If I Can Do the Math...

Once again, Business Week has an article about the controller shortage. There is nothing quite like money to get everyone’s attention. I never thought that money did much for dead people. That makes safety more important in my book but alas, it is money that gets the attention of the living.

Anyway, I was struck by some of the numbers in the article used by NATCA and the FAA to convince the American Public as to which one is telling the truth.

The FAA tells Business Week that “More than 90 candidates were interviewed last month...“ Okay. “Candidates” and “interviewed” doesn’t equate to controllers but the number was only for one “regional office” and I assume there are several.

“But the union says more than six veteran controllers per day retired between Oct. 1 and Jan. 5,...“ I assume the number NATCA used is correct but I also assume those dates were particularly bad for the FAA. However, I’ve seen the calculations made from last year and I know that this year is expected to be worse. Let’s run some numbers.

“Six controllers per day” times “last month” is 6 times 30. That equals 180 real-life controllers retiring while the FAA was interviewing “90 candidates.” Okay, the interviewing was for just one region. Maybe we need to look at the whole quote in context.

”More than 90 candidates were interviewed last month at the new processing center at the FAA's regional office in New York. The first hires to participate in the process received job offers within two weeks and will start at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City this month. Other centers will be established this spring in the busy hubs of Atlanta, Chicago and elsewhere, according to the agency.”

“Other centers will be established this spring...” That is just a little vague isn’t it ?

”The FAA plans to hire more than 1,800 new controllers this year... “

That is more precise but it is also misleading. It’s a nice number but they aren’t hiring controllers. They’re hiring “candidates”, wannabe controllers, trainees. And just as sure as God made little green apples a significant portion of them will not make it through training to become controllers.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, controllers are retiring. Let’s say we’re only losing five a day instead of the six per day NATCA says. 5 x 365 = 1,825 per year.

Do you see the problem ? At five per day the FAA is losing controllers faster than they are hiring trainees. If you start adding in the truth while you’re playing with the numbers the picture just gets bleaker. Historically, the wash out rate for trainees is around 50 percent. The FAA would need to hire 3,600 trainees to replace 1,800 controllers -- starting at least two years ago. Either that or the FAA has to stop the bleeding and get retirements down below 3 a day -- starting at least two years ago. They didn’t.

From an older article in Government Executive:

Veteran controllers have been retiring at a rate of more than three per day since the start of the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2006, NATCA reported. “

Training a controller takes time. You can train somebody to be a controller in two years but it’s a bad idea. I know, I did it in two years and two days. Nothing replaces experience. You can cram the training into two years instead of four (or five) but you can’t cram the experience in too.

Now, if I can do the math so can the FAA. They can’t be that stupid. I’ve said that before. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve said it. As I showed you yesterday, there is a worldwide shortage of controllers. Even if the Bush Administration were to contract out the ATC portion of the FAA, where would the contractors get the controllers ?

Are you getting the Flick yet ? Once again, it is NATCA that is telling you the truth. The best way to mitigate this crisis is to negotiate a good and fair contract with the controllers and stop the bleeding of experienced controllers. The price the American Public will have to pay -- sooner or later -- goes up every, single day. And if you think I’m talking about just money you still don’t have the Flick.

Don Brown
February 16, 2008


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