Air Traffic Control in crisis: Federal Aviation Administration recruitment looks to high schools to fill jobs

Confronted with an exodus of veteran air traffic controllers who are hitting retirement age, the Federal Aviation Administration is busy recruiting — at, among other places, high schools.

The FAA is busy wooing recent high school grads to come right on board, so to speak, and begin training to be controllers. They’ll go through three months of training before becoming “controllers in training.” Not long after that, they’ll be staff.

The New York Post broke the story today.

The FAA has just completed a recruitment drive that placed ads on Craig’s List, Myspace and at high schools nationwide. The feds were offering more than $100,000 in signing bonuses to newbies to draw them to the New York area’s five understaffed radar centers, says the Post.

There’s a one-time $27,000 bonus at the start of training, with another $75,000 paid out over four years.

So far, the Post says, one recent hire is a 20-year-old man who is currently monitoring radars at a station in Westbury, LI. He happens to have majored in air traffic control, but the FAA says students who have completed the 12th grade are eligible.

This news comes after two recent near-misses above the skies of New York that are being attributed to understaffed radar stations.

On July 5, two passenger jets inbound to JFK came within 100 feet of colliding in mid air, which the FAA considers to be an extremely close call. On June 25, a Learjet was given the green light to land at Teterboro Airport on a runway on which maintenance employees were busy working.

By 2011, nearly 60 percent of all air traffic controllers nationwide will have less than five years experience on the job, the Post says.

I don’t know how to feel about this. On the one hand, the FAA has to get new people in there to bring staffing numbers up to a safe level. Then again, how safe do we feel knowing the FAA is searching out applicants for this life-or-death job on Myspace?