Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Half of air traffic controller job offers go to people with no aviation experience

Less than 4 percent of the more than 22,000 members of the general public with no aviation background who applied this year to become air-traffic controllers have passed new tests designed to increase off-the-street hiring, but they were offered slightly more than half of the roughly 1,600 new controller slots in the current job pool, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday.

Students and graduates of FAA-accredited collegiate air-traffic control programs, meanwhile, were offered slightly less than half of the controller jobs, the FAA said.

The hiring breakdown marks a major shift in FAA recruitment strategy, which is now geared toward trying to keep ahead of a wave of controller retirements while also attracting more minorities and women to the nation’s airport towers and radar facilities, officials have said.

For almost the last 25 years, until the off-the-street hiring process was implemented in February, the FAA recruited controllers heavily from among military veterans possessing aviation experience and from the 36 FAA-approved college aviation programs across the U.S., the Tribune reported this spring.

Those two groups must now compete against the general public, and the first phase to trim the list of potential controller candidates centers on a controversial biographical assessment.

Under the revised program, the pass rate for the almost 6,000 aviation students and graduates was about 13 percent, the FAA said.

Critics of the FAA’s new controller recruitment process said that rate – while three times higher than for other applicants – was significantly reduced because of the biographical assessment, which weeded out many applicants before they had an opportunity to take the traditional air-traffic control tests that assess knowledge and aptitude for working in the fast-paced, high-tension world of directing planes.

Some aviation experts said the FAA’s move to increase diversity in its controller work force by hiring candidates with no prior aviation experience could compromise flight safety and lead to a high wash-out rate among the new hires.

Members of Congress have sought assurances from the FAA that safety will not be impaired, and the lawmakers also blasted the FAA for a “lack of transparency’’ in the new controller hiring policy.

The biographical assessment consisted of 62 multiple-choice questions, many of which mirrored questions in a personality test. It included questions about how peers would describe the individual and the age at which the person started to earn money.

Critics, who included faculty of college controller training programs, said the online biographical assessment included no safeguards to ensure that the job applicant was actually the same person who took the assessment.

FAA officials defended the switch, saying the biographical assessment helped the agency “select from a larger pool of qualified applicants than under past vacancy announcements” and reduced testing and training costs.

“The bio-data assessment served its intended purpose of screening a large pool of applicants into a smaller group of the best candidates,” an FAA statement issued Wednesday said.

The FAA said it received more than 28,000 applications, including about 22,500 applications from the general public, of which 837 passed and were offered jobs.

Applicants with controller training in college programs “did very well,’’ FAA spokeswoman Kristie Greco said, pointing to the 754 jobs offered to air-traffic control students and graduates.

About 65 percent of the new class of controller candidates has “some combination of (collegiate controller training), military or some specific aviation-related work history or experience,’’ Greco said.

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