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Air Traffic Controller Staffing Has Reached A “Crisis Level” Says Controllers Union

Controller Staffing at a 27-Year Low; Rinaldi Tells House Aviation Subcommittee the Situation is a “Crisis”

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi

WASHINGTON – National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Paul Rinaldi told the House Aviation Subcommittee today that the number of fully certified air traffic controllers, already at a 27-year low, fell again in the first three months of this year. Rinaldi said the situation has reached a crisis level and outlined several recommendations, including increasing annual hiring totals and passage of bipartisan legislation, H.R. 5292, the Air Traffic Controller Hiring Improvement Act of 2016.

Controller staffing levels have fallen nearly 10 percent since 2011, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has missed its hiring goals in each of the last seven years. In fact, in fiscal year 2015, the FAA fell 24 percent short of its hiring goal. More controllers are eligible to retire today, specifically one-quarter of the workforce, than are in the pipeline to replace them.

“If we do not act decisively and soon, I fear that our nation’s air traffic control system will soon face the same challenges and consequences as D.C.’s Metro system, which has been plagued by deferred maintenance and chronic underfunding,” Rinaldi said in his testimony for the Subcommittee’s hearing, entitled, A Review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Traffic Controller Hiring, Staffing, and Training Plans. “Without a stable and predictable funding stream for the National Airspace System (NAS), controller staffing is just the first of many NAS crises that Congress will need to resolve in the near future.”

NATCA believes the FAA must take a holistic, collaborative approach to resolving these staffing issues. Rinaldi said NATCA is committed to working towards permanent, sustainable solutions. He cited budgetary missteps, including stop-and-go funding for the FAA and sequestration in 2013, and the FAA’s bureaucratic red tape as contributing factors in the shortage of air traffic controllers.

“Although NATCA does not believe that the safety of the air traffic control system is at risk, without proper staffing at our facilities, efficiency and modernization efforts are being negatively affected, which could lead to further system inefficiencies, delays, and a reduction in air traffic services for the flying public,” Rinaldi testified.

Rinaldi said the staffing crisis has been the cause of the FAA’s frequent denials to release bargaining unit employees from their facilities’ schedule in order to provide subject matter expertise (SME) for technological and modernization projects throughout the NAS. Within the last three months, the FAA has denied at least 15 separate requests due to staffing. Moreover, attempts to request SME support from facilities that are critically understaffed have ceased. These facilities include Chicago Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), Los Angeles Tower (LAX), Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center, and Atlanta TRACON, among many others. Rinaldi said the expertise of the controller workforce from the busiest facilities on these important projects would facilitate successful development, testing, and implementation on modernization projects.

Among the recommendations Rinaldi proposed in his testimony to address the crisis:

  • Passage of H.R. 5292, which would streamline the hiring process by ensuring a path for experienced controllers to be hired quickly and allow military veterans and graduates of schools in the FAA’s Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) to be hired more expeditiously. The legislation, if enacted, would ensure that CTI graduates and veterans are considered in a separate pool from the general public, and would increase the maximum entry age for a controller with 52 weeks experience to 35 years of age.
  • Maximizing the capacity of the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City. The FAA will only have approximately 1,300 new employees enrolled at the Academy this year. The facility can accommodate up to approximately 2,000 employees per year.
  • An FAA controller vacancy announcement for experienced controllers that is open and continuously maintained 365 days per year.
  • The aggressive FAA recruitment of experienced former FAA controllers, military and civilian DOD controllers and Federal Contract Tower controllers.
  • Stable, predictable funding for the FAA, including ensuring that the FAA is not subject to future sequester cuts.

“I truly believe that the United States has the safest, most complex, and most efficient airspace system in the world, one that is vital to our nation’s economy,” Rinaldi said. “However, this system needs a strong and growing air traffic controller workforce in order to modernize and expand into the 21st Century.”

See the full version of Rinaldi’s written testimony.

NATCA Lays Out Support For Air Traffic Control Reform Proposal

(Image by InSapphoWeTrust CC Flickr)

(Image by InSapphoWeTrust CC Flickr)

NATCA supports the proposal to create a not-for-profit independent organization and says proposed legislation meets NATCA’s primary concerns.

NATCA LOGOWASHINGTON, D.C. – NATCA President Paul Rinaldi today appeared before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to discuss the pending FAA reauthorization bill, H.R. 4441. Rinaldi offered support for air traffic control reform proposal contained in the bill. Rinaldi’s prepared remarks are below:

Thank you Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member DeFazio, Chairman LoBiondo, Ranking Member Larsen and members of this committee.

I am grateful for the opportunity to testify today as we discuss air traffic control reform and the FAA reauthorization bill, H.R. 4441. NATCA supports this bill, because it contains necessary reforms that we believe will help us maintain the safest, most efficient airspace in the world while we move forward with innovative modernization projects, while protecting the workforce.

We all have a stake in this country’s National Airspace System (NAS). It’s an economic engine, contributing $1.5 trillion annually to our gross domestic product and providing over 12 million American jobs.

Currently, we run the largest, safest, most efficient, most complex, and most diverse airspace system in the world. Our system is unique, unequaled and unrivaled by any other country – due in large part to the impeccable work of the men and women I represent who run this system. The United States airspace system is considered the gold standard in the world aviation industry. And yet, we have come to the difficult reality that change may be needed — globalization and innovation are driving dramatic changes in the aviation industry and sadly our current structure cannot keep up.

