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Older air traffic controllers perform as well as young on job-related tasks
Date:3/8/2009

In a study that challenges the mandatory retirement of air traffic controllers at the age of 56 in the U.S., researchers have found that air traffic controllers up to age 64 perform as well as their young colleagues on complex, job-related tasks.

The study of Canadian air traffic controllers, who can work up to age 65, appears this month in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

The researchers found that while older air traffic controllers experience normal age-related declines in some cognitive skills, their expertise on the job enables them to overcome these deficits and function on a par with their younger peers.

The issue of mandatory retirement is especially pressing because a large proportion of the nation's air traffic controllers are now retiring, or nearing retirement age.

According to a congressional subcommittee hearing on the matter in 2008, most of the FAA's current 14,800 controllers were hired during the mid-1980s, after then-President Ronald Reagan fired more than 11,000 controllers who had gone on strike. Several government reports have warned that the upcoming wave of retirements could undermine the safety of the nation's aviation system.

"The question we were interested in was whether older controllers could continue to do the job," said University of Illinois psychology professor Art Kramer, who conducted the study with graduate student Ashley Nunes.

"If so, perhaps we could keep these people on the job for a little longer and this way provide more time for the transition and appropriate training of new controllers."

Kramer has spent decades studying age-related declines in cognitive abilities and the factors that sometimes slow or offset the deficits that normally occur.

The new study compared older and younger controllers with one another and with their age-matched peers who were not air traffic controllers. All of the study subjects performed a battery of c
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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