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Want to be an air traffic controller? UND says FAA has 'dumbed down the process'

The Federal Aviation Administration has leveled the playing field for anyone wanting to work as an air traffic controller.

But is that a good thing?

Instead of giving preferential treatment to people with degrees in the field, as of February, anyone can be considered for the job as long as they pass a preliminary test and have a bachelor’s degree or three years of work experience in any field whatsoever. 

Paul Drechsel, assistant chairman of UND’s air traffic control program said the decision was confusing and definitely a cause for concern.

“It’s almost like they dumbed down the process,” he said. “If I was the flying public I would be very concerned about this.”

FAA Spokesman Tony Molinaro said the decision was made to “add diversity to the workforce.”

“There’s always a need for ATC because by age 55 you have to retire,” he said. “That turnover does happen faster than in a normal workplace.”

Molinaro said it’s great if people with ATC degrees apply because the process will be a lot easier for them, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a leg up.

“We know that we have to hire ‘so many thousands’ over the next decade, so it’s a way to see if we can find the best applicants across the whole population,” he said.

But Drechsel doesn’t see it that way.

“We’re confused,” he said. “We haven’t had any feedback yet, but we requested it from the FAA so we can make adjustments.”

UND’s Department of Aviation has assembled a legislative affairs committee to essentially convince state and local politicians to use their influence to get the decision reversed.

“I think with patience, this will change,” Drechsel said.

UND is certified as a Collegiate Training Initiative school, meaning before the rule change, students who earned degrees could skip the first five weeks of a 12-week FAA-mandated training session at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City.

Now, a person who has no experience in the field can take the course after passing an initial test to measure things such as one’s ability to handle stress.

But Molinaro said it still requires a certain skill set to pass all of the tests and work in ATC.

“We’re looking at not just basic knowledge, we’re looking at reaction time, working under stress, multitasking, thinking in three dimensions, things like that,” he said.

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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