The current aviation system has served us well until recent years. Unfortunately, we no longer have a stable or predictable funding stream and this uncertainty has caused many serious problems for the system.

Without change, we face continued funding uncertainty. We all remember the disruptions we experienced in 2013 with sequestration. The FAA scaled down all modernization projects. The Agency looked at closing 238 air traffic control towers and tried to close 149 of them due to purely financial reasons, without regard to operational considerations or what was best for the NAS. They considered reducing services at many airports across the country. They halted air traffic controller hiring for the full year, which is still contributing to staffing problems today. The FAA was forced to furlough air traffic controllers, causing rippling delays through our system. Further, the Agency went to a fix-on-fail maintenance philosophy and stopped stockpiling critical parts for essential equipment. These decisions were all made in order to meet the budget restrictions of sequestration, not for operational reasons or to ensure safety. Our 24/7 aviation system has been challenged by 23 extensions in authorization, a partial shutdown, a complete government shutdown as well as numerous threatened shutdowns. We are currently in our first extension, and if we are honest with each other, we are looking at the very least, at one more extension. All stakeholders in the NAS must work together to ensure that the United States remains the world leader in aviation.

With all of these challenges in mind, we applaud the hard work of all the members on the Committee to draft a comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill to address these long-standing problems.

NATCA has publicly stated that any FAA restructuring must achieve the following:

  • In order to maintain NATCA’s support, any new system must ensure that our members are fully protected in their employment relationship. Maintaining our members’ pay and benefits, including retirement and health care, along with our negotiated agreements for their work rules, are crucial to us.
  • Safety and efficiency remain the top priorities. This means that we cannot allow maintenance to lag, and cannot reduce staffing to save money. The NAS must remain fully staffed in order to ensure both safety and efficiency.
  • A stable, predictable funding stream must adequately support air traffic control services, staffing, hiring and training, long-term modernization projects, preventative maintenance, and ongoing modernization to the physical infrastructure. The stop-and-go funding crises create staffing shortages, which slow the hiring and training process. Inadequate funding also prevents NextGen modernization projects from timely implementation. Any new system must improve upon the status quo, by providing an environment that promotes growth in the system and allows us to lead the world in aviation innovation.
  • A dynamic aviation system that continues to provide services to all segments of the aviation community, from commercial passenger carriers and cargo haulers, to business jets, to general aviation, from the major airports to those in small communities and rural America. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is that a new system continues providing services to the diverse users of the NAS. The United States has a vibrant general aviation community that relies on us. At the same time, rural America’s economic success is connected to the access we create with our comprehensive NAS that serves even the most remote areas.

We believe the legislation addresses NATCA’s primary issues of concern.

A not-for-profit independent organization run by a board of stakeholders could deliver results similar to those we have seen in Canada where NavCanada has had two decades to prove itself as a safe and innovative airspace system.

Finally, I want to state clearly that we will continue to vigorously and carefully review this legislation at all times. If at any time there are changes to this bill, we will immediately examine them to ensure the bill continues to align with our organization’s policies, practices, and principles. We reserve the right to withhold our support if any changes cause the bill to violate our principles.

We are excited to be a part of this important discussion. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this bill and I look forward to any questions.

NATCA Discusses Air Traffic Controller Staffing Shortage at Congressional Roundtable

WASHINGTON – NATCA President Paul Rinaldi today discussed issues surrounding the nation’s air traffic controller staffing shortage at a roundtable policy discussion on FAA’s air traffic controller hiring, staffing and training plans, held by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. His prepared remarks are below.

Good morning, Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member DeFazio, Chairman LoBiondo, Ranking Member Larsen, and esteemed members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to sit down with you alongside NATCA’s Executive Vice President Patricia Gilbert and the other panelists to discuss one of the most critical problems facing the National Airspace System today.

Air traffic controller staffing has been a concern for many years, but it has now reached a crisis level. I’ve said it repeatedly over the past few years: the status quo is unacceptable. Controller staffing has fallen nearly 10 percent since 2011, and the FAA has missed its hiring goals in each of the last five years. With one third of our workforce eligible to retire, the FAA’s bureaucratic structure is failing us. In fiscal year 2015, the FAA fell 24 percent below its staffing goals. If this situation continues unaddressed, we will be hard-pressed to maintain current capacity, let alone expand and modernize the system.

NATCA believes the FAA must take a holistic, collaborative approach to resolve these staffing issues. Increasing staffing to appropriate levels is a heavy lift — we are less than two months into fiscal year 2016 and the FAA is behind its targets. Twenty-seven out of 252 available seats at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City have already gone unfilled.

Many of our current staffing woes were avoidable. For example, in the FAA’s most recent experienced controller vacancy announcement, Human Resources (HR) disqualified former FAA controllers who did not attach what HR deemed to be the “correct” personnel form to their applications. However, these former employees did attach an official form proving they had previously worked as FAA air traffic controllers. HR issues these forms and they could have easily substituted the correct forms. Instead, they disqualified previously certified controllers. It’s important to note that these positions were not competitively bid, meaning hiring one would not mean excluding another. HR should be the support function, not a bureaucratic gatekeeper that hampers the Air Traffic Organization’s ability to perform the FAA’s mission.

