AUSTIN (KXAN) — Air traffic controller staffing for the tower at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) has “already fallen behind the rapid increase of air traffic within our airspace,” according to a memo sent to regional air traffic control representatives.
Just last month, the CEO for United Airlines blamed such staffing shortages – which are occurring nationwide – for recent delays that plagued various airlines.
A spokesperson for AUS said air traffic control shortages impact airline operations more than airport operations. Airport operations include monitoring airport roadways, the airfield and parking versus things like flight schedules.
Air traffic controllers communicate with pilots within 40 miles of the airport. Crews in the tower
According to the air traffic control staffing memo obtained by KXAN, the tower has seen “unprecedented growth in air traffic over the last two years,” and staffers are “working mostly six-day workweeks” to keep up.
The memo asks the FAA to raise the staffing standards guidelines for AUS, stating that “drastic steps” are needed to properly staff it, and the facility is at a “critical point.”
According to the FAA Air Traffic Controller Workforce Plan, the target staffing standards for air traffic controllers at AUS is 51 employees. AUS currently has 39.
“It’s not good for us controllers to be continuously overworked at an airport that is only getting busier, while not getting the help we need,” an air traffic control employee told KXAN. They did not wish to share their identity because they are currently employed at the AUS tower. “
The memo states AUS is shattering “high scenario” projections for aircraft activity, and union representatives first asked for staffing help back in 2018. They said the request was in progress, but then the pandemic hit. Once travel numbers climbed back up to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, the memo states the reps made another request, and it has not been fulfilled.
According to a chart in the memo detailing a six-week period between April and May of this year, only 30% of shifts had the proper number of staff members. When there aren’t enough employees, the memo states workers have to pull double duty, working both operational and oversight positions.
When we reached out to the FAA for further insight on AUS’ traffic control staffing numbers, a spokesperson sent us this letter to Congress regarding staffing. The letter contains the aforementioned 2023 Air Traffic Controller Workforce plan, which addresses “change in air traffic forecasts, controller retirements and other factors.”