Half of Air Traffic Controller Job Offers Go to People with No Aviation Experience

Jon Hilkevitch, Chicago Tribune, July 30, 2014

More than half of the latest batch of air-traffic controller job offers nationwide went to people with no aviation experience as part of a program designed to expand hiring among the general public, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday.

About 22,500 people without an aviation background initially applied. Of those, 837 were offered jobs. The remainder of the roughly 1,600 new controller slots went to more traditional applicants, including military veterans with aviation experience and accredited aviation school graduates.

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 largely white and male controller work force in airport towers and radar facilities, officials have said.

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

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Controller applicants who are hired go through 17 weeks of training at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City and three years of on-the-job training to achieve full certification, the FAA said. The FAA is generally able to shave about five weeks off the training for graduates of the college program.

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 of candidates, who previously had the inside track to become air-traffic controllers, must now jump through the same hoops as candidates with no aviation background, and the first whittling 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 that of 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.

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