Another challenge to increasing staffing is the hiring process: After sequestration cuts and the 2013 government shutdown suspended hiring for 10 months, the FAA expunged a well-qualified candidate list of over 3,000 in order to institute a Biographical Questionnaire (BQ). The FAA lost ground as well as quality candidates in 2014 due to the first BQ. NATCA subsequently worked with the FAA to improve the second BQ used in 2015, and saw better results. Now, at a time when we need to make up for the FAA’s missed hiring targets, HR is attempting to validate a new entrance exam, the Air Traffic Selection and Training exam, otherwise known as the AT-SAT. Ironically, validating a new exam will require over 1,600 controller days outside the operation and thousands of hours of additional controller overtime.

The good news is that by recognizing the problem and convening this roundtable this Committee is already helping us overcome some of the many staffing issues. We have three main recommendations for reversing the staffing shortage. First, FAA should post an open and continuous vacancy announcement for experienced air traffic controllers. Second, FAA needs a streamlined hiring process, specifically to ease the bottlenecks and bureaucratic delays in HR, security, and medical. And third, we need a less bureaucratic, and more expeditious transfer policy for current FAA controllers — one that takes into account the needs of the entire NAS as a whole, not 315 policies, one for each individual facility. This transfer policy would also encourage experienced controllers at lower level facilities to voluntarily move up, at their own expense, to busier, more complex facilities. Your Committee’s continued oversight is necessary to ensure that these recommendations are taken seriously and implemented.

Our controllers are dedicated, highly skilled professionals forced to shoulder the burden of chronically understaffed facilities. No one wants interruptions to service, delays, and decreased capacity, least of all our controllers who not only work traffic but also participate in the NextGen initiatives that keep our system competitive. In order for controllers to continue providing the type of service the American flying public deserves and has come to expect, we must ensure that hiring, training, and placement processes meet the needs of the mission and aren’t subordinate to bureaucratic red tape and arbitrary rules.

I appreciate you calling this roundtable to facilitate frank conversation, reinforce accountability, and protect the safest, most complex, and most efficient airspace in the world. Thank you.

Fact Sheet: Air Traffic Controller Staffing Numbers

NATCA Calls for Congressional Hearing on Air Traffic Controller Understaffing

NATCA LOGOWASHINGTON – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is calling for a congressional hearing about the chronic understaffing of air traffic control facilities. New data shows that national staffing totals have fallen nearly 10 percent since 2011.

“I want to be clear: The safety of the air traffic control system is not at risk,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “But maintaining safety is coming at the cost of efficiency and modernization. We have far too few controllers in our towers and radars rooms. If left unaddressed, the situation could result in delays similar to those the country experienced in April 2013, when air traffic controllers were furloughed due to the mandatory budget cuts. Bureaucratic inertia is slowing the hiring process, and at the worst possible time. The number of fully certified air traffic controllers is at the lowest level in 27 years.”

Official Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data shows the agency will miss its air traffic controller hiring goal for fiscal year 2015. This will be the fifth consecutive fiscal year in which the FAA has not hired enough air traffic controllers to keep up with the pace of workforce attrition. As of August 22, 2015, the FAA had only hired 1,178 of a planned 1,772 air traffic controllers, putting the agency 34 percent behind its goal.

Of the 10,859 certified controllers, 30 percent are eligible to retire at any time. There are only 1,844 controllers currently in training to replace them. Training controllers takes two to four years, depending on the facility at which the new hires are placed. Once placed at a facility, an average 25 percent of trainees do not complete the training and certify.

At inadequately staffed facilities, the FAA requires controllers to work six-day weeks through the use of overtime. Some of the facilities that serve the busiest and most complex airspaces are understaffed. These include Terminal Radar Approach Control facilities (TRACONs) in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and New York. At these five facilities, the number of fully certified controllers is below the level deemed adequate by FAA standards, and controllers are forced to work six-day weeks.

  • At Atlanta TRACON, the number of fully certified controllers has dropped to 74 — 28 short of the needed 102.
  • At Chicago TRACON, there are 70 fully certified controllers instead of the 100 needed, and 39 percent are eligible to retire at any time.
  • At Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON, positions normally worked by two or three controllers are routinely combined into one position staffed by a single controller doing the work of three. Often, this person is a trainee newly certified on that single position.
  • At Houston TRACON, there are 73 fully certified controllers instead of the 93 needed.
  • At New York TRACON, the number of fully certified controllers has dropped to a 25-year low of 147.

“Air traffic controllers are incredibly resilient, but we see that they are in dire straits and we must speak up,” said NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. “Our workforce is suffering. If the health of the controller workforce declines, the health of the National Airspace System declines. We are asking Congress to examine the issue so we can find ways to set this country’s aviation system up for success. If nothing changes, there simply won’t be enough air traffic controllers to maintain the current level of services, much less implement long overdue modernization efforts.”


Air Traffic Controller Staffing: 2011-2015

By the Numbers: Air Traffic Controller Staffing Crisis at Major Hubs


Certified in 1987, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association represents over 18,000 highly skilled air traffic controllers, engineers and other aviation safety professionals.

Here We Go Again, Another Government Shutdown.

Image by Brunswyk WikiCommons

Image by Brunswyk WikiCommons

Are we really going to do this again?

