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Lack of Contract Fuels Record Surge of Air Traffic Controller Retirements and Total Attrition - (10/22/2007)

Total Number of Experienced Controllers Nationally Reaches 15-Year Low 

WASHINGTON – A record number of air traffic controller retirements and total attrition in fiscal year 2007, fueled by outrage over the lack of a contract, soared past Federal Aviation Administration projections by 30 percent and has left the country with both a 15-year low in the number of fully certified controllers on the job and a glut of new hires – many with no air traffic control experience or education – that the FAA is failing to train either effectively or efficiently. 

There were 856 retirements in fiscal year 2007, representing 7.4 percent of the total experienced controller workforce. It’s the fourth straight year that the FAA has come up well short of accurately predicting retirements. In FY07, the FAA missed by 33 percent, which comes as no surprise to NATCA, which predicted a surge of retirements in response to the FAA’s imposition of work rules and pay cuts on Sept. 3, 2006. Air traffic controllers are enduring a 415th straight day without a contract and the situation promises to get worse, including more and longer flight delays, combined radar and tower control positions, and increased use of mandatory overtime which is already resulting in an exhausted, stressed out and burned out workforce. 

There are 11,256 fully trained and certified controllers working at the FAA’s 314 facilities. That’s a four percent decline from one year ago and the lowest total of experienced controllers since 1992 (10,696). 

“This is a problem entirely of the FAA’s making. It didn’t have to happen. We do not have a contract and that is taking a very serious toll on the controller workforce and the nation’s aviation system,” NATCA President Patrick Forrey said. “Only once in our nation’s history have we seen conditions in our air traffic control facilities that are as acrimonious, overworked, overstressed, demoralized and angry as we do today and that was in the period leading up to the 1981 PATCO strike. There is only one possible solution to this crisis: We must have a contract. Veteran controllers must have an incentive not to retire early at age 50 or before and to use the six-plus years of service they have left before mandatory retirement to keep the system running today and train tomorrow’s controllers without being burned out and driven to total exhaustion.” 

Of the 856 retirements in FY07, only 16 were mandatory (age 56), 1.8 percent of the total. 

Total controller attrition in FY07 was 1,558, nearly completely wiping out any net gains in total staffing made by the FAA’s hiring efforts. In addition to the aforementioned retirement total, there were 201 resignations, 126 removals, 10 deaths and a staggering, 365 promotions to FAA supervisory positions. The promotions exceeded FAA projections by nearly double, providing more proof that the lack of a contract fueled the attrition surge. Because of the FAA’s imposed work rules and pay bands, becoming an FAA supervisor is the only way a fully certified controller can earn a pay raise, receive cash bonuses, avoid mandatory overtime hours and shifts and count on regular days off. 

There are 3,618 trainees currently in the system. But NATCA’s survey of the 314 facilities indicates that approximately one-third of the trainees are not certified on any position and cannot work alone, without a fully trained controller (a “Certified Professional Controller”) alongside them. Additionally, many facilities now have more trainees on staff than the resources available to train them. For example, at Miami Center, there are 102 trainees, comprising 34 percent of the total staffing, above the FAA’s maximum desired ratio. Sixty-two of these trainees have no functional training thus far and the backlog created in the training process has forced them to wait up to 16 months after arriving at the facility to receive any real training. Because of these conditions, nine trainees have quit this year, including four in the past two weeks. 

According to the FAA’s own controller workforce plan, flight delays are going to be the result of this staffing shortage. The report states, “If the FAA is not able to adequately staff its air traffic control facilities, the system response will be observed in the area of system capacity – not system safety. Managers and supervisors are responsible for maintaining safety first and system efficiency second. Therefore, inadequate staffing levels will result in air traffic control system delays and delays in training.” 

FOR MORE INFORMATION, including complete staffing data and a full statement by NATCA President Patrick Forrey, please go to:


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