Shaheen secures provisions to hire more air traffic controllers as part of FAA reauthorization bill

US Senator Jeanne Shaheen has lauded the passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization legislation, a move that promises to modernize the FAA and enhance safety across the aviation industry. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

By Colin Booth

May 22, 2024

US Senator Jeanne Shaheen has lauded the passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization legislation, a move that promises to modernize the FAA and enhance safety across the aviation industry.

Central to this legislation are three key provisions introduced by Shaheen, aimed at increasing the hiring of air traffic controllers, refining staffing models, and implementing energy-efficient measures at airports.

For years, the aviation industry has grappled with strained air traffic controller staffing leading to significant travel disruptions and numerous near-miss incidents at airports nationwide.

“It is past time that we address these concerns head-on,” Shaheen said about the bill, which was signed into law on May 17th. “I’m pleased that the final FAA reauthorization bill includes provisions that I led to enable the FAA to hire more staff, ensure consistent staffing levels, and maintain a robust pipeline of qualified air traffic controllers to help keep the flying public safe.”

The legislation mandates the FAA adopt a new air traffic controller staffing model developed by the Collaborative Resource Workgroup (CRWG). This model will be implemented on an interim basis while the Transportation Research Board conducts a comparative study with the current model to determine the best approach for meeting operational staffing needs.

The bill also requires the FAA Administrator to set hiring targets for new air traffic controllers to the maximum capacity of the FAA Academy for each fiscal year from 2024 through 2028. This measure aims to ensure that the number of new hires keeps pace with the demand for air traffic controllers.

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The legislation also addresses energy efficiency at airports by facilitating the use of permanent solar-powered taxiway edge lighting systems at regional and local airports within two years of enactment. This provision reflects a broader commitment to sustainability and innovation in aviation infrastructure.

Shaheen’s efforts to address air traffic controller staffing challenges are not new. Last year, she introduced legislation to increase transparency in the hiring process and wrote to former FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen about workforce shortages and the resultant runway incursion incidents at airports across the country.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) has said that the FAA’s existing Controller Workforce Plan, driven by financial considerations rather than operational needs, has led to a staffing crisis. Despite the FAA meeting or exceeding its hiring targets nearly every year since FY16, the number of Certified Professional Controllers (CPCs) has remained flat, and the pipeline of trainees has dwindled significantly.

At the end of FY23, the FAA had a net increase of only 15 CPCs compared to FY22, and there were 1,160 fewer CPCs than at the end of FY12—a 10% decrease. The National Airspace Safety Review Team and the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT OIG) have both reported on the severe staffing challenges and the risks they pose to air traffic operations. These findings underscore the critical need for a new approach to staffing, as advocated by Shaheen’s provisions.

Author

  • Colin Booth

    Based in Epsom, Colin Booth is Granite Post's political correspondent. A Granite State native and veteran political professional with a deep background in journalism, he's worked on campaigns and programs in battleground states across the country, ranging from New Hampshire, Texas, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

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