National Air Traffic Controllers Association Testifies Before Congress <


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National Air Traffic Controllers Association Testifies Before Congress

By Daniel Baxter

March 19, 2010 - NATCA Executive Vice President Patricia Gilbert reaffirmed the organization’s support for the modernization of the National Airspace System during testimony before the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Thursday. But while she emphasized the importance of the Federal Aviation Administration working collaboratively with NATCA as the representative of the agency’s frontline workforce, she cautioned the FAA against proceeding with budget proposals that have adjusted the controller staffing numbers downward. 

The FAA’s Air Traffic Organization operations budget proposal cites trends that show a downturn in traffic as a result of the faltering economy. But Gilbert argued that “adjusting staffing downward for this reason is shortsighted. As this economy inevitably recovers, so too will the aviation industry.” 

Continued Gilbert: “NextGen, for example, is being designed in an attempt to improve the capacity of the NAS that will only be necessary once the aviation industry recovers. We applaud the FAA for its forward thinking on NextGen, but we caution the Subcommittee to regard human factors with the same mindset. Because it can take up to three years for a new hire to become a certified professional controller, it is impossible for the workforce size to be adjusted quickly when the industry rebounds without preparing in advance.” 

Other highlights from Gilbert’s testimony: 

- Regarding facilities and equipment, Gilbert said the FAA must work collaboratively with NATCA in every stage of current modernization projects, from inception to implementation, “enabling the team to identify and rectify problems and glitches during the development stages. Such involvement will help the FAA to avoid costly and time-consuming overhauls during the implementation stages and ensure that the final products are functional, usable and useful.” 

- Outlining the biggest challenge of NextGen: It is not the viability of any given project or idea, she said, “rather it is in building confidence among those in the aviation industry. The implementation of NextGen will require a major investment, not only from the federal government but from every company and every individual who utilizes the NAS.”

- Identifying problems with En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM), considered the largest, most comprehensive technological update in the history of the FAA. “(NATCA) confidence is low in ERAM," Gilbert testified. "There are several critical problems that remain unfixed and a high number of workarounds to deal with less critical glitches. These issues represent a significant threat to the safety of the NAS, and we believe that live testing should be halted until the known issues are addressed. The FAA has been pushing forward with live testing in an effort to adhere to a timeline for implementation.” 

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