In FAA’s terminology, the “above range” category is referred to as “high” staffing, the “within range” category as “adequate” staffing, and the “below range” category as “low” staffing. Figure 4-1 is a modified version of a figure that appears in the 2013 controller workforce plan. It shows several implications and potential causes of above- and below-range staffing.
At the end of FY 2012, of FAA’s 315 ATC facilities, 135 (representing 53 percent of the CPC + CPC-IT workforce) were classified as above range, 102 (representing 34 percent of the CPC + CPC-IT workforce) were classified as within range, and 78 (representing 13 percent of the CPC + CPC-IT workforce) were classified as below range (Table 4-1). According to FAA, the large proportion of facilities that are above range is explained in part by the gradual
FIGURE 4-1 Illustration of controller staffing range.
TABLE 4-1 Certified Controller Staffing Levels of FAA Facilities (End FY 2012)
|Facilities||CPC + CPC-IT Head Count|
|Facility Staffing Level||Number||Percent||Number||Percent|
movement of the retirement bubble through the workforce. The peak of controller retirements occurred in 2007, but as of FY 2012, about 3,000 controllers were still eligible to retire (i.e., roughly 20 percent). Historical trends indicate that most of this population will not retire until their 7th year of eligibility (FAA 2013, 31), and between 606 and 742 CPCs are expected to retire each year between 2013 and 2017 (FAA 2013, 33). As the wave of retirements continues, FAA expects that many facilities currently above range will fall within range.
Facilities that are below, within, or above the staffing range are of all types—smaller towers that mostly serve general aviation; towers that serve small and medium airports with both general aviation and commercial traffic; and the largest airport towers, terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facilities, and centers (Table 4-2). Facilities with relatively few staff (12 or fewer CPCs) are particularly sensitive to sudden small changes in numbers of personnel that would change their classification. A large proportion of facilities below the staffing range are towers serving mostly general aviation and small and medium-sized airports. Nevertheless, some facilities serving important, high-volume airports and airspace fall into this category. A few of these facilities persistently appear in this category and have been deemed as chronically “hard to staff” for a variety of reasons. For example, according to the FY 2013 controller workforce plan, the staffing range for the Oakland, California, en route center is 185 to 226, whereas it has only 154 CPCs. The staffing range of the New York TRACON (serving JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, and Teterboro Airports) is 178 to 218, whereas it has 156 CPCs.1 Each of these facilities is assigned CPC-ITs and developmental controllers to raise its total staffing level to at least the bottom of the range. However, new personnel are not qualified to staff all the positions at the facilities, and current CPCs must spend time training them. San Juan and Guam, which pose their own unique challenges, are included among the hard-to-staff facilities.
TABLE 4-2 Facility Staffing Relative to Staffing Range, FY 2012
|Major Facility Type||N||%||N||%||N||%|
|Smallest towers, mostly for general aviation||21||27||16||16||36||27|
|Small and medium-sized airport towers||45||58||56||55||56||41|
|Large towers, TRACONs, and en route centers||12||15||30||29||43||32|
1 FAA calculates a facility’s staffing status on the basis of combined CPCs and CPC-ITs. In FY 2013, this metric indicated that both the Oakland center and the New York TRACON were below range.
Many staff at facilities that are classified as above the range are located at air route traffic control centers (en route centers). The 23 en route centers have 200 to 400 certified controllers each and represent a large proportion of the fully certified controllers in the system (roughly 44 percent at the end of FY 2012). About half of the centers (12) were in the “above” category at the end of FY 2012. Roughly 30 percent of the CPCs in the centers classified as above the range midpoint were eligible for retirement in FY 2012. These centers tend to have large numbers of CPC-ITs and developmental controllers receiving training to replace CPCs as they retire.
Moving a facility that is classified as above or below the range toward its staffing target is a multiyear process. Each facility’s workforce may contain “homesteader” controllers who do not wish to move once they settle into a facility, establish households, and build ties to their communities. Inducing staff to move away from facilities that are within or above the staffing range to those that are below the range can be difficult. Building up a facility that is understaffed requires lead time for bringing new personnel on board (either from other facilities or as new hires) and training them. For both new and transferring employees, the training time varies dramatically with the individual’s level of experience.
Data provided by ALA allowed the committee to analyze a variety of additional metrics relative to the above–within–below classifications in the FY 2013 controller workforce plan. The metrics examine workforce composition, overtime usage, and time on position from the perspectives of “working certified positions” and “on-the-job training.” Table 4-3 shows how the metrics vary with staffing status.
The following are observations on the metrics presented in the table:
• On the basis of the CPC + CPC-IT assessment, the “below” and “above” staffing level percentages are more than 10 percent away from the staffing range boundaries—the group above the range midpoint is roughly 20 percent above and the group below the range midpoint is almost 20 percent below.2
• The controller pipeline (all staffing qualification levels except CPC) constitutes 23 percent of the workforce. On the basis of an analysis of ALA-provided data, that number has remained little changed, ranging from 23 to 27 percent during the preceding 5 years.
• As would be expected, overtime usage at sites below the staffing range is more than twice that of sites above the staffing range.
• As the staffing level relative to the staffing range midpoint increases, CPCs perform a greater portion of the total time on position. This implies that in facilities categorized as below range, CPC-ITs and developmental controllers contribute a larger share of productive work because the facilities lack an adequate number of fully qualified CPCs.
• The proportion of CPC time on position devoted to on-the-job training increases slightly at the facilities categorized as below range. This is likely because CPCs at facilities that are not adequately staffed need to provide developmental controllers with more training time.
2 These estimates are based on the numbers of staff in each category (the total staff in all facilities that are below, within, or above range compared with the total staff estimated by the staffing range midpoint). The estimates are not based on the average of each facility’s rating relative to the staffing range midpoint, since the estimate would be skewed by the small number of small facilities that are substantially below or above the staffing range.
TABLE 4-3 Metrics for FAA ATC Facilities
|Above Range||Within Range||Below Range||Systemwide|
|Staffing level (CPC + CPC-IT) as percentage of staffing range midpoint||120||100||81||106|
|Percentage of staff that are CPCs||83||74||83||77|
|Overtime hours as percentage of all hours worked||1.4||3.5||3.6||2.4|
|Percentage of time on position performed by CPCs||90||85||80||87|
|Percentage of CPC time on position also providing on-the-job training to non-CPCs||8||10||11||9|
|Percentage of non-CPC time on position also receiving on-the-job training||41||35||30||36|
NOTE: Non-CPCs = certified professional controllers in training + developmental controllers.
Are There Other Methods for Comparing Current Staffing Levels with Staffing Ranges?
