Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio December
By Jerome Greer Chandler
THE CONTROL CRUNCH
Will retirements from the tower lead to more slowdowns in
According to the Federal Aviation
Administration, the annual number of flights in the United States
will soar from 32.6 million in 1998 to 40.6 million in 2010. This
raises a sobering consideration: Will there be enough controllers
to handle the workload?
A survey conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based National Air
Traffic Controllers Association found the association's current
members are about to start retiring in droves. "If there aren't
enough controllers to work the airplanes, we will have to slow
traffic down," says survey author Ruth Marlin. "This at a time when
frequent flyers already are complaining about delays." Marlin, a
NATCA liaison to the FAA and a licensed controller, predicts
retirement will "dramatically increase until 2007, when it peaks at
8.4 percent of the work force, or 1,260 controllers." By 2010, she
says, cumulative retirements will exceed 50 percent of the work
Why the crunch? Flyers traveling since the early 1980s might
remember the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.
When PATCO went on strike in 1981, President Reagan fired the bulk
of the nation's air traffic controllers, claiming their job action
was illegal. In the past 20 years, the system slowly has rebuilt
itself to where, according to the FAA, there are 15,093 controllers
overseeing the nation's airways.
The problem is most of those people were hired during the
immediate post-PATCO period, and now they're getting ready to hang
it up. "The vast majority will retire in a similarly short period,"
says Marlin. The profession is about to experience the aftershock
of the PATCO fiasco.
The FAA begs to differ. "There's a difference between
controllers eligible to retire and those who actually retire," says
spokesperson William Shumann. "We don't see a crisis."
NATCA does, but it says the crisis will affect efficiency and
service, not safety. "Air traffic controllers will do what is
necessary to maintain safety," even if it means slowing down an
already sluggish system, Marlin contends.
Hasn't the FAA taken into account the baby boom-like
consequences of the retirement of post-PATCO hires? NATCA thinks
not. A 1997 General Accounting Office report said the FAA's
projected retirement rates were based on the average number of
retirements for the previous three years and the projected number
for the next three. Marlin calls that short-sighted. The GAO also
questioned why the FAA failed to maintain records to see if those
projections were valid. This methodology led to the assumption that
because attrition rates were relatively constant, hiring rates
would remain relatively constant.
Shumann says, "We plan to hire based on our historical
experience. We don't go out and hire a greatly increased number of
controllers in one year and fan them out across the country."
NATCA maintains there simply are not enough "full
performance-level" controllers who can work unsupervised to bridge
the impending gap. The FAA counters that it plans to use
compensation to keep experienced controllers working longer.
Retirement pay is based on a person's final three years of service,
so "there's a financial incentive for an individual to stay working
as long as he can," says Shumann.
But that incentive is diluted by controllers' working
conditions, NATCA hints. In the survey, "many [controllers]
indicated a plan to retire as soon as eligible because of poor
labor-management relations," says Marlin. She says controllers have
communicated their concerns directly to FAA administrator Jane
Marlin adds, "I did this survey to give them hard information
that says, 'Let's take care of it now.'"
Back to Current Issue indexM&C
| Events Calendar
| Incentive News
| Meetings Market
| CVB Links
| Reader Survey
| Hot Dates
| Contact M&C