This is the accessible text file for GAO report number GAO-02-591 
entitled 'Air Traffic Control: FAA Needs to Better Prepare for 
Impending Wave of Controller Attrition' which was released on June 18, 
2002.



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Report to the Chairman and Ranking Democratic Member of the 

Subcommittee on Aviation, House Committee on Transportation and 

Infrastructure:



June 2002:



AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL:



FAA Needs to Better Prepare for Impending Wave of Controller Attrition:



GAO-02-591:



Comments:



Letter:



Executive Summary:



Purpose:



Background:



Results in Brief:



Principal Findings:



Recommendations for Executive Action:



Agency Comments and GAO’s Evaluation:



Chapter 1: Introduction:



Air Traffic Controllers’ Responsibilities Vary by Facility and

Position:



Staffing Levels Negotiated between FAA and Controllers’ Union:



Special Requirements Affect the Hiring and Retirement of Air Traffic 

Controllers:



FAA Relies on a Variety of Sources for Air Traffic Controller 

Candidates:



Objectives, Scope, and Methodology:



Chapter 2: FAA Is Facing Increased Controller Hiring because of 

Higher Staffing Levels and Growing Attrition:



FAA Estimates It Will Need to Increase Controller Staffing Levels and 

Will Increasingly Lose Many Controller Specialists:



GAO’s Analysis Indicates that Sizable Controller Attrition Is 

Likely:



Chapter 3: FAA Needs a More Comprehensive Workforce Plan for Air 

Traffic Controllers:



FAA’s Hiring Process Does Not Adequately Ensure that Qualified 

Controllers Will Be Available When Necessary:



FAA Developed Screening Test to Help Identify Potential Candidates Most 

Likely to Succeed:



Challenges Exist in Addressing Academy and On-the-Job Training 

Resources and Equipment Needs:



Exemptions to the Age 56 Separation Provision Raise Safety and Equity 

Concerns:



Conclusions:



Recommendations for Executive Action:



Agency Comments and GAO’s Evaluation:



Appendixes:



Appendix I: Potential Impacts of Propsed Changes to Increase Air 

Traffic Control Annuity Calculations:



Proposed Bill Would Increase Annuities:



Proposed Bill Would Create Financial Impacts:



Appendix II: Air Traffic Controller Schools:



Appendix III: Retirement Eligibility Methodology and Analysis:



Appendix IV: Methodology for Computer Simulation:



Analysis of Separation Trends:



Estimation Methodology of Future FAA Controller Separations:



Limitations:



Appendix V: Methodology for GAO’s Survey of Air Traffic Controllers’

Retirement and Attrition Plans:



Study Population:



Sample Design:



Survey Development:



Survey Administration:



Estimates:



Sampling Error:



Nonsampling Error:



Appendix VI: GAO Survey of Air Traffic Controllers:



Appendix VII: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgements:



GAO Contacts:



Staff Acknowledgments:



Tables:



Table 1: Numbers and Types of Air Traffic Controllers:



Table 2: Retirement Eligibility Requirements for Controllers:



Table 3: FAA’s Controller Specialist Staffing Needs through 2010, by 

Fiscal Year:



Table 4: FAA’s 10-year Estimate of Controller Specialist Losses, by 

Fiscal Year:



Table 5: Sources of New Controllers, Fiscal Years 1997-2001:



Table 6: Current and Proposed Annuity Calculations:



Table 7: Retirement Annuity Calculations under Current CSRS and S. 871:



Table 8: Current Capacities of Air Traffic Controller Schools, as of 

November 2001:



Table 9: Survey Sample Size and Disposition:



Figures:



Figure 1: Air Traffic Control System:



Figure 2: Regional Controller Specialist Allocations, Fiscal Year 2001:



Figure 3: Air Traffic Controllers Becoming Eligible for Retirement in 

Each Fiscal Year:



Figure 4: Past and Simulated Air Traffic Controller Attrition, by 
Fiscal 

Year:



Figure 5: Survey Estimates: Past and Estimated Air Traffic Controller 

Attrition:



Figure 6: Past and Projected Retirement Eligibility for Supervisory Air 

Traffic Controllers:



Figure 7: Survey Estimates: Past and Estimated Air Traffic Controller 

Attrition for Supervisory Air Traffic Controllers:



Figure 8: Controllers Becoming Eligible for Retirement by Fiscal Year 

for En Route Centers, Ten Busiest Towers, and Ten Busiest TRACONs:



Figure 9: Locations of Air Traffic Controller Schools:



Abbreviations:



ATCS: Air Traffic Control Specialists:



CPMIS: Consolidated Personnel Management Information System:



CSRS: Civil Service Retirement System:



DOD: Department of Defense:



DOT: Department of Transportation:



FAA: Federal Aviation Administration:



FERS: Federal Employee Retirement System:



GAO: General Accounting Office:



NATCA: National Air Traffic Controllers Association:



TRACON: Terminal Radar Approach Control:



OPM: Office of Personnel Management:



Letter:



June 14, 2002:



The Honorable John L. Mica

Chairman, Subcommittee on Aviation

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

House of Representatives:



The Honorable William O. Lipinski

Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Aviation

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

House of Representatives:



In response to your request, this report identifies potential scenarios 

for future air traffic controller attrition and FAA’s plans for dealing 

with such attrition. This report contains recommendations to the 

Secretary of Transportation.



Unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we plan no further 

distribution of this report until 30 days from the date of this letter. 

At that time, we will send copies to interested congressional 

committees; the Secretary of Transportation; the Administrator, Federal 

Aviation Administration; the Secretary of the Air Force; the Secretary 

of the Army; the Secretary of the Navy; the Director, Office of 

Management and Budget; and the Director, Office of Personnel 

Management. We will also make copies available to others upon request.



Please call me at (202) 512-3650 if you or your staff have any 

questions concerning this report. Major contributors to this report are 

listed in appendix VII.



Signed by:



Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D.

Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues:



[End of section]



Executive Summary:



Purpose:



The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for managing 

the nation’s air transportation system so that the 200,000 aircraft 

taking off and landing each day can safely and efficiently carry more 

than 700 million passengers per year. Because of the significant hiring 

in the early 1980s to replace strikers who had been fired, many 

thousands of FAA’s controllers will soon become eligible to retire, 

potentially leaving FAA with too few fully trained controllers.



Because of these concerns, the chairman and ranking democratic member 

of the Subcommittee on Aviation, House Committee on Transportation and 

Infrastructure, asked GAO to (1) identify likely future attrition 

scenarios for FAA’s controller workforce and (2) examine FAA’s strategy 

for responding to its short-and long-term staffing needs, including how 

it plans to address the challenges it may face.



To identify likely future attrition scenarios, we (1) reviewed FAA’s 

10-year hiring plan and associated attrition forecasts for 

approximately 15,000 controller specialists who actively control and 

separate traffic in the air and on the ground; (2) analyzed FAA’s 

workforce database to determine when the current controllers (those at 

FAA as of June 30, 2001) would become eligible to retire; (3) developed 

a computer model to predict future attrition based on historic levels; 

and (4) developed and administered a survey to a statistically 

representative sample of controllers so as to obtain information on 

when they might leave FAA.[Footnote 1] GAO’s analysis covers over 

20,000 controllers--the 15,000 controller specialists whom FAA 

analyzed, plus about 5,000 controllers who supervise and manage the air 

traffic control system. GAO included the additional personnel because 

attrition from these positions is generally filled from the controller 

specialist ranks and, thus, omitting them would understate potential 

attrition among all controllers. In addition, among other things, we 

contacted all FAA regional offices, the 14 colleges or universities 

that have controller training programs, and the branches of the 

military so as to identify and discuss various aspects of workforce 

planning for air traffic controllers.



Background:



In 1981, thousands of air traffic controllers who participated in a 

nationwide strike were fired and barred by a presidential directive 

from reemployment with FAA as air traffic controllers. As a result of 

the strike, FAA was forced to hire, over a 3 to 4 year period, 

thousands of new air traffic controllers and to rebuild its controller 

workforce.



FAA currently employs over 20,000 employees who manage the air traffic 

control system. Most of these (about 15,000) are air traffic control 

specialists who are responsible for controlling the take-off, landing, 

and ground movement of planes. In addition, there are traffic 

management coordinators (about 670), who control the flow of air 

traffic; front-line supervisors (about 1,900), who work in various 

facilities around the country; and managers or staff (about 2,370), who 

oversee and administer the air traffic control program. Under a 1998 

collective bargaining agreement with the National Air Traffic 

Controllers Association (NATCA), the union that represents the air 

traffic control specialists, controller specialist staffing levels were 

set at 15,000 for fiscal years 1999 through 2001 and are authorized to 

grow to 15,606 controllers by the end of fiscal year 2003.



FAA hires new air traffic controller candidates from several different 

sources. Most candidates with no prior experience come from one of 14 

post-secondary educational institutions that train new controllers for 

FAA. Once hired by FAA, most of these candidates attend a 12-week 

training program at FAA’s academy in Oklahoma City and receive an 

average of 2 to 4 years of on-the-job training at field facilities to 

become certified professional controllers. Most candidates with prior 

experience come from either the Department of Defense or the pool of 

fired controllers who were allowed to return to FAA beginning in 1993.



Air traffic controllers are covered under either the Civil Service 

Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employee Retirement System 

(FERS), depending upon when they were hired by FAA. Under either 

retirement program, controllers are subject to special requirements 

that allow them to retire at an earlier age and with fewer years of 

service than most federal employees. In addition, Congress directed 

that air traffic controllers are subject to mandatory separation from 

controlling live air traffic at age 56 because of safety concerns, but 

there are exemptions to this requirement.[Footnote 2]



Results in Brief:



Although the exact number and timing of the controllers’ departures is 

impossible to determine, attrition scenarios developed by both FAA and 

GAO indicate that the total attrition will grow substantially in the 

short and long terms. As a result, FAA will likely need to hire 

thousands of air traffic controllers in the next decade to meet 

increasing traffic demands and to address the anticipated attrition of 

experienced controllers, predominately because of retirement. For 

example, the results of GAO’s survey of controllers indicate that 

approximately 5,000 controllers may leave in the next 5 years, a figure 

that is more than two times higher than that for the past 5 years. GAO 

also found that the potential for retirement among frontline 

supervisors and controllers at some of FAA’s busiest facilities is 

high.



FAA has not developed a comprehensive human capital workforce strategy 

to address its impending controller needs. Rather, FAA’s strategy for 

replacing controllers is generally to hire new controllers only when 

current, experienced controllers leave. GAO’s review identified 

challenges that FAA will face in trying to ensure that well-qualified 

new controllers are available when needed. For example, FAA’s hiring 

process does not adequately take into account the potential increases 

in future hiring and the time necessary to fully train replacements. In 

addition, there is uncertainty about the ability of FAA’s new aptitude 

test to identify the best controller candidates. Further, FAA has not 

addressed the resources that may be needed at its training academy and 

for providing on-the-job training at its control facilities in order to 

handle the large influx of new controllers and to ensure that FAA’s 

controller workforce will continue to have the knowledge, skills, and 

abilities necessary to perform its critical mission. Finally, 

exemptions to the age-56 separation rules raise safety and equity 

issues that FAA has not assessed.



GAO recently published a model of human capital management that 

highlights the critical success factors FAA can use to manage its human 

capital more strategically to accomplish its mission.[Footnote 3] Along 

these lines, GAO makes recommendations intended to help FAA meet its 

impending need to hire and train thousands of air traffic controllers. 

In commenting on a draft of this report, senior FAA officials indicated 

that the report was generally accurate. The officials also commented 

that they would look at GAO’s human capital management model to 

determine its applicability to air traffic controller specialist 

staffing, and that FAA would consider GAO’s recommendations in its 

planning.



Principal Findings:



FAA Will Likely Be Faced with Hiring Increasing Numbers of Controllers:



FAA will likely need to hire increasing numbers of controllers over the 

next decade to meet increasing traffic demands and to address the 

anticipated attrition of experienced controllers. FAA estimates that by 

2010, it will need about 2,000 more controllers than are presently 

employed to handle future increases in air traffic. In addition, many 

air traffic controllers currently employed by FAA will likely leave 

their positions within the next decade. FAA estimates that by 2010, 

about 7,000 controller specialists, nearly 50 percent of those 

currently employed, will leave. The largest part of this exodus will 

come from retirements, with FAA estimating that it will experience 

retirements of controller specialists at a level three times higher 

than that experienced over the 5-year period from 1996 through 2000. 

GAO analyzed aspects of FAA’s controller workforce in addition to 

controller specialists and found that even more controllers might soon 

leave their current positions than FAA estimates. For example, GAO’s 

analysis of personnel data for over 20,000 of FAA’s controllers shows a 

scenario where about 2,500 of FAA’s current controllers were eligible 

to retire as of September 30, 2001, and nearly 14,000 controllers (or 

70 percent of the current controllers) will become eligible to retire 

by the end of fiscal year 2011. In addition, GAO’s model for potential 

controller attrition indicates that, on average, about 600 to 800 

controllers will leave FAA employment, primarily though retirement, in 

each of the next 10 years. Further, results from GAO’s survey of air 

traffic controllers indicated that many controllers are currently 

planning on leaving (predominately because of retirement) in the near 

future. Of the approximately 20,000 controllers now working at FAA, GAO 

estimates on the basis of its survey that approximately 5,000 

controllers plan to leave by the end of fiscal year 2006.[Footnote 4] 

This includes an estimated 51 percent of the controllers who plan to 

retire when they first become eligible to do so. Many potential 

retirees currently hold key positions as supervisors, work in some of 

FAA’s busiest facilities, or both. GAO found that about 93 percent of 

current supervisors will reach retirement eligibility by the end of 

fiscal year 2011. In addition, by the end of that year, FAA’s busiest 

centers will potentially face a significant turnover in their current 

controller workforce, as about 65 percent of current controllers in en 

route centers become eligible to retire by the end of fiscal year 2011.



