Louisiana control tower forced to relinquish airspace due to short staffing


LAKE CHARLES, LA (September 19, 2008) – Air traffic controllers at Lake Charles Tower are not only suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Ike but are also bearing the brunt of a severe staffing shortage. Flight operations into Lake Charles have tripled due to the high amount of helicopter traffic in and out of the area – displaced from Southeast Texas and other areas impacted by Hurricane Ike.

While the facility’s normal operating hours are from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., turning over the airspace to Houston Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) during off hours, the tower was forced to relinquish its airspace early Wednesday due to short staffing.

After one controller was moved off the evening shift to cover a schedule shortage in the morning, only two controllers and a supervisor were left to work in the evening. When the supervisor on the evening shift took leave due to a medical emergency, the tower had to relinquish the airspace early at 5:45 p.m.

Shortly before the FAA imposed work rules on the nation’s controller workforce in September 2006, the facility was operating with 14 certified professional controllers (CPCs). Now, the six controllers left are working six-day weeks and are currently outnumbered by the facility’s seven trainees, none of whom are close to reaching their full certification. With one CPC currently eligible to retire and another due to transfer in January, the facility will be even more short staffed.

Said NATCA Lake Charles Facility representative Oscar Carrizales, “We have enough trouble training the new hires that we have now; I don’t know what we’ll do when we get more. Not only are we set to lose one third of our veteran controller staff, which is bad enough, but our operations have tripled. Our trainees outnumber CPCs, and that’s a problem.”