FAA Management Leaving Critical National Airspace Equipment in the Hands of Trainees

MEMPHIS, TN – The Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS), the union that represents Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) systems specialists, are calling into question the decision and practice of leaving FAA trainees in charge of vital equipment without the supervision of trained and certified systems specialists.

Currently, Memphis’ Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) has three environmental systems specialists who ensure the safe operation of critical national airspace equipment. All three of these employees are eligible to retire at any time; however, the FAA has no plan to address their impending departure. Instead, management has come to rely on one trainee, who has not received the necessary training and certification. Regardless, local management has chosen to leave the uncertified and unqualified trainee on his own when one systems specialist is on leave. “The specialist in training is being left alone during high-volume traffic for Federal Express. If something were to go wrong, the individual would have to rely solely on the skills and expertise that he brings to the job rather than specific FAA training,” said Dave Spero, PASS regional vice president. “Basically, he’s doing the best he can with what he’s got.”

Last year, systems specialists cautioned local management that this practice was risky; in turn, the manager put an end to leaving trainees on open watches alone. Unfortunately, this manager has since retired and current management has returned to the risky practice with ease. “The FAA is clearly making significant changes in how it chooses to operate,” said Spero. “It is completely negligent to choose saving a few bucks by not paying qualified and certified systems specialist overtime over the safety of the flying public.”

A similar staffing situation in Los Angeles last summer resulted in numerous delays for the flying public. “If we learned anything at all from those outages, it’s that these aviation systems are complex and require constant maintenance and testing by trained and certified employees,” said Spero. “We hope the FAA will rethink this dangerous practice by adequately staffing and training employees at the Memphis facility.”

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For 30 years, PASS has represented more than 11,000 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense who install, maintain, support and certify air traffic control and national defense equipment, inspect and oversee the commercial and general aviation industries, develop flight procedures and perform quality analyses of the aviation systems. For more information, visit the PASS website at http://www.passnational.org/.

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