In 2013, we as a country endured the 16 day government shutdown that cost taxpayers $24 billion dollars.  Tea Party extremists led by Senator Ted Cruz shutdown the government in a feeble attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

No party or faction inside a party should hold our economy hostage to extract political gains,” said Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO after the conclusion of the 2013 shutdown.

“Federal employees are nobody’s bargaining chip,” said J. David Cox Sr, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees after the 2013 shutdown concluded.

Yet here we are again, less than a week away from yet another government shutdown.  Republicans and Tea Partier’s alike are threatening to shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides life saving health screenings and treatment for millions of women across the country.

“With less than two weeks until a possible government shutdown, working families in New Hampshire and across the country just don’t have time for more partisan games and political theater,” said Congresswoman Annie Kuster.

“To shut down the government for any reason is irresponsible and reckless,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen at a recent event supporting Planned Parenthood. “It is simply reprehensible. We should not, we cannot let this happen.”

Even my Republican Senator, Kelly Ayotte, is calling for an end to this political grandstanding and threats of shutting down the government.

“The game Congress is playing right now is a dangerous game of chicken. We already know right now what it will take to keep the government open – a clean funding bill. We should not be wasting time on political stunt votes that will only make a shutdown more likely…” said Ayotte. “With that in mind, I cannot in good conscience support a political messaging bill that would risk a costly, harmful shutdown when there is no strategy for success. It’s time to quit the political games on both sides of the aisle. We know what we need to do to keep the government running – so let’s take that vote right now instead of playing political games while the clock ticks down.”

We have to take Senator Ayotte’s statements with a large grain of salt because she has already voted to defund Planned Parenthood and twice voted to shut down the government.

“Since going to Washington, Ayotte has not only voted repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood, but she’s also already voted to shut down the government twice. WGBH’s David S. Bernstein also points out that in 2013, it was only after “taking blame” from independents that Ayotte tried to “publicly position herself” against Ted Cruz’s antics,” wrote the New Hampshire Democratic Party Communications Director Lizzy Price.

We must move out of this bi-annual shutdown cycle that we are currently stuck in.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, who were very vocal during the last shutdown, are condemning politicians for political grandstanding again.

Shutting down the government would have detrimental effects on the National Airspace System (NAS) that “contributes $1.5 trillion annually to the U.S. gross domestic product and the NAS supports more than 12 million American jobs.”  Aside from calling for an end to threat of government shutdowns every two years, they are calling for a new, stable source of funding from the government that would remove the NAS from the effects of partisan budgetary bickering.

“We’ve been asking Congress to establish a stable funding mechanism for the NAS since the last shutdown ended,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “Yet two years later, we find ourselves in the same situation, where the efficiency of the safest airspace system in the world could be negatively affected due to disagreement over an issue unrelated to aviation. The looming shutdown is further evidence that stable, predictable funding is an essential next step for Congress.”

We need our elected leaders to work together to resolve their differences and put partisan issues aside to keep the government open.  The health and safety of millions of Americans are at risk over this political grandstanding by Republicans in Washington.

NATCA Calls on Congress to Prevent Shutdown, Provide Stable Funding for National Airspace System

NATCA LOGOWASHINGTON – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is calling on Congress to prevent a government shutdown and provide the National Airspace System (NAS) with stable, predictable funding.

“We’ve been asking Congress to establish a stable funding mechanism for the NAS since the last shutdown ended,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “Yet two years later, we find ourselves in the same situation, where the efficiency of the safest airspace system in the world could be negatively affected due to disagreement over an issue unrelated to aviation. The looming shutdown is further evidence that stable, predictable funding is an essential next step for Congress.”

Commercial aviation contributes $1.5 trillion annually to the U.S. gross domestic product and the NAS supports more than 12 million American jobs. In order to grow, modernize and help power the U.S. economy, aviation cannot be subjected to repeated budget crises. Shutdowns, sequestration cuts, and the uncertainty they have wrought have peeled away layers of safety redundancies and diminished the FAA’s ability to maintain fully staffed and trained workforces.

There are now almost 1,000 fewer controllers in the workforce and more of them eligible to retire, 24 percent, than during the last government shutdown. Because of that shutdown and due to sequestration cutbacks, the FAA forced a halt to its hiring and training from March to December 2013, resulting in its inability to keep up with the pace of attrition. If another shutdown forces another freeze to the hiring and training of controllers, the number of understaffed facilities would increase and air traffic capacity would be reduced.

The last government shutdown was detrimental to the NAS. Three thousand NATCA aviation safety professionals, vital to the daily function, maintenance and safety of the system, were furloughed. NextGen programs, procedures and technology were delayed, which cost millions of dollars. The FAA was forced to cease maintenance work on NAS equipment, and stop important projects at the nation’s busiest airports. FAA working groups were unable to meet, delaying implementation of new airspace and safety procedures.

“For years the FAA has faced an unstable, unpredictable funding stream, and each interruption has negatively affected all aspects of the FAA’s operations and planning,” said NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. “These problems cannot continue. Air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals work day-in and day-out to keep our aviation system the safest, most efficient in the world; it’s in their DNA. Our members and the flying public deserve a work environment that is not plagued by uncertainty. Members of Congress cannot put the country through another shutdown. They must prevent it and find a way to provide stable funding for the NAS.”


Certified in 1987, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association represents over 20,000 highly skilled air traffic controllers, engineers and other aviation safety professionals.


