FAA: People are vital

Hiring the right people is an essential component to the success of aviation modernization, according to officials.

"Our current airline environment is tough," said Bill Sears, director of communications for air traffic operations and safety with the Air Transport Association of America, speaking last week at the Air Traffic Control Association Inc.'s annual convention in Washington, D.C. "Air transport is here to stay. We must modernize."

Although information technology programs — such as computer upgrades and satellite navigation — remain crucial, a more pressing issue is staffing, according to John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

The Federal Aviation Administration "has got to proactively replace the workforce," he said.

Most likely, the agency will need to hire thousands of air traffic controllers in the next decade, a General Accounting Office review found.

The FAA will have to recruit a well-qualified workforce to offset the anticipated attrition of experienced controllers and address increased traffic demands, GAO officials said in a June 14 report.

The FAA hopes to hire about 850 air traffic controllers in fiscal 2003, according to Bill Peacock, the agency's director of air traffic. The agency is operating under a continuing resolution until Nov. 22, but it plans to launch a 10-year strategy to build a bubble of controllers once it gets funding, he said.

Along with recruiting, the FAA also has to factor in training, Peacock said. However, he said the biggest challenge is getting stakeholders equipped to exploit new technologies. "You need a high percentage of equipage and trained crews," he said. "We need to take a systems approach to the national airspace redesign."

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