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Community College to Train Air Traffic Controllers

August 16, 1990

CORAOPOLIS, Pa. (AP) _ A community college will train air traffic controllers, a task previously handled only by a federal academy where half the candidates fail, officials said Wednesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to hire 14 graduates a year from Beaver County Community College, which will be the first school to place controllers directly in tower jobs.

The program’s graduates will receive more instruction than students at the FAA’s Oklahoma City academy and ″a more in-depth understanding of the air traffic control business,″ said Robert Powell, the college’s director of air traffic education and a former controller.

The FAA and community college officials signed contracts for the program Wednesday in a ceremony at Greater Pittsburgh International Airport here.

About 1,200 candidates a year take rigorous three-month courses at the FAA academy, where ″if you fail, you’re fired,″ said Herbert McLure, the agency’s human resources director.

″We’d like to have a more humane way of terminating people,″ he said. ″Our business is in air traffic control. We’re not professionals in the training field.″

The program at the college in Monaca, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, will allow unqualified students to leave the program without the stigma of failure, McLure said.

The school’s 14-year-old program already places traffic control interns at Greater Pittsburgh Airport and operates the control tower at the Beaver County Airport, the only tower in the nation run by a college, FAA officials said.

Supervised student controllers in Beaver County guide landings and takeoffs of small, private planes and corporate jets during the day without electronic equipment, said Jim Scott, the airport’s training supervisor.

New graduates will be placed at medium-size airports such as those in Erie, Youngstown, Ohio, or Des Moines, Iowa. They must pass the FAA’s on-the-job tests before being certified.

Allowing the community college to weed out students should improve historically strained relations between controllers and the FAA, said William Pollard, the agency’s associate administrator for air traffic.

″The system we have now pits the employer against the employee,″ Pollard said. ″The first words we tell them should not be, ’50 percent of you are not going to make it,′ as they are now. We should be saying, ‘We are going to make you an air traffic controller.’ ″

The FAA has struggled to fill controllers’ posts since 1981, when President Reagan fired 11,000 union controllers who illegally walked off the job.

FAA Administrator James Busey earlier this week said 50,000 FAA employees, including 17,000 controllers, could be furloughed for 2 days every two weeks if Congress and President Bush fail to agree on a federal budget by Oct. 1.

Tony Dresden, a spokesman for the traffic controllers’ union, said the new program should produce more qualified controllers.

″The FAA’s Oklahoma City academy is not attracting the right types of individuals at this point,″ he said from National Air Traffic Controllers Association headquarters in Washington, D.C. ″After the 1981 strike, they threw an enormous net out to fill those posts.″

However, Dresden and Peter Baron, executive director of the National Center For Air Travel Safety, said they were concerned the FAA would be unable to maintain a standard curriculum if more schools were added to the program.

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