The staffing standards process described in Chapter 3 estimates the number of controller positions that need to be staffed during every 15-minute interval and develops nominal schedules, daily staffing, and overall facility staffing strengths to meet these demands. No consideration is given to the extent to which each facility will be staffed by CPCs, CPC-ITs, and developmentals. According to FY 2012 data provided to the committee by ALA, CPCs made up only 77 percent of the workforce; the remainder was made up of CPC-ITs (8 percent), developmentals (10 percent), and recent hires at earlier stages (FAA Academy graduates at the operational sites, 4 percent; candidates at the academy, 1 percent). In FY 2012, some 11,753 CPCs served 10.6 million hours on position (averaging 902 hours per year per controller); the 3,310 CPC-ITs, developmentals, and academy graduates served 1.6 million hours on position (averaging 496 hours per year). This limited comparison suggests that the average non-CPC is “working certified positions” at a rate slightly more than half (55 percent) that of a CPC and that the total non-CPC workforce performs 13 percent of the required time on position.
No clear distinction between the contributions of CPC-ITs and developmental controllers can be made. CPC-ITs typically progress more quickly than developmentals, but many factors can cause differences among facilities. For example, a CPC who transfers from a small tower to an en route center will need to undergo the same extensive training as a new hire would experience and may have a similar chance of successful certification.
Thus, how should actual staffing levels be compared with staffing ranges that were generated, in large part, from the staffing standards? The method used in the controller workforce plan assesses the sum of CPCs and CPC-ITs at each facility, even though the CPC-ITs may not be able to staff each position. Furthermore, carving out CPC-ITs in the baseline assessment of facility staffing status in such a generalized form fails to account for nuances in training progression mentioned above and could result in an inaccurate depiction of facility staffing capacity. A more conservative method would compare the CPCs at each facility with the staffing range. By this method, 113 of the 315 facilities fall below the staffing range minimum and 62 exceed the maximum. However, this method does not consider the impact of the CPC-ITs and developmentals at each facility. This omission can have the following effects:
• The progress of the CPC-ITs and developmentals through the certification process and the contributions of the CPC-ITs and developmentals in terms of the positions that they are able to staff would not be reflected. A comparison of the number of CPCs at a facility with its staffing range would be misleading in a short-term assessment of facility staffing.
• The additional training demands created by the CPC-ITs and developmentals on the facility, notably the on-the-job training provided by the CPCs, would not be reflected. Thus, a comparison of the number of CPCs at a facility with its staffing range may incorrectly imply that it is within or above range.
• The extent to which the comparison of the number of CPCs with the staffing range may change once staff qualify at a facility would not be reflected. A facility that appears to be below range in one year may appear to be within or above range the next, not because its staffing levels have changed but because of successful training of the staff already at the facility.
An assessment based on a more detailed analysis of the certification status of the personnel at a facility would be more relevant. Attrition models could be refined to reflect historical trends in achieving various position certifications at a given type and level of facility (or even at an individual facility). A controller equivalent workforce (CEW) metric could emerge as a measure of a facility’s current status given the qualification levels of its controllers. Such a metric would allow for within-year comparisons of staffing levels with the staffing ranges and provide a perspective with regard to planning for hires. Such a comparison could help flag facilities that are lagging in reaching necessary levels.
A CEW metric will require careful analysis and development. Its application should be limited to assessing the capacity of a facility to staff its positions and bring its CPC-ITs and developmentals up to fully qualified status. That capacity may vary with several factors, including facility type and the ratio of CPCs to trainees (i.e., CPC-ITs and developmentals). The notional estimates of relative contributions given above may serve in the aggregate, but the CEW of a facility should be calculated in a manner that reflects the facility’s capacity to staff its positions and train its new members.3
For example, a facility with a large number of CPC-ITs and developmentals may have difficulty in scheduling them into positions for which they are qualified, which would limit their effective contribution. Furthermore, the CPCs may not be able to staff positions as assumed in the staffing standards while providing on-the-job training (i.e., the CEW of such CPCs may need to be less than 1.0). (Such analysis may substantiate the general axiom within FAA that CPCs must make up at least 65 percent of a facility’s workforce.) In contrast, at a facility with a high proportion of CPCs, it may be easier to schedule CPC-ITs and developmentals into positions where they can contribute and easier for CPCs to provide them with on-the-job training.
3 The estimates of time on position by controllers with varied levels of certification discussed in this section are based on data provided by ALA. If the CEW approach to estimating contributions to workload by controllers in training is pursued by FAA, it would need to verify that time on position data are captured accurately.
The controller workforce at individual facilities is in constant flux. There is a recurring need to reevaluate the staffing status at each facility and identify the strength adjustments required for maintaining or achieving optimal staffing levels. Figure 4-2 provides an overview of the process.
FIGURE 4-2 Controller workforce planning process from staff planning through achievement of staffing level.
The annual hiring plan is an important strength management tool. The process begins with ALA. For each site, the general approach consists of the following:
• Projecting the population forward to a specified date, with retirements, promotions, developmental failures, and other attrition factored in;
• Identifying the gap between the result of this projection and the staffing target (be it staffing standard or staffing range midpoint); and
• Estimating the number of new hires needed to close the gap.
Let y denote the year for which the number of new hires is being estimated. For each facility f, define the following:
• t(f) = length of the training cycle for facility f. This is the nominal time required for a new hire to achieve full qualification (CPC status) at facility f. ALA uses 1-, 2-, and 3-year values in its planning. Then y + t(f) is the year in which controllers hired in year y would achieve CPC status at facility f.
• p(y + t(f)) = number of CPCs projected to be at facility f in year y + t(f). The number includes residual CPCs from the beginning of year y and the various non-CPCs who achieve CPC status during the interval. ALA uses historical attrition and developmental data to estimate the surviving population in both categories.
• tgt(y + t(f)) = staffing target for facility f in year y + t(f).4
• a(t(f)) = attrition rate of new hires at facility f over the training cycle. The survival rate of new hires over that interval is thus 1 – a(t(f)).
• h(y, f) = number of new hires planned for facility f in year y. If p(y + t(f)) ≥ tgt(y + t(f)), h(y, f) = 0. If p(y + t(f)) tgt(y + t(f)), h(y, f) = [tgt(y + t(f)) – p(y + t(f))]/[1 – a(t(f))].
These formulas indicate that, in developing a hiring plan for a facility, ALA takes into account the status of the facility’s workforce and how it is expected to change over time, the training cycle appropriate for the facility, and the number of new hires that will be required to meet the staffing target.
After the hiring plan is complete, ALA gathers ATO’s input into what will eventually be an agreed-on staffing plan that will be submitted to the field for execution. The staffing plan consists of a hiring plan (for new hires) and a transfer plan (for current controllers moving between facilities). The annual staffing plan should provide the targets to make the necessary strength adjustments so that each facility can achieve a staffing level consistent with its staffing target. The staffing target in the past has been the number of staff required to meet the projected traffic that is generated by the staffing models (i.e., the staffing standard described in Chapter 3).
4 Before the FY 2014 controller workforce plan, the staffing target was the staffing standard. For the FY 2014 controller workforce plan, both the staffing standard and the staffing range midpoint will be evaluated as the staffing target.
For FY 2014, the committee was informed that the target could be either the staffing standard or the midpoint of the staffing range. After discussion with ATO staff, the committee could not fully discern the criteria used in determining the staffing target, other than that ATO takes into account unique circumstances that the staffing models do not represent.
