Eagle County tries to keep airport controllers | VailDaily.com

Eagle County tries to keep airport controllers

Chris Outcalt
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Eagle County, Colorado wants to give air traffic controllers at the airport a place to live or money for housing in order to keep them around longer than a season.

Lower pay compared to other airports and the high cost of living in the county has left officials dealing with a lot of turnover in the air traffic controller position at the Eagle County airport.

“As of the last few years the turnover has become a little bit more frequent,” said Chris Anderson, the airport’s terminal manager.

The county doesn’t hire the controllers ” who are in charge of coordinating the take off and landing of every plane at the airport. The tower gets its controllers from Serco Inc., which has a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration to staff the tower.

Tom Delgado started working as a controller at the airport at the end of December. April 21 will be his last day. One of the controllers Delgado works with is planning to leave next month, too, he said.

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“The salary just isn’t here,” Delgado said.

Delgado makes about $25 an hour and gets a $400 housing stipend from Serco. He has 27 years experience working for the aviation administration and said even the slowest towers on the Front Range pay almost double.

“This coming winter, all the people that are here are going to be gone,” Delgado said.

No matter how much experience a controller brings to Eagle County, it still takes about a season to really learn how to run the valley’s air space.

“Every air traffic controller is very qualified,” Anderson said. “But after a winter you’ve seen everything that can happen, it’s sort of a rookie year whether you have 20 years behind you or not.”

The county has proposed a retention program to try and keep people around for more than their rookie year at the county airport, said Commissioner Sara Fisher.

“We have had challenges this winter and last with keeping our air traffic controllers, ,” Fisher said. “Each airport is unique and you want to have the best qualified and longest term people you can.”

The county is waiting to hear whether Serco is interested in partnering to provide some kind of retention program. Fisher hopes they can figure out something that works.

“Having this kind of turnover is really detrimental because the learning period is substantial,” she said. “It clearly makes us feel compromised as far as the quality.”

Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or coutcalt@vaildaily.com.

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