Purdue helps FAA keep eyes on the skyWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The Federal Aviation Administration is uniting with Purdue and a dozen other universities to head off a looming shortage of air traffic controllers.
By the year 2005, the FAA expects to need 10 times more flight controllers annually -- 2,000 to 4,000 people -- than were hired in 1997. Anticipating the necessity of training thousands of recruits within a short time, the FAA turned to universities to determine which had programs already in place that meet the government agency's pretraining requirements.
The FAA put its stamp of approval on programs at 13 universities, including Purdue University's aviation administration program, which is designed for individuals seeking careers in either airline or FAA management.
"Purdue's aviation administration program is the only curriculum approved for this purpose in the Midwest," said Mike Nolan, associate professor of aviation technology at Purdue. "Students are encouraged to enter our four-year program, or they may transfer into the program from two-year institutions. However, if they want to be hired as an air traffic controller before the year 2005, it is important that they are enrolled in an FAA-approved program for both their junior and senior years."
The seeds for the upcoming air traffic controller shortage were sown during a 1981 strike that caused the FAA to hire, all at one time, thousands of replacement workers. Because they are eligible to retire at 60 percent of their salary after 20 to 25 years, these workers will be able to exercise that option sometime after the year 2001.
Compounding the problem, the FAA's capacity to train large numbers of flight controllers has dwindled. Over the past 15 years, very few flight controllers have retired, leaving open just 200 to 400 new positions a year.
"These university programs provide a foundation for the FAA's own 15-week training course, allowing it to be reduced to 10 weeks," Nolan said. "It's also anticipated that this approach to recruiting air traffic controllers will help reduce the time needed for their on-the-job training."
An air traffic controller's average annual starting salary is $24,700,
to the mid-40s after three years on the job. The salary can reach as high as $80,151
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