Following Up: How Are the FAA Hiring Changes Really Affecting ATC Jobs?
This is a complex issue, and one that many people from a variety of positions have put a lot of effort into researching and presenting. And in our particular case, this article represents a very large amount of focused effort from Chrissi Culver, and myself. The following article presents a lot of information, and we hope you’ll appreciate this thorough examination of the topic. So without further ado, I’ll let Chrissi start us off.
Note that Chrissi’s opinions are purely her own and do not represent the views of her employer.
As the media has slowly learned of Fox Business’ story on the FAA’s new Air Traffic Control hiring practices, those of us at Disciples of Flight have followed along with what the media has been tracking and reported on the story but also started asking a few questions of our own.
Was this new hiring really malicious as the media is making it out to be? Why were these changes put into place? Is off the street (OTS) hiring really as bad as Fox Business made it out to be? Is the flying public safe? What’s next for CTI schools?
The FAA is typically a target of the disgruntled media and tends to take a reactive stance on many issues. Retired air traffic controller Jeff Messier said in an interview, “I think that the FAA has always been more reactive rather than proactive…and I don’t think that serves the agency well.”
Fox News is also known to perpetuate issues in the name of ratings. Their recent story, Trouble in the Skies, was an ongoing investigation into FAA hiring practices, but seemed one-sided to us here at Disciples of Flight – so we’re going to look into this issue more.
So what’s really going on?
Before the 1990’s, the FAA hiring efforts were all directed at controllers OTS or military. There was no established pathway program such as the CTI program (Collegiate Training Initiative, or schools that teach FAA approved air traffic control courses), therefore all applicants applied with the Office of Personnel Management and took a cognitive test to determine if they had the skills to be successful on the job – a similar test is still used today, the AT-SAT.
Why CTI was created:
Before CTI, OTS applicants came in without any college experience or aviation background. This system was costly due to high failure rates and long training times. The quality of the candidates was also questionable.
In the early 1990’s, the CTI program was designed in conjunction with colleges and universities alongside the FAA in order to develop a quality air traffic controller workforce with college degrees. Colleges were tasked with providing training on air traffic control basics and general education. These schools invested millions of dollars in staff, curriculum development, and air traffic simulation equipment. The agreement between the FAA and the CTI schools is that students attending these schools would be given hiring preference.
Starting with just 5 colleges in the early 1990’s, the CTI program grew to 14 in 1997. The program was then extended to 36 colleges and universities from 2007-2009, after a 2005 forecast of controller shortages due to mass retirement of controllers hired after the PATCO strike during the Reagan Administration.
The 2005 forecast determined that the CTI schools would not be able to keep up with system demand and General Public Hiring announcements were conducted from 2007-2011. These OTS hires were extremely costly. Between 2007 and 2011, the FAA processed over 40,000 OTS applicants while only 3,000 positions were filled. Each applicant, whether hired or not, took the AT-SAT at about $600 per test.
“I think they’ve allowed [OTS hires] then they’ve not allowed it, depending on the time,” said Messier. Messier’s son was hired OTS in 2010, “He was totally off the street, no college, he just bartended, worked the golf-courses for four or five years after high school… [The FAA] opened it up for a very short window when he took the test.”
The FAA began looking at changes to the hiring process in September 2011 and received recommendations from an independent review board to improve the process in which controllers were hired. Their goals for the changes in hiring were to: standardize the application process, nationalize the assignments upon completion of the academy, and a general simplification of the process in order to shorten the time between when the applicant applied and when they began working at their facility.
“These changes were meant to increase the speed and efficiency, and the decision-making, as well as to increase the objectivity in the assessment of candidate characteristics and capabilities,” said Dr. John Scott, Chief Operating Officer at APT Metrics during the teleconference with CTI schools.
On December 30, 2013, Joseph Teixeira, FAA Vice President of Safety and Technical Training, sent a letter to the CTI colleges announcing that CTI-only hiring announcements would be replaced with centralized public hiring announcements – giving no advantage to CTI applicants. It would be marketed to the general public with no aviation background required. CTI students were still invited to apply – even if their degrees were not yet complete.
