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FAA ‘Re-Baselines’ Controller Retirement Projections for Second Time in Four Months; New FY07 Total Expected to Reach 800 - (6/26/2007)

WASHINGTON – For the second time in four months, the Federal Aviation Administration has been forced to raise its air traffic controller retirement projections for the current 2007 fiscal year, an acknowledgement of the agency’s continuing inability to get a handle on the alarming rate of retirements that rose after the FAA imposed work and pay rules on controllers against their will last September. 

One year ago, in June 2006, the FAA published the second version of its controller workforce plan that estimated 643 controllers would retire in FY07, which runs from Oct. 1, 2006 to Sept. 30, 2007. But it became clear early last fall that number would be eclipsed due to the imposed work rules that even the Department of Transportation Inspector General said caused a spike in the number of retirements. The FAA then raised its FY07 retirement projection to 700 in its third edition of the workforce plan, released in early March (located on Page 21 of the report). 

But now the agency has raised its FY07 retirement projection again, this time to 800. The FAA confirmed this new total recently to Cleveland Plain-Dealer reporter Michael Sangiacomo, who was researching the controller understaffing and retirement issue for a story that appeared in this morning’s paper. That represents a 24 percent increase over the initial projection offered last year and is in line with the rate of failure the FAA has displayed for over three years in not being able to accurately address the staffing crisis. 

In fiscal years 2004, 2005 and 2006 combined, the FAA projected 1137 controller retirements. But the actual total that retired was 1,410, according to agency figures; a 24 percent increase over what the FAA anticipated. 

Given the opportunity to keep pace with this wave of long expected and predicted controller retirements, the FAA in fiscal year 2004 instead hired just 13 controller trainees. Since it takes up to three years for a new hire to complete training, a robust hiring plan in ’04 would have helped replenish the controller ranks this year in time to ease what has turned out to be a record period of flight delays. While the FAA has publicly stated it plans to hire 1,400 recruits by the end of this fiscal year, a large number will likely never become controllers and those that do will need 2-3 years to fully train, making them unable to help the staffing crisis until 2009 at the earliest.

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