllers, and receive control of aircraft entering their airspace. The number and types of controllers on duty in a tower depend on the size of the tower and the layout of the airport. As air traffic, workload, and complexity increase and decrease, towers open additional or different positions and close or combine positions accordingly. TRACON Airspace for TRACONs typically covers a 40-mile radius surrounding a primary airport, although this area can vary by facility. In general, TRACONs also deliver services to several smaller airports in the vicinity. Consolidated (or large) TRACONs in major metropolitan areas service multiple airports and are divided into areas of specialization, with each specialization containing groups of sectors. Depending on the amount of traffic each day, the number of sectors in a TRACON and the number of controllers required to staff them are adjusted (up or down) to respond to air traffic demand. As air traffic, workload, and complexity increase, controllers can be added within a sector or sectors can be partitioned and more controller positions opened. Likewise, as air traffic and workload decrease, controller positions can close and sectors can be recombined. For busy airports, TRACON controllers play a vital role in establishing efficient traffic flows that position aircraft for maximized landing rates and allow for efficient flight profiles during arrival and departure. Contract Towers ATC services for the NAS are provided not only by FAA facilities of the types described above but also by facilities operated by private-sector organizations under contract to FAA. The Federal Contract Tower Program allows FAA to contract out ATC services at low-activity towers operating under visual flight rules. As of January 2014, there were 252 towers3 in the Contract Tower Program, of which 230 were fully funded by FAA, 16 were funded on a cost-sharing basis 2 A number of terminal facilities combine tower and TRACON components and are categorized by FAA as “up– down” facilities. Controllers at these facilities can typically work in either component. 3 See p. 10 of the following document for a complete list: http://www.contracttower.org/ctaannual/13CTAannual.pdf.

OCR for page 7
Introduction 11 with airports that would not otherwise receive ATC at their towers, and six were used by the Air National Guard (see OIG 2012) under a special agreement with the Department of Defense. These towers are distributed throughout the United States; about one-fourth are located in three states (California, Florida, and Texas). Contract towers have attracted interest in the context of ATC staffing discussions because they cost significantly less to operate than low-activity FAA towers (see, for example, OIG 2012). Later chapters of this report provide comparisons between low-activity FAA towers and contract towers in terms of safety (Chapter 2) and cost (Chapter 6). Evolving Demands of Industry Sectors Different industry sectors require different services within the NAS. Air carriers operating under Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 121 and air taxis and commuters operating under FAR Part 135 dominate operations at large airports and their TRACONs and through en route centers. In contrast, small “general aviation” aircraft subject to FAR Part 91 often operate out of smaller towers, and many of their flights do not interact substantially with the TRACON and en route center facilities. However, many general aviation operations involve aircraft without ground- based corporate dispatch services or onboard weather detection systems and thus depend heavily on the various support functions a controller can provide, workload and resources permitting. There may also be differences in the levels of ATC support needed within the air carrier and the air taxi and commuter categories. Under normal circumstances, for example, an experienced air transport pilot is likely to require less support than an inexperienced pilot of a smaller aircraft. The demand for air traffic services is evolving. The total number of ATC operations4 declined by 21 percent from its high in 2000 to 2012 in response to a number of events. However, this aggregate number masks differences between industry segments (see Figure 1-4). The decline in general aviation operations has been particularly marked, while air carrier and air taxi and commuter operations have experienced more modest declines. The decline in ATC operations has not been the same across all facility types. Figure 1-5 shows total ATC operations by facility type from 1994 to 2012. From 2000 to 2012, tower operations declined by 15.1 million (22 percent) and TRACON operations declined by 13.8 million (27 percent), whereas ARTCC operations declined by 5.4 million (12 percent). During the early part of this period, there were more operations at TRACONs than at ARTCCs; from 2005 on, there have been more operations at ARTCCs. The committee’s analysis of the change in operations at each type of facility by industry segment shows that the drop in total ATC operations has been largely the result of a drop in general aviation operations. This drop has been especially pronounced at towers and significant at TRACON facilities but has not been a major factor at ARTCC facilities. (ARTCCs have also experienced a drop in operations requested by military flights.) 4 ATC operations consist of tower operations, TRACON operations, and center aircraft handled. A tower operation is a takeoff, landing, or overflight. The term includes so-called touch-and-go’s, in which a plane touches down and immediately becomes airborne again. TRACON operations consist of itinerant flights (to or from an airport under the TRACON airspace) and overflights (aircraft passing through the TRACON airspace but not landing at any airport in the TRACON’s coverage area). Center aircraft handled is the number of ARTCC en route IFR departures multiplied by two, plus the number of en route IFR overflights. An IFR departure is an en route IFR flight that originates in an ARTCC’s area and enters the center’s airspace. An IFR overflight is an en route IFR flight that originates outside the ARTCC’s area and passes through the area without landing (personal communication, Arthur Furnia, FAA, August 27, 2013).

