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FAA changes in air traffic controller training raises concerns

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The Federal Aviation Administration has made it easier for people to become air traffic controllers, but the new requirements aren't flying with everyone.

Among the biggest changes, instead of giving preferential treatment to candidates with degrees in the field, now, anyone can be considered for the job as long as they pass a preliminary test and have a bachelor’s degree or three years of work experience in any field.

At least one air traffic control expert is confused by the changes. The Fargo Forum reports the assistant chairman of the University of North Dakota's air traffic control program, Paul Drechsel, calls FAA's decision "a cause for concern."

"It's almost like they dumbed down the process," Drechsel said to the Forum. "If I was the flying public I would be very concerned about this."

The new requirements for air traffic controllers have only been in effect for a few weeks. They include:

  • Be a United States citizen
  • Pass a medical examination
  • Pass a security investigation
  • Have three years of progressively responsible work experience, or a Bachelor's degree, or a combination of post-secondary education and work experience that totals three years.
  • Speak English clearly enough to be understood over communications equipment

The FAA plans to hire and train more than 10,000 air traffic controllers over the next decade. The organization's spokesman Tony Molinaro told the Forum the decision was made to "add diversity to the workforce."

He said there's always a need for air traffic controllers because they have to retire by age 55.

The Hill reported new technology is changing the industry. According to the report, even with the technological changes, many air traffic controllers of the future are still learning based on old technology.

The Hill says the new generation of air traffic controllers spent their entire lives in the digital world. They're familiar with smartphones, tablets, laptops, and the latest technologies reshaping the industry.

UND is certified as a Collegiate Training Initiative school. It means before the FAA's rule changes students who earned degrees were able to skip the first five weeks of a 12-week FAA-mandated training session. Now a person with no experience in the field can take the course after passing an initial test to measure things such as one's ability to handle stress.

According to the Forum, UND's Department of Aviation has assembled a legislative affairs committee to convince state and local politicians to use their influence to have the FAA's decision reversed.

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