Veteran air traffic controllers are leaving the industry faster than they can be replaced, leaving controllers overworked and unable to safely handle traffic volume at the nation’s business airports, the air traffic controllers union said. In a conference call Thursday, Patrick Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NTCA), declared a staffing emergency at Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Southern California. "They are being asked to handle so much volume with so little rest and with fewer eyes and ears that they are fatigued, and when you are fatigued you make mistakes,” he said. NATCA estimated 500 veteran controllers will retire during the first third of fiscal 2008, which started Oct. 1. The union said 357 have already retired and the rest of the 500 informed the union they intend to retire by Feb. 2. The way to slow this rate of retirement, Forrey said, is to ratify a new contract with the FAA. Last year, the House passed a bill reauthorizing the FAA that would force a reopening of negotiations. The Senate has yet to vote on its version. The White House has said it opposes reopening the contract. Last year, FAA unveiled a plan to hire and train more than 15,000 controllers over the next decade. For the fiscal year 2007, FAA said it exceeded its air traffic controller staffing targets by hiring more than 1,800 controllers. As a result, the agency now employs 14,874 controllers. During the year, FAA said 828 controllers retired. However, NATCA said hundreds more controllers are slated to retire, leaving controllers with little experience to replace those veteran controllers.