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Controllers Reject Administration's Budget Language - (2/6/2002)

WASHINGTON – The nation’s air traffic controllers, believing the inherently governmental nature of their work has more implications for the safety and security of the U.S. air traffic control system than ever before, are angered and disappointed the Bush Administration – for the second straight year – has released a proposed budget supporting the concept of privatizing the system.

Included in the budget for the Department of Transportation is a reference to the planned performance-based organization (PBO) that would focus on improved management of air traffic services. If the PBO is not effective after a year of operation, the Administration says, “the Department will look to other options, including partial privatization and franchise operation of components of the air traffic system.”

“This is ludicrous,” National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr said. “Before Sept. 11, privatization was simply a foolish idea with serious implications for the safety of our system. Now, it’s downright reckless and irresponsible to even consider playing games with the safety and security of the service we provide.”

Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, controllers at each of the Federal Aviation Administration’s 325 facilities needed just over two hours to clear the airspace of 4,546 aircraft. Both Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and FAA Administrator Jane Garvey have praised controllers’ work as essential to national security. “Just as we keep things running smoothly any other day, the key to shutting down the system Sept. 11 was the fact that air traffic control is a seamless system where highly skilled people work together,” Carr remarked. “We proved our worth as inherently governmental employees. If there was any question as to the seamless nature of the system, consider that it took just one phone call from Secretary Mineta to shut it down.”
Since that day, controllers have been tasked with added responsibilities related to homeland security. They are on the front lines of the effort to provide comprehensive surveillance of every inch of U.S. airspace, which includes nuclear power plants, city centers, the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and last Sunday’s Super Bowl. “The Administration talks about franchising parts of our system. That’s unbelievable,” Carr said. “Look, this is not Burger King, where you can have it your way. I find it hard to believe baggage screeners are now federal employees but yet this Administration would consider franchising air traffic control. It’s a very bad idea.”

Last year, the Administration proposed a study of the “success” of privatized systems such as Nav Canada. But the effects of Sept. 11 have meant big problems for the world’s privatized systems, including Canada, which announced last fall it would seek to raise its fees by six percent to help cover a projected $145 million revenue shortfall. And the newly part-privatized system in Great Britain has been a complete failure, with the government now under increasing pressure to bail out the partnership.

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