Sophia Hernandez WFTS
How local colleges are trying to help FAA staffing shortages
July 13, 2023
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  • Last month, the Transportation Department Office of Inspector General found that the FAA has made “limited efforts to ensure adequate controller staffing at critical air traffic control facilities.”

    While staffing shortages remain, there are 26 schools across the country, one in the heart of Miami, Florida, that are looking to change that.

    “Ever since, like, 9th grade, there was a friend who was studying to be a pilot, and ever since then, I started and got into it,” shared Sergio Sanchez.

    Sanchez is one of more than four hundred students in Miami Dade College’s aviation program. The skills he’s learned here are setting him up for his future, hopefully as a commercial pilot.

    “I’ve flown at our skill, and I’ve used everything that I have learned here,” Sanchez said.

    The work is rigorous, repetitive and hands-on. Students enroll in one of four programs like the college’s aviation administration program or transportation and logistics program.

    Some students take a meteorology course, some also learn how to navigate air traffic control, while other students get to experience what it would be like firsthand to be at the helm of a plane.

    All of it is training that’s demanding and extensive.

    “If you are talking about 2007, when I got here, just air traffic control students alone was about 350, it was a lot,” explained Professor Victor Fernandez.

    Fernandez said while there are fewer students now going into the field, there’s hope that’s turning around.

    He said the reason FAA shortages continue to happen is that the field is pretty cyclical, as it has major hiring sprees that date back to the 1980s, and those same experts all retire around the same time years later.

    To fly or train is also costly.

    Fernandez said it’s anywhere between 60 to 70 thousand dollars, and in order to be considered for a major airline, you need, at a minimum, around 1,300 flight hours.

    “Could easily be an average of about three years because you could finish the course content at the college in two years or a year and a half. But what lags is the flying because that’s what costs money,” he stated.

    Fernandez hopes their college’s program is not only cost-efficient but helps students get out the door quicker.

    As far as when they will finally be put to the test, flying, controlling and trafficking are skills with high risk, where not a single mistake can be made.

    The FAA’s Training Academy has a failure rate of anywhere between 20-40%, vetting out students by the hundreds.

    “You’ll see there’s no high risk. It’s common to fly from here to New York. But there’s no high risk because of all the regulations that are in place and all the training that individuals get,” explained Fernandez. “There’s a lot of redundancy, and a lot of redundancy in the individuals training.”

    However, the students here said they are up for the challenge and that, for them, the skies are the limit.

    “It’s something I am going to have to use forever,” said student Sheila Rodriguez.

    “Get the proper training. That’s what we do,” said Fernandez. “Have initial training right here. We basically give you the license to continue to learn.”