A Comprehensive Workforce Strategy Could Better Prepare FAA for 

Upcoming Controller Attrition:



An effective human capital process anticipates expected attrition and 

includes the development of a comprehensive workforce plan that (1) 

establishes an effective approach for hiring individuals with the 

requisite skills and abilities in time to accomplish agency missions; 

(2) provides new employees with the best training opportunities 

possible to maximize their potential; and (3) uses opportunities to 

retain qualified staff. FAA has not developed such a comprehensive 

workforce strategy to address all of the challenges it faces in 

responding to its impending need for thousands of new air traffic 

controllers, thus increasing the risk that FAA will not have enough 

qualified controllers when necessary to meet air traffic demands. GAO 

identified several challenges in FAA’s approach to hiring, recruiting, 

and training new candidates and to retaining existing ones, and these 

are not fully addressed in FAA’s plans. For example, FAA’s process of 

generally hiring replacements only after a current controller leaves 

does not adequately take into consideration the time it takes to train 

a replacement to become a fully certified controller--up to 5 years, 

which might result in gaps of coverage or increased overtime. In 

addition, FAA’s proposal to rely more heavily on candidates who have no 

previous experience (so-called off-the-street hires) may result in 

additional challenges. Because it takes a certain type of person to 

become an effective controller and FAA has experienced failure rates at 

its training academy of as high as 50 percent, FAA developed a 

screening test to help select better potential candidates. However, 

recent changes have been made to the screening test to allow additional 

candidates to pass it. As a result, the effectiveness of the screening 

test in identifying successful candidates has yet to be determined. FAA 

plans to implement the revised exam in June 2002 and, if funding is 

available, plans to evaluate the success of the exam in identifying 

successful candidates. A further challenge exists at FAA’s training 

academy, where staff have identified equipment and personnel 

requirements that will need to be addressed to effectively handle the 

expected influx of new candidates. Finally, with the rehiring of 

controllers who went on strike in 1981, FAA is faced with having 

increasing numbers of employees controlling air traffic who are past 

age 56--most of the 733 rehired controllers are exempt from this 

mandatory separation age. FAA has not assessed the potential safety and 

equity issues associated with exempting these or other controllers from 

the mandatory separation age.



Recommendations for Executive Action:



To better respond to the challenges presented by the need to hire 

thousands of new controller candidates, GAO recommends that the 

secretary of transportation direct the administrator of the Federal 

Aviation Administration to develop a comprehensive workforce plan that 

includes strategies for (1) identifying the timing of hiring necessary 

to ensure that facilities have appropriate numbers of certified 

controllers available to provide adequate coverage; (2) evaluating the 

newly developed screening test to determine whether it is identifying 

the most successful candidates; (3) addressing the capacity challenges 

associated with the training academy and on-the-job training programs; 

and (4) assessing the potential safety and equity issues associated 

with exempting potentially large numbers of controllers from the 

mandatory separation age requirement.



Agency Comments and GAO’s Evaluation:



We provided FAA with a draft of this report for its review and comment. 

Senior FAA officials found that the report was generally accurate and 

indicated that they would consider GAO’s recommendations in its 

workforce planning.



Overall, FAA’s comments stressed that FAA has a working human capital 

workforce strategy model that has enabled the agency to meet its 

staffing goals over the past few years. FAA officials agreed that the 

potential for sizable future attrition, in the range of 600-800 

controllers per year, is likely over the next decade. The officials 

said, however, that although they have plans that extend to 2010, the 

uncertainty surrounding the future, as well as labor contracts and 

budget constraints, limit their specific workforce planning for air 

traffic controllers to fiscal years 2002 through 2004. With general 

agreement between FAA and GAO that attrition will grow substantially 

over the next decade, GAO believes that the workforce challenges FAA 

faces exist well beyond fiscal year 2004. As such, GAO believes that 

sound workforce planning demands that FAA develop a strategic vision 

that includes a workable, long-term plan to meet staffing needs.



Regarding GAO’s concern about FAA’s preparedness for the future, the 

officials remarked that FAA’s ability to meet its past goals is an 

indication of its ability to meet future needs, and that there is 

nothing to indicate that its successful performance will not continue 

in the future. GAO recognizes that FAA has been able to meet its recent 

staffing goals. However, the recent workforce climate for FAA could be 

significantly different from that which it will face over the next 

decade. The report highlights the workforce challenges, particularly 

the sizable anticipated increases in controller attrition, that are 

likely over the next decade, and identifies challenges in FAA’s 

planning that will make it difficult for FAA to maintain its past 

performance. In particular, the report points out the potential skills 

gap that FAA could face in the future because its current hiring 

process does not ensure that fully qualified controllers are available 

to replace experienced controllers when they leave.



The officials also commented that FAA has long planned for an 

operational evaluation of the new screening exam. The officials 

indicated that they are currently considering two options for 

evaluating the effectiveness of the exam, and that they need to decide 

on the appropriate option and develop an implementation and funding 

plan. However, the officials noted that continued funding for the 

ongoing research could not be assured. In response to this comment, GAO 

revised the text of the report to recognize FAA’s efforts and plans 

regarding evaluation of the new screening exam, and modified its 

recommendation to clarify that the evaluation is needed as part of a 

comprehensive workforce plan.



In addition, the FAA officials provided technical comments that GAO 

incorporated, as appropriate.



[End of section]



Chapter 1: Introduction:



The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for managing the 

national airspace system and ensuring the safe and efficient movement 

of air traffic. In doing so, FAA controls the take-off and landing of 

nearly 200,000 planes per day, which carry over 700 million passengers 

per year. To accomplish this mission, FAA must have a sufficient number 

of adequately trained air traffic controllers working at its air 

traffic control facilities.



In 1981 over 11,000 air traffic controllers went on strike and were 

subsequently fired by President Ronald Reagan. Between 1982 and 1990, 

FAA hired thousands of individuals to permanently replace the fired 

controllers. Most of this hiring took place between 1982 and 1986. Many 

of these controllers, as well as those controllers who did not 

participate in the strike, are now eligible or will soon be eligible to 

retire from FAA.



Air Traffic Controllers’ Responsibilities Vary by Facility and 

Position:



Air traffic controllers play a critical role in the nation’s air 

transportation system by helping ensure the safe, orderly, and 

expeditious flow of air traffic in the air and on the ground. 

Controllers help ensure that aircraft maintain a safe distance between 

one another and that each aircraft is on proper course to its 

destination.



Specific controller responsibilities for managing air traffic vary 

according to the type of air traffic control facility. For instance, 

controllers who work at airport control towers are responsible for 

ensuring the safe separation of aircraft on the ground and in flight in 

the vicinity of airports, generally within a 5-mile radius. These 

controllers manage the flow of aircraft during take-off and landing and 

coordinate the transfer of aircraft with adjacent control facilities as 

aircraft enter or leave an airport’s airspace. Controllers working at 

terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facilities use radar screens 

to track planes and manage the arrival and departure of aircraft within 

a 5-to 50-nautical mile radius of airports. At these TRACON facilities, 

a key function of an approach controller is to line up and sequence 

airplanes as they descend into an airport’s 5-mile radius. Controllers 

working at air route traffic control centers (commonly called en route 

centers) manage aircraft beyond a 50-nautical mile radius. These 

controllers assign aircraft to specific routes and altitudes while they 

fly along federal airways. These controllers also coordinate the 

transfer of aircraft control with adjacent en route or terminal 

facilities.[Footnote 5] The typical en route center is responsible for 

more than 100,000 square miles of airspace, which generally extends 

over several states.



Figure 1 shows how controllers working at the different air traffic 

control facilities track aircraft during ground movements, take-off, 

in-flight, and landing operations. Currently, FAA operates 339 air 

traffic control facilities, consisting of 24 en route centers and 315 

terminal facilities.



Figure 1: Air Traffic Control System:



[See PDF for image]



Source: GAO presentation of FAA information.



[End of figure]



In total, about 20,000 employees categorized as air traffic controllers 

directly control and manage the air traffic system, comprising several 

positions with differing responsibilities.[Footnote 6] (See table 1.) 

This total includes positions that actively control, or supervise the 

control of, traffic (air traffic control specialists, traffic 

management coordinators, and operational supervisors); and “off-line” 

positions that do not control traffic (former air traffic control 

specialists in management, training, or staff positions).



Table 1: Numbers and Types of Air Traffic Controllers:



Air traffic control position: Air traffic controller specialists 

(ATCS); Duties and responsibilities: Controls and manages the 

separation of air traffic in designated airspace or on the ground at 

airports.; Number of employees: 15,120.



Air traffic control position: Traffic management coordinators; Duties 

and responsibilities: Controls the flow of air traffic by determining 

how many planes should be in designated airspace at once. Can order 

that planes be held on the ground and special routings.; Number of 

employees: 670.



Air traffic control position: Operations supervisors (first-line); 

Duties and responsibilities: Provides general supervision of the 

controllers on duty, including monitoring and managing the flow of 

traffic and distributing work among controllers.; Number of employees: 

1,862.



Air traffic control position: Other (management, staff specialists, and 

so forth); Duties and responsibilities: Provides support services such 

as training, management, and administration in an air traffic control 

facility.; Number of employees: 2,369.



Air traffic control position: Total; Duties and responsibilities: 

[Empty]; Number of employees: 20,021.



Source: GAO’s analysis of FAA’s personnel database, as of June 30, 

2001.



[End of table]



Staffing Levels Negotiated between FAA and Controllers’ Union:



As the table above indicates, the majority of air traffic controllers 

are classified as specialists. These controllers are represented by the 

National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which negotiated staffing 

levels with FAA in 1998. Under the terms of the agreement, nationwide 

staffing (in full-time equivalents) for these specialists was set at 

15,000 for fiscal years 1999 through 2001. The agreement also called 

for 2 percent staff increases for fiscal years 2002 and 2003, arriving 

at a controller specialist staffing level of 15,606 by the end of 

fiscal year 2003. FAA has requested funding to meet the staffing levels 

called for in the agreement. Under the 1998 agreement, FAA headquarters 

officials and NATCA national representatives negotiate allocation of 

staffing levels for the air traffic control specialists among FAA’s 

nine regions. Figure 2 below shows the location of each FAA region and 

the number of controller specialists allocated to each region for 

fiscal year 2001.



Figure 2: Regional Controller Specialist Allocations, Fiscal Year 2001:



[See PDF for image]



Source: GAO presentation of FAA data.



[End of figure]



Once the regions receive their staff allocations, FAA regional managers 

and NATCA regional representatives negotiate staff allocations among 

the various field facilities in each region. The additional 606 

controllers called for under the 1998 agreement are to be distributed 

to regions and field facilities in the same way, with FAA and NATCA 

officials negotiating allocations to each region and specific facility.



Special Requirements Affect the Hiring and Retirement of Air Traffic 

Controllers:



In 1972, Congress passed Public Law 92-297, which authorized the 

secretary of transportation to set a maximum entry age for initial 

appointments to air traffic controller positions at the FAA. Pursuant 

to this authority, FAA requires that a potential controller candidate 

be hired before reaching his or her 31ST birthday. This provision was 

established in recognition of the fact that younger trainees are more 

successful in completing the controller training programs, and that 

younger individuals may be better able to deal with the stress of 

controlling air traffic. One exception to this rule is the Employment 

of Retired Military Air Traffic Controllers Program, commonly known as 

the Phoenix Controller-20 program, under which FAA commits to hiring 

retired military controllers who are past the age of 30. This exception 

allows military controllers to stay with the military longer before 

moving to FAA to continue their controller activities.



Controller retirement is also affected by special requirements. 

Controllers working at FAA’s air traffic control facilities and staff 

offices are eligible to retire under two sets of retirement provisions: 

the general retirement requirements for federal employees and special 

requirements for controllers. Depending on when a controller was hired, 

he or she is covered by either the Civil Service Retirement System or 

the Federal Employee Retirement System. As federal employees, 

controllers under these systems can retire if they meet certain age and 

years-of-service requirements. For example, under general CSRS, a 

controller who is 55 years old can retire after 30 years of federal 

service, or at 60 years old with 20 years of service, or at 62 with 5 

years of service.



Under the special controller retirement requirements, a controller may 

retire earlier than under the general CSRS and FERS requirements if he 

or she has enough service time as an active controller specialist, 

traffic management coordinator, or immediate supervisor. Time in these 

“covered” positions is generally known as “good time” because it counts 

toward the special retirement requirements. Controllers can retire at 

age 50 if they have spent at least 20 years in a covered position, or 

at any age if they have at least 25 years in a covered position. Under 

these provisions, controllers covered by CSRS are guaranteed a 

retirement annuity amounting to the greater of two figures: either 50 

percent of their high average 3-year salary or the basic federal 
retirement 

annuity.[Footnote 7] Controllers covered by FERS receive an annuity 

amounting to 1.7 percent of their high average 3-year salary for the 

first 20 years of service plus 1 percent of their high average 3-year 

salary for each additional year of service.



