Letter from a CTI student

Edit: I’ve already gotten a few of the “Don’t think you’re better than OTS” comments. There are a lot of people who resent CTI students for being educated; maybe they feel threatened by people with degrees, or maybe a few too-arrogant CTI grads spoiled the reputation for the rest of us. Regardless, I don’t think that being a CTI grad makes me better than an OTS controller; ultimately the test of whether someone can be a controller comes during the training process.

That said, doesn’t it make sense to hire the pre qualified people who have already passed the ATSAT instead of random applicants with no aviation background? If FAA was going to destroy the benefits of the CTI program, why did they keep marketing it? Anyway, read on.

As you know, I have been let down pretty hard by the FAA’s inexplicable changes to their hiring policies.

I would like to think there’s a logical reason for what they have done. But when you have a pool of pre-screened, pre-trained applicants who have taken and scored well on the ATSAT, and you throw those people aside in favor of applicants from the general public…it smells fishy.

Not one to take such a massive slap in the face laying down, I’ve decided to write to my congressional representatives, and possibly go to the media. I have nothing to lose, and a big part of me really enjoys ruffling feathers, so…may as well run with what I’ve got.

For any other disgruntled former CTI students who were once told they were well-qualified before being told to piss off, feel free to take this letter and modify it for your own needs. If I get an answer from my rep I’ll be sure to share it with you here.

Dear (Representative),

I am writing to you to regarding recent changes to the FAA hiring policy for air traffic controllers. These changes remove qualified air traffic control applicants from selection, leaving less qualified applicants to fill positions in our nation’s control towers and radar centers.

I have two points to bring to your attention. First, the FAA’s changes to hiring pose a potential danger to the traveling public by hiring from a less qualified pool of applicants; second, the FAA’s actions have unjustly caused massive financial damage to thousands of ATC-CTI students.

Several years ago, the FAA instituted the Air Traffic Control College Training Initiative (ATC-CTI) program in order to pre-train and pre-screen applicants for air traffic control positions. ATC-CTI students were told they would be placed on a referral list and given preference over applicants from the general public for air traffic control trainee positions. Hiring preference would be based on GPA and scores on the Air Traffic Selection and Training exam, AT-SAT.

In December 2013, the FAA unexpectedly announced that it would no longer be using the referral list and that all previous applicant data, including AT-SAT scores, would be destroyed. Additionally, FAA would not be granting any preference to CTI students.  They would instead hire many controller trainees from the public at large. Many of these trainees have no background in aviation or air traffic control.

I find it difficult to believe that hiring from the general public is a better strategy for obtaining qualified controllers than hiring from a pool of students with degrees and training specific to air traffic control. Many of these students, myself included, have tested as “Well Qualified” on the AT-SAT. I think you would agree that this policy change is not sensible, and that the hiring of less-qualified individuals has the potential to harm the traveling public.

Furthermore, many thousands of ATC-CTI students are now left drowning in student debt holding worthless degrees. These students were told by the FAA that enrolling in CTI school was the best path to earn a training slot as an air-traffic controller, only to be told later that the FAA had changed their minds. The FAA’s inexplicable change in hiring policy has caused me and countless others like me great financial and personal harm.

I have two suggestions to rectify this situation.

First, Congress must investigate the FAA’s hiring practices. Only the most qualified individuals should staff our nation’s control towers and radar centers. There is speculation that FAA’s Office of Human Resources made these changes in order to massage their demographics by hiring more women and minorities, as CTI students and air traffic controllers in general are largely male and white. I maintain that race and gender should not be factors in the hiring of air traffic controllers.

Second, Congress should enact legislation to discharge CTI students from the financial burden of their student loans at the expense of the FAA. The FAA, an arm of the federal government, lied outright to CTI students about the value of their degrees. Their inexplicable policy changes leave us holding worthless degrees and burdened with unaffordable student loans. The FAA needs to be held accountable for their dishonesty and the harm it has caused many American college students.

I sincerely hope that you will look into this matter. If I may be of any assistance to you in any way, please feel free to contact me. Thank you for your time and for your service.

I know, I know. Many controllers working now were hired off the street, and they do exceptional work. This is not a slander against them, but rather an expression of frustration that the FAA told us to get a degree to maximize our chances and minimize their training costs, then turned around and slapped us in the face. And I think something nefarious is going on in the OHR; I think the FAA is playing with fire to try and massage their demographics. The letter is still a work in progress, but maybe it will get me somewhere. We shall see.

Screwed by the FAA

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.