The full spectrum of the news media, a number of think tanks and a wide variety of bloggers have commented on the FAA’s use of a Biological Assessment in recruiting controllers. Some of the critiques have raised safety as a concern. Though we do not take a stand on this highly visible public policy, it appeared appropriate to post one view to initiate a dialogue. We welcome differing opinions to Mr. Poole’s paper, reproduced verbatim from his Air Traffic Control Newsletter #155 plus added a few images.
By Robert Poole director of transportation policy
and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow
at Reason Foundation.
New Recruitment Screen: Biographical Assessement
Abandons CTI in which students sought training
“The FAA’s bizarre controller recruitment policy, under which preference for college-trained aviation graduates was removed, and the emphasis was placed on off-the-street candidates who could “pass” a new Biographical Assessment (BA), is being challenged in a lawsuit by the Mountain States Legal Foundation.
Two national media this month focused renewed attention on this fiasco. On June 1st, the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News featured attorney Michael W. Pearson (an expert witness in the litigation) explaining the genesis of the 2014 policy change. And on June 6th, the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley devoted a column to the story.
As Pearson explained on the air, during the Obama administration, FAA’s human resources staff, egged on by the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees, decided that the controller workforce was “too white.” With no prior warning, FAA launched a new “off-the-street” recruitment process in 2014, telling graduates of the
FAA-sponsored Collegiate Training Initiative that they no longer had priority, and could only be considered if they passed the highly subjective BA. Expert witness Pearson is a retired 27-year air traffic controller with a deep understanding of the field.
Congress passed bipartisan legislation in 2016 to reform controller hiring, restoring some preference for CTI grads, but retaining a large role for off-the-street hires and the BA. The lawsuit seeks to scrap that and return to the pre-2014 recruitment policy. There are several reasons why this makes sense.
First and foremost, letting politicized “diversity” concerns take priority over recruiting the best-qualified and most-likely-to succeed candidates puts aviation safety at risk. Second, there is data (which FAA has refused to release) showing that CTI graduates greatly out-perform off-the-street hires in making it all the way to full certification. Since it costs FAA about $250,000 to get a recruit all the way through the process, a high wash-out rate wastes considerable amounts of scarce FAA resources. Third, the Association for Collegiate Training Initiative (ACTI) has data showing that the diversity profile of CTI graduates already exceeded FAA’s targets when the 2014 policy change was made.
When I wrote about this subject several years ago, during the initial publicity that led to congressional action, I heard from several friends at corporatized ATC providers in other countries. They were appalled that the Air Traffic Organization allowed itself to jeopardize the quality of its future controller workforce by not resisting this outright politicization. And indeed, that is yet another reason for de-politicizing the ATO, to insulate it from this kind meddling from political appointees.
Yet it seems that under the Trump administration, neither DOT nor FAA has gotten the message. According to Jason Riley’s WSJ commentary, “the Trump administration is fighting in court to preserve the Obama-era policy.” In several other cases, the administration is refusing to defend Obama-era policies that are being challenged in court. Why on earth isn’t it taking on the politicization of air traffic controller recruitment?
Aside from the validity of the BA, the job description of the women and men who will be the interface between the Controller/Computer and the pilot/plane will change dramatically. The old recruitment specifications as to job skills likely will have to be modified. Here are some thoughts on the need for research to define the cognitive and manual capabilities:
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