Air Traffic Controllers' Union Sees Staffing Squeeze in Major Markets

Stating that there are not enough trained and experienced personnel to safety handle the volume of traffic, the nation's air traffic controllers are declaring a staffing emergency in four key areas of the country with some of the busiest airspace in the world: Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Southern California.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is projecting that by Feb. 3, 500 controllers will have retired already, with 2,200 more controllers able to retire by year's end. There have been 357 retirements so far since Oct. 1, 2007, including 201 on Jan. 3 alone. Another 130 have told NATCA they intend to retire by Feb. 3 due to the lack of any incentive to stay on the job. The current trend, if it continues, will shatter the FAA's projection of 695 retirements this fiscal year and perhaps even the record of 856 retirements set in fiscal year 2007, union officials said.

"An already dangerous situation is about to get worse," said NATCA President Patrick Forrey. "An additional 2,200 experienced controllers will be able to retire by the end of this year, thinning the already-depleted ranks of the workforce at a time when the skies have never been more congested. The GAO already has stated that the risk of a catastrophic accident on our runways around the nation is high. Without an adequate amount of rested, well-trained controllers in towers and radar facilities, the risk of an aviation accident now includes the airspace as well as the ground."

Forrey called for the Federal Aviation Administration to act immediately to stem the loss of veteran controllers and bolster the workforces in those four locations. They are among the worst-staffed in the country and have suffered a disturbing rash of runway and airspace incidents in recent weeks and months, union officials claimed.

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