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Statement of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS)
National Civil Aviation Review Commission
May 28, 1997
Since 1977, the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS) has provided exclusive representation for over 10,000 Systems Specialists, Flight Inspection Pilots, and Aviation Safety Inspectors working for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The services that our members perform range from systems maintenance, installation, and certification, to aviation and flight inspection. These dedicated men and women have a direct impact on the commercial and general aviation industries and on the safety, the efficiency, and the reliability of the air traffic control system.
For years, staffing levels within the Airway Facilities (AF) Technician workforce have fallen. Today, they have reached a dangerous low. In 1981, more than 11,600 Technicians maintained 19,000 FAA facilities and systems. As of January 1997, the total number of AF Technicians providing hands on maintenance of the NAS was only 5,888. Again, there are now more than 37,000 FAA facilities and systems. The FAA intends to hire only a minimum number of Technicians (needed to cover attrition) in the coming fiscal years.
How does the FAA address its shortfall in staffing? Rather than filling its essential safety-related positions, the FAA has, since the early 1980s, instead contracted out. The agency seems to believe that contract maintenance can alleviate its shortage of trained, certified Technicians. It is important to remember, however, that contractors are temporary workers who are neither familiar with the intricacies of the air traffic control system nor with the impact that they can have on the safety of the flying public.
Meanwhile, current FAA data indicates that there are about 2,500 Aviation Safety Inspectors to oversee more than 7,300 scheduled commercial aircraft, 4,900 repair stations, 600 pilot training schools, 665,000 active pilots and 184,000 general aviation aircraft. While the FAA plans to hire an additional 273 Inspectors for FY 1998, the Flight Standards organization remains negligently understaffed, particularly with respect to clerical support staff. There are simply not enough hours in the day or days in the year in which the current Inspector work force can accomplish needed surveillance of the ever growing aviation industry.
In response to last years ValuJet tragedy, the FAA conducted an internal 90 Day Safety Review. This review focused on how the FAA does business, especially with respect to safety inspections. The issue of Inspector resources was given considerable attention, and the final report recommended that FAA ensure Flight Standards Inspector staffing and training are adequate to meet safety requirements.
Business as usual is no longer an acceptable approach for the FAA. By the year 2005, the amount of air traffic will increase by 40 percent, and the agency must be prepared to meet the growing demands that will be placed on the system. PASS members are critical to the future safety of the NAS and the flying public. Therefore, we urge the Commission to recommend that the FAA increase Technician and Inspector staffing levels, revamp training programs for Technicians and Inspectors and eliminate the costly practice of contracting out. This will lead to increased productivity and will ensure the NAS remains the safest in the world.