Experience Level of Air Controllers Questioned

February 08, 1986

I would like to add to the article (Jan. 27) about air traffic control problems. My concern is centered on the Federal Aviation Administration's full performance level (FPL) ranking.

Before the strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controller Organization legislation called "the Whitten Amendment" required controllers to spend one year in each Federal Aviation Administration grade level. This meant it took a minimum of five years to become an FPL controller.

After the strike, FAA officials sought and received a waiver to the Whitten Amendment. This new regulation made it possible for a controller to achieve full performance level status in only two years.

I am not qualified to comment on the implications the waiver might have had and continue to have on the lives of air travelers, but I think it should be pointed out that this waiver enables the FAA to give the appearance of having much more controller experience than is actually the truth.

The article says there are 2,250 less controllers today than before the strike. It also says 61% of these 14,000 controller's are FPLs as compared to 82% before the strike.

If we add the time it takes to train a controller and the time it takes to rise to FPL under the pre-Whitten amendment regulations, none of the controllers trained after 1981 would be qualified as FPL.

This raises the question of how many of today's 61% FPL controllers are really experienced enough to merit that title.

It seems the FAA has sacrificed a necessary, and pre-PATCO mandatory, experience level to fill a quota and use the resulting misleading statistic to assure Americans of a quality air traffic control system that in reality could be a deadly cancer hidden under a scab.



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