FAA concedes controller staff strained at LAX


first_imgThe plan lists staffing goals for each of the FAA’s 314 air traffic control facilities. It shows that staffing at the LAX tower is on the low end of what the agency considers adequate. “We can operate safely in that range,” said William Withycombe, administrator of the FAA’s Western-Pacific region. But, he added, “it’s our intent to bring in new controllers.” The controllers union has repeatedly said low staffing is a key factor in near-collisions and airfield crashes. Union leaders say overworked controllers are more prone to distraction, fatigue and mistakes. The staffing plan released Wednesday indicates the LAX tower should have at least 38 controllers on staff. It currently has 40, according to the FAA, but at least two or three are planning to retire by the fall. Nearly half of the controllers at LAX are already putting in six-day workweeks, Withycombe said. The Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged Wednesday that staffing levels are low at Los Angeles International Airport’s control tower but said an ongoing campaign to hire more controllers is expected to ease the strain. Controllers have drawn a connection between low staffing at the tower and potentially dangerous accidents at the airport. They have warned for years that the situation will worsen as an expected surge of retirements thins their ranks nationwide. The FAA estimates that it will have to recruit and train more than 15,000 new controllers in the coming decade to keep up with retirements. On Wednesday, the agency released an updated staffing plan that administrators said would meet the need for new controllers while better matching the work force to the workload. He said the FAA plans to send nine additional controllers to LAX this year, putting the tower at or above the upper range in the FAA goals. The goals were developed as part of a broader effort to cope with a wave of retirements that has been building for more than two decades. In 1981, President Reagan fired thousands of controllers who had walked off the job on strike. Most of today’s controllers were hired in the years that followed – and that means most are becoming eligible to retire in the next few years. The FAA has requested $15.9 million in the coming fiscal year to recruit and train new controllers, the Inspector General’s Office has estimated. That’s a small part of its budget request, which tops $14 billion. doug.irving@dailybreeze.com (310) 543-6649 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more