Applicants would take a Biographical Questionnaire, a personality-based test that was tasked with determining if applicants would be successful on the job, prior to taking the AT-SAT in order to save the department from paying to administer AT-SAT tests. According to Forbes, upwards of 70% of U.S. employers are using personality tests to determine if applicants are the right fit for the job.
In a teleconference with CTI schools on January 8, 2014, a group of FAA employees informed coordinators and elaborated beyond their initial letter to the CTI schools. Those leading the teleconference briefly explained the new process then opened the conversation up to questions.
“The biographical questionnaire was designed through [The FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute] ‘CAMI’, and researched as well…and we’ve done some additional research with it as well, so it is proven to be a valid instrument for assessing experience, work habits, education, and so on, and dimensions that are related to the success on the job,” said an unidentified FAA representative during the teleconference.
When the FAA hiring changes were announced, there were 945 applicants that had temporary offer letters (TOLs) and were waiting to begin training, according to figures presented during the teleconference. Of those 945, only 543 were CTI students. The other 402 were either military or OTS hires.
Why CTI Students are Mad:
As we reported in our first article on the hiring changes, students were angered that they invested time and money in an education the FAA told them they needed. Additionally, students that scored high on the AT-SAT the first time they took it – before the hiring changes – received qualified and well-qualified results, yet couldn’t pass the Bio-Q and couldn’t move on to the next stage of the hiring process.
It appears that the Bio-Q is the main source of anger from these students as the test doesn’t seem to have much to do with air traffic control or even aviation. Questions ranged from how many sports did you play in high school to what has been the biggest source of your failure?
Although many students recognize that they were never given a guarantee of a job, they were given an opportunity to take the aptitude test to determine if they could be a good controller. Now, the chance to show their skills is contingent on passing a personality test that may or may not actually be a good indicator of success on the job. An October 2014 FAA document concludes that the correlation between biodata and success of on the job training is weak.
Additionally, as Fox Business reported – rumors of a cheating scandal were also uncovered.
“[The cheating] doesn’t surprise me,” said Messier.
The Future of CTI Schools:
Over the past 10 years, the FAA has hired Air Traffic Controllers multiple ways. Every year there is a new process, a new way of doing things.
For example: In 2007, the FAA accepted candidates from Collegiate Training Initiative “CTI” schools, off-the-street “OTS” candidates, and Veterans. The next year only Veterans. The year after, just CTI and Veterans, then back to all three the following year, then just CTI students for a while. And now finally, the past 2 years, it has evolved into one application for all types of applicants where everyone is given an equal opportunity for employment but must first pass a personality test (the infamous “Bio-Q” or BQ) rather than the traditional cognitive test – the AT-SAT.
Which way of hiring is correct?
I don’t know – and the FAA probably doesn’t know yet either.
With this in mind, I wanted to take look into the future of the schools that have invested so much in professors, simulation technology, and curriculum development and see where their programs were heading with the new hiring changes lingering over their heads.
“We are not planning to change the ongoing support and relationship that exists between FAA and CTI schools, and we will continue to strive for improvements in that relationship,” said Joseph Teixeira, FAA Vice President of Safety and Technical Training, during a January 2014 teleconference with CTI schools. “The FAA benefits from the education they provide to students and the passion for aviation they engender in students and prospective FAA applicants.”
Although the FAA believes that their relationship with CTI schools is going to continue on, many students are scratching their heads asking how CTI school will give them any advantage over other applicants.
“[The] FAA had commitments from us that we would do certain things, — [although] there was no promise of employment, there was only a promise for the opportunity for employment with the FAA,” said Kevin Kuhlmann, professor at Metropolitan State University at Denver. “And it was a very distinct advantage, and it is the reason these students came to CTI schools because they gained that advantage. Now, basically, they’re on even footing with everyone in the public.”
