As millions fly across the country this holiday season, it's likely few will consider the logistics of it all.

Having thousands of planes in the skies takes coordination and careful planning by air traffic controllers across the country. The industry is dealing with a nationwide shortage, according to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., but new legislation passed this week seeks to help alleviate the shortage and get UND graduates hired faster.

The Air Traffic Controller Hiring Reform Act, passed as part of the recent 2020 defense authorization bill, will enable the FAA to prioritize the hiring of veterans and graduates of FAA Certified Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) schools, like UND.

The previous version of the law, changed in 2013, required the FAA to hire air traffic controllers from two pools of candidates – the first pool including CTI graduates and eligible veterans, the second pool comprised of those applying under vacancy announcements or “off-the-street” – with no more than a 10% difference in the number of hires between the pools. The lowest number of applicants by pool inherently limited the overall number of applicants that can be hired, the release said.

“Our nation is facing a real shortage of air traffic controllers, which undermines the safety and efficiency of our air transportation system. Our legislation will help address this shortage, and at the same time, enable the FAA to hire more qualified air traffic controllers from UND’s Air Traffic Control program,” Hoeven said.

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Hoeven says CTI graduates, from UND and other schools, and veterans have a “proven track record, and the limitation on hiring from these two groups unnecessarily leaves ATC positions unfilled.”

Paul Drechsel, associate professor and assistant chair of the air traffic management program at UND, said the change will show students that if they graduate and perform well on other related FAA tests, they will have a real shot at being hired by the FAA without any other barriers in place.

“We feel that’s a big benefit for our graduates to the point that they’ll be getting the opportunity to apply and can be selected under this process without the restraint of (limited hiring,)” Dreschsel said.

CTI program graduates and veterans have a higher retention rate during ATC qualification training at the FAA Academy, Hoeven’s release noted. Further, CTI graduates can bypass the Air Traffic Basics Course, which is the first five weeks of qualification training at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City.

“The passage of the ATC Hiring Reform Act will ensure the highest quality of aviation professional, like those graduating from UND, will be hired to manage our increasingly complex airspace,” UND interim President Joshua Wynne said in a statement.

Janessa Meuleners, an air traffic management major with a minor in aviation safety specialization, said the change will allow more UND graduates to get hired faster instead of having to wait to hear back from the federal government.

“It’s just giving us that chance to get through this process faster,” she said.

The process to get hired can sometimes take months or years after a student graduates, depending on the number of openings.

Betsy Thompson, an air traffic management major who minored in public administration and political science, said there can be some anxiety for students as they wait to be hired after graduation. But, she said, this change can ease some of those concerns.

“This is a bit of a nice thing to hear and it kind of rewards you for going to a CTI school and actually getting a degree instead of someone that just walks in off the street,” she said. “So it’s a lot less stressful for us applicants into that phase.”

Thompson and Meuleners will be heading to the FAA Academy in January.