No Experience Needed: Clarifying ATC Requirements

Theresa Marten, Religion Editor

Almost one year ago, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enacted the controversial plans to hire and train more than a thousand air traffic control specialists over the next decade.

The promise of more jobs have never upset Americans, but when regulations drastically change the playing field virtually overnight, questions demand answers.

Upsetting and confusing modifications to the minimum requirements to become an FAA air traffic control specialist are still in action. Men and women from collegiate aviation programs or military veterans are no longer top candidates for an ATC position.

The FAA altered requirements to having, “three years of progressively responsible work experience, or a Bachelor’s degree, or a combination of post-secondary education and work experience that totals three years.” These requirements left many students and faculty confused and frustrated.

Aviation is a top program at Lewis University, as well as the oldest and most respected aviation program in Illinois. With an onsite airport, experienced faculty, personalized learning, and degree programs that provide specialized experience, many students come to this Lasallian institution to study and prepare for various careers in aviation.

Naturally, Lewis developed a strong relationship with the FAA, which has aided many Lewis students into entering the already competitive aviation field. Lewis is among 36 institutions who is Air Traffic – Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) Certified.

The unprecedented changes were reportedly due to budget impacts. The FAA was under a hiring freeze from March 1, 2013 until Jan. 6, 2014. In Feb. 2014, the FAA restarted the hiring process for air traffic control specialists.

However, before the hiring process began, the recruitment pool was expanded with the new requirements, challenging professors and graduating students.

According to the FAA website, requirements include: being a United States citizen, starting in the FAA Academy no later than your 31st birthday, passing a medical examination and security investigation, having three years of progressively responsible work experience, a bachelor’s degree or a combination of post-secondary education and work experience, passing the FAA air traffic pre-employment tests, and speaking English clearly enough to be understood over communications equipment.

The two most controversial changes were the pre-employment tests and ability for applicants to apply as long as they had “three years of progressively responsible work experience.” One of the pre-employment tests is called the bio-data assessment.

According to the FAA’s website, this test was “proven to be a valid instrument for assessing experience, work habits, education and dimensions that are related to success on the job.”

On the contrary, there have been reports of highly qualified students who did not pass this ‘personality’ test and had to wait another year to apply.

The failure rate was more than 50% leaving four thousand trained graduates still waiting for the FAA to decide, while some students were beginning to edge closer to the cut off age at 31.

“It makes me feel horrible” said John Tran, senior aviation administration major.” I had a friend graduate, pass all the other tests, but now is underemployed. He even had an internship. It’s not fair.”

Tran is not alone in his frustrations and, as a graduating senior, he is nervous about the new requirement that does not necessitate any specific aviation experience.

“Aviation has to be your passion,” said Tran. “There’s a lot of risk and uncertainty as an ATC. A few years ago they were in high demand, and now the hiring process is trash.”

Air traffic controllers are responsible for directing aircrafts entering and leaving the airport, instructing pilots when and where they can land and depart – minimizing flight delays, and most importantly, keeping passengers safe. Despite the uncertainty and lack of communication between the FAA and aviation community, there are people who have joined together to collectively fight the system.

William Parrot, associate aviation professor, is a member of the Association of Collegiate Training Institutions (ACTI), whose mission is to ensure individuals who have graduated with college training initiate degrees from federal aviation administration approved CTI colleges and other universities are granted preferential hiring consideration when applying for FAA air traffic controller jobs.

As part of ACTI and as a faculty member at Lewis University, Parrot’s goals are to reestablish a working relationship with the FAA and meet their hiring needs to better prepare students for the current workforce. Parrot is also highly motivated to advocate for students and their families in relation to aviation training.

“I’m in this for the students,” said Parrot. “It’s a jumbled mess, but I know we are putting forth effort for a worthy fight.”

Last year, university president Br. James and others met with Congressmen Randy Hultgren, an Ill. republican to collaboratively work on what is now titled the Safe Towers Act.

This act was introduced in the House of Representatives with Rep. Dan Lipinski, who is an Ill. democrat. This legislation seeks to restore the FAA’s traditional recruitment process that has been in place for almost 25 years, which favored graduates of FAA-accredited college aviation programs and military veterans with aviation experience.

Due to the backlash, there have been many early resignations within the FAA which appears to be evidence that the FAA is scrambling to defend their decision.

For example, March 1 was Rickie P. Cannon’s first day as the acting assistant administrator for human resource management since the resignation of the previous HR manager. Among other responsibilities, it is Cannon who oversees employee and labor relations.

“The number of people resigning shows the [FAA’s] lack of confidence,” said Parrot.

Recently, the FAA issued another nationwide job announcement through a virtual job fair on March 23 -March 25. But the disappointing FAA has seemingly not learned any lessons in the past year.

“Those who did witness the virtual fair received nothing more in the form of clarification of the ATC hiring program from that agency,” said Parrot.

As a school whose very mascot is a flyer, what is the response to these injustices that undermine a student’s ability to be hired at the level to which they have been prepared?

Br. James and many aviation faculty have taken legal action and continue to provide support for all aviation students.

The primary issue is this matter is still not resolved and should be at the forefront of conversations to not only support aviation students and military veterans, but also to maintain the integrity of the FAA and international airspace.

Theresa Marten

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