Inhofe, Lankford, Russell Introduce Bill to Support Full-Time ATC Instructors

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford and Congressman Steve Russell (R-Okla.) today introduced legislation in their respective chambers, S.3217 and H.R. 5785, that would ensure the continued safety of our nation’s airways by eliminating an unintended barrier to the hiring and retention of full-time Air Traffic Controller (ATC) Instructors.  Specifically, the bill would remove a financial penalty for instructors willing to work full time in training our next generation of air traffic controllers.  

“With Oklahoma being a leading state in the aerospace industry, I am pleased to introduce legislation with my Oklahoma colleagues to ensure that the next generation of air traffic controllers is fully prepared to manage air traffic in the National Airspace System,” Inhofe said. "This legislation would address current government red tape  that is hampering the private sector’s ability to recruit and retain the highest-quality instructors on a full-time basis. In turn, the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, and airports across the country, will benefit from a consistent training environment by experience instructors for new and future air traffic controllers.” 

“I’m grateful for the work of air traffic controllers and instructors. They keep us safe and are essential in managing a complicated federal aviation system for our nation,” Lankford said. "This bill provides a waiver to the retirement income limitation for retired controllers who choose to train the next generation of air traffic controllers after reaching the mandatory retirement age. These individuals will be vitally important in ensuring we have enough well-trained controllers to safely facilitate air transportation in the years to come.”

“Why the government continues to find ways to punish exceptional workers is a mystery to me. These instructors are the  best at what they do, and letting them work full time prevents wasting the millions it will take to fully train a new class of them annually. Let them work and let them train others to keep our skies safe,” Russell said.

Current law stipulates that to serve as an instructor, one must have served as a certified FAA controller. However, retired controllers must make less than $15,720 a year to receive their Federal Employees' Retirement System annuity supplements. This income cap discourages retired controllers to work as full-time instructors, and therefore increases the cost for training new instructors.  It is estimated to cost about $10,000 to train one full-time instructor and roughly $40,000 to train four part-time instructors to cover the same need. This bill allows retired instructors to be retained, which not only saves money but most importantly, retains experience to ensure our skies remain safe.  

“Without this waiver, retired controllers would forfeit their deserved federal retirement pay supplement should they choose to continue serving as full-time instructors. As the nation is faced with the need to train more than 6,000 controllers in the next five years, this critical provision recognizes the important role retired controllers play in preparing the next generation to ensure the safety of air passengers worldwide. We believe this to be very important legislation, and, on behalf of our employees, we thank Senators Inhofe and Lankford and Congressman Russell  for their support and demonstrated leadership,” said Nazzic Keene, sector president for SAIC, the federal government contractor that provides controller training instructors.

On April 19, the Senate passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2016 by a vote of 95 to 3, which included the language of S.3217 at the request of Inhofe during committee markup of the legislation.