Far more veteran air traffic controllers than the government expected have retired since the Bush administration imposed a contract on their union on Labor Day 2006, new data show.While veteran controllers bail out in unprecedented numbers and air travelers experience record delays, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a series of all-is-well pronouncements about its work force.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, by contrast, has produced a stream of warnings about safety risks to the public from overworked controllers in major air-control centers it says are understaffed.
During September 2006 — the month before fiscal 2007 — 97 controllers retired, compared with the 39 the FAA predicted, according to the Transportation Department inspector general, who said the jump “was a result of the breakdown in contract talks.”
That month began with the FAA ending an impasse in negotiations by imposing a contract with new work rules, including staffing cuts, a dress code and a 30 percent cut in the pay of starting controllers. The agency tossed out staffing levels negotiated in the 1998 contract and targeted all 314 control facilities for staff cuts ranging from 9 to 26 percent.