NATCA President Calls For Stable Funding Opposes Any Overhaul That Creates A Private, For-Profit Entity

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi Implores Senate Committee to Guarantee Stable Funding, Not Just Address FAA Structure

NATCA LOGOWASHINGTON – In testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said that the lack of stable or predictable funding for the National Airspace System (NAS) is unacceptable and change is needed in order to maintain and advance the system’s safety and efficiency. Rinaldi delivered his remarks during a hearing about the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization process, focusing on efforts to modernize the air traffic control system and options for reform of the system.

Rinaldi’s testimony outlined existing problems at the FAA including negative impacts on the NAS as a result of repeated interruptions to the funding stream. He said NATCA believes the upcoming FAA Reauthorization bill must deal with funding issues to ensure a safety-focused operational system that serves the nation’s transportation and economic needs every hour of every day.

In his testimony, Rinaldi made clear NATCA  to oversee air traffic control services. “We understand that addressing the funding problems may lead to an examination of potential structural changes for the FAA,” said Rinaldi. “But we implore this committee not to limit its focus. Any change that fails to guarantee a stable, predictable funding stream could create new unintended consequences without solving the true dilemma.”

He continued, “Details matter in this process. Our goal is to maintain and improve upon our high standard. However fundamental change is needed to do so. The current problems cannot continue.”

Rinaldi said that NATCA looks forward to working with Congress and other stakeholders to determine a solution that provides a stable and predictable funding stream while protecting the air traffic control system and its future growth.

He laid out the principles NATCA requires for any reform:

1. Safety and efficiency must remain the top priorities;

2. Stable, predictable funding must adequately support air traffic control services, staffing, hiring and training, long-term modernization projects, preventative maintenance, and ongoing modernization to the physical infrastructure;

3. Robust and continued growth of the aviation system is ensured; and

4. A dynamic aviation system continues to provide services to all segments of the aviation community, from commercial passenger carriers and cargo haulers, to business jets, to general aviation, from the major airports to those in rural America.

Rinaldi also provided committee members with an overview of alternative funding and structural models that stakeholders, think tanks and others have been exploring. He provided key points on the potential structural models that have been discussed for the FAA and the effects these changes would have on air traffic control. He also provided findings from stakeholder examinations on how other Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) are structured, and how well they deliver air traffic control services.

Rinaldi emphasized that NATCA cannot endorse a particular system without knowing all of the details and ensuring a seamless transition.

Read Rinaldi’s complete testimony.

Other highlights from Rinaldi’s testimony include:

– “For years the FAA has been faced with an unstable, unpredictable funding stream, and each interruption has negatively affected all aspects of the FAA. The FAA has had to spread its resources thinly between fully staffing its 24/7 operation, modernizing the airspace, and performing the daily maintenance required to sustain an aging infrastructure. When sequestration cuts were implemented, the situation became even more dire. The FAA was forced to furlough its employees, including air traffic controllers, place preventative maintenance on hold, and consider closing Federal and Contract towers which would have curtailed air traffic services at smaller markets. The cuts also prevented the FAA from hiring new trainees to replace the certified controllers who retired, adding stress to an already understaffed workforce. Sequestration cuts did not affect the FAA’s budget for fiscal years (FY) 2014 and 2015, but the cuts will return in FY 2016.”

-“While there may be benefits to the Canadian model, NATCA is uncertain if that model is scalable to the size, complexity, and diversity of our airspace. For example, the U.S. controls 132 million flights annually (2012), compared to 12 million in Canada in an area a fraction of the size of our NAS. The U.S. has 21 centers, compared to seven in Canada, and 315 towers compared to 42. According to Airport Council International’s Top 30 Busiest Airports in the world (based on aircraft movements), the U.S. currently has 8 of the top 10 busiest airports in the world, and 15 in the top 30. Canada has one: Toronto, which comes in at number 18.”

­ -“While considering possible reforms, we must protect and strengthen this national asset; our National Airspace System is a treasure. We must continue to create an environment that encourages the growth of the aviation sector, allowing the integration of new users, new innovation, and new technology, while continuing to maintain our global leadership. There is much at stake. We must find the path that improves the system without causing unintended consequences that set us back. The U.S. has always led the world in aviation, and we must continue to do so.”

###

Certified in 1987, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association represents over 20,000 highly skilled air traffic controllers, engineers and other safety professionals.

NATCA’S Proven, Powerhouse Leadership Team, Will Continue To Lead NATCA For The Next Three Years

NATCA Convention 2010 (Micah Maziar (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0))

NATCA Convention 2010 (Micah Maziar (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0))

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert
to Serve Historic Third Term
 

Over the past twenty-seven years the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has grown to become one of the biggest power players in Washington D.C. NATCA was formed from the ashes of the PATCO strike, when President Ronald Reagan summarily fired over 12,000 air traffic controllers on August 3rd 1981.

The problems that the PATCO controllers talked about – safety, fatigue, and equipment failures – did not go away when the workers were terminated. A few years after that dreadful day, a new generation of controllers began to organize and eventually formed the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA).

NATCA was officially certified as the sole representative for Federal air traffic controllers in an overwhelming election in 1987. Since that small and humble beginning, NATCA has grown to represent over 20,000 public and private air traffic controllers, as well as engineers and safety professionals who help make the National Airspace System the safest and most efficient in the world.