OCR for page 7
12 Federal Aviatio Administrat F on tion’s Approac for Determin ch ning Future Ai Traffic Contr ir roller Staffing Needs FIGURE 1-4 Total ATC opera E ations by inddustry segm ment, 1994–2 2012. [SOUR : FAA Air RCE Traffic Activity Data System (htt A a tp://aspm.faa a.gov/opsnet t/sys/Main.a asp?force=at tads).] FIGURE 1-5 Total ATC operat E A tions by fac cility type, 1 1994–2012. [ OURCE: FA Air Traf [S AA ffic Activity Data System (http://aspm m m.faa.gov/op psnet/sys/Ma ain.asp?forc ce=atads).] STAFFING CHALL LENGE Establish hing levels of controller staffing is no an exact s s ot science. Ther are no exp re plicit quantitative methods for calculat s ting the num mber of contr rollers neede to provide safe air traf ed e ffic services other than in o nformation from historic trends, an there is no developed or agreed-on fr cal nd o measure of the true staffing requiirement in th United St he tates or in oth countrie Australian ther es. n Civil Aviiation Safety Regulation for examp do not p y ns, ple, provide expli guidance on how to icit e

OCR for page 7
Introduction 13 determine the number of operational staff needed to provide air traffic services (Harfield 2013). Likewise, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) representatives who attended the committee’s first meeting noted the absence of an objective, science-based method for establishing controller staffing standards independent of political and other influences. Safety is the overarching requirement for ATC. Data from the National Transportation Safety Board show that ATC errors, including omissions, have not been a major cause of aviation accidents in the past, which indicates that current controller staffing levels are safe, at least in the aggregate. (Chapter 2 notes potential areas for safety improvements, particularly for general aviation.) However, the relationship between safety levels and controller staffing is not understood; key metrics have not been defined and appropriate data have not been collected or analyzed to identify whether staffing levels are near the limit required to maintain this safety level. The impact of controller staffing on both safety and performance is further complicated by FAA’s ability to limit the number of operations it allows within the airspace. For example, a perceived shortfall in staffing may lead the agency to decide against opening a sector to accommodate more traffic during busy periods. Such action ensures the continued safe operation of the NAS, but at the expense of a degradation of performance in the form of flight delays and possible cancellations. As the example illustrates, the impact of controller staffing on safety is carefully managed during day-to-day operations. This operational response to staffing can affect performance of the NAS, but it is not the only driver of NAS performance. Flight delays, for example, may be attributed to inadequate controller staffing levels, but they arise regardless of staffing levels when the layout of sectors, routes, and runways prevents the airspace from handling more traffic. As discussed in the preceding section, a further complication in assessing performance is the diversity of air traffic services FAA must provide that would require both measures of airspace throughput in the broad sense and measures of benefit to each aircraft—for example, the ability to provide more fuel-efficient routings. Thus, there are no broadly applicable criteria for the NAS that can relate staffing to safety, to performance measures of the airspace throughput, and to measures of benefit to the aviation community simultaneously. Development of such criteria would require weighting between measures of safety (or some “safety margin”) and performance and between performance measures of importance to different users of the airspace. As indicated by the committee’s discussions with various parties—FAA, NATCA, aviation industry representatives, and so forth—there is no clear consensus on what these values should be. All agree, however, that safety has priority over other goals. All of these concerns are compounded by uncertainty with regard to the size of the controller workforce itself: while a controller may retire on short notice, a new hire can take up to 3 years to qualify into a facility. Thus, staffing levels often reflect not only the controllers required to staff positions now but also the trainees who are brought into the system in advance of expected retirements. The degree of flux in controller staffing is illustrated by the following: at the end of FY 2012 the FAA controller total workforce of 15,0635 comprised 11,753 CPCs (78 percent of the workforce, of whom just over one-fourth are eligible to retire), 1,143 CPC-ITs (8 percent of the workforce), and 2,167 developmentals in training (14 percent of the workforce). The 1981 Professional Air Traffic Controller Organization strike and subsequent firings created a situation in which retirement eligibility peaked as a large proportion of the controller workforce reached retirement age within the span of a few years. FAA data indicate that the latest 5 The 148 trainee controllers at the FAA Academy are not included in this head count.

