Review of the Scientific Basis for the Mandatory Separation of an Air Traffic Control Specialist at Age 56
FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION OKLAHOMA CITY OK CIVIL AEROMEDICAL INST
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Under Public Law 92-297, air traffic control specialists ATCS or controller are required to retire at age 56. A review of the literature relevant to the mandatory retirement of controllers was conducted. The scope of the review was limited to studies relevant to the specific rationales proferred in support of mandatory separation of controllers at age 56. The review was not a comprehensive examination of the extensive literature on aging, health, stress, shiftwork, cognitive abilities, or job performance, including errors, as related to the air traffic control specialist ATCS occupation. The testimony offered in 1971 before the U.S. Congress did not explicitly describe why age 56 was chosen. The argument for mandatory retirement appears to have been that a the mid-50s were the ages in which burnout was likely to occur among controllers as a result of job stress, b age 56 would allow a controller to accumulate 25 years or more of creditable service if hired at the proposed maximum entry age of 31, and c age 56 was a young enough age to allow a burned out controller to pursue an alternative career, if desired. Studies of self-reported symptoms of stress, biochemical markers or indicators linked to stress, medical disorders, and disability retirements among controllers were cited in testimony as evidence of the need for the early retirement of controllers. Overall, the evidence available in 1971, when carefully reviewed, was not as strong as characterized in testimony. The studies and statistics cited suffered from various defects that, in retrospect, make them less persuasive as the scientific foundation for the ATCS Age 56 Law. Moreover, research since 1971 does not support the inherent stress rationale articulated in 1971 for the ATCS Age 56 Law.
- Personnel Management and Labor Relations