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi

This week the National Air Traffic Controllers Association announced the reelection of President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. They will be the first President and Executive Vice President in the history of NATCA to serve three terms in their respective positions. They ran for the third term unopposed.

“I am honored that the incredible professionals of NATCA give their full support for Executive Vice President Gilbert and me to represent them for another term,” said Rinaldi. “We look forward to continuing our work as their voices in Washington and around the world to enhance collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration and the aviation industry, and to advance the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System.”

“The opportunity to continue representing my NATCA brothers and sisters is a true privilege,” said Gilbert. “The dedication and passion they have for their professions and the system is unrivaled. Together, we have accomplished so much over the past six years; I’m eager to continue building on the work we’ve done and take NATCA and the National Airspace System to new heights.”

 

Labor Struggles Shape NATCA’s Future

Paul Rinaldi began his career as a controller at Dulles (IAD) Tower where he served as the Facility Representative and the Alternate Regional Vice President for the Eastern Region. Rinaldi’s diverse history in NATCA includes time as an Air Safety Investigator and arbitration advocate.

In 2006, Rinaldi was elected to the National Executive Board as NATCA’s Executive Vice President. At the time, NATCA was in a bitter labor dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA and NATCA could not come to an agreement on their Collective Bargaining Agreement and the FAA unilaterally forced its “last best offer” on to the membership. These “imposed work rules” slashed the pay for newly hired controllers and sparked outrage by the membership.

These were tough times for NATCA members and it would take strong leadership from their then-President Patrick Forrey and his newly elected Executive Vice President Rinaldi. As push came to shove, and speaking became yelling, NATCA members banded together to fight the oppressive work rules. NATCA would later describe this “as the worst time in our union’s history.”

To overcome these “imposed work rules,” NATCA needed a legislative fix and leadership change from the White House down. At the time, Trish Gilbert was the chair of NATCA’s Legislative Committee. This very difficult but prestigious position was responsible for making NATCA’s issues known to the members of Congress.

NATCA had many friends on the Hill, both Republican and Democrat. Trish Gilbert and all of NATCA’s legislative team lobbied the members to help resolve this dispute. NATCA found help from the relatively unknown Junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.

In 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama, spoke to NATCA members at their annual lobby week, NATCA in Washington.

 

Just prior to speaking at the NATCA in Washington event, Senator Obama co-sponsored bi-partisan legislation written by Senators Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and James M. Inhofe, R-Okla — The Federal Aviation Administration Fair Labor Management Dispute Resolution Act of 2006 — to block the FAA from imposing its work rules and require it to bargain in good faith with NATCA.

Though the bill failed to stop the FAA from imposing their “work rules,” Senator Obama solidified his relationship with NATCA and the 15,000 air traffic controllers it represents.

NATCA worked with other labor unions across the nation to help Senator Obama become President Obama.

On top of his other union obligations, (then-Executive Vice President) Rinaldi spend much of his time traveling the country, speaking directly to members about the importance of standing strong against the “imposed work rules” and the importance of electing a President who would stand with NATCA.

(Then-Senator Barack Obama Addresses NATCA members at their convention in 2008)

“President-elect Obama supported NATCA from the beginning in our long struggle for fair collective bargaining rights with the Federal Aviation Administration,” Patrick Forrey, then-President of NATCA wrote in a 2008 statement. “We were proud to support him and join with working men and women across the country to win this campaign.”

Shortly after taking office, President Obama directed the FAA to open negotiations with NATCA and resolve the three-year labor dispute. By the fall of 2009, NATCA and the FAA reached a tentative agreement that was ultimately ratified by the members.

In 2009, just after the agreement was ratified by the membership, NATCA President Forrey stated, “Today, the members of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association overwhelmingly approved a collective bargaining agreement with the FAA. It is a testament to our membership that they have endured the worst time in our union’s history, working towards and holding out for a contract that was negotiated in a fair process and agreed to by the parties.”

“This would not have been possible without the support and commitment of the Obama Administration, key members of Congress and the AFL-CIO in providing a fair and transparent process,” Forrey said. “Now is the time to move forward and forge a working relationship that will stabilize the workforce, effectively train the large number of new hires and keep the current system safe and efficient while we transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation System.”

 

A NEW ERA

Just prior to reaching an agreement with the FAA, Paul Rinaldi was elected President of NATCA and Trish Gilbert was elected Executive Vice President.

“I’m honored that my NATCA brothers and sisters have chosen me to represent them and am equal to the task. Throughout my career, I’ve made it my mission to further the goals of this union and I’m not stopping now,” said Rinaldi.

NATCA's Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert

NATCA’s Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert

Trish Gilbert was very well known throughout NATCA. Over her 21-year career, Gilbert was the Facility Representative at the Houston Air Route Traffic Control Center, chaired NATCA’s National Legislative Committee from 2005-2009, chaired NATCA’s National Organizing Committee and was the NATCA Charitable Foundation’s Vice President, and then its President.

“I congratulate my colleague, friend and NATCA president-elect and am ready to work with him to move our organization to the next level,” said the newly elected Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert in 2009.

The new leadership team of Rinaldi & Gilbert faced both new and familiar challenges. For the three years prior to their taking office, the relationship between NATCA and the FAA was completely broken. Rinaldi and Gilbert led NATCA to a new era of mutual collaboration with the agency. They have made improving the working relationship between NATCA, the FAA and Department of Transportation a top priority. Efforts like the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP), Professional Standards, and Partnership For Safety are a result of their focus on progress and safety. These processes have led to collaborative decisions on important issues involving airspace, procedures, technology, staffing and training while also raising NATCA’s leadership role and voice in the aviation industry.