Table 2 summarizes the CSRS, FERS, and special retirement provisions.



Table 2: Retirement Eligibility Requirements for Controllers:



[See PDF for image]



[A] Basic retirement eligibility under FERS is subject to a minimum 

retirement age that varies depending on the birth date of the employee.



Source: GAO presentation of Office of Personnel Management information.



[End of table]



In addition to these basic retirement eligibility requirements, air 

traffic controllers covered by CSRS are also subject, pursuant to 

Public Law 92-297, to a rule requiring mandatory separation at age 56. 

Controllers covered by FERS are subject to a similar rule, pursuant to 

Public Law 99-335. Under this requirement, with some exceptions, 
controllers 

actively working in covered positions must separate by the last day of 

the month in which they turn 56.[Footnote 8]



FAA Relies on a Variety of Sources for Air Traffic Controller 

Candidates:



FAA relies on a number of sources to fill its controller positions. 

These sources are (1) individuals with no prior controller training or 

work experience in the air traffic control environment, (2) individuals 

with some controller training but generally no actual controller work 

experience, and (3) individuals with prior controller work experience.



The first group includes individuals who respond to an Office of 

Personnel Management vacancy announcement. Referred to as off-the-

street hires, these candidates must pass an OPM exam to qualify for 

employment with FAA and must pass a 15-week initial training program at 

FAA’s Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, before being assigned to a 

facility.[Footnote 9] There have been no OPM job announcements for 

entry-level air traffic control specialist positions since 1992, 

because FAA has chosen to rely on other sources for new candidates. FAA 

estimates that approximately 150 people who responded to the last 

announcement and passed the OPM exam are still eligible for employment 

as controllers.[Footnote 10]



The second group includes graduates of FAA-accredited collegiate 

programs who receive initial air traffic control training prior to 

being hired by FAA. This type of training introduces students to the 

terminology, airspace configurations, and technical skills necessary to 

manage air traffic and operate equipment. Students can receive general 

air traffic control training at one of 13 schools under FAA’s 

collegiate training initiative program, or specialized en route 

training at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, formerly 

known as the Mid-American Aviation Resource Consortium school (see app. 

II for more detailed information on the schools). Collegiate training 

initiative schools offer either two-or four-year aviation related 

degrees. Unlike these schools, the Minneapolis Community and Technical 

College program is not part of a broader academic program, and the 

federal government subsidizes the cost of training its students. 

Collegiate training initiative graduates must pass an initial 12-week 

controller training program at the FAA academy to begin work at their 

assigned facility, while Minneapolis Community and Technical College 

graduates can immediately begin working at their assigned facilities. 

During fiscal years 1997 through 2001, FAA has hired 465 from the 

collegiate training programs and 291 from the Minneapolis Community and 

Technical College.[Footnote 11]



The third group of candidates consists of controllers with previous air 

traffic control experience, including both former Department of Defense 

(DOD) controllers and controllers fired in the 1981 strike. DOD employs 

both active-duty military controllers and civilian controllers. In 

general, military controllers can leave DOD for FAA at the end of their 

enlistments, as long as they do so before turning 31 years of 

age.[Footnote 12] To help DOD minimize military controller losses, FAA 

and DOD designed a program in 1999 called the Phoenix Controller-20 

program to give controllers an incentive to stay in the military past 

age 30. Under this program, military controllers can join FAA after 

they retire from military service. FAA may also hire controllers who 

previously held air traffic controller positions with the agency; most 

of them are among those fired in the 1981 controller strike. President 

Reagan banned the federal government from hiring any of these 

controllers, but President Bill Clinton lifted this ban in 1993, at 

which time FAA issued a job announcement for fired controllers 

interested in returning to work. Candidates in this group are not 

required to attend initial controller training at the academy but may 

be required to take refresher training there. During fiscal years 1997 

through 2001, FAA hired 793 former DOD controllers and rehired 562 

controllers who had been fired in 1981.



Once assigned to an air traffic control facility, candidates are 

classified as “developmental controllers” until they complete all 

requirements to be certified for all of the air traffic control 

positions within a defined area of a given facility. It generally takes 

new controllers who have had only initial controller training between 2 

and 4 years--depending on the facility and the availability of facility 

staff or contractors to provide on-the-job training--to complete all 

the certification requirements to become certified professional 

controllers.[Footnote 13] It normally takes individuals who have prior 

controller experience less time to become fully certified.



Objectives, Scope, and Methodology:



In October 2000, the chairman and ranking democratic member of the 

Subcommittee on Aviation, House Committee on Transportation and 

Infrastructure, asked us to examine FAA’s efforts to address existing 

and future controller staffing needs. We were asked to (1) identify 

likely future attrition scenarios for FAA’s controller workforce and 

(2) examine FAA’s strategy for responding to its short-and long-term 

staffing needs, including how it plans to address the challenges it may 

face.



To identify future attrition scenarios for FAA’s controller workforce, 

we (1) obtained and analyzed FAA estimates of future retirement and 

attrition; (2) analyzed FAA’s employee database to determine when 

controllers would reach retirement eligibility; (3) developed a 

computer model to simulate future attrition based on historic FAA air 

traffic controller rates; and (4) developed and mailed a survey to a 

sample of current air traffic controllers to determine their retirement 

plans.



FAA’s estimates: To obtain FAA’s estimates of future retirements and 

attrition, we interviewed officials in FAA’s Office of Air Traffic 

Resource Management who are responsible for managing the controller 

workforce. These officials provided information on the data used to 

support FAA’s estimates of future controller attrition. They provided 

estimates only for the 15,000 controller specialists; similar estimates 

were not available for other categories of air traffic controllers.



Analysis of FAA’s workforce: We used personnel data supplied by FAA to 

calculate the age and service characteristics of 20,021 air traffic 

controllers who were employed as of June 30, 2001, the most recent data 

available at that time. These included 15,120 controller specialists, 

670 traffic management coordinators, 1,862 operational supervisors, and 

2,369 managers and staff specialists. We used this information to 

determine the number of controllers reaching retirement eligibility 

over the next decade. Additional information on how we made these 

projections is contained in appendix III.



Simulation model of attrition: We developed a computer simulation that 

projected the level of potential controller attrition through 2011. 

This model used age and years of service information for the controller 

workforce, in addition to past attrition rates and some assumptions 

about future attrition rates, to estimate the number of future losses 

FAA will face in its controller workforce. Additional information on 

the methodology of the computer simulation, including the assumptions 

we used, is given in appendix IV.



Survey of controllers: We mailed a survey to controllers to obtain 

independent estimates of future controller attrition. After developing 

and pre-testing the survey, we sent it to a statistically 

representative sample of 2,100 current controllers. The survey asked 

the controllers about when they planned to retire or leave the agency 

and about factors that could affect their decision. We received 

responses from over 75 percent of our sample. Additional information on 

the survey methodology can be found in appendix V.



To address the second objective of examining FAA’s strategy for 

responding to its short-and long-term staffing needs, including how it 

plans to address the challenges it may face, we obtained information on 

the availability of potential controller candidates, FAA’s process for 

hiring new controller candidates, and FAA’s training activities 

associated with new candidates.



To obtain information on the availability of candidates, we interviewed 

officials at FAA headquarters, the 9 FAA regional offices, the 14 

college or university air traffic control programs, and the Department 

of Defense to determine the number of controllers who are potentially 

available to FAA. We visited schools in California, Minnesota, New 

Hampshire, and Florida to better understand their activities. We did 

not verify the information provided by these sources.



To understand FAA’s process for hiring new controller candidates, we 

interviewed officials at FAA’s headquarters and regional offices. At 

FAA’s headquarters we focused on the activities of the Air Traffic 

Resource Management office, which is responsible for monitoring air 

traffic controller hiring levels. In addition, we met with officials at 

FAA’s Civil Aeronautical Medical Institute to discuss their activities 

to develop a new screening test for potential controller candidates--

referred to as Air Traffic Selection and Training exam (AT-SAT). In 

addition, we obtained information on how FAA uses staffing standards to 

determine staffing levels at its various facilities and interviewed 

officials with the National Academy of Sciences about their review of 

FAA’s staffing standards.



To obtain information on FAA’s training activities, we visited FAA’s 

training academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and discussed on-the-job 

training with each of FAA’s nine regional offices.



We also interviewed officials with the Air Transport Association, 

NATCA, and representatives of all nine FAA regional offices to ensure 

that we obtained a nationwide perspective on controller staffing 

issues. Finally, we obtained and reviewed information from the Office 

of Personnel Management and our previous reports on good human capital 

practices in government agencies to evaluate FAA’s workforce plan 

regarding air traffic controller staffing.



We conducted our review from January 2001 through April 2002, in 

accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. We 

obtained oral comments on a draft of this report from senior FAA 

officials, which are discussed at the end of chapter 3.



[End of section]



Chapter 2: FAA Is Facing Increased Controller Hiring because of Higher 

Staffing Levels and Growing Attrition:



[End of section]



Although the exact number and timing of the controllers’ departure is 

impossible to determine, attrition scenarios developed by both FAA and 

GAO indicate that the total attrition will grow substantially in the 

short and long terms. As a result, FAA will likely need to hire 

thousands of air traffic controllers in the next decade to meet 

increasing traffic demands and to address the anticipated attrition of 

experienced controllers, predominately created by retirements. 

Depending on the scenario, total attrition could range from 7,200 to 

nearly 11,000 controllers over the next decade. GAO also found that the 

potential for retirement among frontline supervisors and controllers at 

some of FAA’s busiest facilities may be high.



To identify likely future attrition scenarios, we (1) reviewed FAA’s 

10-year hiring plan and associated attrition forecasts for 

approximately 15,000 controller specialists who actively control and 

separate traffic in the air and on the ground; (2) analyzed FAA’s 

workforce database to determine when the current controllers (those at 

FAA as of June 30, 2001) would become eligible to retire; (3) developed 

a computer model to predict future attrition based on historic levels; 

and (4) developed and administered a survey to a statistically 

representative sample of controllers so as to obtain information on 

when they might leave FAA.[Footnote 14] GAO’s analysis covers more than 

20,000 controllers--the 15,000 controller specialists whom FAA analyzed 

and about 5,000 controllers who supervise and manage the air traffic 

control system. GAO included the additional personnel because attrition 

from these positions is generally filled from the controller specialist 

ranks and, thus, omitting them would understate potential attrition 

among all controllers.



FAA Estimates It Will Need to Increase Controller Staffing Levels and 

Will Increasingly Lose Many Controller Specialists:



In May 2001 FAA prepared a 10-year estimate of its hiring needs that 

included a projection of the number of controller specialists who may 

be needed in the future and estimates of expected controller losses. 

The estimate shows that the number of controller specialists needed to 

help manage the air traffic system could grow from about 15,000 in 

fiscal year 2001 to over 17,000 by the end of fiscal year 2010, and 

that losses of controllers could increase from 428 in fiscal year 2001 

to over 1,000 in 2010.



FAA Estimates It Will Need about 2,000 More Controller Specialists:



FAA estimates that future air traffic increases will require it to hire 

more than 2,000 additional air traffic controllers over the next 

decade. FAA bases its future projections on a mathematical model, 

referred to as the staffing standard, which factors expected traffic 

levels and the amount of tasks a typical controller can perform in a 

given time frame in order to estimate the future number of controllers 

that FAA will need. As shown in table 3, FAA anticipates a growing 

requirement for controller specialists.



Table 3: FAA’s Controller Specialist Staffing Needs through 2010, by 

Fiscal Year:



Total controllers required; 2002: 15,300[ A]; 2003: 15,606[ A]; 2004: 

15,906; 2005: 16,139; 2006: 16,363; 2007: 16,599; 2008: 16,836; 2009: 

17,072; 2010: 17,309.



[A] Staffing levels for fiscal years 2002 and 2003 were negotiated 

between FAA and NATCA.



Source: GAO’s presentation of FAA data.



[End of table]



FAA’s controller staffing levels in fiscal years 2002 and 2003 were 

established under the terms of FAA’s 1998 contract with NATCA, which 

represents the controller specialists. To estimate staffing needs for 

fiscal year 2004 and beyond, FAA used its air traffic control staffing 

standards. The standards estimate that FAA will need, on average, about 

245 additional controllers each year from the end of fiscal year 2003 

though fiscal year 2010, mainly because of increases in air 

traffic.[Footnote 15] The standards further estimate that FAA will need 

17,309 controllers by fiscal year 2010--over 2,000 more controllers 

than are currently employed.



The National Academy of Sciences examined FAA’s staffing standards in 

1997.[Footnote 16] It found that the standards did a reasonable job of 

estimating future needs on a national or regional level, but that the 

standards were not as useful in determining facility level needs. It 

recommended that FAA modify its staffing process to produce more 

reliable facility staffing estimates. To date, however, FAA has not 

fully implemented this recommendation because of funding limitations, 

according to the branch manager, Resource Management.



FAA Estimates that Future Controller Losses Will Grow:



FAA’s projections show growing losses of controller specialists. FAA 

included estimates of three types of losses: retirements, 

nonretirements (for example, resignations, firings, and deaths), and 

non-attrition (controllers who leave to take other positions within 

FAA, such as supervisory and staff positions). According to the branch 

manager, Resource Management, the forecast is based on historic 

attrition levels. Table 4 displays FAA’s 10-year projections.



