A few years ago I decided to pursue my fascination with all things air traffic and become an air traffic controller.
At the time, there were three ways to become a controller: wait for a public job listing (PUBNAT) and apply as a member of the general public; enlist in the military and work as a DOD controller; or go through the shiny new ATC-CTI college program.
For a variety of reasons, I chose college. It was said that CTI students were given preference over applicants from the general public and had better success rates at the FAA academy than hires from the general public. The CTI program was not a guarantee of employment or a guarantee of successful completion of training, but it was marketed as a preferred route to hiring.
Since there were no more PUBNAT listings scheduled and the military was not a great choice for my life at the time, I enrolled in CTI school.
Midway through my college career, the federal government melted down and Sequestration hit. The FAA Academy shut down and there were hiring and training freezes. Times were tough, but the policy remained the same: finish CTI school, get on the pref list, and wait.
The FAA did offer a ray of hope when they held AT-SAT testing. I was further delighted when I scored a 93% on the exam, which placed me into the Well Qualified bracket of applicants.
However, this December, FAA sent out the word that they had revised their hiring policies. As part of this revision CTI students would not get preferential hiring. The referral lists and the AT-SAT scores were destroyed. I could have a degree in Sociology or Basket Weaving as far as the FAA was concerned.
My CTI degree, which I only got because the bureaucracy said that was the best way in, was rendered worthless by the machinations of the bureaucracy.
Another revision included a Biographical Assessment, or Biographical Qualification, as part of the application. The BQ asked random questions, such as:
Compared to my peers on a scale of one to five, I am (1) much less aggressive, (2) less aggressive, (3) the same in aggressiveness, (4) more aggressive, (5) much more aggressive.
Many of these questions seemed very bizarre. The application and the BQ would be reviewed by a computerized algorithm (no human beings involved), then applicants would be processed further or rejected based on this 62-question battery.
I was rejected.
Despite my 93% score on the AT-SAT and my 3.7 GPA and my background in aviation, the FAA’s random 62-question battery rejected me. And it’s not just me. It seems that a huge number of CTI students who were “well qualified” by AT-SAT are being rejected by this automated application process. DOD controllers who already have control tower operator (CTO) certificates are being rejected. I have heard from active controllers that some controllers applied to their own jobs as a lark and were rejected by the quiz.
It is my opinion that the quiz is broken, and the FAA is using flawed methods to hire trainees. The process seems to be excluding otherwise well-qualified applicants on the basis of an unproven 62-question quiz. Some have suggested that the algorithm was incorrectly programmed. Others suggest that this is all part of the FAA’s Controller Workforce Plan, and that CTI students are being de-selected because the bulk of CTI students do not meet the demographics that the FAA wants to attract in order to add “depth and diversity (p.44)” to the workforce. Some may see this as an inflammatory suggestion, but I would not be shocked to learn that it was true.
Let me be clear, CTI school was never a guarantee of hire. But it was supposed to give CTI students an advantage. It was supposed to benefit us and the FAA by shortening training time and improving FAA Academy throughput. And with no warning, the FAA pulled the rug out from under us. Now, thousands of CTI students are jobless, with useless degrees and massive loads of student debt.
If I had known my degree would have been useless, or that FAA was going to offer a public listing and base hiring on a poorly designed 62-question quiz and not retain the pref list or AT-SAT scores, I would not have burdened myself with debt and gone to CTI school. The FAA has screwed a lot of CTI students hard, and they couldn’t care less.
I am sad and angry about all of this, but I am not terribly surprised. The FAA is an inscrutable and frequently baffling agency that seems to act on signals from planet Neptune.
I just wish I wasn’t left holding the bag with a worthless degree and 40 grand in debt. All I wanted was a chance to try. Thanks to the new process, I don’t even get that.