Apr 22, 2024 - Travel

FAA's hiring plan could drive new traffic controllers at Charlotte's airport

Air traffic control tower at Charlotte.

The air traffic control tower at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Photo: Courtesy of Charlotte Douglas International Airport

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to hire 1,800 air traffic controllers this year nationwide, some of whom may ultimately end up at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. It's part of a push to strengthen its staffing at towers across the country and other air traffic control facilities, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick reports.

Why it matters: The busier an airport gets, the more air traffic controllers it needs. The role is a vital but hard-to-fill one responsible for directing the movement of aircraft.

State of play: Once a year, the general public may apply to become a controller. The current window ends April 22 at 11:59pm ET. Controllers with prior experience in the military or the private sector may apply year-round.

Between the lines: Life as an air traffic controller can be stressful. There's a nationwide shortage, which has created an "exhausted and demoralized workforce that was increasingly prone to making dangerous mistakes," as the New York Times reported.

  • The FAA is investigating controller fatigue.

By the numbers: More than 14,000 air traffic controllers work across more than 500 air traffic control towers, according to the FAA.

  • As of April 2024, Charlotte has 79 fully certified controllers and another 14 trainees, per the FAA. The airport's air traffic control tower is authorized to have 94 controllers.
  • Meanwhile at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, there are 39 fully certified controllers and seven trainees, per the FAA. The airport's air traffic control tower is authorized to have 43 controllers.
  • Trainees in these towers "were previously certified at other FAA facilities" according to the FAA. They're in the process of becoming fully certified at the tower.

What they're saying: "The FAA considers specific traffic counts and forecasts to determine staffing needs at each facility," an FAA spokesperson tells Axios.

Flashback: Charlotte's current 370-foot air traffic control tower became operational in February 2022, replacing its 150-foot tower that opened in 1979.

  • The tower included updated technology to help speed up the flow of traffic. It's the second tallest tower in the country and is intended to meet current and future demand, per the FAA.

The bottom line: You may not hear or see air traffic controllers during a flight, but they're crucial to getting passengers to and from their destination safely.

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