Table 4: FAA’s 10-year Estimate of Controller Specialist Losses, by 

Fiscal Year:



ATCS retirement; 2001: 153; 2002: 202; 2003: 246; 2004: 294; 2005: 335; 

2006: 423; 2007: 569; 2008: 620; 2009: 666; 2010: 719; Total: 4,227.



Non-retirement; 2001: 104; 2002: 106; 2003: 108; 2004: 110; 2005: 111; 

2006: 113; 2007: 115; 2008: 116; 2009: 118; 2010: 119; Total: 1,120.



Non-attrition; 2001: 171; 2002: 174; 2003: 178; 2004: 181; 2005: 184; 

2006: 187; 2007: 189; 2008: 192; 2009: 195; 2010: 197; Total: 1,848.



Total estimated losses; 2001: 428; 2002: 482; 2003: 532; 2004: 585; 

2005: 630; 2006: 722; 2007: 873; 2008: 928; 2009: 978; 2010: 1,036; 

Total: 7,195.



Source: GAO’s presentation of FAA data.



[End of table]



As the table shows, FAA is estimating sizable increases in controller 

specialist retirements over the next decade, with retirements 

increasing each year and exceeding 700 by the end of fiscal year 2010. 

The average annual retirement level over the length of the forecast 

period is 423, which is three times higher than the average annual 

retirement level of 141 that FAA experienced over the 5-year period of 

1996 through 2000. Combined with other losses, this estimate 

anticipates a nearly 50-percent turnover in the next decade from its 

current controller specialist contingent of approximately 15,000.



GAO’s Analysis Indicates that Sizable Controller Attrition Is Likely:



The scenarios shown by our analysis of retirement eligibility trends, 

the results of our simulation model, and estimates from our controller 

survey all indicate that FAA may face a sizable increase in future 

attrition, primarily because of retirements. In addition, we examined 

attrition patterns for supervisors and for controllers at the busiest 

facilities because of their importance to the national air traffic 

control operations, and we found that attrition levels for these groups 

could be sizable over the next decade.



Number of Employees Eligible to Retire Increases Rapidly:



Because many controllers were hired in the early 1980s, FAA is facing 

an aging controller workforce. As of June 30, 2001, the average age of 

an FAA controller was 43, and approximately 7,400 controllers were 45 

or older. In addition, because of the special controller retirement 

provisions, many controllers may soon accrue enough years of service to 

meet the retirement eligibility requirements. Because FAA’s employee 

database does not identify the amount of time controllers have worked 

controlling traffic (good time), we examined the eligibility of FAA’s 

entire controller workforce (about 20,000 employees), using both the 

special controller retirement provisions and the CSRS/FERS retirement 

provisions.[Footnote 17] Although most of the employees would be 

expected to first reach eligibility under the special provisions (20 

years of good time and age 50, or 25 years of experience at any age), 

some of those employees who were older when hired or were working at 

positions other than actually controlling traffic (like training) might 

first become eligible under CSRS or FERS provisions (age 55 with 30 

years federal employment, age 60 with 20 years federal experience, or 

age 62 with 5 years experience).



Our review of the eligibility data shows that about 2,500, or 12 

percent of the current controller workforce, was eligible to retire at 

the end of fiscal year 2001. As figure 3 shows, an increasing 

percentage of current controllers will become eligible to retire 

between fiscal year 2002 and 2011, with nearly 11,200 of the current 

controllers becoming eligible for retirement over the next 10 years. In 

addition, those already eligible, coupled with the nearly 11,200 

additional controllers becoming eligible over the next 10 years, will 

increase the number of current controllers eligible to retire to more 

than 13,600, or 68 percent of FAA’s total current controller workforce, 

by the end of fiscal year 2011.[Footnote 18]



Figure 3: Air Traffic Controllers Becoming Eligible for Retirement in 

Each Fiscal Year:



[See PDF for image]



Source: GAO’s analysis of FAA’s data.



[End of figure]



GAO Model Predicts High Attrition Levels over the Next Decade:



Our controller attrition simulation model projects that high numbers of 

controllers will leave the workforce between fiscal years 2002 and 

2011. Probabilities for separation were based on controller attrition 

patterns between 1997 and 2000 and were applied to the 20,021 

controllers at FAA as of June 30, 2001. Projections are therefore based 

on the June 2001 population, and there is no adjustment for new 

appointments. As shown in figure 4, the simulation model predicts that 

about 600 to 800 controllers will leave each year between fiscal years 

2002 and 2011, which is one and one-half to two times higher than 

average attrition was over the past 5 years. It also indicates that 

nearly 7,500 controllers (about 37 percent of the current controller 

workforce) are projected to leave FAA by the end of fiscal year 2011.



Figure 4: Past and Simulated Air Traffic Controller Attrition, by 

Fiscal Year:



[See PDF for image]



Note:  --Denotes the minimum and maximum values from the simulation 

model.



Source: GAO simulation using FAA database.



[End of figure]



Many Controllers Responding to GAO Survey Plan to Leave FAA Soon:



Based on the results of our survey of air traffic controllers, we 

estimate that many controllers plan to leave FAA soon. Of the 20,021 

controllers working at FAA as of June 30, 2001, we estimate that 

approximately 5,000 controllers plan to leave (predominately because of 

retirement) between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, and about 10,900 by the 

end of fiscal year 2011.[Footnote 19] As shown in figure 5, we estimate 

that between fiscal years 2002 and 2011, approximately 1,100 

controllers on average plan to leave each year, and about 

1,300[Footnote 20] controllers plan to leave in fiscal year 2007 alone-

-also the peak year for controllers reaching retirement eligibility. 

These estimates are more than double the recent attrition levels that 

FAA has experienced--on average, about 436 controllers separated each 

year for the past 5 years.



Figure 5: Survey Estimates: Past and Estimated Air Traffic Controller 

Attrition:



[End of figure]



Note:   --Confidence interval: displays the upper and lower bounds of 

the 95% confidence interval for each estimate.



Source: FAA’s historical data and GAO’s estimates based on survey 

responses.



[End of figure]



We also estimate, based on the survey responses, that there are two 

time frames for when controllers said they might leave or retire. An 

estimated 40 percent of the controllers said they planned to leave or 

retire at age 50 or earlier, and another 26 percent said they planned 

to leave or retire around the maximum 56-separation age. In addition, 

we also found that approximately 51 percent of controllers said they 

planned to retire when they first become eligible.



Supervisor Attrition Is Likely to Increase Rapidly:



Because supervisors are important to air traffic control operations and 

because they tend to be older than others controlling traffic, we 

examined retirement eligibility and survey results of supervisors at 

FAA as of June 2001. We found that supervisors will become eligible and 

said they planned to leave FAA in very high numbers over the next 

decade.



We found that 1,205, or 65 percent, of current supervisors will become 

eligible to retire between 2002 and 2011. (See fig. 6.) Given that 28 

percent of current supervisors are already eligible to retire and that 

by 2011 another 65 percent will have reached eligibility, about 93 

percent of current supervisors will be eligible to retire by the end of 

fiscal year 2011. As a result, FAA may face substantial turnover in its 

supervisory ranks over the next decade.



Figure 6: Past and Projected Retirement Eligibility for Supervisory Air 

Traffic Controllers:



[See PDF for image]



Source: GAO’s analysis of FAA database.



[End of figure]



In addition, estimates from our survey show sizable attrition through 

fiscal year 2011. As shown in figure 7, we estimate that 770[Footnote 

21] supervisors (about 39 percent of current supervisors) said they 

plan to leave between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, and 1,503[Footnote 

22] supervisors (about 76 percent of current supervisors) plan to leave 

FAA, primarily through retirement, through fiscal year 2011, an average 

of about 150 per year. The peak year in planned attrition is fiscal 

2007, when we estimate that 221[Footnote 23] supervisors plan to leave. 

This level of potential attrition for supervisors is higher than in the 

past 5 years, during which an average of 71 supervisors left each year.



Figure 7: Survey Estimates: Past and Estimated Air Traffic Controller 

Attrition for Supervisory Air Traffic Controllers:



[See PDF for image]



Note: --Confidence interval: displays the upper and lower bounds of the 

95% confidence interval for each estimate.



Source: FAA’s historical data and GAO’s estimates based on survey 

responses.



[End of figure]



High levels of supervisor attrition could also affect the controller 

specialist workforce. To the extent that FAA replaces supervisors who 

leave, increases in supervisory retirements could further reduce the 

number of experienced controller specialists available to control 

traffic and increase controller specialist hiring needs in order to 

replace the controllers moving to supervisory positions. The overall 

impact of supervisor attrition is unclear at this time. Until recently, 

FAA was in the process of reducing the controller-to-supervisor ratio 

from 7-to-1 to 10-to-1, through attrition, as agreed to in the 1998 

NATCA collective bargaining agreement. This strategy would help 

mitigate the flow of NATCA bargaining unit controllers into the 

supervisory ranks. The outcome of this strategy is uncertain because 

the Conference Report for the fiscal year 2002 Department of 

Transportation Appropriations (H. Rpt. 107-308) stated that the 

conferees were concerned about the impact of the reduction and directed 

FAA not to reduce supervisory staffing further.[Footnote 24] FAA 

intends to abide by this language for this fiscal year, and its future 

decisions on supervisory reductions are subject to congressional 

direction.



FAA’s Busiest Facilities May Face High Attrition Levels:



Because of the crucial role played by en route centers and the busiest 

terminal facilities in the national air space system, we analyzed the 

impact of retirement eligibility on the 21 major en route centers, the 

10 busiest airport towers, and the 10 busiest TRACON facilities. Based 

on our analysis of FAA’s employee database, we found that the en route 

centers and the busiest terminal facilities will experience a sizable 

increase in the number of controllers reaching retirement eligibility. 

As figure 8 shows, retirement eligibility in these facilities grows 

over the next decade.



Figure 8: Controllers Becoming Eligible for Retirement by Fiscal Year 

for En Route Centers, Ten Busiest Towers, and Ten Busiest TRACONs:



[See PDF for image]



Source: GAO’s analysis of FAA’s data.



[End of figure]



In analyzing retirement eligibility data for the en route centers, we 

found that 903, or about 11 percent, of the controllers currently at 

FAA’s 24 en route centers are already eligible to retire. Additionally, 

the cumulative percentage of current controllers becoming eligible to 

retire increases to about 28 percent by the end of fiscal year 2006 and 

reaches about 65 percent by the end of fiscal year 2011. In terms of 

the 21 major en route centers, the Jacksonville center had the highest 

proportion of retirement-eligible controllers at the end of fiscal year 

2001, with 79 of its 376 controllers being eligible for retirement (21 

percent). By the end of fiscal year 2006, at least 29 percent of 

current controllers will be eligible for retirement at 10 centers--

Albuquerque, Atlanta, Boston, Fort Worth, Houston, Jacksonville, Los 

Angeles, Memphis, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.



At the 10 busiest airport towers, 76, or about 10 percent, of current 

controllers are eligible to retire. The cumulative percentage rises to 

about 34 percent by the end of fiscal year 2006 and reaches 74 percent 

by the end of fiscal year 2011. Based on our analysis for these towers, 

we found that the Denver tower had the highest proportion of 

retirement-eligible controllers as of September 30, 2001, with 14 of 

its 51 (27 percent) controllers being eligible to retire. By the end of 

fiscal year 2006, 45 percent of Denver’s current controllers will be 

eligible to retire, and by the end of fiscal year 2011 it reaches 90 

percent, as 46 of its 51 current controllers will reach retirement 

eligibility.



At the 10 busiest TRACON facilities, about 199, or about 12 percent, of 

current controllers are eligible to retire. The cumulative percentage 

increases to about 36 percent by the end of fiscal year 2006 and 

reaches about 73 percent by the end of fiscal year 2011. Based on our 

analysis for these facilities, the Dallas/Fort Worth TRACON had the 

highest level of current controllers eligible to retire at the end of 

fiscal year 2001, with 36 of its 147 (24 percent) controllers being 

eligible. By the end of fiscal year 2006, the cumulative percentage 

grows to 46 percent, and by the end of fiscal year 2011 it reaches 87 

percent, as 128 of the 147 controllers currently at the facility will 

have reached retirement eligibility.



[End of section]



Chapter 3: FAA Needs a More Comprehensive Workforce Plan for Air 
Traffic 

Controllers:



Attrition of air traffic controllers will increase substantially over 

the next decade, primarily because many controllers will retire. This 

condition is widespread across the various air traffic control 

facilities at the FAA, and the potential for massive turnover exists 

even at FAA’s most complex and busiest facilities. To effectively deal 

with expected attrition, government agencies must identify human 

capital needs, assess how current staff and expected future staff will 

meet those needs, and create strategies to address any shortfalls or 

imbalances. As we have reported, a high-performing organization 

typically addresses its current and future workforce needs by 

estimating the following: the number of employees it will need; the 

knowledge, skills, and abilities those employees will have in order for 

the organization to accomplish its goals; and the areas where employees 

should be deployed across the organization.[Footnote 25] We have 

developed a model that identifies strategic workforce planning as a 

critical success factor in effectively managing a human capital 

program, because such planning can help agencies ensure that they have 

adequate staff to accomplish their missions.[Footnote 26]



Although FAA will be faced with unprecedented numbers of retirements of 

its air traffic controllers, it has not yet developed a comprehensive 

workforce plan to address this issue and therefore risks having a 

shortage of qualified controllers. Good workforce planning includes 

developing strategies for integrating hiring, recruiting, training, and 

other human capital activities in a manner that meets the agency’s 

long-term objectives. FAA generally hires new controllers only when 

current, experienced controllers leave, and it does not adequately take 

into account the time necessary to fully train these replacements. 

