Press Releases

Senator Feinstein Urges Staffing Boost to Address “Critical” Shortages at Southern California Air-Traffic Control Facility

-Feinstein endorses Inspector General’s findings, seeks FAA staffing strategy-

Washington, DC – In a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today urged the FAA to boost staffing of experienced air-traffic controllers at the Southern California TRACON.

Senator Feinstein’s letter came on the heels of a report issued today, by the Department of Transportation Inspector General, that found a “critical” shortage of experienced air-traffic controllers at the San Diego-based facility.

The Inspector General’s report follows an investigation, requested last year by Senator Feinstein, into staffing issues at that facility, and at the Northern California TRACON and the tower at Los Angeles International Airport. In her letter, Senator Feinstein noted that she strongly endorses the Inspector General’s recommendations to improve staffing.

Following is Senator Feinstein’s letter:

April 27, 2009

The Honorable Ray LaHood
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Thank you for your letter responding to my concerns regarding staffing at Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control facilities in California.  Unfortunately, it appears that the problems at California’s facilities remain severe.  I strongly encourage you to develop a plan to address the staffing crisis before safety is compromised.

Today the Department of Transportation Inspector General (IG) released the results of a nearly year-long investigation into the staffing situation at the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), the Northern California TRACON, and the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Tower.  The Inspector General report, which I requested, makes a series of recommendations.  Specifically:

  1. Complete validation of the staffing ranges for Southern California and Northern California TRACON to ensure their staffing levels are sufficient to handle the volume and complexity of air traffic at those locations.
  2. Expand the use of relocation, retention, and other incentives to entice more experienced controllers to accept positions or defer retirements at LAX and Southern California TRACON.
  3. Provide LAX, Southern California TRACON, and Northern California TRACON with enough contract instructors, classroom space (including off-site locations as needed), and simulators for the expected surge in new controllers—this is particularly critical at Southern California TRACON.
  4. Evenly distribute the placement of new trainees to Southern California TRACON throughout the year to avoid training “bottlenecks.”
  5. Conduct an independent analysis of overtime scheduling practices at all three facilities to determine if the amount of overtime is appropriate, needed, and effectively utilized.

I strongly endorse the Inspector General’s recommendations.  I also remain extremely concerned that the Inspector General report concluded the staffing levels at the Southern California TRACON, the busiest FAA facility in the world, are at a critical level.  Although experts believe that FAA’s apprentice-based training system breaks down when more than 20 percent of controllers are still in training, the Inspector General states: “A significant issue is that SCT (Southern California TRACON) expects to have over 100 controllers in training later this year—which is more than 40 percent of its workforce and could overwhelm SCT’s training capacity.”   

In my view, Southern California TRACON, which handles some of the most complex airspace in the United States, should be staffed with our most experienced controllers, not more than 100 controllers who are yet to receive full certification. 

In addition to the recommendations of the Inspector General, I ask that the FAA establish a clear strategic plan to increase the number of experienced controllers at Southern California TRACON.  I believe that the plan should include clear interim benchmarks, and it should establish a goal of reducing the number of controllers in training at Southern California TRACON to no more than the national average by the end of this year.  I would greatly appreciate it if you would take this step and report to me your progress towards this goal on a frequent basis.

I look forward to working with you to assure the safety of the flying public.  


    Dianne Feinstein
    United States Senator