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NATCA, PA. Congressman Sestak, NJ Congressman Andrews Denounce FAA Efforts to Silence Controllers in Debate over Philadelphia Airspace Changes - (2/25/2008)

CONTACTS:   Doug Church (NATCA Washington, D.C., National Office); 301-346-8245; Don Chapman (NATCA Philadelphia); 215-479-6936

PHILADELPHIA – The nation’s air traffic controllers are joining today with controllers at Philadelphia International Airport, Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., and Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., in condemning Federal Aviation Administration efforts to silence controllers’ safety concerns about newly implemented airspace changes, particularly the comments of an FAA spokesman who said if Philadelphia controllers believe these procedures are unsafe, “they should look for work elsewhere.” 

During a press event last week with Congressman Sestak, NATCA Philadelphia Facility Representative Don Chapman told reporters that new flight routes there have increased the pressure on air traffic controllers. “The controllers are saddled with additional burdens in keeping the system safe. These (airspace) changes are being done in a vacuum without consideration. To put it simply, the FAA didn’t do its homework prior to implementing these procedures.”

FAA Spokesman Jim Peters responded to Chapman by saying (as reported by the Delaware County Daily Times; Feb. 21, 2008), “If any controller at the Philadelphia Airport believes that these procedures are unsafe, they should look for work elsewhere. … If they don’t like working for FAA, they should reconsider their line of work.”

Congressman Sestak today is expressing outrage at Peters’ comments. “The recent remarks attributed to Jim Peters demonstrate once again that the FAA is a rogue agency,” Sestak said.  “The idea that professionals who have concerns about safety should ‘find another line of work’ is an outrage. Everywhere in our society—from the military to hospitals to mines to food processing facilities—responsible organizations emphasize safety first and reward professional employees who identify safety deficiencies.”

NATCA President Patrick Forrey said NATCA was kicked off airspace redesign initiatives early in former FAA administrator Marion Blakey’s crusade to eliminate controller involvement in all projects. He called Peters’ comments, “the height of arrogance from an out-of-control agency that is now trying to stifle whistleblowers, intimidate union members, and discredit controllers' commitment to safety.” However, Forrey said, emphatically, “We will not be silenced. We will not stand by and do nothing while the agency pushes safe, sensible and time-tested implementation procedures to the side in favor of an authoritarian, ‘my way or the highway’ style. We will not allow our union leaders and members to be threatened or disciplined because they dared to speak up about legitimate and troubling safety concerns that the public needs to be aware of.”

Capt. Dan Sicchio, Safety Chairman for USAirways’ chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, is also raising concerns about the new Philadelphia airspace procedures, particularly last-second changes to the direction of flight they are instructed to use after takeoff. He says, “The published SID (Standard Instrument Departure) has an assigned heading of 255 (degrees) which has been in place and in practice for many years. Prior to departing the gate, this heading is a required briefing item. It is now a practice where a different heading is being assigned as part of the takeoff clearance. This practice can easily result in confusion. It also occurs during a very busy time in the cockpit, and possibly while only one pilot is on the radio.”

Continued Sicchio, “For these reasons, we would like to see a standard heading both published and flown as a routine. If this is not possible, the SID should be amended to advise that a radar vector will be assigned. This would make the crew aware that they will be receiving a heading as part of a takeoff clearance.”

NATCA Eastern Regional Vice President Phil Barbarello, who represents controllers in Philadelphia and also in Newark and New York – other areas where NATCA is concerned about the safety of new airspace procedures – said NATCA has made many attempts to deal with the issue internally at the local and regional levels, only to be ignored by the FAA. That led NATCA to speak out publicly.

“Now the FAA has responded by trying to intimidate us into staying silent. It’s reprehensible,” Barbarello said. “Mr. Peters has seen fit to threaten and verbally abuse the hard-working men and women I represent. His failure to conduct himself in a professional manner only serves to undermine public confidence in the FAA and does nothing to address our professional disagreement over this important safety matter.”

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