According to ALA, ATO staff offer suggestions as to which facilities should be the recipients of transfers (“transfers in”) but do not offer the “transfers out” detail. Since transfers in and transfers out must net to zero systemwide, ALA uses historical data to estimate which facilities are traditionally donors of transfers (i.e., transfers out of those facilities). No out–in connection is directly identifiable, but this procedure does generate a planned net change (transfers in – transfers out) at each facility. A transfer action may require two training cycle events—one for the previously qualified controller at the new facility and one for the replacement controller at the previous site.
Table 4-4 provides a systemwide comparison of the ALA hiring plan with the ALA–ATO agreed-on plan with the above-, within-, and below-range facility staffing level classifications.5 The committee was surprised by the sizable increase in new hires (59 or 6.5 percent) in the staffing plan over the 902 proposed in ALA’s plan. The reasons for the difference are not fully understood. ATO staff indicated that the difference was due to adjustments to account for real-world conditions at facilities but could provide no documentation concerning how the adjustments are made or the criteria used in making them. (A subsequent section of this chapter addresses the need for more transparency in the process by which facilities provide input into the staffing plan.) In addition, the transfer process does not appear to be used proactively to steer facilities toward their staffing targets, as is described in more detail below.
TABLE 4-4 Comparison of FY 2012 ALA Hiring Plan and ALA–ATO Staffing Plan
|ALA–ATO Staffing Plan|
|Facility Staffing Level||Number of Sites||ALA Hiring Plan Quantity||Hiresa||Transfers Inb||Transfers Out|
a The ALA–ATO staffing plan is considered the combined output of the ALA–ATO agreed-on hiring plan and the net of (transfers in – transfers out).
b Although no transfers are planned in the en route environment, many occur. [In addition to the CPC-IT transfer plan (within terminal facilities only), ALA’s hiring models include an assumed net transfer plan between en route and terminal facilities.]
5 The data for FY 2013 are available, but the effects of the sequester truncated hiring at midyear and would make the analysis unbalanced.
Even the best staffing plan will not achieve the desired outcomes if it is not executed as planned. To gain a better understanding of the relationship between the staffing plan and execution of the plan, the committee compared planned staff additions and transfers in FY 2012 with what actually occurred. The committee chose FY 2012 rather than FY 2013 for the comparison because the Budget Control Act of 2011 prevented FAA from hiring new staff during a significant part of 2013. (The Budget Control Act of 2011 and its impact on FAA’s budget are discussed in Chapter 6.)
The committee examined planned and executed staffing gains at each facility (Table 4-5). For purposes of this table, gains are defined as new hires plus all transfers into a facility less all transfers out. The gains are divided between terminal (tower and TRACON) facilities and en route centers and between facilities that were below, within, and above the staffing ranges (the ALA metric of CPC + CPC-IT was used as the determinant of facility staffing).
Table 4-5 indicates that FAA is executing its hiring and transfer plans as intended in the aggregate. Terminals that fall below the staffing range did not achieve the intended target, but the difference between the target and the number achieved is small (five), so the discrepancy may not be difficult to overcome. Among facilities that fall above the staffing range, the category for which underperformance is appropriate, FAA met 91 percent of the target. Facilities that fall within the range slightly overachieved, but the difference (nine) is small relative to the total workforce.
The impact of staffing is felt at the facility level. In examining facility-level data, the committee noticed cases from FY 2011 through FY 2013 where execution did not meet the plan. The following are examples:
• The Denver (Colorado) TRACON (D01), which is staffed within the staffing range, had an aggregate (3-year) staffing plan (hires plus net transfers) of 25; it executed 15.
• The Dallas–Fort Worth (Texas) tower, which is staffed above the staffing range, executed 10 against a plan of seven in FY 2013 because transfers in exceeded transfers out.
• The Detroit (Michigan) TRACON (D21), which is staffed below the staffing range, executed three against a plan of 13. Transfers went fairly well according to plan, but no new hires were executed against a plan of seven.
• The High Desert (California) TRACON (E10), which is below the staffing range, executed 11 against a plan of five. The overexecution was due to seven new hires in FY 2013 against a plan of one.
• Guam (ZUA), also below the staffing range, executed seven new hires against a plan of nine. No transfers in or out were planned; actual transfers out of seven exceeded actual transfers in of four. The result was an underexecution by five.
Examining staffing plans for any single year in terms of whether a facility is below, within, or above the staffing range could be misleading. As noted above, facility staffing is constantly changing because of retirements, other losses (deaths and attrition), new hires, transfers, and changes in staff capability as developmentals and CPC-ITs achieve CPC status. However, the FY 2012 staffing plan allocates staff to facilities in rough proportion to their current staffing levels, regardless of whether they are classified as below, within, or above the
TABLE 4-5 Planned Versus Executed Staffing Gains in FY 2012
|Facility Staffing Status Relative to Range|
range. Facilities that are below the range represented 13 percent of total staff at the beginning of FY 2012 and were to receive 13 percent of staffing gains according to the plan, facilities that are within the range represented 35 percent of total staff and were to receive 39 percent of staffing gains, and facilities that are above the range represented 53 percent of staff and were to receive 48 percent of staffing gains.
These results contrast with the expectation that staffing plans would assign more staff to facilities classified as below range. The general policy that avoids placing new hires in the most difficult of the below-range, hard-to-staff facilities might account for some of this discrepancy. However, many towers of Level 4 to 86 are below the staffing range. Some of them would, presumably, be appropriate training sites for new hires, who could later transfer into higher-level facilities that are hard to staff.
FAA can advertise vacancies and solicit controller transfers, or individuals can make unsolicited employee requests for reassignment (ERRs, i.e., voluntary transfers). Both can help correct staffing imbalances among facilities. In addition, a small percentage of transfers are requested under “hardship” conditions, a subcategory of the ERR pool. The committee reviewed the 744 actual transfers that occurred during FY 2012, which represented about 5 percent of the workforce that year (see Table 4-6).7 From a staff management perspective, a transfer was deemed not to change facilities’ staffing levels overall if a controller moved between facilities categorized as having the same relative staffing; this was the case in 43 percent of the transfers
6 As indicated in Chapter 2, FAA air traffic facilities have several classification levels, which are based on numerous factors, including traffic volume, complexity, and sustainability of traffic. The levels range from 4 to 12, with 12 being the most complex.
7 The 744 actual transfers for FY 2012 represent a significant increase from the 563 “agreed-on” transfers included in the FY 2012 ALA–ATO staffing plan (see Table 4-4).
TABLE 4-6 Transfers Among Facilities in FY 2012
|“To” Staffing Status|
|“From” Staffing Status||Below||Within||Above||Total|
[319 (= 3 + 139 + 177) transfers in FY 2012]. Similarly, transfers were categorized as representing good strength management when controllers moved out of facilities categorized as being above or within the staffing range into facilities categorized as below the range, or out of facilities categorized as being above the staffing range into facilities categorized as within the range; this was the case in 27 percent of the transfers [204 (= 46 + 22 + 136) transfers in FY 2012]. Finally, transfers were categorized as representing poor strength management if controllers moved out of “below” or “within” facilities into “above” facilities, or out of “below” facilities into “within” facilities; this was the case in 30 percent of the transfers [221 (= 25 + 159 + 37) transfers in FY 2012]. Only 9 percent of transfers [68 (= 22 + 46) in FY 2012] moved staff from the “within” or “above” category to the below category.
