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NATCA Warns against Extending Air Traffic Controller Retirement Age A Dangerous Solution to Staffing Crisis - (9/13/2004)

WASHINGTON — In testimony on Tuesday, Sept. 14, before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association will warn against lifting the mandatory retirement age of 56 for air traffic controllers. Eugene R. Freedman, Esq., policy counsel for NATCA, will testify that extending retirement ages “is fraught with considerable problems of controller health, manpower distribution, and the general safety of America’s flying public.” Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration are considering lifting the mandatory retirement age in order to deal with a worsening shortage of air traffic controllers.

Freedman strongly urged the FAA to adopt real solutions for the controller shortage by hiring more controllers. He said, “The risks are simply too great to try to find dangerous shortcuts.”

Congress recently directed the FAA to adopt the rules for issuing waivers to the mandatory retirement age. However, according to Freedman, recent NATCA and FAA studies indicate that extending controllers’ careers will not be enough to compensate for a huge employment loss.

Freedman said, “Current studies concur with studies since the late 1960’s warning that high stress levels, health complications and declining cognitive abilities make extending these careers extremely dangerous.” Freedman referred to several studies indicating that controllers are predisposed to health complications and a decline in cognitive abilities, making an extended retirement age a dangerous mistake.

Flight traffic this summer is expected to surpass pre-September 11th levels, and the Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta has announced goals of increasing flight capacity threefold before the end of the decade. To confront the crisis, NATCA has asked Congress to authorize the hiring of an additional 1,000 new controllers each year for the next three years. As thousands of air traffic controllers prepare for retirement, staffing shortages in ATC facilities all over the country leave the world’s safest and most effective airspace system in crisis. The FAA expects staffing shortages to reach 50 percent over the next 10 years. According to Freedman, the safety of the flying public and the integrity of the entire system will depend on a new generation of capable controllers, not the ability to hold onto the ones we already have.

NATCA represents over 15,000 air traffic controllers in the FAA, the Department of Defense and the private sector, as well as representing over 5,000 other safety related professionals at the FAA. For more information about NATCA, the U.S. air traffic control system, and the looming staffing crisis, visit www.natca.org.

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