US must boost air traffic control staff as travel demand rises - senator

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs more air traffic controllers to address rising passenger demand, the chair of a U.S. Senate panel overseeing aviation issues said on Thursday, amid investigations into a series of recent runway incidents. "We don't have enough pilots. We don't have enough maintenance people, and we don't have enough air traffic controllers," Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, who chairs the Senate Commerce aviation subcommittee, told Reuters.

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A series of aviation close calls has sparked alarm and raised questions about the safety of the U.S. air system. The FAA has been deciding how many air traffic controllers to employ by its budget "versus the actual need in terms of the traffic demands," Duckworth said. The Transportation Department said last week it was seeking $117 million to hire 1,800 air traffic controllers next year, in addition to 1,500 being hired this year.

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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the union representing controllers, has pressed the FAA to boost staffing. Airlines and others have also called for more funding for air traffic controllers and have pointed to times when a lack of staff impacted flights. "We have a staffing issue," NATCA President Rich Santa said at an FAA safety forum on Wednesday, noting there are 1,200 fewer certified air traffic controllers than a decade ago. "It's time for us to accurately and adequately staff the facilities," he added.


Santa said a permanent fix was needed, along with a new staffing model, while Duckworth said the FAA and NATCA should do a "thorough study" and agree on the staffing levels required. Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell separately on Wednesday called on the FAA to take action on previous National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations.

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Source: Reuters

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