The FAA representatives were quick to defend their position on this issue. “Those individuals in CTI schools and any other U.S. citizens are not being disenfranchised of an opportunity to apply to become an air traffic control specialist,” said Rickie Cannon, FAA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Human Resource Management.
Representatives from the FAA also reminded those on the call that CTI never provided a guaranteed job to CTI students.
“[There] were no guarantees in that process, and the really guarantee thing that they would’ve got out of this relationship is a curriculum that we thought would be advantageous for their learning and would make them competitive in a competitive process,” said Teixeira.
Jeff Messier wasn’t too concerned with the future of CTI schools. He didn’t see much of a difference between OTS hires and CTI graduates.
“I remember we started getting some CTI hires at our facility. Some of the CTI’s made it, some of them didn’t,” said Messier. “I don’t think the percentage was any different than off the street or military hires. I think it was pretty consistent across the board. I can’t give you exact figures but that’s just my experience.”
Messier, although sympathetic with those that invested in a CTI education, didn’t see a real need for a degree in ATC. For him, it’s an intrinsic skill that you either have or you don’t.
“It would be better if you could take the aptitude test before you went to school for it, maybe that’s a solution,” added Messier. “I’m an OTS hire, my son is an OTS hire, but I’ll say I was very good at my job and my son is very good at his job but we just have the basic aptitude to do the job.”
“CTI is great to get you a little bit more prepared for what to see down here,” said “John,” current Air Traffic Controller Specialist trainee that asked to remain anonymous due to his trainee status with the FAA. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll give you that much greater of a chance to pass,” he said. He added that the Academy is tailored to those with no aviation or controlling experience – everyone starts at the same level on the first day of training.
John attended the Community College of Beaver County in 2006-2007. He completed two semesters at the college, after waiting almost a year to get into their CTI program, only to have his friends encourage him to go for the OTS bid that many of them were getting hired on.
“[All] of my friends and everybody that I heard of that was getting over 85’s [on the AT-SAT] were going off the street and getting hired all willy-nilly and so…I figured that I was going to just going to get in because everybody else was getting in,” said John. “I stopped going to class, I really didn’t have enough money for it anyway and I just put all of my eggs in the OTS basket at the time and when I didn’t get hired and [stopped the OTS bids], I was too far gone…I didn’t have any money and I didn’t [finish] school.”
Unfortunately, John did not get picked up in the bid that his friends did but had already let his grades slip enough that he wouldn’t have been recommended as a CTI graduate. In February 2014, though, things started to look up for John.
“For me, the dream had already died but…I applied,” John said in reference to the February 2014 OTS bid. “I figured what the Hell – let’s give it a shot. I was one of the kids that got selected, thankfully, and the process took about a year and 3 months, and now I’m down here training.”
Reflecting upon his experience at Beaver County, John is happy he went but does not credit the CTI program with getting him where he is today. “I have a lot of great memories from there but did it help me get to where I am today? It probably had zero effect,” he said.
John suspects that some of the newer CTI schools will be canceling their programs for the time being due to lack of interest. “I could see a lot of them going away but some of the main ones Beaver [County], [Embry-]Riddle, North Dakota, just staying alive for the time being because I guarantee the FAA is going to start hiring CTI grads again in the future.”
Embry-Riddle has not canceled their ATC program but has in fact expanded it to include a flow control management capstone course. Arizona State University is also expanding their program to include an additional radar room, reports student Andrew Martz.
Unfortunately, not all schools are as hopeful as Riddle and ASU. Middle Tennessee State University and Minneapolis Community & Technical College are closing their doors to CTI students at the end of the 2015-2016 school year, reports attending students on the CTI School Connection Facebook Page. Linda Bracewell even reports that MCTC invested about $2 million in new lab equipment over the last year designed to match new technology being used in the industry – yet they are still closing their doors.
Many schools are remaining quiet on the issue, waiting to see where the FAA is heading. Other schools are getting fired up and have even encouraged their students to participate in a class-action lawsuit against the FAA.
