AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Congressman Greg Casar, who represents the district covering the Austin area, has called for the Federal Aviation Administration to add more air traffic controllers at the Austin Bergstrom International Airport.

Casar sent a letter to Michael Whitaker, administrator of the FAA, urging “the strongest possible staffing levels for Air Traffic Controllers at AUS.” U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) put out a similar call and letter last month.

“The Air Traffic Controller staffing levels and attrition at Austin’s airport must be addressed,” Casar said in a release. “Near-miss incidents at Austin-Bergstrom and at airports across the country are unacceptable. The FAA must better recruit, train, and retain good staff to make sure workers, passengers, and all people at our airport are safe.” 

“In Texas’s 35th Congressional District, the City of Austin has experienced unacceptable safety issues due to insufficient staffing and support for our air traffic controllers. There have been five documented near-miss incidents reported in the last year alone. This is dangerous and unacceptable,” Casar said in the letter.

Casar calls for Congress and the FAA to take action to address what he calls “chronic understaffing” of air traffic controllers.

According to Casar’s letter, earlier this year, the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association developed new staffing targets for fully certified controllers for each of the FAA’s air traffic control facilities.

Casar says in the letter that the FAA still falls short in how many certified professional controllers, or CPCs, are assigned to AUS, based on the FAA’s update target of 51 in its 2023-2032 Air Traffic Controller Workforce Plan.

The FAA only has 35 CPCs and fewer than ten trainees currently assigned to AUS, according to Casar’s letter. Casar said in the letter that even if all of the trainees were to certify tomorrow, AUS would remain understaffed under the FAA’s new standard, and “that doesn’t account for potential attrition from AUS.”

Nationwide issue

Aviation Director at Texas A&M University Central Texas campus, Carson Pearce, told KXAN last month these shortages are felt nationwide.

“People are pulling double shifts,” Pearce said. “They’re stretched to the limit.”

But he said it was not easy filling these positions.

Pearce said it was not because fewer people were applying but because the application process is difficult.

“There were 56,000 applicants for 1,500 air traffic controller slots this year, and 6% of that group passed,” Pearce said. “Which pretty well filled that 1,500-person slot. But it’s nowhere near what is needed in order to plug the holes that are in the air traffic control system nationwide.”

FAA response

A spokesperson with the FAA told KXAN the agency would respond to Casar directly and issued the below statement:

One serious close call is one too many. The FAA and the aviation community are pursuing a goal of zero serious close calls, which is a commitment from the Safety Summit in March. The FAA maintains extremely conservative standards for keeping aircraft safely separated and multiple layers of safety protect the traveling public. Safety experts follow up on all events and evaluate them for risks, and we hold annual runway safety meetings at every airport with a control tower.

The FAA has undertaken a number of additional runway-safety initiatives in recent months, which you can read about here.

FAA Spokesperson

Austin Department of Aviation response

The City of Austin’s Department of Aviation issued the following response to Casar’s letter:

The Department of Aviation deeply appreciates the advocacy from our elected and appointed representatives, including Congressman Casar, Congressman Doggett, Austin City Council and our Airport Advisory Commission volunteers in their requests to the federal government for staffing and technology support for our local Air Traffic Control Tower operations. We will remain diligent in working with the FAA and other federal agencies in advancing our shared priority of safe air travel for all.  

City of Austin Department of Aviation