Posts Tagged “tower simulators”

I know I haven’t written in awhile and I really don’t have much time now, but I couldn’t let this one pass me by.   In February, 2008, I wrote a post about the FAA and their plans to install tower simulators to reduce controller training time.  Almost 2 years ago.

Today I see this article.  First, it’s incorrect when it states the average air traffic controller makes $150,000.  There’s a bid that closes tomorrow at Pittsburgh Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) for a Support Manager.  Low end of that pay is $143,000.  It’s a MSS-3 position, which is THREE levels above the “average” controller.  Pittsburgh ATCT is an ATC-10.  Highest level is an ATC-12; lowest is an ATC-5.  You do the math.

The article states, “There are thirteen simulators in place currently.  Nine more will be activated in the next six months, but it comes with a big price tag: between $600,000 and $700,000 each.”  So 24 simulators by the end of June, 2010.  In February, 2008, Mr. Trinka of the FAA said, “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.”

I’ll help with this math.  20 months ago, the FAA claimed they were going to have 24 simulators installed by what should’ve been 2 months ago.  Now they’re claiming that the original 24 simulators will now be installed 8 months later than originally planned.  We’re only talking 24 installations and they’re projecting to be 30% later that what they planned.  So, the first article pretty much has the FAA on a schedule of installing .91 simulators a month.  The actual completed work averaged about .41 of a simulator installed per month (remember, they already had 4 installed in February, 2008).  And now they’re saying they’re going to install almost 2 simulators per month to meet their new timeline.  Anyone else a bit skeptical that they’ll meet that deadline?

NextGen looks like it’ll be a long time coming, people, especially if they don’t start including NATCA on the front end.

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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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