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FAA changes hiring practices for ATC, CTI students passed over for jobs despite being qualified

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) - When you climb into an airliner, you trust the pilot, the crew and air traffic controllers will keep you safe.

But FOX 10 News has learned the FAA recently changed the way it hires air traffic controllers.

Now no experience is necessary and many worry this could put the flying public at risk.

Every year in the U.S. Nearly a billion air travelers depend on the men and women in towers and radar centers to guide their plane safely to its destination.

You would think the FAA would want the best and brightest in these towers. But fox ten news has discovered that's no longer the case.

For 24 years, the FAA has relied on colleges and universities to prepare air traffic controllers through the collegiate training initiative or CTI.

ASU is one of 36 colleges around the nation training the next generation of controllers, people like Christina Delgado. "ASU prepares you to go into the work force ready to go," she said.
    
She graduated in 2010 and now works in the Deer Valley Tower.

"You walk in there, and you already have the knowledge of aircraft aircraft characteristics runway separation you know how to talk to airplanes because you've already done that through the simulation," said Delgado.
    
The program worked so well that two years-ago the FAA announced it would fill any future controller openings with military vets and graduates from CTI schools.

But then in January the FAA did a startling about face suddenly announcing it would begin hiring air traffic controllers "off the street" with no experience necessary.

Erin hogan is an ASU CTI graduate, she scored 99 on the AT-SAT test.
    
The AT-SAT, since 2002 it's been the gold standard for screening air traffic control applicants. But now, the FAA says Erin's AT-SAT score and years of schooling count for nothing.

So why would the FAA suddenly scrap a program that's providing it with top flight controllers, a program the FAA helped design.

Veteran FAA controller John Gilding spent 20 years in the tower. He's worked with controllers hired off the street as well as CTI graduates. We asked him, who's better?

"CTI students, much, much better. They're better trained better prepared they outperform the off the street hires," said Gilding.
    
Anthony Foxx is the head of the Department of Transportation that oversees the FAA. This is how he described the hiring changes to Congress in March. "The FAA took an opportunity to take a broad opening of the aperture if you will to try to get a larger universe of applicants into the program," he said.
    
"Opening the aperture", code for diversity. But just a year ago the FAA gave the CTI program a glowing review. Stating, "It is clear to the FAA that the FAA CTI schools are making great strides incorporate minority students and faculty into their programs."
    
Apparently the diversity numbers are not to the liking of some within the FAA. So to achieve an internal hiring goal, which has not been made public, the agency is passing over highly qualified candidates. Many of whom are women, minorities and military veterans.

"This social experiment that they've embarked upon needs to be stopped," said hogan.
    
In the meantime Erin Hogan and hundreds like her have seen their career dreams dashed.
    
"I don't see why you would want to just close that pipeline off completely and lose a lot of really good applicants," she said.
    
Erin estimates she's spent $32,000 earning her degree in air traffic control, and she's not alone.
    
Andrew Brigida is another top CTI graduate from ASU, he said he spent between $50,000 to $60,000.

"This is what I've been planning on the past four or five years, graduating college, doing some aviation work, and then becoming a controller," said Brigida.

The FAA now requires air traffic control applicants to take an online, biographical questionnaire as part of the testing process.

Comprised of 63 questions, such as "What has been the major cause of your failures?" and "(how many) high school sports (did you participate) in"?

"It has nothing to do with whether the have skills to be an air traffic controller, I was just shaking my head at the questions I was being given, they made no sense," said Brigida.
    
Brigida aced his air traffic control test, "I scored a 100% on the at sats," he said. But he flunked the biographical questionnaire, and he has no idea why. "they never gave you a grade they simply gave you a green check or a red x," said Brigida.
    
He's out of a job, and so is Erin hogan.

"I failed along with some very qualified people," said Brigida.
    
In fact, nine out of ten CTI graduates failed the biographical questionnaire effectively washing them out. Politicians are getting an earful from students and veterans who've been passed over for jobs, and now members of Congress are starting to ask questions.

"I want to understand what this biographical questionnaire is, I want to know why people are failing, not just that they're failing, and what this is adding to the quality of people were considering for this program," said
    
Beyond troubling, former air traffic controller John Gilding says it's compromising safety.

"If you're going to climb on an airplane and put grandma on the airplane and your kids on an airplane, do you want a well skilled highly competent talented person working that airplane, or do you want some high school dropout that's got his hat on backwards being the person guiding the airplane. I know what my answer is," said Gilding.
    
This comes at a time when the government is facing a critical shortage of air traffic controllers. The CTI schools like ASU have more than enough applicants in the pipeline right now to fill those jobs.

One other note hiring off the street is more expensive,  because the government has to pay to train people many of whom wash out that do not make it.

Having colleges train air traffic controllers has saved the government over tens of millions of dollars.
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