Aging Air Traffic Control UPDATED

Thirty years ago today air traffic control was changed forever.

On August 3, 1981 nearly 13,000 of the 17,500 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) walked off the job, hoping to disrupt the nation’s transportation system to the extent that the federal government would accede to its demands for higher wages, a shorter work week, and better retirement benefits.  At a press conference in the White House Rose Garden that same day, President Reagan responded with a stern ultimatum: The strikers were to return to work within 48 hours or face termination.  As federal employees the controllers were violating the no-strike clause of their employment contracts. Source:

Fast forward to 2011 and we face a crisis. More than half of the replacement controllers are due to retire because of mandatory retirement rules. There is a mandatory retirement age of 56 for controllers who manage air traffic. And the minimum age (now) is 30. Do the math and all of the controllers they hired in 1981 were forced to retire by 2007. They made some exceptions and they replaced several controllers early, but the fact is we’re in desperate need of more air traffic controllers.

I find it a little ironic that this year the FAA ran out of money and furloughed 4,000 workers. Today the FAA got funding to re-open. They were loosing an estimated $30 million per day of airline ticket taxes.

Since authorization for FAA funding expired in late July, the agency has also been unable to collect federal taxes on airline tickets — leading to a revenue loss of approximately $30 million a day. If the dispute had continued until Congress returned in September, the federal government would have lost over $1 billion in revenue. Source: Senate passes bill ending partial FAA shutdown –