About 43 percent of the Valley’s 114 air traffic controllers will be eligible to retire by 2007 and Federal Aviation Administration officials say they are drawing up plans to address the diminishing work force.
The Valley’s impending retirements mirror a nationwide trend that will see about 7,100 of the nation’s 15,000 air traffic controllers reaching the government’s mandatory retirement age of 56 by 2012.
Warren J. Meehan, the FAA’s air traffic manager for Phoenix, said Wednesday that efforts to address retirements locally will coincide with those taken on a national level by FAA and Congressional leaders.
Meehan said managers will audit each of the country’s air traffic control facilities, assessing current staffing levels, the number of expected retirements as well as the region’s aviation activity to determine the number of new hires needed to be made over the coming years.
The audit will also be used to determine work force needs at various facilities and whether existing workers need to be shifted to other locations.
This winter, FAA officials will present those findings to Congress, which has ultimate funding authority over the FAA and, in turn, will control the number and amount of workers to be hired during the coming fiscal year.
Dave Stock is the Valley president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents air traffic controllers nationally.
Stock said both federal bodies need to take heed of an impending crisis and act quickly.
"The (FAA) has done a really bad job of preplanning. We need 1,000 controllers right now. It’s not enough, but it’s all the system can bear," Stock said.
There are two prime FAA control facilities in the Valley. The Phoenix Terminal Approach Control facility manages flights within the Valley’s air space and up to 40 miles away from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
There are 73 controllers in the unit, with 26 of those reaching retirement eligibility by 2007 while six are undergoing training, Meehan said.
Of the 41 controllers at Sky Harbor’s control tower, where crews manage arriving and departing flights within a 5-mile radius of the facility, about 23 will reach retirement eligibility by 2007, Meehan said.
Stock pointed out that the issue of bulk retirements took root in the 1980s when then-President Ronald Reagan fired and replaced the nation’s striking air traffic controllers.
"The agency has known this was going to happen for 23 years. When the strike happened, they hired a bunch of controllers all at the same time. And guess what? They’re all going to retire at the same time," Stock said.
Meehan said the FAA is also looking at upgrading and streamlining training procedures.