The rationale behind these transfers is not apparent. Some may have been hardship cases or may have included transfers allowed as part of a progression of training to higher-level facilities. However, the overall pattern suggests the lack of a systematic process within ATO to solicit and approve voluntary transfer requests in a way that moves toward FAA’s target staffing ranges.
Several difficulties and disincentives limit FAA’s ability to solicit and approve voluntary transfers. Controllers report that the costs of moving between facilities are not fully covered; this is a particularly strong disincentive when controllers are required to move their households.8 Furthermore, on arrival, the controller will be designated as a CPC-IT and required to train and qualify into the new facility. Transferring to a higher-level facility carries the risk that the controller will not qualify into the facility, with associated uncertainties concerning subsequent reassignment back to a lower-level facility.
Evidence suggests that under the process by which ERRs are reviewed by individual facilities, the first facility to approve the transfer gets the controller. Thus, a facility described as having adequate staffing may get a controller who had indicated a willingness to transfer to a facility with low staffing. This process may contribute to the discrepancies between staffing targets in the hiring plan and the staffing results in the field.
The composition of staff at facilities changes slowly over time. Although FAA is reported to have a substantial share of controllers who are anxious to move to higher-level facilities offering higher pay as their skills are refined, many may be reluctant to move once they have established households. To take a longer time dimension into account, the committee examined plan execution for FY 2011 through FY 2013, for which ALA provided annual comparisons of
8 Andrew LeBovidge, committee member and NATCA representative, personal communication to Safety subgroup of the committee, March 19, 2013.
planned versus executed staffing. The committee categorized the execution of a facility’s staffing plan as “under,” “proper,” or “over” as follows:
• For a small planning value (i.e., calling for fewer than 10 staff changes at the facility), the “proper” range was set at plan ± 1. For example, a staffing plan of 5 executed at 4, 5, or 6 would be considered “proper”; it would be considered “under” if execution < 4 or “over” if execution > 6.
• For a planning value ≥ 10, the “proper” range was set at plan ± 10%, analogous to how ALA defines the staffing range. For example, a staffing plan of 20 executed at 18 through 22 would be considered “proper”; it would be considered “under” if execution < 18 or “over” if execution > 22.
Systemwide, the FY 2011 plan of 829 was executed at 822 and the FY 2012 plan of 961 was executed at 925. The FY 2013 plan of 1,315 was severely underexecuted at 554 because of the sequester of FAA funding. The facility counts by execution category are given in Table 4-7.
Even for FY 2011 and FY 2012, which were not affected by the sequester, there was no apparent management discipline to ensure that execution was in accordance with the plan: 73 percent of the facilities “properly” executed in FY 2011, and only 52 percent did so in FY 2012. The differences between FAA’s staffing plan and execution of the plan emerged late in the committee’s deliberations, past the time when further dialogue with FAA staff might have provided explanations for the discrepancies. The committee understands that the execution
TABLE 4-7 Planned Versus Executed Hires and Transfers
NOTE: Table gives number of facilities grouped by facility type and whether the facility overexecuted, properly executed, or underexecuted its staffing plan.
process is complex and involves considerations by facility managers and higher-level staff within ATO. Furthermore, the committee does not have a full understanding of how the staffing plan is carried out and who makes final decisions on hiring and transfers. Nonetheless, because staffing levels are in flux, poor execution of the staffing plan in a particular year makes it more difficult to achieve the staffing target in a future year. The committee does not know whether the discrepancies between plans and execution are caused by improper execution or by a difference of opinion between ALA and ATO with regard to appropriate staffing levels at individual facilities.
FAA faces many challenges in steering staffing levels toward its goals. In the intensely competitive airline industry, carriers can pull out of major facilities on short notice, as in Columbus, Ohio; Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; Raleigh, North Carolina; and San Jose, California, leaving behind a tower whose staff was built up over many years. Unless controllers are moved against their will, many years of attrition may be required before the facility is rightsized. Voluntary requests for transfers are placed by only a small proportion of the controller workforce, and as noted above, FAA apparently makes little effort to steer the transfer requests from facilities that are above the range to those that are below. Possible opportunities available to FAA that could facilitate the rightsizing of individual facilities are discussed in the following subsections.
Career Advancement Within the Controller Workforce
In theory, controllers have several paths for career advancement. Some include the transition to management and supervisory positions. Of interest here is the progression from lower-level facilities with light traffic demand and simple traffic flows to progressively higher-level facilities serving the busiest airspace with the most complex traffic.
FAA’s maximum salaries for controllers appear to be structured in a way that should encourage controllers to move from lower- to higher-level facilities to achieve higher incomes. For example, a CPC who progresses from a Level 8 tower to a Level 12 facility could increase his or her maximum pay by 40 percent. However, controllers express concerns about the cost of moving households, movement into areas with higher costs of living, and the risks of transferring from a lower- to a higher-level facility and then failing to qualify.9
Despite the impediments, for those controllers eager to advance, a career progression from lower- to higher-level facilities implies that at least some lower- and midlevel facilities could not only handle their own traffic demand but also help in training controllers for higher-level facilities. Such facilities could serve as the foundation of an apprenticeship model. Staffing plans would need to allocate more developmentals and CPC-ITs from even lower-level facilities to these “training grounds” than are required by the staff-to-traffic philosophy underlying the staffing standard and staffing range described in Chapter 3. The staffing plan could involve the
9 Dean Iacopelli and Eugene Freedman, NATCA, presentation to the committee, January 2013; and Andrew LeBovidge, committee member and NATCA representative, personal communication to Safety subgroup of the committee, March 19, 2013.
CPCs at the training ground facilities in helping the higher-level facilities select and train suitable candidates for advancement.
For a career progression to work, FAA would probably need to be more explicit with new staff about expectations concerning the need to move to advance their careers, and FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) would need to agree on policies to induce staff movements from facilities that have ample staff to those that do not. Career progression policies might take a different approach at centers, which are large enough to afford internal staff progression opportunities.
The need for an apprenticeship model was demonstrated in the cases of some high-level facilities that required new controllers because of high attrition. Under past policies, new controllers were placed directly into these facilities; the facilities were not able to advertise for and transfer in controllers who had proved capable in facilities one level down in difficulty. The resulting failure-to-qualify rates, especially at hard-to-staff facilities such as the New York TRACON, imposed a significant training burden and wasted resources, and the nonqualifiers had to be replaced in subsequent years’ staffing plans at the cost of significant delay.10 The failure rates also discouraged new controllers from indicating an interest in these facilities. More recently, ATO has avoided the placement of newly hired controllers in high-level facilities. However, ATO has no choice but to place newly hired controllers in some hard-to-staff facilities that do not attract adequate transfers, such as the New York TRACON, in the hope that some will qualify.
