U.S. watchdog to review efforts to ensure adequate air traffic controllers

The control tower at LaGuardia Airport in New York City is seen after after hundreds of flights were delayed or grounded in New York
FILE PHOTO: The control tower at LaGuardia Airport in New York City is seen after hundreds of flights were grounded or delayed at New York-area airports as more air traffic controllers called in sick on Friday, in one of the most tangible signs yet of disruption from a 35-day partial shutdown of the U.S. government, January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

October 12, 2021

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Transportation Department Office of Inspector General said Tuesday it will audit the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to ensure adequate air traffic control staffing.

The inspector general’s office noted that since March 2020, FAA has been forced at times to partially shut towers and radar control facilities because of COVID-19 cases and faces veteran controllers leaving for various reasons, including retirements.

The audit will assess “FAA’s efforts to ensure that critical air traffic control facilities have an adequate number

of controllers.”

It will also “identify the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on FAA’s controller training program.” The FAA says U.S. airspace is the busiest and most complex in the world,.

The FAA employs about 13,800 air traffic controllers in more than 300 U.S. facilities.

In 2018, the FAA said that over the prior five years it had hired over 7,800 new air traffic controllers.

In 2020, the FAA faced numerous COVID-19 cases among controllers that forced the temporary closures of air traffic control towers, including at Chicago Midway and Las Vegas airports, which resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson noted in a speech earlier that in 2020 the FAA “created sterile teams of air traffic controllers and implemented cleaning and disinfecting protocols to keep people safe and the system going.

(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Alistair Bell)