“I think anywhere you can find good candidates for the job is helpful,” emphasized Messier. “I don’t care if they’re black, white, green, male female, gay, not gay, I don’t care – it doesn’t make a difference; do you have the aptitude to do the job? Can you be a good controller? And that’s what the qualifications should be, purely based on that, nothing else.”
Adding that the FAA is in need of a large number of controllers right now that CTI likely couldn’t produce, John suggested that the OTS hiring is probably just for the time being. “It’s going to work out, and then it’s going to go back to CTI grads and it’s all going to go back to normal I think,” he said.
“[Hiring] should be hired strictly on the aptitude to do the job,” reiterated Messier.
Where the CTI program is heading? I’m still not quite sure – but for now, the FAA is doing the best they can with the applicants they selected in the past two years’ bids. The CTI schools are trying to hold on hoping that their students will once again receive the leg-up that the program once boasted. And the students that have graduated from CTI schools or will soon graduate are now planning out and executing their Plan-B’s hoping that they won’t have to use them – hoping the FAA will pick them up on the next bid.
A Personal Look at How the FAA’s Hiring Changes Affected One CTI Graduate:
After running our initial coverage of the recent changes to the FAA hiring practices and digging in for a follow-up, we were contacted by Stephen Brown, a recent CTI graduate. Brown wanted to talk about his journey towards a job as an air traffic controller and provide insight and opinions from someone directly affected by the situation. And after talking with him, I feel like his story has given me some perspective on the situation, both in how it’s affecting those involved in the hiring process for ATC jobs, and some possible solutions, or at least improvements, to the current situation.
Brown began looking into a career as an air traffic controller in 2011. He’d been working as a station agent for Delta and American Airlines for the past four years, and he wanted to stay connected to the world of aviation. So he got on the FAA’s website, which back in 2011, had some pretty clear instructions. It had been a few years since the FAA had last made off the street hires, so if he wanted to pursue an ATC career, his two paths were either through the military, as a veteran, or to go through the AT-CTI (Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative) Program.
So Brown quit his job and moved to Jacksonville, FL to enroll in the Florida State College AT-CTI Program. The program was intensely competitive. You had to be in the top thirty to even have the chance to be considered, and only two or three candidates would get internships. In addition to earning the degree, one other thing was very important: your score on the AT-SAT (Air Traffic Selection and Training) Exam. If you scored 70 (out of 100) or higher on AT-SAT, you passed. More specifically, if you scored in the 70-84.9 range, you were considered “Qualified” and if you scored 85+, you were considered “Well Qualified.” Getting a “Well Qualified” result on the AT-SAT was necessary.
Brown graduated from the CTI program in May of 2013 with a 4.0 GPA in his air traffic control classes and received a perfect score of 100 on the AT-SAT. Based off a formula that took into account a variety of factors, including ATC labs, GPA, overall GPA and test scores, Brown was ranked #2 in his class. This earned him an internship at the Jax Center. According to everything he understood, he was on track for a career as an air traffic controller. Except that in December of that same year, they announced the new FAA hiring initiative, including that they were dropping more than 3,000 candidates from the CTI Programs preferred list and invalidating any current AT-SAT scores. An incredible blow, to be sure. And one that by itself abruptly ended the dreams of many CTI graduates and ATC candidates.
Brown, however, decided to push forward and take the new ‘Bio-Q’ test. And though he wasn’t quite sure what to expect, he nonetheless felt confident that in addition to any test results, his strong resume would speak for itself. Brown, along with 92% of the people who took the Bio-Q in 2014, failed.
And shockingly, that was it. There was nothing else. Brown was not contacted to discuss his result or his resume. So he contacted the FAA. Multiple times. And each time, he asked them the same question: “What can I do to make myself a better candidate for an ATC job?” The answer? Nothing. One FAA HR rep even went as far as to tell him to “Get a different career.” Not exactly something you’d expect an organization who’s desperately trying to fill job openings to tell an extremely qualified candidate.
