FAA’s Collegiate Training Initiative
SPOILER ALERT: Congress did something right!!!
By enacting the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, Congress streamlined the air traffic controller hiring process by allowing experienced controllers to be hired quickly; military veterans and graduates of schools in FAA’s Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) would also be hired more expeditiously. CTI graduates and veterans would be considered in a separate pool from the general public. The extension would also increase the maximum entry age for a controller with 52 weeks experience to 35 years of age.
HR 836,¶¶ SEC. 2106. Hiring of air traffic controllers, in relevant part, provides:
(A)… the Administrator shall give preferential consideration to qualified individuals maintaining 52 consecutive weeks of air traffic control experience involving the full-time active separation of air traffic after receipt of an air traffic certification or air traffic control facility rating within 5 years of application while serving at—
“(i) a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control facility;
“(ii) a civilian or military air traffic control facility of the Department of Defense; or
“(iii) a tower operating under contract with the Federal Aviation Administration under section 47124
(b)(1) Administrator shall consider additional applicants for the position of air traffic controller by referring an approximately equal number of individuals for appointment among the 2 applicant pools described in this subparagraph. The number of individuals referred for consideration from each group shall not differ by more than 10 percent.
“(ii) POOL 1.—Pool 1 applicants are individuals who—
“(I) have successfully completed air traffic controller training and graduated from an institution participating in the Collegiate Training Initiative program maintained under subsection (c)(1) and who have received from the institution—
“(aa) an appropriate recommendation; or
“(bb) an endorsement certifying that the individual would have met the requirements in effect as of December 31, 2013, for an appropriate recommendation;
“(II) are eligible for a veterans recruitment appointment pursuant to section 4214 of title 38 and provide a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty within 120 days of the announcement closing;
“(III) are eligible veterans (as defined in section 4211 of title 38) maintaining aviation experience obtained in the course of the individual’s military experience; or
“(IV) are preference eligible veterans (as defined in section 2108 of title 5).
“(iii) POOL 2.—Pool 2 applicants are individuals who apply under a vacancy announcement recruiting from all United States citizens.
Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Sean Patrick were the original authors of this provision. They were trying to reverse the nullification of the FAA’s Collegiate Training Initiative by the FAA. Originally, CTI was designed to encourage ATC applicants to seek education through academic programs (a concept endorsed by academics). Later the FAA terminated the CTI program and inserted a new, never-before- used ,talent-blind Biographical Questionnaire tool. The BQ was a personality test that all FAA air traffic control applicants had to pass in order to be considered for a job with the FAA.
The BQ was heavily criticized by a number of sources. Its credibility was further denigrated when it was alleged that some applicants were given the questions/answers by internal sources including some within the agency’s human resources department.
The stated goal of the BQ as to open the “aperture” of hiring, according to Sec. Foxx, but this diversification effort resulted in the rejection of a lot of otherwise qualified candidates—a very disappointing outcome when the FAA appears to have a shortage of controllers.
Then, the FAA denied a FOIA request for documents that allegedly support the BQ’s correlation with realistic hiring criteria. The unwillingness to disclose the technical justification added to its disrepute.
NATCA, based on its analysis of a severe shortage of controllers, and the Association of Collegiate Training Institutions, based on its Members’ investment in the controller educational curriculum, urged Congress to reinstate CTI. The 36 Collegiate Training Initiative program schools in the United States were obviously ecstatic with the enactment of §2106.
A safety agency must give first priority in its hiring criteria to competence. The FAA can and should enhance opportunities for minorities. Oddly, the CTI program supported by scholarships was one such method to increase hiring in the underrepresented population, an expectation with greater likelihood of achievement since many of the educational facilities were located in the target communities.
- if the test was as flawed as it appears to have been
- if the successful candidates may not have had the skills needed for this demanding position,
→ what would have the management responsible for the BQ done if the trainees washed out?
The use of the BQ instrument was a poor choice, particularly when there were better options available.
Travelers and the aviation sector should be pleased that Congress essentially reversed a short-sighted and counterproductive hiring strategy. It is rare that Congress deserves kudos for this interference with FAA’s internal processes; this action was justified!