FAA has recognized some of the concerns described above and chartered an independent review panel that provided several recommendations in 2011 on candidate selection, hiring, facility assignment, and training within the controller workforce (Barr et al. 2011). FAA, in concert with NATCA, is moving forward with many of the recommendations that are relevant to this section, particularly with regard to strengthening the initial selection and facility assignment by ATO. However, the extent to which facility assignment takes facility staffing into account relative to the staffing standard is unclear. Furthermore, the committee could find no consistent or formal policy for career advancement or for designation of training ground facilities within the staff planning processes, although an informal process appears to be in place under which certain facilities serve as training grounds for higher-level facilities.
All facilities have some level of concern with regard to selection and training, transfers, and career advancement. Certain facilities experience these concerns to such a degree that they are chronically understaffed and are considered hard to staff. In the past, FAA sent new hires into these facilities to fill gaps and allowed transfers of CPCs from low-level towers into large TRACONs and centers. The result was unacceptably high attrition, because some hard-to-staff facilities manage traffic that is among the most demanding in the nation.
Recent initiatives at FAA include development and validation of operational assessments to prescreen applicants to specific facilities to maximize training success. They are still considered pilot programs and are not yet institutionalized and available to all the facilities that
10 Dean Iacopelli and Eugene Freedman, NATCA, presentation to the committee, January 2013. Rich McCormick, Gene Burdick, and David Burkholder, briefing to a subgroup of the committee at FAA headquarters, August 29, 2013.
may benefit from such a program. Additional incentives may be required to encourage more transfers into hard-to-staff facilities.
Selection and Training
FAA’s generation and execution of safe, efficient staffing plans are affected by its ability to select and train controllers with confidence that they will qualify into the facility. Selection and training are complicated by differences in the necessary level of skills among facilities: higher-level facilities (those handling more complex, higher-volume traffic) require special skills developed over years of training, and not all controllers may be appropriate for such facilities. New entrants to the controller workforce who have finished at the academy are not considered fully trained. Once they move to an operational facility, they are categorized as developmentals. They require additional training and must qualify on all positions in the facility before they attain CPC status. When controllers transition between facilities, they are categorized as CPC-ITs until they qualify on all positions in the new facility. CPC-ITs also require further training when they move to a higher-level facility, and they may not qualify. The training within the facility must be conducted by CPCs who are certified as trainers.
Staff planning must consider the impact of placing a large number of developmentals and CPC-ITs into a facility in terms of the training burden imposed on the CPCs and the risks of high rates of attrition (Barr et al. 2011). (FAA attempts to limit the proportion of trainees at a facility to 35 percent of total personnel to avoid overburdening CPCs with training duties.) The core of controller training is conducted with the developmental or CPC-IT actively working on an operational position under the direct supervision of a CPC instructor, who is responsible for intervening in case of any problems. While such on-the-job training is necessary, committee discussions with senior FAA safety staff and National Transportation Safety Board investigators indicate that it may create a safety concern if it is not monitored properly. Thus, care must be taken to avoid overloading a facility with more developmentals and CPC-ITs than it can train safely and effectively, and the impact of on-the-job training on safety requires close monitoring.
Efficient Shift Scheduling
As indicated in Chapters 2 and 3, providing a scheduling tool to facilities would benefit safety (in terms of fatigue) and the generation of staffing standards and the staffing plan. The discussion in this chapter reflects the operational aspects of generating efficient schedules. Each facility generates its own schedule. Committee members have seen examples of schedules generated through the use of locally developed white boards and spreadsheets. In many cases, a default schedule template has evolved within a facility over several years and is familiar to supervisors and the controller workforce there. The operational benefits of providing a tool to facilities to assist in maximizing the efficiency of shift coverage and to clarify to the workforce at the facility how schedules are developed are described here.
The benefits with regard to fatigue mitigation and staff planning will only be realized if the facility applies the tool to generate the schedules that are actually used. Such a mandate for facilities to use the tool, and perhaps some constraints on the schedules that they may select from it, must consider the operational realities of each facility. One centralized schedule cannot work for all facilities. First, traffic may be heavy or light for different facilities at different times of
day. Second, each facility may have local concerns such as preventing shifts from starting or ending during peak-hour traffic to avoid long commutes during recuperative breaks.
Airservices Australia has completed such an effort, and positive results were reported to the committee. The organization’s scheduling capability is integrated with fatigue risk management so that schedules can be created in accordance with fatigue risk management principles and the fatigue risk of any necessary changes can be considered. With regard to providing facilities with a measure of local control and flexibility, each facility has three default schedule templates to select from. If facility management believes that none of the defaults adequately reflects its circumstances, it may propose a fourth to headquarters. As part of fatigue risk management, the scheduling tool helps identify circumstances under which, for example, offering a controller a taxi ride home after an unexpected, unusually long shift may be warranted.
Thus, the scheduling tool can inform and guide the generation of efficient schedules that take into account the principles of fatigue risk management at each facility, yet each facility should be provided with the flexibility to adapt the schedules to local considerations. The schedules can have significant professional and personal impact on controllers, so they will be most effective if they are developed collaboratively with the workforce.
Communication Between Operations and Staff Planning
Generation of the staffing standards and staffing plan is inherently a function of central planning units in ALA and ATO at FAA headquarters. However, the facilities need a well-defined way of communicating their needs in the development of the staffing plan, particularly if unusual or unique circumstances are not reflected in the mathematical models underlying the planning process. Such communication requires clarity with regard to how the facilities’ current staffing levels were assessed and how the transition toward the staffing targets will occur.
Several entities need to be involved. In addition to communication up and down the organizational chain from facility to regional service unit to centralized planning at FAA headquarters, the communication should involve the workforce at all levels. Horizontal coordination within the organization between facilities and service units would often be beneficial. Furthermore, independent review panels and working groups that are asked to examine staffing-related concerns need the ability to communicate their findings and recommendations through the organization so that improvements are broadly reflected.
The committee was unable to achieve a clear understanding concerning the communication of facility concerns in the development of the staffing plan. Various processes appear to be involved, and they appear to change over time. A more consistent and transparent communication process is needed.
At the end of FY 2012, the majority of FAA facilities were either above (43 percent of facilities) or below (25 percent of facilities) the staffing range established in the FY 2013 controller workforce plan. A reasonable expectation is that FAA intends to move these facilities toward their staffing targets over time.
After ALA uses the staffing targets to develop a hiring plan, ALA and ATO agree on a staffing plan for new hires and transfers that is intended to establish agency goals for these
facilities. The staffing plan agreed on by ALA and ATO for FY 2012 is 6.5 percent above what the modeled output suggests is appropriate. Explanations for the discrepancy included the need to account for local circumstances and facility manager judgment, but no documentation or criteria were available to the committee to justify a discrepancy of this magnitude or to indicate that the staffing standard is low. It is certainly appropriate for facilities to provide input into the staffing plan, but a transparent process is needed by which facilities can understand what the various staffing standards, targets, and ranges represent and then provide their input in an informed manner.
The staff hiring determined in the ALA hiring plan and the staff planning methods themselves may be erroneous because FAA’s assessment of facility staffing does not appropriately account for non-CPC controllers. If the CEW concept described above is developed and proves effective, FAA would have better insight into a given facility’s short- and midterm staffing status.