Furthermore, although FAA intends to increasingly hire individuals with 

no prior controller experience, its new aptitude test for potential 

candidates may not be as effective in screening them as initially 

planned. In addition, FAA has not provided its training academy with 

the resources necessary to handle the expected large increase in 

controller candidates. Finally, exemptions to the mandatory age 56-

separation provision raise equity and safety issues. FAA therefore 

might face a shortage of experienced controllers, leading to an 

increase in overtime logged by its remaining controllers. Increased 

flight delays might also result from this situation, as fewer 

controllers might not be able to safely guide the same number of 

flights that would be possible with a fully staffed controller 

workforce.



FAA’s Hiring Process Does Not Adequately Ensure that Qualified 

Controllers Will Be Available When Necessary:



A key component of workforce planning is ensuring that appropriately 

skilled employees are available when and where they are needed to meet 

an agency’s mission. This means, in part, that an agency continually 

needs trained employees becoming available to fill newly opened 

positions. FAA’s current hiring process does not adequately ensure that 

qualified replacements are available to expeditiously assume the 

responsibilities of those who retire. The main objective of FAA’s 

branch manager for resource management is to ensure that controller-

staffing levels meet the levels called for in FAA’s contract with the 

controller’s union (NATCA). To do this, he estimates how many 

controller specialists will leave during the year and allocates this 

number among regions as a target-hiring figure. On at least a quarterly 

basis, he informs the officials in the regions how many controller 

candidates they are allowed to hire for that period. If attrition is 

lower than expected during that period, he may tell them to delay 

hiring until a later quarter. For example, in fiscal year 2001, the 

plan called for hiring 425 controller candidates but, because of lower-

than-expected attrition levels, FAA hired only 358 new controllers. 

According to this official, FAA does not have budgetary resources to 

maintain and develop an employee pipeline to ensure that fully 

certified replacements are available, so it has no plans to change 

these hiring practices.



FAA’s approach of hiring new employees only when current employees 

leave does not adequately account for the time needed to train 

controllers to fully perform their functions, or for the increased 

retirements that are projected in the short and long terms. The amount 

of time it takes new controllers to gain certification depends on the 

facilities at which they will work, but it generally takes from 2 to 4 

years and can take up to 5 years at some of the busiest and most 

complex facilities.



The branch manager’s May 2001 hiring plan identifies a “hiring lead 

time adjustment” starting in fiscal year 2004 that provides for 

additional hiring in recognition of the time necessary to train 

employees. The numbers included, however, do not appear adequate to 

account for the large potential increases in controller attrition. For 

example, in fiscal year 2004, the adjustment is for hiring 70 extra 

candidates, which would respond to a potential attrition of about 700 

to 1,100 controllers in 2006, when these new hires might be ready for 

certification at some facilities. In addition, the branch manager told 

us that budget constraints play a key role in determining the timing of 

hiring new candidates. For example, he said that budget requests are 

tied to the NATCA contract amounts and that FAA had no plans to request 

the additional funding necessary to go above those levels. FAA 

officials also stressed that staffing management is now a partnership 

between FAA and NATCA, and that this also creates constraints on FAA’s 

ability to hire and place new controllers at specific facilities.



FAA regional officials, who are responsible for ensuring that FAA’s air 

traffic facilities are adequately staffed, are particularly concerned 

about FAA’s replacement-hiring policy. Eight of nine regional officials 

with whom we spoke stated that they would like for FAA to allow them to 

hire new controller staff above their authorized levels so that 

experienced, fully qualified controllers will be ready when current 

controllers retire. The officials were particularly concerned that 

significant increases in retirement rates among veteran controllers 

would leave the facilities short of qualified controllers while new 

trainees are hired and trained. Several regions stated that they had 

made formal and informal requests to FAA headquarters to obtain 

additional controllers who could be hired and trained in advance of 

future retirements. In May 2001, for example, officials from FAA’s 

Southwest Region formally requested 48 additional staff members to 

mitigate the impact of future retirements. The region asked for new 

hires at one of its en route centers to “ensure that quality customer 

service is maintained, budgetary concerns are addressed, and controller 

attrition is dealt with.” In April 2002, FAA headquarters informed the 

region that their request was denied because of operational constraints 

imposed by the 1998 agreement with the controllers’ union and because 

of the current fiscal year’s budgetary constraints. Furthermore, 

numerous FAA regional officials told us that they were frustrated by 

their agency’s insistence on staffing as close to the numbers called 

for in the NATCA contract as possible.



A lack of experienced controllers could have many adverse consequences, 

according to several FAA regional officials. Several regional officials 

stated that if a facility becomes seriously short of experienced 

controllers, the remaining controllers might have to slow down the flow 

of air traffic through their airspace. If the situation became dire, 

FAA could require airlines to reduce their schedules, but this would be 

an unlikely, worst-case scenario, according to some FAA regional 

officials. Also, because there would be fewer experienced controllers 

available to work, some FAA facility officials stated that those 

controllers could see increased workloads and additional, potentially 

mandatory, overtime. Some facility managers told us that they expected 

this increased burden to result in additional work-related stress for 

the remaining controllers, which would increase sick leave usage. It 

could also cause experienced controllers to retire sooner than they 

otherwise might. For example, based on our survey results, we estimate 

that 33 percent of controllers would accelerate their decision to 

retire if forced to work additional mandatory overtime.



FAA Developed Screening Test to Help Identify Potential Candidates Most 

Likely to Succeed:



Identifying sources of future potential employees with the requisite 

skills and aptitude is another key piece of a comprehensive workforce 

plan. As discussed in chapter 1, FAA historically has hired its new 

controllers from a variety of sources, including graduates of 

institutions in FAA’s collegiate training initiative program, the 

Minneapolis Community and Technical College, candidates already on a 

list maintained by OPM, controllers formerly employed by FAA who were 

fired by President Reagan in 1981, and former DOD controllers. Table 5 

shows the sources and number of new controllers that FAA hired between 

fiscal years 1997 and 2001.



Table 5: Sources of New Controllers, Fiscal Years 1997-2001:



Source: Collegiate Training Initiative; 1997: 161; 1998: 50; 1999: 60; 

2000: 119; 2001[A]: 75; Total: 465.



Source: Minneapolis Community and Technical College; 1997: 32; 1998: 

48; 1999: 52; 2000: 77; 2001[A]: 82; Total: 291.



Source: Office of Personnel Management; 1997: 4; 1998: 14; 1999: 14; 

2000: 9; 2001[A]: 7; Total: 48.



Source: Reinstated employees; 1997: 26; 1998: 12; 1999: 4; 2000: 7; 

2001[A]: 16; Total: 65.



Source: Former controllers fired in 1981; 1997: 188; 1998: 289; 1999: 

30; 2000: 41; 2001[A]: 14; Total: 562.



Source: Department of Defense; 1997: 89; 1998: 355; 1999: 96; 2000: 

136; 2001[A]: 117; Total: 793.



Source: Total; 1997: 500; 1998: 768; 1999: 256; 2000: 389; 2001[A]: 

311; Total: 2,224.



[A] Partial year data.



Source: GAO’s analysis of FAA regional data.



[End of table]



DOD officials were concerned that increasing retirements of FAA’s 

controllers over the next 5 years will cause greater operational 

problems, and possibly affect defense readiness, if potentially 

thousands of DOD controllers were to fill openings at FAA. DOD has lost 

many controllers to FAA--about 35 percent of FAA’s hires in the past 5 

years. FAA’s regional officials told us that they like to hire former 

military controllers because of their experience, maturity, and work 

ethic. DOD officials with whom we spoke explained that these losses had 

resulted in cutbacks for fighter training missions by at least one of 

the armed services and in the implementation of significant retention 

bonuses to military controllers. Although DOD employs both civilian and 

uniformed military controllers, there remains a pay disparity between 

DOD and FAA. These officials believe that the higher pay offered by FAA 

explains why DOD military and civilian controllers apply for FAA 

controller jobs. For example, in fiscal year 2001, the maximum base 

salary levels for DOD controllers were $48,730 for a DOD military 

controller and $74,553 for a DOD civilian controller, while FAA 

controllers could earn up to $128,386.[Footnote 27] DOD officials 

stated that both agencies (FAA and DOD) must meet their recruiting and 

retention goals to support national security and defense requirements. 

To that end, DOD officials said that the focus needs to be on the 

requirement for air traffic controllers as a whole and not on two 

competing systems.



Along these lines, FAA headquarters officials said that because FAA 

hopes to achieve a more diverse workforce, it expects to concentrate 

increasingly on hiring off-the-street candidates. The success of the 

off-the-street hiring depends in large part on identifying potential 

candidates who have an appropriate aptitude for controllers’ work. 

Traditionally, FAA used the academy’s initial entry-training program to 

screen out candidates who could not become successful controllers. 

According to FAA officials, as many as 50 percent of off-the-street 

applicants have dropped out before finishing the required training 

program. These officials estimated that about $10 million per year was 

spent on training candidates who later failed the program. FAA 

therefore developed a new screening exam, known as AT-SAT, to better 

ensure that the new hires have the skills and abilities to succeed on 

the job. FAA plans to require that candidates without prior experience 

pass the 8-hour AT-SAT exam before they begin training at its academy. 

According to academy officials, the academy is planning to rely on AT-

SAT as a way to screen out candidates unlikely to pass the academy’s 

training, and it has therefore revised its training program to 

emphasize teaching skill-sets rather than serving as a screening 

program.



Uncertainty exists regarding the exam’s ability to screen out 

unsuccessful candidates and help ensure that new candidates have the 

aptitude to become successful controllers. For example, FAA has 

recently changed the exam to allow more candidates to pass, which 

creates some uncertainty about its ability to identify successful 

candidates. During initial validation of AT-SAT, FAA found that the 

test should predict, with a high level of validity, that those who 

passed it would become successful controllers. However, FAA found that 

only about 28 percent of non-FAA test subjects and about 62 percent of 

active controllers could pass the test. In addition, they found that 

passing rates for some applicant groups, including particularly 

African-Americans and females, might be significantly lower than the 

overall passing rates. Therefore, FAA concluded that the passing score 

on the test was set higher than the typical controller’s job 

expectations. As a result, the developers of the exam changed the 

weight given to different portions of the exam and adjusted the passing 

score to tie the test more accurately to the actual job performance of 

controllers. According to FAA, this will result in more applicants 

passing the exam (68 percent are now expected to pass).



FAA plans to begin using the test in June 2002. Although FAA has not 

revalidated the effectiveness of the revised exam, FAA officials stated 

that they have long planned to perform an operational evaluation of the 

exam to assess how well the exam works in practice, and that they are 

currently considering two options for performing this evaluation. 

First, FAA could correlate candidates’ scores on the exam with how well 

they perform on a computer simulation of actual air traffic. In order 

to implement this option, FAA would have to develop a new computer-

based performance measure for the terminal environment. Officials 

indicated that this would cost several hundred thousand dollars. The 

second option would be to validate the exam against initial training at 

the academy, field training, and job performance. This would require 

FAA to develop criteria for measuring success in each of these three 

areas. In any case, to evaluate the exam, the officials need to decide 

on an option, develop a detailed implementation plan, and identify 

funding for this purpose. Officials could not provide an estimate as to 

when they will decide on a specific option. Until the results are 

evaluated, the operational effectiveness of the exam will be unknown.



Challenges Exist in Addressing Academy and On-the-Job Training 

Resources and Equipment Needs:



Workforce planning should consider the approach and resources necessary 

for providing new employees with the means to acquire the knowledge, 

skills, and abilities to accomplish the agency’s mission. However, FAA 

has not adequately addressed the challenges associated with providing 

the training resources--specifically training staff, equipment, and 

opportunities for on-the-job training--needed for large increases in 

new hires. Most controller candidates undergo both 15 weeks of 

classroom exercises at FAA’s academy in Oklahoma City and on-the-job 

training at the facility where employees are assigned. As of March 

2002, the academy was staffed with 91 FAA employees and 60 contractors. 

This number of employees and contractors has been used to train, on 

average, about 200 new hires for each of the past 5 years. The 

academy’s training plan anticipates that between 547 and 980 controller 

candidates might need training each year through fiscal year 2005. To 

meet the projected levels, these officials believe they will need up to 

50 additional staff to provide training.



The training academy may have difficulty recruiting current controllers 

to conduct portions of their training program. Academy officials told 

us that their recent attempts to persuade experienced controllers to 

volunteer to train new recruits have not been very successful. Academy 

officials explained that the 1998 pay raise, which in some cases 

increased salaries for controllers by more than 30 percent but applied 

only to periods when the controllers were actually guiding air traffic, 

has affected the controllers’ willingness to participate. Whereas a 

controller was once paid the same amount for providing training as for 

controlling traffic, under the new system a controller would lose pay 

by becoming a trainer at the academy. Academy officials said they 

recently put an announcement out asking for volunteers to conduct 

training and received 31 applications. They noted that before the pay 

raise they were receiving hundreds of applications for these positions, 

which provided them a greater opportunity to select from a broader 

pool.



