At the request of outgoing Chairmen Petri (House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure) and Mica (Subcommittee on Aviation), the Department of Transportation Inspector General announced on January 4, 2013, that it would be undertaking an audit to determine whether FAA’s air traffic controller productivity initiatives are achieving their expected benefits and will result in cost savings to the Agency.
Reps. Mica and Petri were concerned about the fact that although overall operations have declined at U.S. airports, the number of air traffic controllers has increased. The two former Chairmen stated in their letter to the DOT Inspector General that “As many as two-thirds of the FAA’s air traffic control facilities are currently over-staffed.” Bloomberg reported back in November 2012 that more than “100 U.S. airport towers and radar rooms have so few flights that they should be shut down late at night under the FAA’s guidelines, a move that would save taxpayers $10 million a year.”
Air traffic controllers counter that the issue is not air traffic controller productivity, but federal government stinginess. In 2006, under President George W. Bush, then FAA Administrator Marion Blakey cut air traffic controller pay by 20%, which resulted in many veteran controllers retiring. Because of the retirements, the FAA offered anyone that could retire a $25,000 bonus to stay. It also offered a bonus to anyone who agreed to transfer to a “busy” facility. At the same time, the FAA began training and hiring air traffic controllers for fear that even more controllers would retire.
This audit follows on the heels of the DOT Inspector General’s presentation to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure regarding the efficacy of contract towers last summer. See, Has The Time Come to Privatize Air Traffic Control?