Air traffic facilities rely on trainees

WASHINGTON " The nation's busiest air traffic control facility in Southern California relies heavily on inexperienced trainees, who are expected to make up more than 40 percent of controllers there later this year, according to a report released Monday.

The Transportation Department inspector general report expressed concern about air traffic controller staffing levels at the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility near San Diego, as well at the Northern California Terminal Radar Approach Facility near Sacramento. The two facilities handle planes approaching and leaving California airports.

There are currently 76 trainee controllers " 32 percent of the work force " at the Southern California TRACON, the report said. But the Federal Aviation Administration plans to hire another 34 trainees later this year to make up for expected retirements, raising the share of controllers at the facility who are trainees to more than 40 percent.

Nationally, about 27 percent of the controllers at radar facilities are trainees, the report said.

The report also said that overtime by controllers working in the tower at Los Angeles International Airport has increased more than 800 percent since 2006, and was up 120 percent at the Northern California TRACON.

The report recommended that FAA "take immediate action" to address staffing and overtime concerns.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who requested the report, sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday, urging that the level of experienced traffic controllers at the Southern California TRACON be boosted.

"I strongly encourage you to develop a plan to address the staffing crisis before safety is compromised," Feinstein said in her letter.

"In my view Southern California TRACON, which handles some of the most complex airspace in the United States, should be staffed with our most experienced controllers, not more than 100 controllers who are yet to receive full certification," the letter said.


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