Monthly Archives: May 2009

Fascinating facts about controller staffing

The FAA’s annual controller staffing report and outlook is available, and is chock full of interesting information. Front and center, not surprisingly, is the announcement that the agency beat its hiring target in FY’08 by bringing in 2,196 trainees. (Release from ATO communications is here.)

But the report itself is the real treasure trove. Some facts we didn’t know:

  • Of the population of  certified controllers, about 4,400 are in the ‘age bubble’ between 44-49 years old.
  • 2,358 controllers are currently retirement-eligible, with 746 more reaching eligibility in FY09.
  • Of the controllers who retired in ’08, 34 percent did so in the first year they were eligible.
  • FAA expects about 720 controllers to retire in ’09, and also expects to lose about 800 to promotions, transfers, resignations, removals, and deaths.
  • In 2008, the average TRACON had a higher percentage of trainees working than the average En Route center did. The FAA expects this to reverse starting in FY’10.
  • In 2008, the average training time for TRACON certification was 1.1 years — down from 3.1 years in 2005.
  • The appendix includes a fascinating snapshot of controller populations at each En Route center, TRACON and staffed tower as of 9/27/08. Of the En Route centers in the continental U.S., Chicago and Cleveland ARTCCs had the highest certified controller populations on that date (338 and 335, respectively). Seattle and Salt Lake had the lowest (151 and 156, respectively).

If you find data inside the report that you believe is meaningful, post a comment or email us at editor (at) flynextgen (dot) com.

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JPDO update – milestones since last all-hands meeting

Charlie Leader presented the following JPDO milestones in his all-hands update last week (links are included where available):

  • FY11 Budget Guidance submitted to OST/OMB on February 20
  • The Environmental Management System R&D initiated in March
  • Roll-Out Plan for 2012 implementation of Net-Centric Information Sharing Capability released on March 12
  • ATM Weather Integration Plan released on April 22
  • NextGen Integrated Work Plan (IWP) agency gap analysis completed in April
  • Phase 2 Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) ConOps endorsed by Board members at the JPDO Board Meeting on May 5
  • Integrated Surveillance ConOps delivered on May 7

The original presentation is here.

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Passage of H.R. 915: industry groups ‘eerily’ harmonized… or are they?

Jim Swickard at Aviation Week has the following analysis in the wake of the FAA reauthorization bill passing the House:

The current FAA bill retains the FAA funding mix of excise taxes, fuel taxes and general fund contributions, but increases the general aviation jet fuel tax rate from 21.8 cents per gallon to 35.9 cents per gallon and increase the avgas tax from 19.3 cents per gallon to 24.1 cents per gallon. These were the same rates the Way and Means Committee endorsed in the previous Congress.

Industry groups stated their acceptance these tax hikes in lieu of user fees when they were proposed last year.

The Air Transport Association last year had complained vociferously that General Aviation was not paying its fair share of Air Traffic Control costs.  That argument was muted by AOPA, NBAA and NATA’s eerily gracious acceptance of the increased fuel taxes.

There are philosophical issues related to the U.S. General Fund contribution to the FAA and ATC budgets and the Obama administration wants to reduce that contribution and impose direct user fees after 2011, a prospect that would not upset the airlines. But that’s for tomorrow.

For now, all parties involved; industry associations, regulators and legislators can feel proud of their unity of larger purpose while not cluttering the playing field with their differences.  In other words, they have acted like aviators – to their great credit.

Can this collegial atmosphere hold through passage of a final bill by both the House and Senate, and the President’s signature?  Stay tuned.

Swickard’s view is compelling, though offset somewhat by the contents of a highly critical letter sent to Congress by ATA President James May (full text at Aero-News.net):

We have asked that Congress:

  • Expedite investment in and deployment of NextGen. The United States is at a critical juncture right now. Either we can accelerate the transformation of the ATC, to allow air transportation to grow in a safe and efficient manner while achieving environmental benefits, or we can risk bringing our economy and leadership in technology to a halt by failing to address our growing aviation capacity constraints. Leadership from the committee is needed to ensure that appropriate funding and program direction is in place to accelerate the deployment of this critical program.
  • Reject increasing taxes and fees on passengers. An increase in the maximum passenger facility charge (PFC) from $4.50 per segment to $7 per segment would impose an additional and unwarranted $2 billion tax increase per year on commercial passengers. With airport revenue eclipsing record levels – over $12.7 billion in 2007 – and with $27 billion in unrestricted financial assets, the imposition of an increased PFC tax is not only unwarranted, but also will further reduce demand for travel.
  • Protect our valued U.S. aviation repair facilities by ensuring that any requirements are applied in a manner consistent with U.S. obligations under international agreements. During recent conversations between U.S. trade associations and European officials, the Europeans have indicated that as a result of the current language in Section 303, many U.S. facilities would be subject to new, regulatory requirements by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Such duplicative, burdensome impositions are in no one’s interest.
  • Reject the automatic elimination of previously granted antitrust immunity (ATI) to carriers for international marketing alliances. DOT has approved international airline alliances because they produce numerous and substantial benefits, both to the public and the participating carriers. Arbitrarily terminating antitrust immunity will have a harsh impact on airline employees and cause a ripple effect across the travel and tourism industry at a time when the industry is already hobbled.
  • Maintain safety without requiring overly strict fire-fighting standards. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations have safely dictated staffing and equipment requirements for airport fire stations for years based on the needs within the airport boundary. Increasing staffing and equipment based on surrounding populations will not enhance airport safety but will increase costs unnecessarily. These are not legitimate safety claims and should be rejected.
  • Allow carriers to continue improving customer service without imposing unsafe or unreasonable deplaning requirements. In particular, we oppose a hard-and-fast rule requiring airlines to give passengers the option to deplane after three hours. Mandatory deplaning will have numerous unintended consequences that, ultimately, will create even more inconvenience for passengers and lead to even more flight cancellations.

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Randy Babbitt confirmed as FAA Administrator

From Dow Jones Newswires:

The Senate late Thursday confirmed two of President Barack Obama’s key transportation nominees.

Randolph Babbitt, an aviation consultant and former president of the Air Line Pilots Association, will now take the helm of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Two of Babbitt’s most pressing tasks will be to resolve labor disputes involving air traffic controllers and to find funding for long-held plans to revamp the nation’s air-traffic management system, a project known as NextGen. [..]

The Senate also approved John Porcari, who will leave his current post as one of Maryland’s top transportation officials to be the Department of Transportation’s deputy secretary.

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H.R. 915 passes House vote

The House of Representatives has passed H.R. 915, which among many other things would reauthorize the FAA’s budget through FY 2012.  The final tally was 277 to 136 (to see how your Congressman or -woman voted, click here.)

The floor debate focused in large part on inspections of foreign repair stations. Here a summary from the well-informed (though partisan) Aeronautical Repair Station Association:

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN-8) exchanged barbs with the committee’s ranking member, Rep. John Mica (R-FL-7) over the potential impact of Sec. 303.

Rep. Mica, supported by House Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Petri (R-WI-6) emphasized that Sec. 303 violates the current bilateral aviation safety agreement (BASA) with the European Union. The EU has stated that if the language in Sec. 303 becomes law, the BASA will collapse, causing a severe impact for the over 1,200 repair stations in the United States that complete work for European customers. Armed with letters from impacted businesses and associations, Rep. Mica continued to stress that the section was a “job killer”.

While Rep. Mica reeled off the devastating job losses that could result from Sec. 303’s enactment, Rep. Oberstar replied that the EU was simply “crying wolf” and no retaliation will actually occur. In addition, Rep. Oberstar and House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-IL-12) continued their claim that the amendment was based on safety concerns.

So what is H.R. 915 all about? You can find Rep. Costello’s view here; another interesting summary comes from Aero-News Network.

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Babbitt, Porcari confirmed by Commerce Committee

From the Journal of Commerce:

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted to send to the full Senate for confirmation the president’s nominees for deputy transportation secretary and head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The panel acted one day after a confirmation hearing for John D. Porcari to be deputy to Secretary Ray LaHood at the Department of Transportation, and J. Randolph Babbitt to be FAA administrator.

That means the two only await a final Senate vote to move into their jobs in top leadership posts for U.S. transportation policies.

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Senators put Randy Babbitt in the hot seat

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, FAA Administrator-designate Randy Babbitt got a taste of the challenges coming his way. By the looks of it, Babbitt has broad support and should be confirmed without any real trouble, but the Senators’ questions were telling in their own right. Some examples:

Sen. Frank Lautenberg on the NY/NJ airspace redesign: “Would you hold the implementation of the airspace redesign project until you see that the interested parties, who have value to contribute, will be included?”

Lautenberg on tower staffing: “If confirmed, can you assure us that the Newark tower will be staffed to the volume of performance that we require there?”

Sen. Johnny Isakson: “What are you going to do to expedite the next generation and the FAA, technology-wise?”

Sen. Byron Dorgan on standards among regional carriers: “Mr. Babbitt, how could they be enforced if you put a co-pilot on a plane flying into Buffalo, New York in the winter with icing who says on the cockpit recorder, ‘I’ve never flown in icing and am very nervous about this.’ That cannot possibly be a standard that is enforced by the FAA.”

Randy Babbitt’s prepared remarks are here, and the full Q&A transcript is here. You can also view the video webcast here.

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