OCR for page 7
14 Federal Aviation Administration’s Approach for Determining Future Air Traffic Controller Staffing Needs retirement wave has now passed its high-water mark, and under current hiring plans the intent is to “spread out the retirement eligibility of the current wave of new hires and reduce the magnitude of the retirement eligibility peak in future years” (FAA 2013b, 30). Like all air navigation service providers (ANSPs), FAA faces several challenges in determining the appropriate controller staffing needs to ensure the safe operation of the NAS in a cost-effective manner. A report from the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO) summarizes the issues as follows: One of the unique limitations of air navigation service provision, as compared to other industries, revolves around the difficulty in staffing to demand. ANSPs cannot quickly respond to changes in traffic as the development of new [controllers] requires somewhere between two to three years of training often with high failure rates. . . . while traffic may suddenly dip (or drop) due to external factors—economic downturns, extreme weather conditions, a terror event—the [controller] workforce cannot be right-sized accordingly. ANSPs cannot quickly or easily reduce that workforce . . . [controllers] are not particularly mobile as a move requires learning new sectors or areas, another lengthy training process. (CANSO 2012, 10) FAA’s STAFFING PROCESS FAA’s staffing process involves several steps spanning various organizations within the agency. The first step seeks to model, as far as possible, the number of controllers required on position at each facility to handle current and forecast traffic demand and then to convert the outcome to the number of controllers needed on staff at each facility, with scheduling and other constraints being taken into account. The resulting model-based “staffing standard” is then an input into a broader process in which input from the field6 and productivity data are considered in identifying a “staffing range” for each facility. Staff planning examines transfers and hiring, and these plans are executed. For more than 50 years, FAA has developed and applied staffing standards (models) to help establish staffing requirements for its ATC facilities. Over this period, independent groups, including the Transportation Research Board (TRB), have scrutinized the data sources and methods used by FAA. A 1997 report, for example, recommended an approach that combines formal modeled predictions with less formal methods based on expert judgment concerning staffing requirements at individual facilities (TRB 1997). That report noted that controller workforce planning is not a one-size-fits-all problem and observed that national planning needs to recognize features specific to individual ATC facilities. A more recent report reviewed the task load “complexity model” used in generating staffing standards for en route facilities and offered advice on “ways to improve the modeling process going forward” (TRB 2010, 6). In the committee’s judgment, the efficacy of the entire process needs to be judged by the extent to which the plans result in the right staffing at all of FAA’s air traffic facilities. Thus, subsequent staffing plans governing the hiring, training, and transfer of controllers and the extent 6 As used in this report, “the field” designates any facilities outside of FAA headquarters.