Instead, the FAA apparently accepted everyone who passed the 2014 Bio-Q and had 3 years of prior work experience. They did not conduct any further interviews: if you passed Bio-Q and you had worked any job for three years, you were accepted into the training program. Now, not all the people who passed Bio-Q took the FAA’s offer, but among the candidates who did were reportedly people with speech impediments and people who spoke only broken English. Brown recalls hearing about a 22-year-old acquaintance who was accepted, with zero aviation experience, no college degree and his only prior work experience being 4 years full time at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant. And during training, these candidates were reportedly told that as long as they kept trying, they wouldn’t be washed out of the program. But even this blanket acceptance didn’t solve the problem for the FAA, as some sources estimate close to eighty percent of these candidates couldn’t make it through the training program.
Brown, and the other candidates like him, were extremely frustrated. What was the FAA thinking? How could they possibly believe this new system would net them the best candidates? The problem, according to Brown, is not just the Bio-Q itself. As Chrissi pointed out above, these kinds of tests are commonly used in the business world. The AT-SAT even contains a number of questions that are similar to the Bio-Q format. And there’s data that suggest these tests have “demonstrated reasonable and useful reliability in the prediction of job performance in a variety of occupations.” Interestingly, after the invalidation of his degree and AT-SAT score, Brown was in need of money and applied for a job posting at the local Sheriff’s office. After interviewing him, and looking over his resume and experience, they were interested in hiring Stephen, and as a next step, had him take a test similar to Bio-Q, but much, much more in depth. Where the 2014 Bio-Q had 62 questions, this test the Sheriff’s department wanted him to take had over 900.
In the space of a fairly brief 62 questions, how could you hope to learn enough about candidates to want to start spending money training them to do a job, especially when that was the ONLY information you knew about them? And that is the biggest problem that Brown and many others have with the changes to the FAA hiring process. Bio-Q is being used as a gatekeeper, so to speak: if you don’t pass, you don’t receive any further consideration, not matter your experience or qualifications. Which, as Chrissi mentioned above, is something even the FAA referred to in their own report as ‘weak’:
“Based on an analysis of the relationship between selected biodata items and training success, we conclude that the evidence for using these biodata items for controller selection is weak. We recommend that if biodata are used to select ATCSs, additional research is needed to identify and validate items predictive of success in training. We also recommend that a criterion measure representative of job performance of air traffic controllers be developed and validated for use in future research on the selection of air traffic controllers.”
Stephen, and many others, feel like Bio-Q could be of some use if it was used as part of the hiring process, and supplemented with other data such as education, experience and skills tests as the FAA suggests above. And the FAA appears to be acting on at least some of the criticism. The 2015 Bio-Q is said to be longer and more in depth, and has reportedly shed some of the questions that provoked previous outrage, like Question 21:
But not much else is known about the 2015 Bio-Q. This is because the FAA now requires people who take the test to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), something that they didn’t require the previous year. This lack of transparency has carried over to the AT-SAT as well. Rather than staying with the point system and differentiating between those who achieved a “well-qualified” score, AT-SAT is now simply pass/fail. Along with the discarding of education and experience preferences, this is being seen as a large reduction in standards.
And this reduction in standards hits especially hard with the CTI graduates who now hold degrees that are essentially costly wallpaper. In the conference call between CTI and FAA representatives on January 8th, 2014, attorney Mike Pearson asked the FAA was asked the following:
“Why, since you have people that have been qualified on the rolls, are you not going to allow those students that invested thousands of dollars, multiple years and, quite frankly, have had at least a tacit promise by the FAA that they would be given a look at being hired – why in the world when you have that backlog, those people that are already qualified, would you basically force them to back through a new process instead of just trying the process – the new process prospectively and notifying people ahead of time it would be done that way?”
FAA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Human Resource Management Rickie Cannon responded:
“Those individuals in CTI schools and any other U.S. citizens are not being disenfranchised of an opportunity to apply to become an air traffic control specialist. That’s what the February announcement is all about. They will have an opportunity in February to apply and to be considered along with any other U.S. citizen who wants to apply for that job. And as Dr. Scott said, you know, the biographical data and everything. We’ll take into consideration their experience and education and all of those related dimensions associated within an air traffic controller. So those individuals are not being disenfranchised, or held out of the process.”
