Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Class In Session

The FAA is out making the world safer for airplanes, democracy and contractors again. In a move that I can only describe as bizarre, the FAA has increased the number of colleges in its Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) program. All the small colleges that have been accepted into this program are (of course) in their local newspapers trumpeting the news. Take, for example, this article from The Muncie Free Press

FAA Expands Air Traffic Education Program

”Of the 1,815 new controllers hired in fiscal year 2007 — a number exceeding the target set in the agency’s controller workforce plan — approximately 800 were graduates of CTI schools. Graduation does not guarantee acceptance to the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, but those accepted are allowed to skip the initial, five-week basic training in air traffic control. “

See if you can follow along now. The FAA hired more trainees than their (rebaselined) plan called for, less than half of which came from a CTI school, and in trade for 2 to 4 years of your life (and money) the FAA will let you skip 5 weeks of training. Where can I sign up for that deal ? (Obscure pun alert -- “Deal” is a bad word to air traffic controllers.)

One of the new places you can sign up for the FAA’s “deal” is Middle Georgia College. I don’t know much about MGC except for the fact that it is in Cochran, GA. Cochran is a fine little Georgia town a little south of Macon. I passed through it once about 35 years ago around midnight. (Don’t ask.) There’s not much to see in Cochran around midnight. Of course, the “aviation campus” is in Eastman, GA. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to Eastman. Surely I have. I’ve been in Georgia most of my life. I lived in Macon. My grandparents lived on a farm outside of Dexter. Surely I’ve been to Eastman. If I ever was, I can’t remember it. So, I looked it up on a map. Eastman is about 15 miles south-southwest of Dexter. Pretty much, that is precisely, right smack-dab in the middle of Nowhere.

Please don’t get the idea that I’m trying to pick on Middle Georgia College or the fine folks of Eastman, GA. I’m not. And as a sign of my sincerity I’ll make them an offer. I’ll drive down there and speak to a class on the ATC subject of their choosing -- for free. (Offer limited to the non-gnat season.)

I fully support the idea of government funding to further education and to help build economic prosperity in rural communities. What I don’t support is the FAA trying to suck young kids into an ex-career under false pretenses.

The FAA took me -- right off the street -- and trained me to be an air traffic controller. They even paid me (and well) while I was going to school. I made a good living. It was a tough career, but in the end, it worked out well for me. That isn’t the career that is being offered to young people today.

The FAA cut starting salaries by 30%. They haven’t been paying for room and board out at the Academy (as they did for my generation) and some of the kids out there are living in poverty. They’ve also started hiring people “off the street.” The FAA has made candidates pay for their schooling (the CTI schools) for several years but now -- because they’re so short of controllers -- they’re taking people in as trainees that haven’t been to the CTI schools.

Just today I learned that the FAA will once again start paying per diem -- room and board -- to their students at the Academy in Oklahoma City. They aren’t doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. They’re doing it because people are turning down the FAA’s job offers left and right. You can read the story at ”The FAA Follies”. But if you’re thinking about becoming a controller, you need to read the comments section.

Per diem is nice. The job still comes with a 30% pay cut and the imposed work rules. You’ll want to think long and hard before you decide to go to college for it. The way I see it, the only reason for more CTI schools is so the FAA can privatize ATC. Privatizing the training -- getting students to pay for it -- is just the start. My career was a tough career...but it least it was a career.

Don Brown
October 31, 2007

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