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In the summer of 2000, the air traffic control system lacked the capacity to handle demand efficiently, and flight delays produced near-gridlock conditions at several U.S. airports. A combination of factors, including the crises instigated by the events of 9/11, temporarily reduced air traffic, but air traffic is now back to near pre-9/11 levels. The ability of the air traffic control system to handle expected traffic in coming years may depend in part on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) effectiveness in planning for a long-expected wave of air traffic controller retirements. GAO's testimony focuses on (1) the magnitude and timing of the pending wave of air traffic controller retirements, (2) the challenges FAA faces in ensuring that well-qualified air traffic controllers are ready to step into the gap created by the expected large number of retirements, and (3) challenges that will affect the ability of the air traffic controller workforce to meet future changes in the airline industry and use of airspace. GAO's statement is based on past reports on the air traffic controller workforce, including GAO's 2002 report that surveyed controllers and analyzed controller workforce data. GAO has updated this work through interviews with and the collection of data from key stakeholders in the aviation community. This work was performed in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

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