Over the last two weeks, I’ve been reviewing the special retirement provisions for law enforcement officers and firefighters. This time, I want to lay out the rules governing air traffic controllers under CSRS. Next time I’ll do the same for those covered by FERS.
As an air traffic controller covered by CSRS, you can retire at an earlier age than other employees if you meet the age and service requirements: age 50 with 20 or more years of service as an ATC or any age with 25 years as an ATC. You also have to separate from a position covered by CSRS and be covered by CSRS for at least one year within the two-year period immediately before you retire.
Note: Unused sick leave can’t be used to meet the minimum service requirements. The same is true of military service, unless you go directly from an ATC position into the military on a military furlough.
Most ATCs are subject to mandatory separation on the last day of the month in which they become age 56. However, the law doesn’t apply if you were appointed as an ATC by the Department of Transportation before May 16, 1972, or by the Department of Defense before September 12, 1980. In the public interest, an agency head may exempt an employee having exceptional skills and experience from mandatory separation until age 61.
Note: When you reach the minimum 20-year service requirement, you can take a non-covered job and avoid mandatory separation provision.
Because you are an ATC, and generally have a shorter career than other employees, you are eligible for an enhanced annuity benefit that is more generous than most other CSRS employees get. Here’s how it works. Once you have completed 20 years of service as an ATC, you are guaranteed the greater of 1) 50 percent of your high-3 average salary or 2) the basic annuity computed under the standard CSRS formula based on all years of service.
For example, if you were a 50-year old ATC with 20 years of ATC service who had a “high-3” average salary of $80,000, your regular CSRS annuity would only be $29,000 (1.5 percent x your “high-3” average salary x 5 years of service plus 1.75 percent x your “high-3” x your next 5 years plus 2.0 percent x your “high-3” x your remaining years). However, as an ATC, you would be guaranteed a minimum annuity of $40,000. You would also be eligible for annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), regardless of the age at which you retired. However, unless you are one of the ATCs mentioned above who was appointed either by DoT or DoD, if you retire before age 55, your annuity will be reduced by 2 percent for every year you are under age 55 (or 1/6 percent per month).