Equipment deficiencies also hamper the academy. For example, the 

academy is training en-route controllers on equipment that is not used 

at actual en-route centers, so controllers must retrain on different 

equipment once they reach their facilities. To efficiently train en-

route and terminal controllers, academy officials told us that they 

need a specialized en-route simulator lab known as a Display System 

Replacement lab, which costs between $7 million to $45 million, 

depending on the sophistication of the model purchased. Academy 

officials have been trying to obtain this equipment for several years, 

and the academy has recently made another proposal regarding this 

equipment. FAA headquarters is expected to decide whether to purchase 

this lab in the near future. In addition, the academy uses tower 

simulators to give trainees experience with controlling traffic in a 

computer-simulated environment. However, academy officials said their 

current simulators are often broken, outdated, and lacking in the 

necessary capacity to train large numbers of new hires. The cost of the 

new equipment is estimated at $2 million. If FAA does not make these 

investments, academy officials said, controller candidates will need 

more training time when they reach their facilities.



New controllers might also have difficulty obtaining on-the-job 

training, FAA regional officials stated. New controllers are to receive 

their facility training from fully certified controllers already 

working in that facility. Under FAA’s current hiring system and 

estimated attrition rates, however, there will be fewer experienced 

controllers to provide training and more new hires in need of training. 

More time will thus likely be needed to train new controllers. This 

situation could be particularly acute at FAA’s en-route centers and 

busy terminal facilities, because it takes longer to train replacement 

controllers at these facilities. Retirements at these facilities are 

expected to increase the burden on the remaining experienced controller 

staff.



Exemptions to the Age 56 Separation Provision Raise Safety and Equity 

Concerns:



Ensuring that a workforce retains employees with the requisite skills 

and abilities is another important piece of workforce planning. As 

described in chapter 1, legislation passed in 1972 stipulates that air 

traffic controllers must separate at age 56.[Footnote 28] Some 

controllers are exempt from the retirement rule, however, and continue 

to work beyond age 56. This practice raises two concerns: (1) whether 

the skills and abilities of the older controllers have diminished, thus 

potentially compromising safety; and (2) whether the exemptions result 

in unequal treatment for some controllers.



In 1972, Congress directed that “an air traffic controller shall be 

separated from the service on the last day of the month in which he 

becomes 56 years of age.”[Footnote 29] The House Report associated with 

this law justifies the provision by stating that “air traffic control 

is a young man’s business…and that because of the natural forces of 

aging, magnified by the stresses of control functions, the productive 

and proficient life of the controller is substantially less than that 

which prevails in most other occupations.”[Footnote 30] In addition, 

the report states, “the controllers themselves are convinced that the 

demands of their job are so great that only young, healthy adults can 

consistently do a safe, competent job of controlling the steadily 

growing volume of air traffic.” The House Report further states that 

“as the controller approaches age 50 his mental faculties of alertness, 

rapid decision making, and instantaneous reaction…begin a definite 

decline.” In addition, the associated Senate Report[Footnote 31] 

states, “like skilled athletes, most controllers lose proficiency to 

some degree after age 40, and in the interest of the public’s safety, 

should not be retained as controllers in busy facilities beyond the 

time they can perform satisfactorily.”:



The law’s provision requires mandatory separation at age 56 for 

controllers who separate and control air traffic; provide preflight, 

in-flight, or airport advisory service to aircraft operators; or serve 

as the immediate supervisors of any employee who performs these duties. 

These positions include controller specialists and their first-line 

supervisors as well as traffic management coordinators and their first-

line supervisors.



Some controllers who separate and control traffic are exempted from 

this provision, however, including controllers appointed by the 

Department of Transportation (DOT) before May 16, 1972, and controllers 

appointed by DOD before September 12, 1980. In addition, those 

controllers covered by the FERS retirement system can continue working 

past age 56 until they have reached 20 years of service in a covered 

position (so called good time under the special air traffic controller 

retirement provisions). Similarly, on November 12, 2001, the president 

signed a law allowing controllers covered by the CSRS retirement system 

to work in covered positions past age 56 until they first become 

eligible for retirement annuities under any retirement 
scenario.[Footnote 32] 

Our analyses of FAA’s employee database shows that approximately 700 of 
those 

controllers currently engaged in separation and control of traffic are 
exempt 

from the requirement and have already turned age 56, and another 1,200 
will 

reach 56 by December 31, 2006, if they do not leave FAA before then. 

According to FAA, 287 controllers were appointed by DOT before May 16, 

1972, and are exempt from the requirement. Most of the remaining 

exempted controllers were either appointed by DOD before September 12, 

1980, or are covered by FERS provisions.



FAA also has the statutory authority to waive the age provision on a 

case-by-case basis. The applicable law states that “the Secretary of 

Transportation, under such regulations as he may prescribe, may exempt 

a controller having exceptional skill and experience as a controller 

from the automatic separation provisions of this subsection until that 

controller becomes 61 years of age.”[Footnote 33] However, according to 

an FAA Headquarters official, FAA has never granted an age waiver to 

the mandatory separation provision. Further, since 1995, it has been 

FAA’s policy not to grant any age waivers. This official also stated 

that most controllers are aware of the difficulty in obtaining an age 

waiver and do not even apply for one--only seven controllers have 

applied for a waiver since 1995. Despite this view, many controllers 

said they would like the opportunity to work past the age of 56. Our 

survey indicates that many controllers would continue to work if they 

were permitted to do so; approximately 31 percent of respondents cited 

the opportunity to work past age 56 as a factor that could lead them to 

delay their retirement plans. In addition, regional FAA officials said 

they would like to have the flexibility to retain some of these 

experienced controllers.



As mentioned above, safety concerns formed the basis of the age-56 

separation provision. Only limited actions have been taken, however, to 

assess whether those controllers who are exempted from the provision 

have adequately retained the skills and abilities necessary to perform 

their duties. FAA requires all controllers to pass annual physical 

examinations that test sight, hearing, and overall health conditions. 

No additional tests--such as for mental acuity or changes in reaction 

time--are given to controllers who surpass age 56.



The equity issues associated with the exemptions to the age-56 

separation rule could become more prominent in the future if FAA 

continues to rehire controllers fired during the 1981 strike. In 1993 

President Clinton, through presidential directive, lifted the ban on 

hiring former striking employees. In the past 5 years, FAA has rehired 

about 850 controllers who were fired in 1981. The average age of the 

733 still working as of June 30, 2001, was 54, and about 35 percent 

were aged 56 or older. The oldest was 69 as of June 30, 2001. In 

addition, FAA officials said that most of the rehires are exempt from 

the mandatory separation provisions because they were originally hired 

before May 16, 1972. Further, recently a group of controllers fired 

during the 1981 strike filed a class action lawsuit alleging that FAA 

discriminates against such controllers because of their age. Depending 

on the outcome of this lawsuit, about 2,000 former controllers--many 

aged 50 and above--could be given hiring priority.



Conclusions:



Although the attrition scenarios projected by FAA and us reflect 

estimates of the future, and any particular estimate in any given year 

is subject to varying degrees of uncertainty, the overall results 

suggest that FAA will face significant personnel challenges. If 

controllers leave at a quicker pace than estimated, the situation may 

become even more difficult for FAA, as it would have to swiftly replace 

its seasoned controllers with new controllers possessing lesser 

experience. To the extent that controllers leave at a slower pace than 

estimated, FAA will have a larger window of opportunity to replenish 

its workforce. Ultimately, FAA’s ability to successfully plan for and 

manage this situation will dictate its overall impact on the nation’s 

air traffic control system and the safety and efficiency of air travel 

in the United States.



The employees whom FAA will need to replace possess unique skills and 

are critical to the safety and efficiency of the nation’s air 

transportation system. FAA, as the agency responsible for managing this 

workforce, does not have a comprehensive workforce plan to help manage 

the expected turnover. An effective human capital process anticipates 

expected attrition and includes the development of a comprehensive 

workforce plan that (1) establishes an effective approach for hiring 

individuals with the requisite skills and abilities in time to 

accomplish agency missions, (2) provides new employees with the best 

training opportunities possible to maximize their potential, and (3) 

uses opportunities to retain qualified staff.



FAA’s approach to workforce planning does not adequately address these 

strategies, raising the risk that the safety and efficiency of the 

nation’s air transportation system will be adversely affected. In 

addition, if FAA does not take steps to develop and implement a more 

comprehensive workforce strategy, increased traffic delays and overtime 

costs could result. FAA’s practice of hiring replacements for 

controllers only after a position is vacated leaves the agency 

vulnerable to skills imbalances, with inexperienced and uncertified 

controllers replacing seasoned veterans. This situation may be 

exacerbated at individual air traffic control facilities because the 

age and experience of controllers varies across the system, which could 

cause some locations to experience additional staffing challenges. Also 

of concern are the effects of the recent scoring changes that were made 

to the test used to screen potential candidates. Until the screening 

test results are examined, the ability of the exam to identify 

candidates who will make successful controllers will not be known. 

Further, the quality of the training that controllers receive could be 

compromised because FAA has not addressed the human resources and 

equipment needs of its training academy, despite the growing projected 

student population. Finally, safety and equity issues associated with 

the age-56 separation exemptions could affect the morale of the 

controller workforce and the safety of air traffic.



Recommendations for Executive Action:



To help meet the challenges presented by hiring thousands of new 

controller candidates, we recommend that the secretary of 

transportation direct the administrator of the Federal Aviation 

Administration to develop a comprehensive workforce plan that includes 

strategies for:



* Identifying the number and timing of hiring necessary to ensure that 

facilities have an adequate number of certified controllers available 

to perform needed duties. As part of this effort, FAA should determine 

and plan for the expected attrition levels and timing at each facility;



* Evaluating the newly developed screening test to determine whether it 

is identifying the most successful candidates;



* Addressing the resource and equipment needs at the training academy 

to help ensure that FAA is in a position to successfully train a 

growing number of controller candidates; and:



* Assessing the safety and equity issues associated with exempting 

potentially large numbers of controllers from the mandatory age-56 

separation requirement.



Agency Comments and GAO’s Evaluation:



In commenting on a draft of this report, senior FAA officials found 

that the report was generally accurate and indicated that they would 

consider our recommendations in FAA’s workforce planning.



Overall, FAA stressed that it has a working human capital workforce 

strategy model that has enabled the agency to meet its staffing goals 

over the past few years. FAA officials agreed that the potential for 

sizable future attrition, in the range of 600-800 controllers per year, 

is likely over the next decade. The officials said, however, that 

although they have plans that extend to 2010, the uncertainty 

surrounding the future, along with labor contracts and budget 

constraints, limit their specific workforce planning for air traffic 

controllers to fiscal years 2002 through 2004. With general agreement 

between FAA and GAO that attrition will grow substantially over the 

next decade, we believe that the workforce challenges FAA faces extend 

well beyond fiscal year 2004. As such, we believe that sound workforce 

planning demands that FAA develop a strategic vision that includes a 

workable, long-term plan to meet staffing needs.



Regarding our concern about FAA’s preparedness for the future, the FAA 

officials remarked that FAA’s ability to meet its past goals is an 

indication of its ability to meet future needs, and that there is 

nothing to indicate that its successful performance will not continue 

in the future. We recognize that FAA has been able to meet its recent 

staffing goals. However, the recent workforce climate for FAA could be 

significantly different from that which it will face over the next 

decade. Chapter two of the report highlights the workforce challenges, 

particularly the sizable anticipated increases in controller attrition, 

that are likely over the next decade, and this chapter identifies 

challenges in FAA’s planning that will make it difficult for FAA to 

maintain its past performance. In particular, the report points out the 

potential skills gap that FAA could face in the future because its 

current hiring process does not ensure that fully qualified controllers 

are available to replace experienced controllers when they leave.



The officials also commented that FAA has long planned for an 

operational evaluation of the new screening exam, and that research 

associated with this evaluation has been underway for some time. The 

officials indicated that they are considering two options for 

evaluating the effectiveness of the exam. The officials commented, 

however, that limited work has been done on the evaluation process 

since 1998, and that they must determine which option to pursue, 

develop a detailed implementation plan, and identify funding for the 

evaluation. The officials further noted that continued funding for the 

ongoing research could not be assured. In response to this comment, we 

revised the text of the report to recognize FAA’s efforts and plans 

regarding evaluation of the new screening exam. As such, we are 

encouraged that FAA plans to conduct an operational evaluation of the 

exam, once it has been implemented. However, we remain concerned that 

FAA has not decided how it will conduct the evaluation or how it will 

fund it and has already highlighted potential funding issues that could 

serve as a constraint to performing the planned evaluation. Further, we 

believe that an evaluation of the revised exam is an integral part of a 

comprehensive workforce plan and have modified the recommendation to 

emphasize this belief.



Finally, the FAA officials provided technical comments that we 

incorporated, as appropriate. For example, we added information in this 

chapter to highlight the constraints that FAA’s labor contract and 

budget impose on the timing of hiring controllers.