 

Political Strife Results In NATCA’s Rise To Power In Washington

2013 would prove to be an especially difficult year for NATCA and its members, as NATCA began warning people about the possible effects the Sequester cuts could have on the National Airspace System and the flying public.

“Sequestration cut nearly $493 million from the FAA’s Operations budget, $142 million from its Facilities and Equipment budget, and $8.6 million from its Research, Engineering, and Development budget,” Rinaldi testified to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “These sequestration cuts were not the result of a research-driven strategy to increase safety and efficiency, but rather for the sole purpose of saving money.”

NATCA Stop the Furloughs“Today’s announcement from the FAA unfortunately confirms the concerns we have been warning about for months – sequestration will significantly and perhaps permanently undermine the capacity of the National Airspace System. The fact that they will not just be furloughing critical FAA personnel but closing air traffic control towers means the system will be even more compromised than anticipated,” said Rinaldi. “The National Air Traffic Controllers Association continues to urge the nation’s policy-makers to find a solution that prevents or mitigates the impact of sequestration in a way that does not diminish the world’s safest and most efficient national airspace system.”

As March 2013 approached, it became clear that the Sequester cuts were going to take effect, and they were going to be painful for the American public. NATCA produced its own report on exactly how the Sequestration cuts would affect the flying public, and explained how every air traffic controller would be forced to take between 11-22 furlough days – forced time off without pay – between March and the end of the fiscal year.

The forced furloughs would mean that at least 10% of the available controllers would be forced off without pay on any given day. The Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, and NATCA warned that this would mean immediate and significant delays throughout the National Airspace System.

NATCA, under the strong leadership of Rinaldi and Gilbert, tried to overturn these disastrous cuts. NATCA worked with legislators from both sides of the political aisle to pass legislation to stop the controller furloughs.

Like many things in life, sometimes you have to lose something to realize how much you really needed it. This was the case with Congress as air traffic controllers were furloughed in April of 2013.

“After just two days of furloughs for air traffic controllers, more than 10,000 flights have been delayed and more than 600 canceled,” wrote the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “This is no way to run the world’s safest, most efficient national airspace system. Controllers continue to do their best every day to keep the system running. It’s time policymakers show the same amount of effort and dedication.”

Within three days, a bill was put on the floor of the House to end the controller furloughs. Within one week the FAA Furlough Bill was signed into law and controllers returned to work. It clearly showed the importance of the air traffic system and the political might of NATCA.

“Thanks to the action taken this week in Congress, they will be able to return to work full time,” NATCA said. “We applaud the bipartisan nature of the votes and look forward to working closely with the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure the newly granted flexibility is exercised in a way that maintains our national airspace system’s status as the safest and most efficient in the world.”

As 2013 continued, it became more and more obvious that House and Senate were never going to agree on a federal budget. Without a budget the government was forced to shutdown on October 1st. NATCA President Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Gilbert worked with Congress and informed the public of the dire effects on the air traffic system if Congress did not act to end the government shutdown.

“It is unacceptable that thousands of our aviation safety professionals have been forced to stay home due to partisan posturing in Congress,” said Rinaldi. “I implore Congress to reach an agreement to end this shutdown, which is hurtful to our nation’s aviation system, our economy and the American people.”

Image From NATCA

Image From NATCA

15,000 air traffic controllers were forced to go into work without knowing if they would be paid for their work.

“There are grave repercussions as a result of the shutdown on all aspects of the system,” said Rinaldi. “There are real people suffering real consequences as a result of this shutdown. The only way to restore the aviation system to full staffing and speed is to end it right away. This is an increasingly difficult situation that will only worsen as it drags on. The shutdown must be stopped immediately.”

NATCA was not alone in the fight to protect the National Airspace System from the government shutdown. NATCA partnered with unions and aviation advocacy groups calling for an end to the government shutdown.

It took two full weeks before the political winds shifted and the government reopened. NATCA began to make a call for a more stable form of funding, to avoid these problems in the future.

“Sequestration, the shutdown and the uncertainty they have wrought have disrupted flight schedules, peeled away layers of safety redundancies and threatened our ability to maintain fully staffed and trained workforces,” NATCA wrote.

It is clear to see why Paul Rinaldi, Trish Gilbert, and NATCA are helping to shape policies that affect not only the National Airspace System but all of labor as a whole.

At the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention, Rinaldi was elected as a vice president of the labor federation’s Executive Council. Rinaldi also serves as a union representative on the FAA National Labor-Management Forum, a group whose formation was mandated by a presidential executive order to improve labor relations within the federal government.

 

Looking Forward

As Rinaldi and Gilbert begin their historic third term they are facing some significant and pressing political issues. With the Republicans regaining control of the Senate and retaining their control in the House, the attacks on federal workers have already begun.

NATCA continues to call for a more stable funding process, one that will not be affected by the shifting political winds. President Rinaldi testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. Rinaldi delivered his remarks during a hearing about the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization process and options for FAA air traffic control reform.

“NATCA looks forward to working with Congress and other stakeholders to determine a solution that protects air traffic control and secures it for future growth,” said Rinaldi.

