Air traffic controllers could see shortages

January 23, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The union representing the Bay Area's air traffic controllers is getting ready to declare a "staffing emergency" on Thursday.

The focus is the FAA's Oakland Center which is responsible guiding planes in and out of the three major bay area airports. They say you'll notice the effects.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association says there's a huge lack of trainees in the pipeline to replace an exodus of retiring controllers at the Oakland Center in Fremont.

It's responsible for guiding planes throughout 19 million square miles of air space.

"My job is public safety. I've spent 20 years as an air traffic controller. I take my job very seriously, and what we're doing is asking for help," said NATCA Oakland Center Spokesperson Scott Conde.

"I'm baffled I'm really that the controllers union would try to claim there's a staffing issue at Oakland Center because Oakland Center is staffed properly," said Ian Greggor.

But the union says 500 controllers will retire by February 5th and 2,200 will be eligible by year's end.

"I have 94 trainees at that facility that are in some process of training, but by no means are they fully certified," said Conde.

"The reason the union is attacking the FAA at every turn is to pressure us to reopen negotiations," said Greggor.

The controllers union is in a contract dispute and the FAA says it's using poor labor tactics to pressure them.

The FAA hired 1,800 new controllers last year, but it takes five years of training before they can even talk to a plane.

"I'm really not taking sides here, I'm just telling you what the facts are," said ABC7 Aviation Consultant Ron Wilson.

ABC7 aviation analyst Ron Wilson says there is a staffing problem at the Oakland Center and at major hubs around the country. He sees more delays in the future.

"Instead of a three mile separation between airplanes, if you haven't got the number of controllers, they stretch them to 6 to 10 to 12 to 20. And every time you do that you end up with airplanes holding at gates at other airports," said Wilson.

The controllers admit they want a contract with incentives to keep veterans around to train the new generation. But the FAA says it has no intentions of reopening contract talks.