I was catching up on the posts on NATCAnet this afternoon and a couple things caught my attention.

First is the article on Avweb about controller staffing. (You might have to register an account to read the full article.) Jim Trinka, the FAA’s director of technical training and development, made the claim that “new controllers are becoming fully qualified in half the time it took to do so just a few years ago…thanks to simulators. It now takes 2.6 years to fully qualify an en route controller and 1.4 years for a terminal area controller.”

What a crock. Under ideal conditions, simulators MAY help reduce the training time some, but by half – not a chance. Training today in the Agency is not ideal, not by any stretch of the imagination.

More from the article: “The FAA has used tower simulators in Chicago, Miami, Phoenix and Ontario, California, since 2006.” So, even though Mr. Trinka made a blanket statement that sounds like controller certification nationwide is reduced, he must only mean those four towers. Funny, no mention of what center simulators are installed. He must mean the DYSIM labs that they’ve been using for years.

Okay, genius, tower simulators since 2006. Doesn’t say when in 2006, so we’ll split the difference and say June, 2006. It’s now early 2008, a little over a year and a half later. According to Mr. Trinka, 1.4 years to train those terminal types. So Chicago O’Hare should be just fine on staffing, right? Check out NATCA’s press release last month, and I quote, “There are only 46 fully certified controllers at O’Hare Tower. That is 25 short of what is needed, not to mention what will be needed to staff a second tower as part of the O’Hare Modernization Phase 1.” So, O’Hare is down about 30% on their staffing, but they’ve had a simulator that’ll supposedly get those trainees certified in half the time. What’s wrong with this picture?

Mr. Trinka also says “An additional 24 simulators are being installed over the next 18 months at busy Class B towers including New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Washington Reagan National, Dallas Fort-Worth, and Atlanta.” Even assuming that all 24 simulators get installed by the end of this year, the FAA can hire and retain the bodies that quickly and Mr. Trinka’s limited data pool is correct (huge assumptions, I know), we’re still talking about 2.5 years before those busy Class B towers see any real relief. That’s late summer 2010, if anyone needs help with the math.

But there was another post on NATCAnet that also caught my eye. It seems the Agency is starting to use our newbies as trainers themselves. Certified 6 months on a position, take the on-the-job-instructor (OJTI) course and starting training others on those positions. I mean absolutely no disrespect to our newbies or their skills, but the plain and simple truth is that experience is what’ll keep you out of trouble training others and 6 months isn’t nearly enough experience with the volume of traffic we’re running nowadays nationwide.

So. if I apply a little logic using those two bits of information, I come up with this:

The FAA claims that their whiz-bang technology will begin reducing the training time at 30 facilities nationwide (we have over 300 facilities, by the way) no later than October, 2009. (Anyone with any experience dealing with the Agency’s deployment of any technology knows that installation in 30 facilities in 18 months probably is a pipedream.) Yet, those same trainees who are supposedly getting that fast-track training are now training others before they’re completely certified. Guess what, people? If the trainee is training someone else, they CAN NOT get training themselves on the other positions they’ve got left to go before they’re facility-certified. So, in effect, the Agency is cancelling out any benefits we might see from simulators and most likely is now INCREASING the time to certify for our newbies.

The Agency has dug themselves a hole and it’s getting deeper incredibly fast, folks.

As a free service to the flying public, I’m including a link to Amtrak. Just something to think about.

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