On the basis of the data the committee examined, FAA appears to execute its staffing plan as intended in the aggregate, but there are difficult-to-understand discrepancies at the level of specific facilities. For example, as indicated in Table 4-7, 73 percent of FAA’s facilities successfully implemented planned hires and transfers in FY 2011, but only 52 percent did so in FY 2012. Discrepancies between staffing plans and their execution compound the difficulty of achieving staffing goals.
There was a significant discrepancy between the transfers planned for FY 2012 (563) and the number executed (744). The number of staff transfers allowed annually is roughly two-thirds the number of new hires and about 5 percent of the total workforce. Furthermore, any transfer action may require two training cycle events—one for the person transferring into a new facility and one for the person replacing the transferee. Thus, transfers can influence whether facilities move toward FAA’s staffing targets. FAA appears to lack a strategy and mechanisms to influence transfers toward this end.
The committee does not fully understand how the execution of staff planning works in practice and whether it corrects staff imbalances over time. From the data available to the committee, the execution process does not appear to be doing so. This topic is worthy of further examination.
There appear to be enduring differences between the staffing targets developed by ALA and the staffing in the field as executed by ATO. The differences may be caused by poor execution of the annual staffing plans or by a difference of opinion within FAA with regard to the appropriate level of staffing at individual facilities.
Recommendation 4-1. FAA should examine the merits of using a more appropriate analysis of facility demographics (e.g., the CEW concept) in place of the CPC + CPC-IT metric when it assesses facility staffing status and develops its annual staffing plans.
Recommendation 4-2. FAA should develop explicit criteria with regard to when and why the staffing plan for a given year can exceed the hiring plan based on the staffing standard.
Recommendation 4-3. FAA should ensure that the field understands how facilities’ staffing levels (current and target) are assessed and offer a transparent process by which facilities can provide input on facility staffing levels established in the annual staffing plan.
Recommendation 4-4. FAA should make more effective use of voluntary transfers to rebalance the workforce among facilities considered to have high staffing levels and those considered to have low levels, particularly where it can leverage controllers’ desire to transfer on the basis of hardship, career advancement, or personal circumstances. Such a strategic process would need to include the following:
• Suitable incentives for transfers, developed and agreed on by FAA and NATCA, that would help rectify staffing imbalances, including establishment of a policy for resolving situations in which controllers who are willing to risk transferring to a higher-level facility fail to qualify into that facility; and
• Systemwide processes and management of transfer requests to consider their impact on facility staffing, so that facilities with low staffing levels do not miss voluntary transfers claimed first by facilities with adequate or high staffing levels.
Recommendation 4-5. FAA should establish and advertise a clear path for the career advancement of controllers. They should be mentored and should understand the expectations on which their advancement will depend, and those expectations should be understood in staff planning and at the training ground facilities.
Recommendation 4-6. FAA should adopt a formal apprenticeship model that reflects the potential of lower-level facilities to serve as training grounds and sources for transfers into higher-level facilities. An informal system appears to be at work across some facilities. A more formal and well-communicated model may work more effectively. Lower-level facilities would need to be staffed in a way that reflects their dual role of serving traffic at the facility and bearing a heavy training burden. FAA and NATCA will need to work together to develop incentives to keep controllers moving upward through the system at an appropriate rate.
To function effectively, such an apprenticeship model must be transparent to the workforce. Clear designation of the facilities is a first step. Controllers should be mentored with regard to furthering their career development. Standard policies or documentation should be available to controllers indicating how long they might be placed in lower- and midlevel facilities and when they would be expected to transfer to higher-level facilities. Controllers would be more motivated to participate in career development if selection processes were in place to reduce the risk that they might not qualify into a new, higher-level facility and if clear policies were in place for handling their reassignment should they not qualify.
Recommendation 4-7. FAA should work with NATCA in developing and implementing special measures to address the concerns of hard-to-staff facilities. Such measures might include
• Incentives to transfer to and reside near the facility;
• Selection processes and policies that would prescreen controllers willing to transfer to facilities and identify controllers likely to qualify (and not qualify);
• Policies for reassignment of trainees who fail to qualify, to remove disincentives for potential applicants to the facility; and
• Methods for training controllers at facilities one level down in difficulty to nearly the level required at the hard-to-staff facility, thus minimizing the training requirement once they are on site.
Recommendation 4-8. In its staff planning, FAA should consider the impact of placing a large number of developmental controllers and CPC-ITs into a facility in terms of the training burden on the facility. FAA should monitor for any safety concerns arising with intensive on-the-job training within facilities. Workforce, facility, and service units should be able to communicate concerns as feedback into the staff planning process.
Recommendation 4-9. FAA and NATCA should collaborate in implementing a scheduling tool and procedures for its use at each facility. They should establish standard schedule templates suitable for each facility’s traffic patterns. More than one standard schedule should be available to each facility, and a “request for further consideration of unique circumstances” process should be available to facilities who believe that local circumstances require adjustment to their schedule templates. The scheduling tool and associated procedures should allow each facility to design, revise, and publish schedules that take best practices in efficient shift scheduling and fatigue mitigation into consideration. The scheduling templates used at the facility should be transparent and available to others, including those performing the staffing process. This may be fostered by the scheduling tool having the capability of archiving the scheduling templates in a manner that allows different organizations to access them.
|FAA||Federal Aviation Administration|
Barr, M., T. Brady, G. Koleszar, M. New, and J. Pounds. 2011. FAA Independent Review Panel on the Selection, Assignment and Training of Air Traffic Control Specialists. Final report. Sept. 22.
FAA. 2013. 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.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is updating the National Airspace System (NAS) to the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). Changes in the NAS have been made since the early 2000s, and in 2003, President Bush and Congress initiated NextGen through the Vision 100—Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-176). The effort was originally intended to address the then-projected threefold increase in demand for air travel in the United States relative to 2001 levels, an increase that would strain the ability of today’s system to function effectively and efficiently.
The changes that NextGen will bring about will have consequences for the policies and procedures of air traffic control and likely for the job of the air traffic controller. NextGen will need to address the emergence of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), known as drones, as well as other new technologies and operational improvements. Congress has mandated FAA to integrate small UAS into the NAS by 2015, primarily for commercial purposes. The effect of integration on the NAS will be substantial. The broad category of UAS spans a range of aircraft. Large vehicles with performance and capabilities similar to those of current manned aircraft will be flying within controlled airspace, and new types of vehicles with substantially different flight profiles will be operating at altitudes, speeds, and routes not covered by current air traffic procedures and air traffic controller training. Similarly, FAA has established a national space transportation policy and directed the Air Traffic Organization and the Office of Commercial Space Transportation to collaborate in integrating increased commercial space operations into the NAS.1 Thus, NextGen may involve not only more operations but also the operation of new types of vehicles, which will change the nature of air traffic controllers’ tasks.
