FAA gets more than 57,000 applicants for air traffic control jobs

As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to deal with staffing issues on an almost daily basis, the agency says it received 57,956 applications for this year’s 1,500 open air traffic controller positions.

PHOTO: In this June 24, 2016, file photo, air traffic controllers talk with pilots inside the control tower at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles.

In this June 24, 2016, file photo, air traffic controllers talk with pilots inside the control tower at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles.

Bob Riha Jr./Reuters, FILE

The median annual salary for air traffic controllers (ATC) was $138,556 in 2021. All applicants must be under the age of 30.

In a speech last week in Washington, DC, the head of the ATC union says the FAA isn’t hiring fast enough.

“In 2011, there were more than 11,750 certified professional controllers and additional trainees resulting in a total of more than 15,000 FAA onboard controllers,” Rich Santa said at an industry conference last week. “As of early 2022, there were more than 1,000 fewer fully certified controllers and 1,500 fewer total controllers on board, a number that has been declining for at least the past 11 years.”

However, the FAA said its hiring goals are in line with the goals.

“The FAA hires new air traffic controllers annually, is on track to meet our hiring goal this year, and is reducing the training backlog caused by COVID-19,” the FAA said in a statement to ABC News.

Air traffic controllers manage aircraft traffic at airports across the country and are vital to the safety of aircraft passengers and the ability of airlines to maintain a timely schedule.

PHOTO: In this March 6, 2021, file photo, a sign displays the logo of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) near its headquarters in Washington, DC

In this March 6, 2021, file photo, a sign displays the logo of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) near its headquarters in Washington, DC

Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA via AP, FILE

“Unfortunately, FAA personnel don’t keep up with attrition,” Santa said. “With the introduction of new technology and new entrants into the [National Airspace System]We should have 1,000 more controllers, not 1,000 fewer than we had a decade ago.”

The applicant number was first reported by Reuters. The applications come after the FAA’s annual hiring push, which is now closed for the year.

During a summer plagued by delays and cancellations, many airlines pointed to air traffic control staffing levels as one reason for travel collapses. Airlines for America (A4A), an industry group representing major US carriers, sent a letter to Congress in early June pointing the finger at air traffic controller staffing.

In this January 12, 2019, file photo, an airplane flies past the tower where air traffic controllers work at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC

Joshua Roberts/Reuters, FILE

“Specifically, airlines are taking great care to reduce their summer flight schedules while accelerating efforts to hire and train new employees to meet the strong resurgence in travel demand,” the letter said. “The FAA must also work to ensure the air traffic control system is capable of meeting demand.”

The FAA, however, rejected that narrative, saying the data points to delays and cancellations for other reasons.

“Airline data shows that the vast majority of delays are not due to air traffic controller staffing,” the FAA told ABC News. “Where demand has increased, the FAA is adding additional controllers.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said making sure there are enough staff to meet demand is a top priority for his agency.

“We’re also working to make sure FAA personnel, the air traffic control side, are ready to support these flights,” Buttigieg told ABC News in early July. “So when we have an area where there’s a staffing problem, it’s been happening in Florida, where there’s been high demand and a lot of weather and other issues, like military and even commercial space launches impacting airspace.”

Successful candidates from the 2022 hiring window will join 14,000 air traffic controllers across the country. Successful candidates will then attend a training academy in Oklahoma City before being posted to an air traffic control tower anywhere in the country.

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