WASHINGTON (AP) -- Thousands of air traffic controllers hired after the 1981 strike are getting ready to retire, and the Federal Aviation Administration isn't readying their replacements, congressional investigators say.
The General Accounting Office said almost 70 percent of the current 20,000 controllers and supervisors will be eligible to retire by September 2011. Around half are expected to leave, the GAO said.
"Because of the significant hiring in the 1980s to replace strikers who had been fired, many thousands of FAA's controllers will soon become eligible to retire, leaving FAA with too few fully trained controllers," said the report released Monday.
The government was forced to hire thousands of controllers to replace those fired by President Reagan after they went on strike. They can retire after 25 years of service at any age, retire at age 50 after 20 years of service, or must leave at age 56. Some 700 strikers who later were rehired have no mandatory retirement age.
FAA spokesman Fraser Jones said there will be no shortage of trained controllers.
"We have an aggressive plan to assure there are significant air traffic controllers available to staff the entire air traffic control system and meet the needs of the flying public," he said.
The GAO found the FAA was not adequately prepared to replace the retiring controllers, "thus increasing the risk that FAA will not have enough qualified controllers when necessary to meet air traffic demands."
For example, the FAA generally hires replacements only when there are openings, not taking into account that it takes five years to adequately train a new controller, the GAO said.
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