FAA disputes review of controller training

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FAA has issued a strong response to a US Department of Transportation (DOT) review of its training and placement of air traffic controllers.

The Inspector General branch of the DOT has released a nearly year-long review of methods used by FAA to place candidates at high volume facilities, how the agency evaluates candidate capabilities and procedures used to determine if candidates receive adequate training at the FAA academy.

Auditors are concerned that the number of new hire controllers with no prior experience passing through a screening and training process is increasing, rising from 7% in fiscal 2007 to 72% in the first half fiscal 2009.

"This has resulted in an increase of inexperienced controllers being assigned to high level air traffic control facilities," says the Inspector General.

The auditors determined that in fiscal 2008 58% of new-hire controllers with no prior experience were hired at "level 10 to level 12" facilities, which are considered the busiest in the USA and include Southern California, Chicago O'Hare and Atlanta Hartsfield.

Taking into account that FAA ranks candidates training at its academy as "qualified" and "well qualified", and the agency assigns new controllers facilities by considering their location preferences and a list of job openings, auditors warn a candidate that is only "qualified" could be assigned to a level 12 facility.

FAA in its response to the report states it is not a "military organisation that shifts and moves at will, rather it is managing a highly skilled, unionised civilian workforce whose viewpoints must be factored in decision making".

The agency further states the initial academy training it provides is only 10% of the total training given to students. While the FAA says the auditor's report "expresses concern about the facility level new controllers may be assigned to, any new controller is given extensive training and must demonstrate the capability to function at a given facility to continue there as an air traffic controller".

FAA says it only partially agrees with the recommendation by the auditors to overhaul the programme it uses to test controllers, arguing "there is not sufficient scientifically documented evidence that the test, or a modified version thereof, will be useful".

The agency says two specific studies of its current system of training and placing controllers are underway, and it plans to complete its evaluations by 31 December 2012.