Press Releases

Washington, DC – The Department of Transportation will launch an audit of air traffic controller staffing and its potential impact on aviation safety at three major FAA  facilities in California, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced today.

The agency’s Inspector General will review staffing and training at:

  • The Los Angeles International Airport control tower;
  • The Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (Southern California TRACON) in San Diego; and
  • The Northern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (Northern California TRACON) near Sacramento.

In response to a request from Senator Feinstein, the agency will also recommend ways that the FAA can improve air traffic controller staffing in the future.

“We must do all that we can to ensure that the skies over California are safe. California has some of the busiest airspace in the world, and it’s critical that our air traffic is closely monitored and staffed sufficiently,” Senator Feinstein said.

“Unfortunately, we are losing large numbers of air traffic controllers to retirement, and I’m very concerned that the FAA is falling behind on filling in these vacancies with properly trained and certified replacements.

“I am pleased that the Department of Transportation has agreed to my request. This audit should provide us with the vital information that we need to ensure that these facilities are properly staffed, so air traffic can be safely managed in the skies above California.”

Senator Feinstein asked the agency to review air traffic controller staffing levels at these facilities in a letter sent to Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin L. Scovell III on May 6. The agency confirmed Wednesday that it will launch its review of these California FAA facilities this month.

In a memorandum confirming the audit, the agency said:

“We are conducting this audit in response to a May 6, 2008, request from Senator Dianne Feinstein. The Senator expressed concerns about potential shortages of trained and experienced controllers at several facilities during our recent testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

“Consistent with Senator Feinstein’s request, our audit objective is to review FAA’s plans for ensuring adequate air traffic controller staffing at these three FAA facilities.”


With a large exodus of veteran air traffic controllers to retirement, the FAA must hire and train at least 17,000 new controllers through 2017.

According to news reports, the FAA has had difficulty replacing the exiting controllers with fully staffed replacements. Currently, new controllers represent about 25 percent of the workforce, and at some facilities more than 30 percent of the controllers are not fully certified.

The workload at FAA facilities in California is especially demanding. The Southern California TRACON in San Diego is the busiest facility of its kind in the world, and LAX continues to experience a runway incursion problem that news reports attribute to controller fatigue.

Senator Feinstein has long been concerned over reports that air traffic controller shortages may be impacting aviation safety in California:

  • In September 2006, Senator Feinstein expressed concerns to then-FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey over air traffic controller staffing levels in California. Senator Feinstein’s letter to Blakey came after news reports indicated air controller understaffing played a role in a fatal commuter jet crash in Kentucky. Senator Feinstein also noted news reports at the time indicating a correlation between an increase in controller errors, and a decrease in staffing levels, at the Southern California TRACON in San Diego.
  • In April 2007, Senator Feinstein expressed concerns, also to then-FAA Administrator Blakey, over the possible safety ramifications of adding the airspace over Palm Springs to the Southern California TRACON.
  • On April 17, 2008, Senator Feinstein expressed concern over the looming shortage of air traffic controllers during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.