ANCHORAGE - Many airports across the country are struggling with critically low numbers of air traffic controllers, a recent audit by the US Department of Transportation has found. The audit found that 52 percent of staff members at the Anchorage Tower were trainees in October of 2014.
The Federal Aviation Administration says the numbers provided in the audit are now old. In a statement to Channel 2, the FAA said the Anchorage tower currently has the number of controllers it needs.
"We have 22 controllers in the Anchorage Tower. Our authorized staffing level is in the range of 21 to 26 so we are right about where we should be for the year," FAA spokesperson Lynn Lunsford told Channel 2.
Staffing at the Anchorage Tower is critical as controllers handle air traffic from Lake Hood and Ted Stevens International Airport. Even private pilots have to call into the tower frequently while flying over the busy skies above Anchorage.
"At least three times a month I find an instant where I'm calling back to the tower to get clearance or get a change of frequency," said private pilot Aimee Eckert.
Lunsford says the FAA has only one specific controller for Lake Hood when there is high plane traffic.
“FAA routinely combines the Lake Hood and Stevens tower positions during winter, when traffic is significantly slower on Lake Hood. The two positions are operated separately during the busy season to accommodate the high volume of floatplane traffic on the lake,” Lunsford said.
Eckert feels this level of staffing is not enough.
“I want people to be aware that there are students flying in and out. We could usually the extra help in controlling that airspace.” Eckert said.
While controlling dual air spaces might be unique to the Anchorage Tower, UAA Professor Sharon Larue says low staffing could be attributed to changes in the hiring process in late 2013 which made about 3,000 students ineligible to become air traffic controllers.
"We had a list of people they were eligible, they chose not to use them. Now there seems to be shortages,” Larue said.
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