FAA’s Latest Controller Workforce Plan Shows U.S. Air Traffic Remains Seriously Depressed

People under NextGen routes may be suffering depression due to repetitive airplane noise (and an agency that keeps them powerless to fix the impacts!), but there is another ‘depression’ that is worth looking at. Specifically, the number of takeoffs and landings in the U.S. is substantially below peak years, and showing no evidence of any major recovery.

Here’s a statistic to ponder: for the 504 control towers currently tracked by FAA, annual operations in 2014 were down 45% from the peak year. Further, an analysis of all 516 towers for which FAA offers ATADS data 1990-present shows that the average peak for towers was in early 1998 … more than 18-years ago.

In April, FAA released their latest ‘Controller Workforce Plan’ (CWP). This 60-page document includes a graph, showing both past and projected ATC workload and ATC staffing. Here is a copy of the graph, from the 2016 CWP:

20150919.. Traffic & ATC Staffing graph (from pg.7 of 2016 CWP)

ATC staffing figures as of September 2015 (source: 2016 CWP)

And, for comparison, here are two earlier graphs, from the 2012 CWP and 2009 CWP:

20110924.. Traffic & ATC Staffing graph (from pg.7 of 2012 CWP)

ATC staffing figures as of September 2011 (source: 2012 CWP)

20080927.. Traffic & ATC Staffing graph (from pg.6 of 2009 CWP)

ATC staffing figures as of September 2008 (source: 2009 CWP)

Yellow lines were added to each graph to identify the break point between actual past data and FAA’s future projections. Note that all graphs are indexed to the year 2000. Look closely at these graphs and you will see that:

  • in the 2009 CWP (the oldest of the graphs, at the bottom), traffic had fallen to 87% of Index.
  • in the 2012 CWP, traffic had fallen further, to 77% of Index.
  • in the 2016 CWP, traffic was still at 77% of Index.
  • in the 2009 CWP, FAA properly projected a decline for the first year (we were deep into the economic meltdown related to mortgage scams and the housing bubble), but FAA also projected a robust turnaround after 2009.
  • the robust turnaround never happened. While FAA had projected traffic to grow back to 94% of Index by 2015, the actual data for 2015 remained flat, at 77% of Index.
  • now, in 2016, FAA is being a bit more realistic (projecting a recovery to 85% of Index by the year 2026). But, FAA remains stuck on growth as a given …. with zero regard to history and to other major factors such as fossil-fuel related Climate Change.

So, what we have is a system that is not growing and an agency in denial about that stagnation. Meanwhile, FAA and other players in the Av-Gov Complex are insisting we must spend more money upgrading from World War II technologies, to accommodate record traffic levels.

Hey, Michael Huerta and Anthony Foxx, give us all a break; demand accountability within your rogue agency, and immediately revert to pre-NextGen departures and arrivals, so residents can recover from their sleep loss!


See also:
  • As a resource, aiREFORM has archived copies of all FAA’s CWPs that were found online. To view/download, click here.