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NATCA Reports Controller Productivity Gains to House Subcommittee, Asks for Hiring to Fill Expected Shortfall - (3/27/2003)

WASHINGTON – National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr told the House Aviation Subcommittee today that, “to the credit of the men and women I represent, operational errors are down, runway incursions are down, controller productivity has increased, the system has been modernized and capacity has increased.” But he warned of an impending staffing crisis caused by retirements and asked the subcommittee to authorize the hiring of an additional 1,000 new air traffic controllers each year for the next three years.

Carr sharply refuted recent Congressional testimony critical of rising Federal Aviation Administration operational costs and controller productivity and salaries, telling the committee that over the last 30 years, en route operations per air traffic controller increased by 165 percent and terminal instrument operations increased by 115 percent. “This is a real increase in controller productivity, compared with only a 69 percent real increase in operational costs,” he said.

The testimony from Carr included numerous examples of controller productivity, most tied in to the 1998 contract between NATCA and the FAA. “Almost half of the costs of the (collective bargaining) agreement have been absorbed by givebacks and productivity increases,” Carr stated while citing the following facts:

*In fiscal year 2001, controllers performed 296,410 hours of additional duties (normally performed by other FAA employees) valued at $16.9 million. In fiscal year 2002, the savings increased to $28.3 million.

*The 1998 contract expanded the Controller in Charge program to increase the controller-to-supervisor ratio without impacting the safety of air traffic operations. The CIC program produced a net cost savings of $10.1 million in fiscal year 2000 and $27.1 million in fiscal year 2001.

*The contract provides for ceilings on the number of bargaining unit employees, support specialists and operations supervisors that are lower than budgeted or planned levels. Over the first three years of the contract, these ceilings produced cost offsets amounting to $165.8 million. An additional savings of $68.6 million can be attributed to Core Plan Savings.

*Article 48 of the contract formalized the process for air traffic controller participation in each stage of modernization projects.

“The motivation for involving users as part of every new technological development is simple,” Carr testified. “It saves money, reduces schedule delay and increases the likelihood of success.” From October 2000 to April 2002, Carr added, controllers devoted 494,558 hours to the development of technological and procedural changes. “There is no quick way to summarize the benefits of this and no standardized way to estimate the costs incurred if projects are delayed or run over budget.”

Responding to the recent Office of Management and Budget decision to change the status of controllers’ jobs to “commercial” – a significant move towards privatization – Carr pointed out that “air traffic control was not on the FAA’s 2001 inventory of commercial activities, and thus in 2001, air traffic control was an inherently governmental function.” Carr maintained the air traffic controller job function has not changed to justify the change in classification and thanked the members of the subcommittee who have publicly opposed privatization.

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