Now the entire government is facing deeper cuts due to the Sequester beginning again in this October. This is compounded by the cuts proposed by the House and Senate budgets that would force workers to pay more for benefits, push workers into a new retirement system, hinder the FAA from continuing their modernization efforts and would put addition strain on the workforce.

“End sequester,” Rinaldi said. “It is not conducive to modernizing our system, running our day-to-day operations, and growing aviation, which is an economic engine. We need a predictable funding system so that we can enhance the NAS and continue to be the world leader.”

It will take strong leadership and strong political influence to overcome the issues facing NATCA in the near future. NATCA clearly has both.

 

NATCA Honors Members’ Finest Work at Annual Awards Banquet

LAS VEGAS – Tonight, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) will honor air traffic controllers involved in nine flight assists from around the U.S. at the 11th annual Archie League Medal of Safety Awards.

Named for the first air traffic controller, the NATCA Archie League Medal of Safety Awards honors the top examples of skill, dedication and professionalism demonstrated by NATCA members in the previous year. Each honoree saved a life or lives in emergency situations.

“Every day, air traffic controllers keep us safe and sound, seamlessly,” says NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “Controllers will say it’s routine, but these assists are remarkable and life saving. These men and women provided help during incredibly tough moments; they demonstrated an unbelievable combination of skill, quick thinking and grace under pressure. We are proud to recognize their exemplary efforts.”

The honorees include a Houston TRACON air traffic controller who provided assistance to a pilot stuck above the clouds in terrible weather for two hours and was getting low on fuel; a controller at Potomac Consolidated TRACON who prevented a collision between two aircraft flying under visual flight rules; a Central Florida TRACON air traffic controller who spotted a pilot heading directly into the path of a commercial aircraft and prevented a collision; and two Boston Tower air traffic controllers who prevented a runway collision between two commercial aircraft.

“These award winners went to work ready to handle anything,” says NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. “They relied on their training, their skill, their team and their supreme professionalism. These incidents all ended safely because of the controllers using every available tool at their disposable. They were determined to do whatever was needed. Congratulations to them on their incredible performances.”

The awards ceremony will stream live on http://www.natca.org, beginning at 8:15 p.m. PST.

The 2015 Archie League Medal of Safety Award winners are:

  • Alaskan Region: Parker Corts, Anchorage Center
  • Central Region: Travis Arnold, Omaha TRACON
  • Eastern Region: Joseph Rodewald, Potomac Consolidated TRACON
  • Great Lakes Region: Justine Krenke, Adam Helm, and Mike Ostrander, Green Bay Tower/TRACON
  • New England Region: Kelly Eger and Sarah LaPorte Ostrander, Boston Tower
  • Northwest Mountain Region: Mark Haechler, Al Passero and Matt Dippe, Seattle Center
  • Southern Region: Sarina Gumbert, Central Florida TRACON
  • Southwest Region: Hugh McFarland, Houston TRACON
  • Western Pacific Region: Jesse Anderson, Brackett Field Tower

Information about the award winners, their stories, and the audio recordings of the events, with transcript, are availableHERE.

 

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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association represents over 20,000 highly skilled controllers, engineers and other safety-related professionals.

NATCA Celebrates Engineers Week

WASHINGTON – NATCA proudly celebrates the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) engineers it represents, and recognizes their many contributions to the workforce during National Engineers Week, Feb. 22-28.

These professionals support every one of the 70,000 flights that safely takeoff and land each day in the U.S. They design, construct and remodel air traffic control facilities. They analyze, improve and upgrade radar and communications coverage.

“NATCA-represented engineers provide essential services that the flying public doesn’t usually consider when they think of flying today,” said NATCA Regional Vice President Mike MacDonald.

Separated into multiple bargaining units, NATCA-represented engineers perform a wide range of duties that are imperative in maintaining the nation’s air traffic control standards as the safest and most efficient in the world. About 1,000 NATCA members belong to the largest unit, Engineers and Architects, and are assigned to Engineering Services and Mission Support, responsible for the program management, design, construction and remodeling of air traffic control facilities and equipment.

“We devote this week to honoring the outstanding work of our engineers,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “They are a critical component in the maintenance and advancement of the National Airspace System, and they are committed to making aviation technology the best.”

Also in the Engineers and Architects unit are approximately 250 engineers employed in either the Operations Support Group, responsible for maintaining the National Airspace System (NAS) equipment, and the Flight Inspection Services group, in charge of the maintenance and modernization for the fleet of flight inspection aircraft. Approximately 500 additional engineers work in Aircraft Certification, where they ensure aircraft are properly designed and tested. This group also investigates aircraft incidents. A smaller number of engineer members are assigned to the Airports Division, accountable for the approval of airport improvements, the implementation of new programs and the oversight of development projects. There are also engineers located in En Route and Terminal Automation, providing operational computer software support and maintenance for en route centers and terminal environments.

“NATCA-represented engineers are dedicated to ensuring a high performance operation of the vast network of sophisticated air traffic control, navigation, surveillance, communication and automation equipment that makes up the NAS,” said NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. “We proudly celebrate this group and their profession this week.”

For more information about Engineers Week, visit the official website. For more information about NATCA-represented engineers, visit www.natca.org.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association represents over 20,000 highly skilled controllers, engineers and other safety-related professionals.

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