OCR for page 7
Introduction 15 to which they are properly executed must be considered, not merely the specific model used in generating the staffing standards or the correctness of the staffing ranges. CHARGE TO THE COMMITTEE As stipulated in Section 608 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, this project will study “the air traffic controller standards used by the [FAA] to estimate staffing needs for FAA air traffic controllers to ensure the safe operation of the national airspace system in the most cost effective manner.” The project “shall consult with the exclusive bargaining representative of employees of the FAA certified under section 7111 of title 5, United States Code, and other interested parties, including Government and industry representatives.” The study shall include (1) An examination of representative information on productivity, human factors, traffic activity, and improved technology and equipment used in air traffic control; (2) An examination of recent [National Research Council] reviews of the complexity model performed by MITRE Corporation that support the staffing standards models for the en route air traffic control environment; and (3) Consideration of the Administration’s current and estimated budgets and the most cost-effective staffing model to best leverage available funding. Conversations involving TRB staff and congressional staff provided the committee with further guidance on its task. In particular, Congress’s main interests are whether the forecasts from FAA’s staffing model (a) are reliable at the national level for the purpose of future budgeting and (b) incorporate cost-effective strategies for staffing that align future labor costs with anticipated appropriations. Consistent with this focus on budgetary concerns, congressional staff also asked the committee to investigate FAA’s controller staffing process from planning through execution, rather than focusing exclusively on the staffing standards (models).7 As discussed earlier, controller staffing affects not only safety but also the performance of the air traffic services provided in the NAS. This report focuses primarily on safety for four reasons: (a) the charge explicitly mentions safety; (b) confounding factors such as airspace structure and operational procedures complicate efforts to isolate the impacts of controller staffing on performance beyond the current state of the art in modeling airspace; (c) these confounding factors are themselves expected to change with ongoing initiatives, such as the Next Generation Air Transportation System; and (d) widely accepted performance metrics relevant to all industry segments and all types of ATC facility remain to be defined. Thus, relating performance to staffing is left as a subject for further study that will require both policy decisions to define performance metrics and clarification of how air traffic will be operated in the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Congressional staff also expressed particular interest in comparisons between the approaches to controller staffing taken by FAA and by ANSPs in other countries. As noted in the 7 As noted in the Preface, FAA’s definition of staffing standards is limited to the models relating controller workload and air traffic activity and does not include adjustments to the modeled output or implementation of the resulting staffing plan.

OCR for page 7
16 Federal Aviation Administration’s Approach for Determining Future Air Traffic Controller Staffing Needs Preface, four ANSPs (Airservices Australia, Nav Canada, Deutsche Flugsicherung in Germany, and National Air Traffic Services in the United Kingdom) provided the committee with white papers on their staffing processes. The papers, together with discussions with representatives of these ANSPs, provided valuable insights into specific aspects of controller workforce planning and execution, such as the implementation of fatigue risk management systems and of new, more sophisticated scheduling software. The lessons learned from the interactions with ANSPs are referenced in relevant sections of this report. In identifying these lessons, the committee was mindful of differences in labor laws and in the type and volume of air traffic services provided that raise questions about the transferability of ATC staffing practices from one nation to another. Different ANSPs operate in different settings and serve diverse constituencies, which complicates efforts to compare performance indicators, such as controller productivity (CANSO 2012). Factors affecting performance include, but are not limited to, type of ownership (government agency, state-owned agency, or private company), regulatory environment, traffic levels and complexity, and range of services provided. The committee also noted that metrics such as number of ATC operations may be counted differently in different countries, further complicating efforts to establish robust comparisons. The committee found that highly aggregate systemwide data do not provide an accurate picture of trends in controller productivity, as discussed in Chapter 7. Thus, the comparisons of controller productivity at different ANSPs presented in a recent report from CANSO should be interpreted with caution. FAA’s controller productivity for IFR flight hours in continental operations was found to be among the highest reported by CANSO members, but the report notes that this productivity indicator can be influenced by volume of traffic and by size and complexity of airspace (CANSO 2012). It also warns of the need to “avoid taking specific metrics in isolation without considering the broader context of the environment in which an ANSP operates” (p. 9). A recent comparison of U.S. and European air navigation systems illustrates this point. It notes that, while the two systems are of similar size, “the European system handles fewer flights . . . and is more labor intensive than the American system” (Button and Neiva 2013, 2). The differences are attributed to a number of technical reasons but also, in particular, to the lack of coordination among European systems, with the small size of many of these systems preventing economies of scale. Thus, the differences in productivity reflect institutional constraints and airspace design issues rather than controller productivity per se. The committee explored the possibility of comparing staffing levels at other countries’ ATC facilities similar in size and function to selected U.S. ATC facilities but was unable to obtain the necessary data from ANSPs. In the aggregate, FAA’s staffing process spans all operational facilities and several offices creating national plans. Such a process must be complex and have the ability to account for myriad concerns. However, in the committee’s view, the inherent complexity does not relieve FAA of the responsibility of making staffing decisions that are transparent and as consistent as possible with established data, science, and documented practices. Throughout its activities, the committee recognized the value of consistent and transparent staffing decisions in FAA’s ability to engage the controller workforce effectively and to substantiate staffing decisions to the aviation industry and to taxpayers.

