APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, training for air traffic controllers was put to a halt.
Since then, airports across the country have been affected by shortages of controllers. Now, airports in the state of Wisconsin are starting to experience the impacts.
“We are one of 250 airports across the country that are part of a contract tower program, so our tower is staffed by controllers under a contract with the FAA,” said Jim Schell, Oshkosh’s Wittman Regional Airport Director. “We are down to four controllers currently out of a total of six full-time time, which means 33% of the workforce staff in the control tower isn’t there, so that does kind of stretch the four controllers up there a little bit thin on covering all of the hours that the tower is operating.”
Local 5’s Samantha Petters also met with the air services and business development manager at the Appleton International Airport to discuss how the understaffing of ATC positions is putting a strain on airport operations and affecting airport growth.
“The biggest impact for us here in Appleton is it impedes our ability to get new flights,” said Jesse Funk. “If you look at the New York City area that’s experiencing the shortage, the airlines that are being flown into those airports are being told that they have to reduce the number of flights, so not only can’t they grow, but they’re actually being reduced, which in turn affects our ability to get a new route to the East Coast.”
A big contributing factor to the ATC shortage is the process that controllers have to go through before being able to qualify for the position, which is a three-year training program.
“There’s a certificate that they have to earn through the FAA that essentially allows them to perform the ATC services up there, and they have to stay current with their practices that allow them to adequately communicate with the aircraft and give them landing and take-off clearances and give them their flight plans and all the information they need,” said Schell. “That’s probably one of the biggest challenges with staffing, just ensuring that the qualified workforce is there, not only here but across the state and across the country.”
Jesse Funk also told Local 5 that the FAA will never be in a position where they can’t operate and control flights safely, but in a staffing shortage, the only way to do that is to limit the number of flights.
“We encourage people to keep flying,” said Funk. “It’s not going to be unsafe, but understand that delays happen, and airlines are doing everything they can to keep things moving and on time.”