The Federal Aviation Administration plans to hire 12,500 air traffic controllers during the next 10 years and speed up their training to...

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MIAMI — The Federal Aviation Administration plans to hire 12,500 air traffic controllers during the next 10 years and speed up their training to address coming shortages due to retirements.

The agency also wants to add part-timers and allow the highest achievers to work beyond the mandated retirement age of 56.

But the union representing air traffic controllers says the plan is insufficient to address the problem, and it will take too long to fill the need for skilled professionals overseeing the nation’s skies.

“We’re glad to see the plan has finally arrived, but we anticipate it will probably be too little, too late,” said John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

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During the next decade, 73 percent of the FAA’s 14,816 air traffic controllers will be eligible to retire, and staffing losses over the next 10 years are expected to total more than 11,000.

The wave of retirements follows the burst in hiring after the air traffic controllers’ strike in 1981. More than 10,000 controllers were fired when they did not return to work within 48 hours, as ordered by President Reagan. To replace them, thousands of controllers were hired in 1982 and 1983 and throughout that decade.


Air traffic controllers



The FAA usually hires controllers out of the military and approved aviation programs at 12 colleges.


Qualifications


Applicants must be below age 56 and speak fluent English.

Medical requirements include having 20/20 vision without corrective lenses and no history of heart disease.

Aspiring air traffic controllers must pass an aptitude test before being accepted to the FAA’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City for a 15-week program. That is followed by a few years of on-the-job training.

For information about training, call the center at 405-954-4508 or log on to jobs.faa.gov/


Salary


Pay for air traffic controllers ranges from about $40,000 to $130,000 a year, according to the FAA.

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Yet the FAA has not estimated the cost of its plan to restock its pipeline following upcoming retirements, and funding has yet to be allocated.

“There is one glaring omission in this report — funding,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, ranking Democrat on the House Aviation Subcommittee. “Hiring and training 12,500 new controllers will be challenging and expensive.”

In its plan to Congress, the FAA says it must add controllers, make better use of technology in the training programs and improve efficiency.

“The plan is a first step in confronting the challenges that must be addressed if we are to ensure the continued efficient operation of the nation’s airspace,” Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta said in a statement.

But Carr said the FAA needs to hire about 15,000 controllers to meet the historic dropout rate, and that the plan does not include a solution for the next two years.

In 2004, the agency lost 677 controllers and hired 13, due to budget constraints. In 2005, it will lose 686 and hire 435.

Then it plans to hire 1,000 to 2,000 each year.

Juan Fuentes, assistant air-traffic manager for the FAA in South Florida, said the net shortage will be filled by shifting professionals from overstaffed locations to those that are understaffed.

Controllers could also work part time and split their shifts to work during peak hours, as part of the FAA’s plan.

The agency also wants to compress its three- to five-year training to two to three years by using simulators. And it wants to reduce trainees’ historical dropout rate from 43 percent to 5 percent by employing better screening methods.

Fuentes said the FAA already has a base of 5,000 controller applicants — largely graduates of college training programs and military controllers.

The average salary for air traffic controllers nationwide is $110,000 to $120,000, Fuentes said. Salaries start at about $70,000 to $80,000 at smaller airports and $90,000 to $100,000 at large ones.