The FAA is allowing graduates of college and university air traffic control programs to skip training at its own ATC academy in Oklahoma City and go directly to on-the-job training at ATC facilities. The measure was among a series of immediate actions announced by the agency to boost ATC recruitment and increase staffing levels at facilities across the country. A shortage of controllers has been a common theme in various studies, reports and seminars on a spate of runway incursions and losses of separation in the past year. Skipping the academy for college ATC grads should increase capacity at the academy for other prospective controllers.

Previously, graduates from accredited Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) programs had to go to the Oklahoma academy for at least seven weeks of the 12-week program there to get them ready for a facility. Those with degrees will now go straight to an operational ATC unit where they’ll begin the one- to three-year on-the-job training segment of their career. “The FAA will work with AT-CTI programs to ensure that graduates from these programs have the necessary skills to begin on-the-job training at a facility,” the agency said. “These graduates still must pass the Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA) exam and meet medical and security requirements.” After finishing their supervised training, they become certified controllers. We’ve asked the National Air Traffic Controllers Association for comment on the move but didn’t hear back in time for our deadline.

AT-CTI trainees make up a significant number of applicants for ATC jobs so bypassing the academy for them should free up seats in the full 12-week program that so-called “off-the-street” trainees must undergo. The FAA will accept applicants who don’t go the university route provided they have work experience and/or education that make them suitable candidates. All candidates have to pass rigorous screening before being accepted for training by the FAA.

The agency said in its Friday statement it is also expanding the ATC academy and will ensure that every seat is filled. It will offer year-round acceptance of already-trained military and private-sector controllers and will have a total of four advanced training facilities in operation around the country by next spring. It also recently bought ATC simulators and will have them in 95 facilities by the end of 2025. The agency also intends to keep working on its safety culture with internal reporting structures and the continuation of safety meetings at ATC facilities.

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