[End of section]



Appendixes:



Appendix I: Potential Impacts of Proposed Changes to Increase Air 

Traffic Control Annuity Calculations:



In May 2001, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would amend 

annuity computations for air traffic controllers retiring under the 

CSRS system.[Footnote 34] It would provide controllers with an 

additional 2 percent to their annuity computation for each year of 

service past 20 years. Under CSRS, air traffic controllers are 

guaranteed the greater of either (a) 50 percent of their average 

highest 3 years salary (high-3) or (b) the basic CSRS annuity, which is 

1.5 percent of the high-3 for the first 5 years, 1.75 percent of the 

high-3 for the next 5 years, and 2 percent of the high-3 for the 

remaining years. In general, annuity calculations under the special 

provisions are greater than under the basic CSRS formula until a 

controller has attained 27 years of service. The controllers’ union 

supports this proposed legislation and believes it serves as an 

incentive to keep controllers on the job beyond their date of 

retirement eligibility. The bill, however, would create substantial 

financial impacts to the federal treasury.



Proposed Bill Would Increase Annuities:



The controllers’ union notes that while CSRS controllers may receive an 

annuity of 50 percent of their high-3 salaries after 20 years of 

service at age 50 or after 25 years and any age, there is little 

incentive to continue working longer because the amount of the annuity 

does not grow until a controller accrues 27 years of service. For 

example, as shown in table 6, a controller with the same high-3 salary 

has the same level of annuity whether he or she has worked 20 or 25 

years.



Table 6: Current and Proposed Annuity Calculations:



Current years of service: 20; High-3 salary: $100,000; Higher of 

current special rule annuity (50 percent of high-3 or basic CSRS): 

$50,000; Proposed annuity

(2 percent for each year over 20): $50,000.



Current years of service: 25; High-3 salary: 100,000; Higher of current 

special rule annuity (50 percent of high-3 or basic CSRS): 50,000; 

Proposed annuity

(2 percent for each year over 20): 60,000.



Current years of service: 27; High-3 salary: 100,000; Higher of current 

special rule annuity (50 percent of high-3 or basic CSRS): 50,250; 

Proposed annuity

(2 percent for each year over 20): 64,000.



Source: GAO analysis.



[End of table]



Under the proposed bill, controllers would receive an extra 2 percent 

to their annuities for every year of service past 20 years. As the 

above table shows, this would increase the annuity calculation. In 

addition, the union notes that federal firefighters and law enforcement 

officials receive increased annuities after 20 years of service. The 

union also points out that such an incentive could be useful in keeping 

controllers working longer, which would help address the expected 

upcoming increase in retirements.



Proposed Bill Would Create Financial Impacts:



This proposal does not take into account the existing incentives that 

encourage controllers to work past the point when they first become 

eligible for retirement. First, a controller receives a full salary for 

each year he or she continues working as a controller. This level of 

income is significantly higher than what controllers would receive from 

their retirement annuities. For example, many controllers who are 

eligible for retirement are making in excess of $100,000 per year. 

Assuming they would retire under the controllers’ current special 

rules, the differential would be at least $50,000 in the first year. 

Second, controllers receive annual pay increases like other federal 

employees, which increase the amount of salary they receive and also 

increase the annuity levels. Table 7 shows examples of retirement 

annuity calculations for an individual controller, including projected 

salary increases, with 20 years of service at 50 years of age, 25 years 

of service at 55 years of age, and 26 years of service at 56 years of 

age. Also shown is the effect of current federal retirement rules for 

other federal employees, which contain annuity penalties for federal 

employees who retire before age 55.



Table 7: Retirement Annuity Calculations under Current CSRS and S. 871:



Age: 50; Years of service: 20; High-3[A]: $100,000; Current special 

rule annuity (50%): $50,000; Proposed annuity (with 2% increase): 

$50,000; Current federal CSRS basic annuity: $32,676[D].



Age: 55; Years of service: 25; High-3[A]: 112,551; Current special rule 

annuity (50%): 56,275; Proposed annuity (with 2% increase): 67,530[B]; 

Current federal CSRS basic annuity: 52,055.



Age: 56; Years of service: 26; High-3[A]: 115,928; Current special rule 

annuity (50%): 57,964; Proposed annuity (with 2% increase): 71,875[C]; 

Current federal CSRS basic annuity: 55,935.



[A] Assumes 3% annual growth. :



[B] $56,275 plus 2 percent of the high-3 for 5 years--each year of 

service after 20.



[C] $57,964 plus 2 percent of the high-3 for 6 years.



[D] The CSRS calculation includes an age penalty of 2 percent per year 

for each year prior to age 55 that a federal employee retires. It also 

assumes that employees with these ages and years of service would be 

allowed to retire with immediate annuity. Otherwise, these individuals 

would need to wait until turning 60 to begin receiving these amounts.



Source: GAO analysis.



[End of table]



The table above also shows the potential financial impacts that the 

bill would create for individual controllers. For example, a controller 

with 26 years of service and a high-3 of approximately $116,000 would 

receive an annual increase of roughly $14,000 during each year of his 

or her annuity.



To determine the overall financial impact of the proposed bill, OPM 

prepared an analysis of the bill’s long-term costs. OPM estimated that 

the cost of the bill to the treasury had a present value of $1.7 

billion. In addition, OPM found that the higher benefit levels under 

the proposal could potentially encourage somewhat earlier retirements, 

because employees with 24 years of service would receive the same 

benefit they now get with 31 years of service (that is, 58 percent of 

the high-3).



[End of section]



Appendix II: Air Traffic Controller Schools:



Figure 9: Locations of Air Traffic Controller Schools:



[See PDF for image]



Source: GAO presentation of FAA data.



[End of figure]



Table 8: Current Capacities of Air Traffic Controller Schools, as of 

November 2001:



School: Daniel Webster College; Type of degree program: 4-year; Current 

number of students: 9; Current program capacity: 20.



School: University of North Dakota; Type of degree program: 4-year; 

Current number of students: 68; Current program capacity: 119.



School: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; Type of degree program: 

4-year; Current number of students: 24; Current program capacity: 45.



School: Miami-Dade Community College; Type of degree program: 2-year; 

Current number of students: 30; Current program capacity: 80-100.



School: Purdue University; Type of degree program: 4-year; Current 

number of students: 52; Current program capacity: 800.



School: Community College of Beaver County; Type of degree program: 2-

year; Current number of students: 139; Current program capacity: 139.



School: Dowling College; Type of degree program: 4-year; Current number 

of students: 9; Current program capacity: Unknown.



School: Inter American University of Puerto Rico; Type of degree 

program: 5-year; Current number of students: 12; Current program 

capacity: 15.



School: Middle Tennessee State University; Type of degree program: 4-

year; Current number of students: 18; Current program capacity: 18.



School: College of Aeronautics; Type of degree program: 2-or 4-year; 

Current number of students: 17; Current program capacity: 100.



School: Mt. San Antonio College; Type of degree program: 2-year; 

Current number of students: 40; Current program capacity: Near 

capacity.



School: Hampton University; Type of degree program: 4-year; Current 

number of students: 1; Current program capacity: 20.



School: University of Alaska-Anchorage; Type of degree program: 2-or 4-

year; Current number of students: 62; Current program capacity: 90.



Source: GAO interviews with school representatives.



[End of section]



Appendix III: Retirement Eligibility Methodology and Analysis:



A key piece of information needed to assess FAA’s controller staffing 

is knowing when controllers will become eligible to retire. To 

determine when FAA’s series 2152 controllers will become eligible to 

retire, we obtained selected demographic information from FAA’s 

personnel database for all 22,865 controllers (categorized as series 

2152) working at FAA as of June 30, 2001. Because we wanted to focus on 

those controllers who are or could be involved in managing air traffic, 

we eliminated the 2,844 flight service station controllers from our 

analyses, leaving a total of 20,021 controllers.



For the 20,021 controllers on board as of June 30, 2001, we determined 

the earliest date when they would become eligible to retire based on 

age at hire at FAA, retirement plan, years of service at FAA, and years 

of pre-FAA, retirement-creditable service. All FAA service was assumed 

to be in good time and creditable toward air traffic controller special 

retirement provisions (25 years of service at any age, and 20 years of 

service at age 50). For example, to compute the eligibility dates of 

controllers hired by FAA at an age younger than 26, we added 25 years 

to their FAA service entry dates. The eligibility date for controllers 

entering FAA from the ages of 26 up to 30 was calculated to be the date 

they turned 50 years of age. Eligibility for those from ages 30 through 

35 was calculated by adding 20 years to their FAA service entry date. 

For controllers entering FAA after the age of 35, eligibility dates 

were based on the provisions of their retirement plans (CSRS or FERS) 

and the amount of retirement-creditable service they had before 

entering FAA. Whether the individual first became eligible under air 

traffic controller special rules or regular CSRS/FERS rules was 

dependent on the number of years of creditable prior service he or she 

had upon entry at FAA.



To provide a context for projected eligibility trends, we calculated 

the number of controllers becoming eligible to retire each year between 

1997 and 2001, using the same method described above, with FAA 

personnel data from fiscal years 1997 through 2001. We also stratified 

our analyses of controllers by facility type, supervisory status, 

selected location, and position. The positions we examined included 

supervisors, certified professional controllers, traffic management 

coordinators, controllers not controlling traffic, developmental 

controllers, and trainees.



[End of section]



Appendix IV: Methodology for Computer Simulation:



To assess the impact of estimated separations for the career 

controllers between fiscal years 2002 and 2011, we analyzed past 

separation trends and used these factors in estimating future 

controller separations.



Analysis of Separation Trends:



We analyzed FAA’s fiscal year-1997 through fiscal year-2000 data for 

separations for the career air traffic controllers. In doing so, we 

categorized past separations into voluntary retirements, other 

retirements, and all other separations. For separations, we calculated 

years of service by finding the difference between the service 

computation date and the date of actual separation. Similarly, we 

calculated age at separation by finding the difference between the date 

of birth and the date of separation. We calculated the age and years of 

service for the air traffic controllers on board at the end of the 

fiscal year similarly, but used September 30TH as the end date.



For each 2-year interval of years of service and age of those who 

separated from FAA during the period 1997 through 2000, we calculated 

the probability of leaving by dividing the number who separated by the 

number of controllers with a similar combination of years of service 

and age who were on board at the end of the fiscal year preceding the 

fiscal year of separations. We also bound all controllers into those 64 

years and above, as well as all controllers with 32 or more years of 

service. We then modeled the rate of separation as a function of years 

of service, age, and CSRS/FERS retirement status. We developed an 

equation that estimates the rate of separation for any age, years of 

service, and CSRS/FERS retirement status.



Estimation Methodology of Future FAA Controller Separations:



We applied a simulation technique to each of the 20,021 controllers on 

board in 2001. Each controller’s age and years of service was used as 

input into the model described above. Based on the model, an individual 

controller was considered to have separated if his or her predicted 

rate of separation was less than a generated random number. If the 

predicted value was greater than a generated random number, then the 

individual controller was deemed not to have separated. This process 

was repeated for each of the 20,021 controllers. The process was then 

continued for those controllers who were not estimated as having 

separated in 2001, but with each controller now being 1 year older and 

having 1 more year of service. As before, the controller’s new age and 

new years of service were used as input into the model, and a predicted 

rate of separation was contrasted with a newly generated random number 

to determine whether the controller was considered as separated in 

2002. A separation decision was made for each of the remaining 

controllers, and either each controller was counted as having separated 

in 2002 or else 1 year was again added to both age and years of 

service. This process was repeated 11 times to represent an 11-year 

horizon.



Because we are dealing with a process that is of a probabilistic nature 

(that is, a controller may or may not have separated in any one year), 

we repeated the process 100 times. The results of the 100 iterations 

were then averaged to estimate the number of controllers separating in 

2001 through 2011.



Limitations:



We developed a mathematical model in order to calculate any individual 

controller’s rate of separation, which was based on three criteria: (1) 

FERS/CSRS retirement status, (2) age at any point during the 11-year 

horizon, and (3) years of service at any point during the 11-year 

horizon. This mathematical model was based on the retirement rates for 

the same three conditions: FERS/CSRS retirement status, age, and years 

of service for the 4 previous years. The optimization in developing the 

mathematical model, known as regression analysis, is to minimize the 

squared differences between the actual rates of separation and the 

predicted rates of separation. An index, which is known as the squared 

correlation coefficient and is bounded between zero and one, is one 

useful numerical quantity to assess the strength or predictive power of 

the mathematical model. A perfect fit in a model would yield a squared 

correlation coefficient of 1.00. In our mathematical model, we achieved 

a squared correlation coefficient of .79. Thus, we were able to capture 

and predict about four-fifths of the variability in the rates of 

separation for the 4 years’ worth of separation data. One limitation, 

therefore, is that our model does not predict with 100 percent accuracy 

the actual rates of separation, although it is uncommon in real world 

applications to find such a high squared correlation when dealing with 

behavioral data such as separating from controller service. It is also 

worth noting that associated factors such as an individual’s health, 

race, sex, or even children’s ages and college status may affect his or 

her decision to separate. These other factors were either not available 

or not included in the mathematical model.



