TOPEKA — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran joined colleagues by sponsoring introduction of legislation aimed at removing a financial disincentive that retired Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers face when accepting jobs within a network of 256 municipal or regional towers, including eight in Kansas.
The bipartisan proposal backed by U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., would address staffing challenges at towers in the nation's Federal Contract Tower Program, which is administered by the FAA. In Kansas, the bill would apply to hiring at aviation facilities in Salina, Garden City, Hutchinson, Manhattan and two each in Topeka and Johnson County.
"I’m proud to support our aviation industry by introducing legislation to remove an unnecessary barrier in the hiring pipeline for contract towers," said Moran, a Kansas Republican. "This sensible legislation would support contract towers across the nation."
Under federal law, FAA air traffic controllers must retire at 56 years of age. The retired FAA personnel would be penalized for working as controllers at the federal contract towers. The restriction preventing companies operating the regional or municipal facilities from making use of controllers with the same qualifications and training as regular FAA controllers. The Senate legislation would eliminate this financial penalty confronting controllers forced to retire from the FAA.
Inhofe said the proposal would bolster operations at six contract towers in Oklahoma by countering provisions of the FAA controllers' federal retirement program creating a financial burden to retirees joining the contract-tower network.
"It's so important to make sure our towers are staffed with the most qualified individuals to help keep our skies safe," Murray said.
Due to the early retirement mandate, FAA controllers belong to a "special group" under the Federal Employees' Retirement System. Each contributes 0.5% of their annual salary to a separate retirement annuity account. In return, they receive a FERS annuity payment during the mandatory retirement period between age 56 and the Social Security minimum retirement age of 62.
The retired controller's annuity payment would be incrementally reduced by earning more than the Social Security earnings limit of $17,640 annually. The offset penalty compels many retired FAA controllers making the decision not work as federal contract tower air traffic controllers.
The U.S. Contract Tower Association, the American Association of Airport Executives and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association have endorsed the bill.