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Hoeven aims to reform air traffic controller hiring process

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., speaks with UND air traffic management professor Paul Drechsel and FAA official Tim Arel Tuesday morning at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. (Photo by Sydney Mook/Grand Forks Herald)

GRAND FORKS — U.S. Sen. John Hoeven on Tuesday met with students, faculty and staff of the University of North Dakota aerospace school to underscore the need to reform the air traffic controller hiring process.

Hoeven, R-N.D., recently introduced the ATC Hiring Reform Act of 2019, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would enable the FAA to prioritize the hiring of veterans and graduates of FAA Certified Collegiate Training Initiative schools, such as UND. This legislation also removes the current 10% hiring pool limitation to ensure the FAA can hire an adequate number of air traffic controllers.

Before 2014, the agency granted a preference in hiring to graduates of CTI-approved programs. However, current law requires the FAA to hire air traffic controllers from two pools of candidates – the first including CTI graduates and eligible veterans, the second of those applying under vacancy announcements or “off the street,” with no more than a 10% difference in the number of hires between the pools.

The lowest number of applicants by pool inherently limits the overall number of candidates that can be hired to be air traffic controllers, according to Hoeven.

Hoeven said “good, well-rounded” air traffic controllers are important for national security, the safety of pilots and everyone who flies. Hoeven said students in these programs make a commitment of time and money to learn and get the best training possible to become an air traffic controller.

“We’re landing airplanes here,” he said. “We need the best air traffic controllers.”

Beth Bjerke, associate dean at the aerospace school, said UND has seen a decline in air traffic management majors since the 2014 change.

In order to become an air traffic controller, students must go through a testing and FAA Academy process. After completing the proper testing, students are placed in what is known as the referred period, which means they are waiting to be placed with the FAA. Some students can wait up to two years before they receive a job.

In addition to changing prioritization levels, the bill includes reporting requirements on new hire performance and attrition rates.

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