President Joe Biden’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is striving to enlist a diverse workforce through targeting certain demographics even as its air traffic control system is facing shortages and safety challenges.
The FAA has several diversity hiring initiatives, including for black people, Hispanic people, disabled people and women, according to its website. At the same time, air traffic control is experiencing numerous issues including staffing shortages, mistakes, technological challenges and close call incidents.
“We’re certainly critical of the FAA’s efforts—in the past and in the present—to rely on race as a factor in hiring air traffic controllers,” Mountain States Legal Foundation General Counsel William Trachman told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Obviously we are talking about a line of work where merit and the need for skill are a matter of life and death. No one cares about the race of the air traffic controller guiding in their flight.”
“The FAA is working to create a robust pipeline of skilled and diverse professionals coming into the aviation workforce,” an FAA spokesperson told the DCNF. “We implement annual hiring campaigns, specifically the #BeATC campaign, to inspire people to join the controller workforce. We also partner with organizations like Women in Aviation International, Dreams Soar, and the National Air and Space Museum to provide unique learning opportunities to youth from diverse backgrounds.”
Mountain States Legal Foundation sued on behalf of plaintiff Andrew Brigida and over 2,000 other air traffic controller applicants who had test scores invalidated due to former President Barack Obama’s 2015 FAA diversity policy intended to hire more minorities. The lawsuit became class-action certified in 2022.
“Our Brigida matter is a certified class action designed to deter the federal government from using ‘diversity’ as an excuse for race discrimination,” Trachman told the DCNF. “There is never a good time for the government to embark on any employment program where race matters. And it’s especially obvious that the courts are willing to step in on these issues, after the affirmative action cases this year.”
The Supreme Court effectively ruled that the use of affirmative action race-based admissions policies in colleges is unconstitutional in June.
The FAA’s Hispanic Employment Program includes establishing a strategy to “provide input for agency-wide affirmative action plans,” according to its website.
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has established a goal of hiring employees with severe disabilities at a rate of 3% per fiscal year, according to the FAA’s People with Disabilities Program website. These disabilities include total deafness, blindness, missing limbs, paralysis, epilepsy and dwarfism.
“It’s imperative that the FAA focus on safety rather than politics, and that’s why we have to employ the most qualified people there,” Republican North Carolina Sen. Ted Budd told the DCNF. “The number one priority at the U.S. Department of Transportation is to look out for the safety of the traveling public. Unfortunately, on this issue, Secretary Buttigieg has been missing in action. When it comes to addressing the numerous transportation safety challenges facing our country, he has been derelict in his duty because his priorities are all wrong. The American people deserve better.”
Close calls for plane collisions have occurred multiple times per week in 2023 on average, according to The New York Times. The numerous near-miss incidents prompted the FAA to launch a “call to action” in February, according to The Washington Post.
The United States is facing a severe staffing shortage as 99% of its air traffic control facilities are operating with insufficient personnel, the NYT reported. Air traffic controllers are fatigued and some are self-medicating with alcohol and sleeping pills, leading to additional mistakes.
The FAA also has a page dedicated to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) on its website. Its DEIA strategy is designed to “help recruit, retain, develop, and promote traditionally underrepresented groups,” according to its website.
“While most of America is in favor of fixing airline delays and cancellations, President Biden and his Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, are focused on advancing racist and divisive DEI agendas,” Republican Utah Rep. Burgess Owens told the DCNF. “With over 3,000 unfilled positions nationwide, we are experiencing a severe air traffic controller staffing crisis, which is affecting the reliability of air travel across the country.”
The FAA is hiring 1,500 new air traffic controllers in 2023 and 1,800 in 2024, Buttigieg said, according to CNN.
“The cult of diversity has become a death cult,” Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather Mac Donald told the DCNF. “The only consideration for hiring air traffic controllers and pilots should be their technical competence in flying and routing planes.”
The Senate Commerce Committee, which Budd serves on, is currently negotiating on an FAA reauthorization bill to give the agency long-term funding.
“Safety is the qualification, full stop,” a Department of Transportation spokesperson told the DCNF. “Every FAA-certified air traffic controller has gone through months of screening and training at an FAA academy, and that is before another 18-24 months of training to learn specific regions and airspaces. There is a well-known national shortage of air traffic controllers and the FAA has ramped up outreach to ensure no talent is left on the table.”
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