This response, promising to consider experience, education and other related material in addition to the biographical data, is nothing but empty rhetoric according to Brown. The CTI graduates have still seen no benefit for their efforts. Brown has heard the argument that the CTI graduates are acting entitled and expecting a job, something the FAA never guaranteed. In response, he says that CTI graduates are aware that nothing was guaranteed, but they were told very clearly that going through the CTI program would put them in a better position for a job as an air traffic controller. And so Brown, like many others, decided to make the investment.
And that’s exactly what it was: an investment for future returns. Brown got a student loan, put money on credit cards to cover living costs during school and his internship, and even cashed out his IRA at the end of 2013 to cover his debts. And as hard as it was on Brown, he’s heard stories of people who accrued as much as $100,000 in debt going through the program. And after the initial shock wore off, may of those CTI graduates decided they wanted to fight back, joining an EEO complaint being filed against the FAA that they hope to carry over into the class action lawsuit referenced above.
So, setting everything else aside, is Bio-Q helping the FAA achieve their goal of being able to draw from a larger grouping of varied candidates? The current ATC pool is reportedly 83.5% white, and 84% male and most people agree that increasing the overall diversity is a good idea. However, the FAA has yet to release data that validates Bio-Q as a tool capable of providing a larger number and variety of candidates. So what about the CTI program? When the FAA started making changes, they said that the CTI program was not giving them a diverse enough pool of qualified candidates. This was according to a Barrier Analysis prepared in May 2013 that studied different applicant pools. In that analysis, they found, for example, that only 5.4% of the applicants drawn from CTI programs were African American, versus other sources, such as 31.3% from the general public pool, and 42.5% from the Retired Military Controller pool.
It should be noted, however, that this same analysis showed that the CTI program provided higher percentages of Hispanic and Asian candidates than any of the other sources. The barrier analysis also revealed another important fact:
“As can be seen from Table 2, there are differences in the proportion of applicants with minimum qualifications as a function of application source. The AT-CTI application source has the applicant pool with the highest proportion of applicants meeting the minimum qualification across ethnic subgroups.”
So, even though, as the report suggests, there may have been work to be done in promoting more diversity, the CTI program was providing the most qualified candidates. As a final consideration, the Barrier Analysis also only used diversity data from 4-year universities in the CTI program. They failed to include data from community colleges partnered with CTI, such as Florida State College where Brown went through the CTI program. According to Brown, this definitely skewed the numbers.
Brown and others believe that the right path would be to expand the CTI program to additional colleges. They believe this would help the overall diversity the program could offer. Another report produced by the FAA, around the same time as the barrier analysis, had this to say:
“After reviewing the statistics inherent in the self-identification questionnaires and the partner school diversity initiatives, it is clear that the FAA AT-CTI schools are making great strides to incorporate minority students and faculty into their programs.”
Which makes it all the more puzzling why they have seemingly abandoned the CTI program. And though it’s not easy to see what long term effect this will have on the FAA and ATC pool, there is a short-term problem that needs to be addressed. There aren’t enough air traffic controllers. And that, says Brown, is the real safety issue. Despite where they are pulled from, all ATC candidates still have to make it through the academy, and then go to a facility where they receive on-site training. So the new air traffic controllers are trained and capable, there just aren’t enough of them. Without a significant amount of new air traffic controllers, there will be a huge strain put on the existing workforce, and that could lead to serious consequences.
Sadly, even if the FAA decides to turn back to the CTI program in the future, many of the current candidates will have aged out1 and will no longer be eligible. This happened with the #1 ranked candidate in Brown’s class. They took Bio-Q in 2014 and 2015, failed it both times and are now too old to start a career as an air traffic controller. Other candidates will simply have moved on. This may be the case with Brown. Though he took the Bio-Q test again in 2015, and passed it, and is scheduled to re-take the AT-SAT, he’s not entirely sure he’ll take a job as an air traffic controller if it’s offered. He couldn’t afford to wait around while the FAA figured things out, and he’s already started moving in a different direction.
