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Sen. Lautenberg Joins Controllers in Fighting Privatization - (2/12/2003)

WASHINGTON – The nation’s air traffic controllers are enthusiastically supporting efforts on Capitol Hill by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., to declare the jobs of controllers as inherently governmental functions and prevent any Bush Administration attempts at privatization, a risky scheme that threatens safe skies.

“We wish to thank Senator Lautenberg for his many years of steadfast, unwavering support for air traffic controllers and for his efforts this week to make our safety profession exempt from the administration’s relentless pursuit of privatization quotas,” National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr said. “We have stated that we will not sit by while this administration attempts to sell off the world’s safest air traffic control system to the lowest bidder. We are pleased to report that a growing number of members of Congress aren’t sitting by either.”

Lautenberg has introduced a bill (S. 338) this week on the Senate floor which declares air traffic control functions to be “inherently governmental.” He plans to use his post on the Aviation Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee to attach his legislation to the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization bill, which the committee will consider this year.

Lautenberg’s bill, which also applies to air traffic technicians and to flight service specialists, states: “No funds may be obligated or expended to classify the air traffic control system as anything other than inherently governmental or to privatize or contract all, or any part, of the air traffic control system which includes all current terminal, en-route facilities, flight service, air traffic control system command center and operational control centers operated by the Federal Aviation Administration.”

The bill was necessitated by the unprecedented decision taken by the administration last week to classify the jobs of air traffic controllers as “commercial” rather than “inherently governmental,” a move which makes it much easier to move air traffic control into the private sector. In addition to the bill, Lautenberg has authored a letter to the president, asking him to restore the inherently governmental designation to air traffic control. Over one-quarter of the Senate has signed the letter. Adding to Capitol Hill’s displeasure at attempts to privatize air traffic control, a recent national poll says 71 percent of Americans oppose changing the air traffic control system from federal to private control.

Lautenberg talked about his bill at a Feb. 7 press conference at Newark-Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, remarking, “In the aftermath of 9/11, the American people demanded one thing in particular, government personnel, not private contract firms, must screen baggage at our nation’s airports. That is why it is so shocking that President Bush is taking steps to privatize air traffic control in this country. It is the exact opposite of what the American people want.”

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