14-Mar-2013 Source: HAI
he FAA has imposed a hiring freeze to help blunt the sequester’s impact, but that threatens to disrupt the supply of new air traffic controllers needed to replace the thousands of workers eligible for retirement.
This does not bode well for the controller population and flying public, as more than 3,000 out of the 15,000 person workforce could turn in their retirement papers at any time.
The potential wave of retirements is almost exclusively due to the results of the air traffic controller strike of the early 1980s. Then-President Ronald Reagan declared the strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization union illegal, and fired nearly the entire 13,000-strong workforce. The subsequent staffing-up happened largely en masse — almost 9,000 replacements were hired in 1982 and 1983 alone — and many of those are now coming up for retirement.
It is also possible that the FAA may need to shut down the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City as a result of the cost savings the sequester requires. If that happens, then the point-of-entry training spot for new air traffic controllers will be shuttered, at least temporarily.
Robert Poole, founder of the Reason Foundation, said that instead of imposing a hiring freeze, the FAA in principle could limit the damage by ending overnight shifts at 100 so-called “zombie towers,” which Poole said do not meet the FAA’s minimum traffic standards for staffing overnight operations. He said the agency would also reduce controller staffing in places such as Pittsburgh and St. Louis, where former airline hub operations “have been removed but controller staffing has not been reduced in proportion.”