This chapter discusses the potential long-term impact of NextGen on controller staffing. It examines how NextGen is addressed in FAA’s latest controller workforce plan and considers controller selection and training requirements for NextGen. Staffing pressures associated with NextGen near- and midterm deployment are discussed, and the key role of controllers in NextGen development is highlighted. The chapter concludes with the committee’s findings and recommendations concerning the staffing implications of NextGen.
NextGen is intended to allow new types of operations and vehicles within the NAS. Implementation of the initial NextGen features has highlighted the potential for staffing issues. For example, optimized profile descent (OPD) allows aircraft to follow a fuel- and time-optimal profile through their descent and arrival into an airport and is intended to save fuel and flight time (Clarke et al. 2004) in comparison with the usual sequence of “step-down” instructions
1 Statement of FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on the National Space Transportation Policy, November 21, 2013. See http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ast/news_announcements/media/NSTP_statement.pdf.
from controllers. Committee members’ discussions with terminal radar approach control (TRACON) personnel in Atlanta, Georgia, indicated that OPD can shorten the “pushes” (periods of high-density arrivals) at their facility. However, multiple facilities must be coordinated before aircraft enter the TRACON’s boundaries, and those facilities have not been staffed or structured for such an operation. When neighboring en route centers are required to start aircraft down OPDs into the TRACON, controllers often need to give aircraft “vectors” away from their intended course, at the cost of extra fuel consumption and delay that negates the intended benefits of this NextGen operation. As this example illustrates, an understanding of the impact of NextGen on staffing requires the involvement of controllers at all affected facilities. Controller productivity in these operations can be helped or hindered by the new technologies.
FAA is not applying a broad approach that examines controller staffing and productivity in its NextGen plans. In contrast, the human–systems integration (HSI) methodology developed for and used initially by the military and now used in a variety of domains applies such an approach. For example, military standards supporting system acquisition (U.S. Department of Defense 2011) define HSI as “the systems engineering process and program management effort that provides integrated and comprehensive analysis, design, and assessment of requirements, concepts, and resources for human engineering, manpower, personnel, training, system safety, health hazards, personnel survivability, and habitability. These domains are intimately and intricately interrelated and interdependent and must be among the primary drivers of effective, efficient, affordable, and safe system designs.” In general, the introduction of new technology can reduce, increase, or have no real impact on staffing requirements. Because any HSI problem involves trade-offs across a number of factors, predicting which of these outcomes will occur is inherently complex and cannot be done with any certainty.
FAA does not appear to be following such a broad HSI approach; thus, the trade-offs between technology, procedures, and workforce for NextGen are not being considered explicitly. Developments as transformative as those targeted by NextGen require that such considerations be taken into account. However, FAA’s briefing to the committee indicated that no changes in controller skills and training have yet been identified in connection with NextGen and that assessments of the workforce are not integrated into NextGen plans.2 In addition, FAA’s response to a recent letter from the Research, Engineering, and Development Advisory Committee (REDAC) recommending attention to a broader set of human factors issues observed that “the strategic job analysis has shown there is no change expected in the responsibilities of controllers in the NextGen mid-term.”3
FAA’s controller workforce plan (CWP) has not yet explicitly considered the ramifications of NextGen within its 10-year time horizon, perhaps because the NextGen plans themselves do not address controller staffing.4 As noted in the 2013 CWP, “the staffing projections in this workforce plan are based on the current concept of operation” (FAA 2013, 26). There is tacit acknowledgment that NextGen technologies might affect future staffing; the plan notes that the en route staffing models are being examined for the impact of national implementation of the En
2 Steve Bradford, presentation to the committee, January 10, 2013.
3 Letter from FAA Administrator Huerta to REDAC chair, John Hansman, February 28, 2014.
4 A recent report found that extensive schedule delays are likely to hinder NextGen implementation (GAO 2012).
Route Automation Modernization (ERAM). The inference is that FAA will react to any impacts after implementation. No similar mention is made of tower and TRACON facilities, which are experiencing their own modernization under the Terminal Automation Modernization Replacement project. In the committee’s judgment, the omission of NextGen demands on staffing from the current CWP and the plan to react to them as new technologies or operational capabilities are introduced are likely to have adverse effects on NextGen development and deployment. A reactive, as opposed to proactive, approach increases the risk that staffing concerns may arise as NextGen programs are deployed, leading to delay in the adoption of new technologies and capabilities.
An appreciation of the aptitudes and abilities required of a controller to work effectively in the NextGen environment, as well as knowledge of the number of controllers, is needed. Experience indicates that the methods used by FAA have been effective in selecting controllers, especially new hires. For example, the Air Traffic Selection and Training battery has proved to be a valid predictor of training outcome for the incoming generation of air traffic controllers: persons with higher scores were more likely to certify at their first assigned field facility (Broach et al. 2013).
However, the aptitudes needed in the midterm and in the long term are likely to change. Assessment of the relationship between aptitudes and success in qualifying as a certified professional controller (CPC) should continue throughout NextGen deployment. Research on selection could reduce failure rates as NextGen is deployed, especially at higher-traffic facilities, where the failure rate can be unacceptably high. These facilities typically rely on transfers from lower-level facilities to meet their staffing requirements, and the incoming transfers experience a high failure rate in qualifying for the more difficult operations. As discussed in Chapter 4, the failure rate at higher-traffic facilities is due in large part to certified professional controller in training (CPC-IT) candidates from lower-traffic facilities not succeeding in the more complex environment. Across the highest-level (Level 10+) TRACONs, the failure rate is 16 percent for transfers (CPC-ITs) and 26 percent for new hires (Byrne and Pierce 2014). Under NextGen, the transition to those facilities may be even more difficult as the CPC-IT attempts to master not only more complex traffic but also new technology.5 The committee anticipates that, in the absence of action to address this challenge, failure rates for transfers will continue to be problematic or will worsen with the introduction of new technologies.
FAA has terminated air traffic controller selection research.6 The committee views this as unfortunate, given the potential value of such research in identifying (a) relevant skills that may be needed in the long term in the NextGen environment and (b) the skills that allow a controller to succeed at higher-level facilities. An improved understanding of these matters appears to be
5 FAA almost always introduces a new technology at facilities with fewer complexities before implementing it at busier or more complex facilities. ERAM, for example, was introduced first at Seattle, Washington, and next at Salt Lake City, Utah. Nonetheless, during the course of NextGen implementation across the NAS, a controller transferring to a higher-level facility may encounter unfamiliar technology, depending on which facility the controller is transferring from.
6 FAA presentation to Human Factors Subcommittee of REDAC, Washington, D.C., February 26, 2013.
critical in planning and executing cost-effective staffing plans that minimize the wasted resources associated with selecting controllers who fail to qualify.
Air traffic control facilities will experience strains on their staffing practices as NextGen systems and new procedures are deployed, and proactive measures will be required to ensure a smooth implementation. Even without NextGen, some facilities, particularly those with staffing levels under the targets set in the CWP (see Chapter 4), are wrestling with staffing issues. Many are higher-level facilities with a high degree of uncertainty and long lead times in increasing their staffing because of their reliance on controller transfers (see the preceding section).