OCR for page 7
Introduction 17 ORGANIZATION OF REPORT Chapter 2 examines the role of ATC in aviation accidents and incidents and identifies opportunities for developing a better understanding of the relationships between ATC staffing and aviation safety. It compares the safety of low-activity FAA towers and contract towers and discusses concerns about the adverse impacts of fatigue on controller performance and possible fatigue mitigation strategies. The chapter concludes by examining the implications of a robust FAA safety culture for controller staffing. In particular, the need for improved data collection and analysis for better understanding of the relationship between staffing and safety and the value of further involvement of controllers in reporting and safety improvements are noted. Chapter 3 reviews the formal staffing models and the overall process used by FAA in estimating the number of controllers needed to staff its ATC facilities. Key features of the models used for towers, TRACONs, and en route facilities are summarized, and their strengths and weaknesses are identified. The chapter provides an overview of FAA’s traffic forecasting methods. Chapter 4 examines staffing levels at FAA’s ATC facilities relative to FAA’s staffing ranges. It reviews the hiring and staffing plans developed to manage the staffing at each facility and how, and how well, FAA executes these plans. Several potential strategies targeting concerns with regard to getting the right staff to the right facility are suggested. Chapter 5 considers the implications of FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System for controller staffing and discusses the role of the controller in the development and fielding of system technologies. Chapter 6 presents current and estimated future budgets for ATC staffing and discusses current and anticipated revenue streams. The chapter identifies the pros and cons of policy options that might allow FAA to cut costs without commensurate reductions in ATC services. Each of Chapters 2 through 5 concludes with findings and recommendations addressing the chapter’s content. Chapter 7 summarizes key insights from the preceding chapters and presents the committee’s major recommendations. REFERENCES Abbreviations CANSO Civil Air Navigation Services Organization FAA Federal Aviation Administration OIG Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation TRB Transportation Research Board Button, K., and R. Neiva. 2013. Single European Sky and the Functional Airspace Blocks: Will They Improve Economic Efficiency? Journal of Air Transport Management, Vol. 33, pp. 73–80. CANSO. 2012. Global Air Navigation Services Performance Report 2012 (2007–2011 ANSP Performance Results). FAA. 2013a. Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS) Roadmap, 1st ed. http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/media/UAS_Roadmap_2013.pdf. FAA. 2013b. A Plan for the Future: 10-Year Strategy for the Air Traffic Control Workforce, 2013–2022. http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/controller_staffing/media/CWP_2013.pdf.

OCR for page 7
18 Federal Aviation Administration’s Approach for Determining Future Air Traffic Controller Staffing Needs Harfield, J. 2013. Airservices Australia’s Air Traffic Control Staff Resource Planning and Management. White paper prepared for the committee, June. Available on request from the Public Access Records Office of the National Academies (e-mail paro@nas.edu). OIG. 2012. Contract Towers Continue to Provide Safe and Cost-Effective Services, but Improved Oversight of the Program Is Needed. AV-2013-009. TRB. 1997. Special Report 250: Air Traffic Control Facilities: Improving Methods to Determine Staffing Requirements. National Research Council, Washington, D.C. TRB. 2010. Special Report 301: Air Traffic Controller Staffing in the En Route Domain: A Review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Task Load Model. National Academies, Washington, D.C.