The New O'Hare Tower
The Same Old Problems
Craig Burzych

ON October 10th 1996 the "new" O'Hare Tower is scheduled to open along with the relocation of O'Hare TRACON to Elgin, Illinois.

So far everything is going as planned the new tower will be 100% staffed and the equipment is all on schedule. NOT!!! I guess that really depends on who you talk to. In a recent interview with "McNeal-Leher News Hour," FAA management stated that the present O'Hare tower facility is 100% staffed, and that the new facility will be the same. The equipment is all on schedule and is being installed for an on-time opening of the new facility.

Hhmmm. Let's break this down. The authorized staffing level for the present day tower is 54 FPL (full-performance level) controllers. Presently, we have 42 FPL's. And out of those 42 FPL's, two are on one year details in staff positions. They work 16 hours of live traffic per month to maintain their currency. When they complete those details, they will be replaced by two other FPL's. We also have two FPL's that are transferring from the facility the first is scheduled to leave December 4th, 1995 and the second in early spring of 1996. We are down to 38. Another controller just recently bid and was accepted by the TRACON and is awaiting a transfer date. A lady controller will have a new baby next summer, and understandably plans to take some time off. That means we are down to 36 or 37 FPL's. That equates to about a 69% staffing level.

What about the trainees? We have 12 on board now make that 11, one terminated his own training just last week because he decided it wasn't for him. He would have made it too, but stuff happens. O'Hare tower has had a 41% failure rate amongst trainees over the past two years. That means we can only expect 6 to 7 of these new bodies to complete the program. Only one of the remaining 11 trainees is training on the local control position, the last position to certify on. It is highly unlikely that the others will progress fast enough to certify by the October 10 date. 68% staffing.

Everyone agrees that the new tower will require more controllers for two reasons. The "old way" of dropping a plastic strip holder down the tube to the radar room below is gone. Elgin, Illinois is 45 miles west of O'Hare. The information for each departure must now be transferred electronically, by using a keyboard. Prototype 1 called for 5 or 6 different keyboard functions per departure!! Even if it gets down to 1 or 2 functions, the tower controller cannot do it himself too much heads down time. Each local controller will need an assistant to enter that data as he clears aircraft for takeoff and keeps his eyes out the windows where they belong.

The tower cab will be the largest in the world 1015 square feet. So big that a controller on one side of the tower will not be able to see taxiways on the other side. A third ground controller will be needed to work those airplanes in the blind spots. At a minimum, that comes out to 3 extra controllers per shift. Using the FAA's own formula and applying those numbers, we should be authorized 74 FPL controllers for the new facility. Let's see 37 FPL's, 74 needed we'll be at 50% staffing on opening day or 58% if all seven of those new guys (and girls) get certified.

The good news? There is a good chance that opening day will be delayed. The Project Equipment Analysis Report for September showed 9 out of 19 equipment items categorized as "red." Red indicates a delay in the delivery of electronics equipment.

And what if the roof caves in like it did in Denver? We'll need people to shovel snow too. It's going to be a long couple of years unless you hate vacations and like overtime!

Relaxation Technique

At least two times a day, when you're completely alone, take one minute out of your busy schedule. Hold your object in both hands, take a slow, deep breath and think of all the good associations you have with this thing. Rub it gently with first one hand and then the other. If you're really alone, feel free to smile. At the end of one minute (more or less), put your object away and go back to your work. You'll feel just a little bit better, after all, that's what we're after, isn't it? From CMD Review Summer 1991

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