Another limitation in simulating the separation from service, which is 

based on a mathematical model, includes the concept of using the 

previous patterns of separating from service to generate the 

mathematical model. If the rate of separation for those individual 

controllers starting in 2001 is different from the previous 4-year 

patterns, then we introduce a source of error into the simulation. As 

mentioned earlier, many factors are possible in deciding to separate 

from service, which may include something unique or something that for 

many controllers does not manifest itself until 2001 or beyond. It is 

possible that the controllers who came aboard in 1982 and beyond will 

separate at either higher or lower rates of separation than those of 

their counterparts who began their service at an earlier time. This 

variability cannot be assessed until actual rates of separation occur 

and should be very closely monitored by the FAA.



[End of section]



Appendix V: Methodology for GAO’s Survey of Air Traffic Controllers’ 

Retirement and Attrition Plans:



A primary objective in this study was to determine the number or 

proportion of current air traffic controllers who plan to retire each 

year, over the upcoming 10-year period. To meet this objective, among 

other things, we surveyed a statistically representative sample of air 

traffic controller personnel. We developed and administered a survey 

designed to obtain the views of selected air traffic controller 

personnel regarding issues associated with attrition, with emphasis on 

retirement. The survey was mailed in August 2001 to a stratified sample 

of 2,100 controllers. As of February 12, 2002, we had received 1,591 

completed, usable surveys. Our work was conducted in accordance with 

generally accepted government auditing standards.



Study Population:



FAA provided data from the Consolidated Personnel Management 

Information System (CPMIS) as of June 30, 2001, for all FAA controllers 

(Series 2152). Since our primary interest was to estimate for the 

controller population most likely to be directly involved in monitoring 

the movement of planes, we removed from our study population 2,844 

flight service station controllers who give out weather information and 

pilot briefings. This left us with a study population consisting of 

20,021 air traffic controllers.



Sample Design:



The sample design for this study is a single-stage stratified sample of 

FAA employees in the study population. The first four strata consisted 

of employees who were likely to be eligible to retire before the end of 

2006.[Footnote 35] The fifth stratum consisted only of rehired former 

employees, and a final, “residual” stratum was defined to ensure 

complete coverage of our study population. A total sample of 2,100 

employees was selected from the 20,021 employees in our study 

population, and we received a total of 1,591 valid responses, for an 

overall response rate of 76 percent.[Footnote 36] The following table 

summarizes the population size, sample size, number of respondents, and 

response rate for each of the sampling strata.



Table 9: Survey Sample Size and Disposition:



Stratum: (1) Non-supervisors at en route centers--Eligible to retire by 

2006; Population: 2,079; Sample: 331; Respondents: 247; Response: 0.75.



Stratum: (2) Supervisors at en route centers--Eligible to retire by 

2006; Population: 547; Sample: 177; Respondents: 152; Response: 0.86.



Stratum: (3) Non-supervisors at other facilities--Eligible to retire by 

2006; Population: 3,937; Sample: 614; Respondents: 473; Response: 0.77.



Stratum: (4) Supervisors at other facilities--Eligible to retire by 

2006; Population: 754; Sample: 242; Respondents: 187; Response: 0.77.



Stratum: (5) All rehired former employees; Population: 733; Sample: 

336; Respondents: 254; Response: 0.76.



Stratum: (6) Controllers not eligible to retire by 2006; Population: 

11,971; Sample: 400; Respondents: 278; Response: 0.70.



Stratum: Total; Population: 20,021; Sample: 2,100; Respondents: 1,591; 

Response: 0.76.



Source: GAO:



[End of table]



Survey Development:



In designing the questionnaire, we interviewed FAA officials in Human 

Resources at headquarters in Washington, D.C., and at the Oklahoma City 

center to identify issues of interest and past work on retirement. We 

met with NATCA officials and reviewed their 1999 survey about the 

retirement eligibility and intentions of NATCA members in the terminal 

and en-route air traffic controller bargaining unit. To further guide 

the development of appropriate questions, we reviewed current 

literature on retirement issues and studies. We also asked officials at 

FAA, NATCA, and the Federal Managers Association to review a draft 

version of the survey.



To verify the clarity, length of time of administration, and 

suitability of the questions, we also pre-tested the questionnaire with 

selected controllers at two towers, one en-route center, and the 

Systems Command Center in Herndon, Va. A copy of the Survey of Air 

Traffic Controllers Retirement and Attrition Plans can be found in 

Appendix VI.



Survey Administration:



We conducted a survey between August 2001 and February 2002, using a 

self-administered mail-out survey. We sent a second questionnaire on 

October 2, 2001, to all initial nonrespondents in order to encourage a 

higher response rate. Following this mailing, we experienced an 

extended delay in returns until January 9, 2002, because mail delivery 

was halted on account of the anthrax contaminations in Washington, D.C. 

Hence, we extended the expected cut-off date until February 12, 2002, 

after a stream of returns had tapered off.



By February 12, 2002, we had 1,591 completed, usable surveys for an 

overall response rate of 76 percent. Some surveys were eliminated 

because they (1) had been returned blank, (2) were duplicates from the 

same individual, or (3) came from respondents who had left FAA before 

the fielding period ended. We used a contractor to create a database of 

survey responses. All data were double keyed during the data entry 

process, and GAO staff verified a sample of the resulting data to 

ensure accuracy.



Estimates:



Estimates produced in this report are for a target population defined 

as air traffic controllers in our study population. A very small 

proportion (fewer than 1 percent) of the survey respondents indicated 

that they were not classified as Series 2152 air traffic controllers at 

the time of the survey. Those respondents are not included in any 

estimates derived from survey data in this report; therefore, the final 

target population for estimation is 19,880 controllers.



Estimates were formed by weighting the survey responses to account for 

effective sampling rates in each stratum. These weights reflect both 

the initial sampling rate and the response rate for each stratum. As 

with most surveys, our estimation method assumes that nonrespondents 

would have answered like the survey respondents.



Sampling Error:



Because we surveyed a sample of air traffic controllers, our results 

are estimates of air traffic controller characteristics and thus are 

subject to sampling errors that are associated with samples of this 

size and type. Our confidence in the precision of the results from this 

sample is expressed in 95-percent confidence intervals. The 95-percent 

confidence intervals are expected to include the actual results for 95 

percent of the samples of this type. We calculated confidence intervals 

for our study results using methods that are appropriate for a 

stratified probability sample. For the percentages presented in this 

report, we are 95-percent confident that the results we would have 

obtained had we studied the entire study population are within +/-5 or 

fewer percentage points of our results, unless otherwise noted. For 

example, our survey estimates that 33 percent of the controllers would 

retire earlier if there were increased mandatory overtime. The 95 

percent confidence interval for this estimate would be no wider than +/

-5 percent, or from 28 percent to 38 percent. For estimates other than 

percentages, 95-percent confidence intervals are +/-10 percent or less 

of the value of the estimate, unless otherwise noted.



Nonsampling Error:



In addition to these sampling errors, the practical difficulties in 

conducting surveys of this type may introduce other types of errors, 

commonly referred to as nonsampling errors. For example, questions may 

be misinterpreted, the respondents’ answers may differ from those of 

people who did not respond, or errors could be made in keying completed 

questionnaires or in the preparation of data files for analysis. We 

took several steps in an attempt to reduce such errors.



In addition to the steps taken during the development of the survey and 

its administration, we performed computer analyses to identify 

inconsistencies and other indicators of errors, and a second 

independent analyst reviewed all computer programs.



[End of section]



Appendix VI: GAO Survey of Air Traffic Controllers:



[See PDF for image]



[End of section]



Appendix VII: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments:



GAO Contacts:



Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D. (202) 512-3650

Glen Trochelman (312) 220-7729:



Staff Acknowledgments:



In addition to the above, Ruthann Balciunas, William Chatlos, William 

Doherty, Colin Fallon, David Hooper, Mitch Karpman, David Lehrer, David 

Lichtenfeld, Mark Ramage, Raymond Sendejas, Rebecca Shea, and Amy 

Stewart made key contributions to this report.



FOOTNOTES



[1] For this report, “attrition” refers to controllers who leave FAA 

for a variety of reasons, including retirement, removal for cause, 

death, or disability.



[2] Although most controllers are required to stop controlling live 

traffic at age 56, they can continue working at FAA in other positions.



[3] A Model of Strategic Human Capital Management, GAO-02-373SP 

(Washington, D.C.: 

Mar. 15, 2002).



[4] All estimates based on GAO’s survey of air traffic controllers are 

subject to sampling error. Unless otherwise noted, 95 percent 

confidence intervals for percentage estimates are +/-5 percentage 

points or less, and numerical estimates other than percentages have 

confidence intervals of +/-10 percent or less the value of the 

estimate.



[5] There are 24 en route centers, which include 3 center en route 

radar approach facilities--facilities that combine center and TRACON 

operations. Terminal facilities can include both a TRACON and a tower, 

which FAA categorizes as one facility.



[6] The Office of Personnel Management classifies civilian air traffic 

controllers in the FAA as occupational series 2152--civilian air 

traffic controllers. In addition to these 20,021 employees, there are 

about 2,800 flight service station controllers who do not directly 

control or manage air traffic but provide pilot briefing, weather 

reports, and emergency services to pilots before and during flights.



[7] There is currently a Senate bill, S. 871, that proposes to increase 

CSRS annuity levels. See appendix I for a discussion of the impacts of 

this proposal.



[8] Most controllers in FAA are subject to this rule. However, 

controllers appointed by the Department of Transportation prior to May 

16, 1972, and controllers appointed to the Department of Defense prior 

to September 12, 1980, are exempted. In addition, controllers covered 

under FERS can work until they accrue 20 years of good time regardless 

of age, and CSRS controllers can work past the age of 56 if they have 

not qualified for a retirement annuity.



[9] The FAA Academy in Oklahoma City provides management and technical 

training to controllers, inspectors, and other FAA personnel.



[10] Over the past 5 years, FAA has hired on average fewer than 10 

candidates from the 1992 OPM list each year.



[11] FAA regional officials supplied us with hiring information for 

each fiscal year since 1997. Fiscal year 2001 reflects partial year 

data.



[12] FAA policy pursuant to Public Law 92-297 prohibits hiring 

controllers after they have turned 31 years of age. Exceptions to this 

rule include retired military controllers, civilian controllers whom 

DOD had hired prior to their 31st birthdays, and re-hired former 

controllers, such as those fired in the 1981 strike.



[13] In some of FAA’s busiest and most complex air traffic control 

facilities it can take up to 5 years to become a certified professional 

controller.



[14] In this report, “attrition” refers to controllers who leave FAA 

for a variety of reasons, including retirement, removal for cause, 

death, or disability.



[15] FAA estimates that the events of September 11, 2001, will cause 

decreases in air traffic through 2003. However, FAA predicts that air 

traffic will then rebound and steadily increase, creating a need for 

additional air traffic controllers. Future controller staffing levels 

will be negotiated between FAA and the union.



[16] Air Traffic Control Facilities: Improving Methods to Determine 

Staffing Requirements, National Academy of Sciences, 1997.



[17] Because FAA’s database does not contain information on the amount 

of an employee’s good time service, to calculate retirement eligibility 

under the special provisions we assumed that all of the controllers’ 

FAA experience was good time. The results indicate the maximum number 

of current controllers who become eligible each year.



[18] Although about 68 percent of current controllers may become 

eligible to retire by 2011, FAA’s workforce at that time will not have 

this level of eligibility because some current controllers will retire 

before then and FAA will hire new employees.



[19] These estimates also include some minimal amount of nonretirement 

attrition--those few controllers who indicated that they would leave 

FAA before they retired.



[20] The 95 percent confidence interval for this estimate extends from 

1,007 to 1,656 controllers.



[21] The 95 percent confidence interval for this estimate extends from 

592 to 984 supervisors.



[22] The 95 percent confidence interval for this estimate extends from 

1,279 to 1,728 supervisors.



[23] The 95 percent confidence interval for this estimate extends from 

115 to 382 supervisors.



[24] For additional discussion of controller supervisors see Air 

Traffic Control: FAA Enhanced the Controller-In-Charge Program, but 

More Comprehensive Evaluation Is Needed, GAO-02-55 (Washington, D.C.: 

Oct. 2001).



[25] Human Capital: Key Principles from Nine Private Sector 

Organizations, GAO/GGD-00-28 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 31, 2000).



[26] A Model of Strategic Human Capital Management, GAO-02-373SP 

(Washington, D.C.: Mar. 15, 2002).



[27] Base salary figures do not include other military compensation, 

such as subsistence and housing allowances; these allowances fluctuate, 

depending on numerous factors.



[28] This legislation covers those controllers under the CSRS 

retirement system. Another mandatory separation provision was passed in 

1986 to cover those controllers who are under the FERS retirement 

system Public Law 99-335 (codified at 5 U.S.C. 8425a).



[29] Public Law 92-297 (codified at 5 U.S.C. 8335).



[30] House Report 92-516.



[31] Senate Report 92-774.



[32] Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Appropriations 

Act, 2002, Public Law 107-67, Sec. 640 (a).



[33] Public Law 92-297 for CSRS, Public Law 99-335 for FERS.



[34] S. 871, the Federal Air Traffic Controllers Annuity Computation 

Act of 2001.



[35] We assigned employees to one of the four “eligible to retire by 

2006” strata based on age and years of service, as reflected in the 

CPMIS data files provided by FAA.



[36] Several surveys were received but not valid and are not included 

among the 1,591 respondents. This includes surveys that were returned 

blank, surveys that were duplicates from the same individual, and 

surveys that were returned by respondents who had left FAA before the 

fielding period ended.



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