FAA Offers Waivers to Aging Controllers; Mandatory Retirement Debate Renewed

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

FAA Offers Waivers to Aging Controllers; Mandatory Retirement Debate Renewed


Byline: William Glanz, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Federal Aviation Administration is allowing some air traffic controllers to continue working beyond retirement age to guard against a wave of retirements that threatens to create a labor shortage.

A federal law in place since 1972 requires controllers hired before that date to step down when they reach 56. But a voluntary program that began April 8 lets them apply for waivers to continue working for up to five more years.

Allowing some to work beyond the mandatory retirement age is likely to renew a debate over whether it's safe to let aging controllers guide planes through the skies.

The FAA argues it is safe to let exceptional controllers remain in the work force.

"There's a strict application and assessment process based on safety. If an exceptional controller applies for a waiver, there's no good reason not to allow them to work past age 56 if they're still sharp and handle planes safely," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said.

But the union representing controllers has warned against letting them postpone retirement and says the policy shift could make flying less safe. Older controllers have a slower response time than younger workers, said Ruth Marlin, executive vice president at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents the nation's 14,525 federal controllers.

"The FAA says this could help with the staffing constraints. Changing the rule is a matter of expedience, and that concerns us," Ms. Marlin said.

For many years, the FAA and the union agreed. During hearings in 1971, federal officials and air traffic controllers argued that stress associated with the job and evidence that controllers are less proficient in their 40s and 50s because motor skills decline made mandatory retirement at 56 prudent.

Federal officials have changed their minds since those hearings 34 years ago, and a new report published this month by a researcher at the FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City calls prior research into question.

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FAA Offers Waivers to Aging Controllers; Mandatory Retirement Debate Renewed
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