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Air Traffic Controllers Praise Passage of FAA Bill as Last Hope to Save a Workforce in Dire Straits - (9/20/2007)

CONTACT: Doug Church, 202-220-9802

WASHINGTON -- The nation's air traffic controller workforce, its ranks depleted and its morale destroyed after one year of working under the Federal Aviation Administration's imposed work rules and pay cuts, today rejoiced at the passage of the House FAA Reauthorization bill, which, if passed into law, would put fairness back into the collective bargaining process and provide a glimmer of hope that the current mass exodus of controllers from their towers and radar positions could be stopped in time to save the National Airspace System from further reductions in the margin of safety.

Today's 267-151 vote approves sending NATCA and the FAA back to the negotiating table to finish work on a contract, nearly 18 months after the FAA pulled the plug on talks and declared an impasse after having not budged one cent from its original 2006 contract offer, knowing full well that it would be able to impose its terms. That it did on Sept. 3, 2006, a day that began a free fall in the number of experienced controllers not seen since the PATCO strike and firings in 1981.

Since Sept. 3, 2006, nearly 800 experienced controllers have retired, choosing to leave an employer that would never give them a raise again for handling a rising, record number of aircraft, and scores of new hires have quit due to low pay forced upon them that drove many to the brink of financial ruin, including many military controllers who tried but couldn't make it work with a drastic pay cut from their Department of Defense salaries.

According to the latest FAA figures available, there are just 11,467 experienced controllers left in the country. That's an 11-year low and more than 1,100 fewer than were working on 9-11, despite rising traffic volume that has sped by 9-11 levels at many airports and radar facilities and has left Americans completely frustrated and angered by a record number of flight delays.

"Today's vote gives us hope that we can get back to the table and work out a voluntary, ratifiable agreement with the FAA and stop the hemorrhaging of our workforce due to what the FAA's imposed work rules have wrought," NATCA President Patrick Forrey said. "A contract is the only way that veteran controllers will stay on the job, keeping the system running while training new hires to replace them. It is the only hope of preventing a further degradation of the margin of safety and all-out gridlock with worsening delays. You must have enough controllers to keep up with rising traffic volume and so far, the FAA is barely keeping up with the rate of attrition."

Forrey praised House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello, D-Ill., and Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, for their leadership in getting the best bill to the floor and for standing up for fairness and air safety.

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