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Official: ASU air traffic control students struggling to land jobs amidst shortage

In this May 21, 2015 file photo, an air traffic controller works in the tower at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J. A chronic shortage of controllers has reached a crisis that will lead to widespread flight delays if left unchecked, officials for the union that represents air traffic controllers said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

PHOENIX — As the nation deals with an air traffic controller shortage, some qualified candidates are not getting hired to fill those positions.

Officials said Arizona State University’s air traffic management program has seen its enrollment numbers drop 50 percent. That is due to new hiring procedures put in place last year by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Until recently, students who attended an FAA-approved college training initiative program like the one at ASU were shown preference in the controller hiring process. Now, those students are in the same applicant pool as anyone from the general public who applies for a controller job.

Anyone who applies to be an air traffic controller must pass a biographical assessment, which factors in character qualities and work habits when deciding who moves on in the hiring process. The FAA said 28,000 candidates applied in 2014, with approximately 2200 passing the test.

The FAA said it changed the hiring procedure to increase objectivity when assessing potential candidates. ASU air traffic management professor Verne Latham said it has been frustrating for program graduates who can’t land a job.

“They started the program (at ASU) before the FAA out of the blue decided to cease [a] separate application process for CTI graduates,” he said.

Latham said some of the FAA-approved CTI schools across the country had to shut down after the change in hiring procedures. He said he hopes the FAA will eventually change the way it hires controllers.

“If the pressure is kept up by the media, by congress, by the public, I think the FAA would at some point, potentially go back to some type of preference for CTI graduates,” he said.

Last week, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said if the controller shortage continues, widespread flight delays could affect travelers in the future. The union said that controllers at the country’s busiest airports are working six-day weeks.

The FAA said it plans to hire controllers at an increased rate to meet its staffing targets.

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