Jon Hilkevitch, the Chicago Tribune‘s well respected aviation writer (and with United Airlines, Boeing and O’Hare as his regular beat, he’s good), has written the below↓ critique of the new 1,000 Air Traffic Controllers. The issue of the FAA’s hiring of new controllers, without regard to the skills which will be required by NextGen, has been discussed here. Hilkevitch addresses the agency’s new personnel strategy, which tries to balance an impending deficit in staffing, goals to add minorities and women and safety. The information of this piece suggests that the untried bio-data assessment may not produce the needed number of full performance controllers.
The job of “safely guiding you home” requires the individual on the scope or at the tower cab to have control of two types of information.
First is a series of data defining the airplane’s course, altitude, speed, rate of climb and radio frequencies. Those details are stored in the controllers’ memory in series of “if/then” statements; i.e. “if the aircraft is at Point A, then its altitude, speed… should be.” That requires certain mental skills.
The second class of knowledge is about aviation. Here the examples are not linear, but involve the aircraft’s limitations and capabilities. You can study those performance parameters, but the better command of those factors are well learned from experience.
The senior management of the FAA has determined that its ATC workforce needs to be more diverse; so its HR team developed a test, bio-data assessment, 62 questions which should identify which candidates are well suited to handle the pressure of ATC work.This test was created to avoid past and recent sources of workers for this position.
The largest historic source had been military controllers whose experience made them prime candidates. The second pool of talent was established by the FAA; they asked colleges to design curriculum which would prepare individuals who would want to try this career and they did. To the students’ and faculties’ frustration (as reported in several articles, the FAA’s February change in policy negated the value of their tuition and hard work. Congress, too, is concerned about the abrupt change ad transparency.
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