Limited coordination between FAA’s NextGen architectural plans, the plans for individual NextGen projects, and operational decision making aggravates staffing pressures at facilities when multiple NextGen programs seek to implement new systems and operational procedures within the same time window. For example, the Houston, Texas, en route center has been asked to field several NextGen programs concurrently (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, Required Navigation Performance, ERAM, and Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex).7 In contrast, the implementation of OPD at the Atlanta TRACON (described earlier) produced no NextGen-related staffing problem at the TRACON itself and reportedly “made time on boards easier,” although it apparently increased workloads in neighboring en route facilities. The variation in impact across facilities is not surprising given the lack of strategic planning and coordination among NextGen programs and across facilities within a program.
In the committee’s judgment, continued controller involvement in the development and deployment of NextGen technologies and procedures offers benefits. It has already helped establish realistic expectations and facilitated cost-effective implementation (see GAO 2005, 27). It increases the probability of the existing workforce accepting the proposed changes and reduces the need for extensive retraining and new personnel selection criteria.
Other air navigation service providers make explicit staffing commitments in support of new training and technology deployment. Airservices Australia notes the following:8
When it comes to estimating the demand on the ATC [air traffic control] skill set for non-operational projects it is primarily calculated by the project managers. The project managers will identify the tasks to be performed and as such identify the specific ATC skill set required to perform those tasks. This requirement (number and type of resource) is then passed onto the workforce strategy department for inclusion into the broader ATC resource plan. Once it is entered into the plan, the need to satisfy the requirement through the
7 Andrew LeBovidge, committee member, personal communication to NextGen subgroup of the committee, February 28, 2013.
8 Personal communication, Rodd Sciortino, Airservices Australia, September 2, 2013.
allocation of ATC resource is tracked and monitored in the same fashion as [the allocation of] operational staff [is tracked and monitored] against an operational core/mature requirement. This then drives any additional recruitment activities or cross-training/conversion course requirements to backfill the ATC on project secondment (i.e., a temporary transfer to another job or post within the same organization).
In contrast, FAA’s CWP does not formally include short-term or temporary assignments of controllers to NextGen programs to ensure the involvement of controllers in program teams during development and testing. As noted earlier, some facilities (e.g., the Houston en route center) have reported insufficient staffing during the implementation of new technology and procedures. No single office within FAA was able to supply information on the number of controllers working on NextGen-related technologies, so the committee turned to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association for an estimate. Close to 550 controllers are involved in the development and deployment of new technologies as part of NextGen and related initiatives,9 but their efforts are not part of the CWP or factored into staffing level estimates.
The demands on staffing at facilities during the implementation of NextGen might be mitigated by staffing levels that allow for the formation of a cadre of controllers and support personnel within each NextGen program. The cadre could plan an implementation process that works with a facility’s staffing level and coordinate with the facility with regard to the phases of implementation. It could then move among facilities as needed to supplement their staff and facilitate training during implementation of each NextGen program. The cadres could provide training that is consistent across facilities and a phased implementation designed to prevent problems with controller workload and staffing, and they could help ensure that the need for local operational knowledge is recognized. The cadre concept was used in the late 1980s during the rehost project, which replaced the hardware of the controller workstations in the en route centers.
Finding 5-1. If NextGen is to meet its goal of transforming the operation of the NAS, significant changes in controllers’ tasks are to be expected, particularly in the longer term (beyond a 10-year time horizon). In the near and midterm (within a 10-year time horizon), staffing plans do not explicitly support the controller involvement necessary for the successful development, evaluation, and implementation of NextGen products.
Recommendation 5-1. FAA should accelerate ongoing research into NextGen developments that are likely to affect controller staffing to (a) help predict their impact on controller staffing, (b) identify where staffing concerns may pose technical risks to NextGen developments, and (c) determine where NextGen may support controller productivity.
Recommendation 5-2. FAA should refine the CWP in a manner that raises the visibility and addresses the controller staffing implications of NextGen development and implementation. The plan should first address near- and midterm concerns. Since NextGen is to be implemented
9 Personal communication, Andrew LeBovidge, committee member, November 5, 2013.
incrementally, each facility will deploy various NextGen technologies and updated procedures over the next several years. Staffing pressures due to the new systems and procedures will recur rather than being a one-time issue, and they need to be addressed proactively. The staffing plan should explore new or revised models and tools that can examine how staffing levels will be influenced by alterations in controller tasks, time on task, and workload, especially with longer-term, broader-reaching changes in operations.
Recommendation 5-3. FAA should enhance its NextGen implementation plans by (a) defining when and where development and testing activities are to take place and (b) coordinating efforts to avoid simultaneous deployment of new technologies at a particular facility.
Recommendation 5-4. The CWP should explicitly incorporate the need for involvement of controllers in the development, testing, and implementation of NextGen products and procedures. Cadres of controllers might be established to support the development and testing of specific NextGen programs; as each program is ready to be deployed, the cadres would move from facility to facility to support training and contribute their knowledge about the most effective, least disruptive implementation process.
Finding 5-2. The changes in controllers’ duties and tasks accompanying the implementation of NextGen are likely to change the aptitudes needed for an individual to qualify as a CPC. A better understanding of the evolving relationship between controller aptitudes and qualification is needed to avoid the costs associated with high failure rates in training and in transferring from lower- to higher-level facilities.
Recommendation 5-5. FAA should continue to support research into how NextGen may change the tasks of the air traffic controller to identify improvements in training and selection criteria for controllers. The research should consider not only the training and selection of new controllers but also the transfer of controllers from lower- to higher-level facilities.
|FAA||Federal Aviation Administration|
|GAO||Government Accountability Office|
Broach, D., C. L. Byrne, C. A. Manning, L. Pierce, D. McCauley, and M. K. Bleckley. 2013. The Validity of the Air Traffic Selection and Training (AT-SAT) Test Battery in Operational Use. Report DOT/FAA/AM-13/3. Office of Aerospace Medicine, March.
Byrne, C. L., and L. G. Pierce. 2014. Preliminary Data Analysis of the Operational Assessment Program (OAP). Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, Federal Aviation Administration, Oklahoma City, Okla., Jan.
Clarke, J.-P. B., N. T. Ho, L. Ren, J. A. Brown, K. R. Elmer, K. Zou, C. Hunting, D. L. McGregor, B. N. Shivashankara, K.-O. Tong, A. W. Warren, and J. K. Wat. 2004. Continuous Descent Approach: Design and Flight Test for Louisville International Airport. Journal of Aircraft, Vol. 41, No. 5, pp. 1054–1066.
FAA. 2013. 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.
GAO. 2005. Air Traffic Control: Characteristics and Performance of Selected International Air Navigation Service Providers and Lessons Learned from Their Commercialization. Report GAO-05-769. July. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05769.pdf.
GAO. 2012. Air Traffic Control Modernization: Management Challenges Associated with Program Costs and Schedules Could Hinder NextGen Implementation. Report GAO 12-223. Feb. http://www.gao.gov/assets/590/588627.pdf.
U.S. Department of Defense. 2011. Department of Defense Standard Practice: Human Engineering Requirements for Military Systems, Equipment, and Facilities. MIL-STD-46855A. May 24.