The FAA’s Defense:
It appears as though the FAA has attempted to reverse their hiring process back to pre-CTI in order to get through the backlog of CTI applicant paperwork and open the pool of candidates up to more applicants. At this time, there are about 3,000 qualified CTI graduates. As outlined by their 2013 Barrier Analysis, over the next 10 years, the FAA will need nearly 12,500 controllers to keep up with National Airspace demand:
“The FAA unveiled a plan for replacing three-quarters of the air traffic controller workforce by hiring 12,500 controllers during the next decade to offset the effects of an anticipated wave of retirements resulting in 11,000 controllers leaving the agency by 2014. The surge in retirements is linked to the 1981 Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association strike when thousands of workers walked off the job. President Ronald Reagan fired the striking controllers and the FAA subsequently hired mandatory replacement workers. Those newly hired controllers are now nearing retirement age. In 2014 the hiring surge is estimated at or around 11,000 hires, and the FAA expects to have more than 16,000 air traffic controllers in the agency.”
The CTI program alone likely could not have kept up with the FAA hiring demand.
The FAA has yet to say much since Fox’s Story, but during the 2014 teleconference their reasoning behind changing the process was to level the playing field for all U.S. Citizens interested in the position and allow a fair and transparent application process for all those that apply.
Diversity issues were brought up by the CTI schools and mentioned by Teixeira during the teleconference, but he retracted his statement about CTI schools not providing enough diversity and other FAA representatives quickly defended their case against it being a diversity issue.
“Well, also what I’m saying is that as a totality of all the people that we have hired from all the sources we have a deficient pool, and we need to do things in all the processes that we’re engaging to improve, we need to improve our recruitment of minority students and women as a commitment that we have and an obligation as a government organization,” said Teixeira.
Although this statement seemed to point towards diversity being a factor in the hiring changes, Teixeira then continued to discuss how the process will not look at race or gender but will offer the agency a larger pool of candidates to choose from.
“[We] have not said that any of this stuff is driven by diversity,” said Teixeira. “And it’s also clear that the process that we’re putting in place is gender and race neutral. We’re designing an open and neutral system for everybody, and we’re going to put everybody through the same way.”
“[The] goal here is not achieving diversity,” said Carrolyn Bostick, head of FAA Human Resources. “The goal here is a fair and consistent process that is perceived as fair by all people who are trying to partake in.”
“I think both [CTI and OTS] would be good [controllers] but I tend to think that OTS may be better because with the CTI you just don’t know the quality of the student,” said Messier. “[If] you’re a CTI student you spend 4 years – and I would hate to see a parent spend all that money on an education for 4 years – and you don’t have the basic aptitude to do the job, you aren’t going to succeed.”
Messier suggested an aptitude test – such as the AT-SAT – would be the best screening device to determine if an applicant has “the stuff” to do the job.
For now, the new hiring via the Bio-Q stand, and some CTI students are still enrolling and finishing their degrees. Many CTI colleges and universities haven’t given up hope that their students will be hired as controllers – and likely be more prepared for training than their OTS peers.
Congress has requested they produce documents that support the new FAA hiring process no later than Jun 26, 2015. A full investigation into the cheating accusations was requested as well.
Whether the hiring changes was propitiated by diversity or a backlog of paperwork will probably never be admitted to the public. This was likely an innocent attempt to speed up the application process that went wrong. All we can do now is request more information that substantiates the reliability of the Bio-Q and request CTI preference be reinstated for all those that spent time and money trying to live out their dreams of becoming an air traffic controller.
1 – The FAA has a requirement that you must start your training at the Academy no later than your 31st birthday (some military personnel are given an extra year). As I understand it, this requirement is in place for two reasons. One: the FAA has a mandatory retirement age of 56 for air traffic controllers. And two, the FAA had research done on the relationship between age and aptitude tests:
“On most tests, performance means for subjects over age 34 were significantly lower than those obtained from younger trainees, and their attrition rate for the training course was three times that of their younger classmates.”