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Fri, Jul 01, 2005

NATCA Laments Termination Of Controller Liason Program

Says FAA Is Defying GAO Recommendations

The following was released Friday by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA):

In a move that further jeopardizes the safety and efficiency of America's aviation system, the Federal Aviation Administration has terminated a vital program that ensured critical cooperation between America's air traffic controllers and the agency. The move, which comes against the recommendations of the Government Accountability Office and coincides with a House of Representatives' vote against reckless agency cuts, is just the latest attack on the previously productive partnership between air traffic controllers and the FAA.

The FAA's action, delivered to NATCA this week in a terse, 79-word fax, confirms the termination of its controller liaison program. The remaining nine controllers from an original group of 30 will be sent home July 29. The controllers had been working on vital technical projects with the agency, from the en route modernization program to runway safety technology like the Airport Surface Detection Equipment.

The move is a shocking rebuke to the GAO, which, in a November 2004 report titled "FAA Needs To Ensure Better Coordination When Approving Air Traffic Control Systems," emphasized the need to involve controllers "early and throughout FAA's ground systems approval process." The report found that when the FAA did not involve controllers and technical experts, its new air traffic control systems experienced cost over-runs and schedule delays.

The FAA's decision to terminate the liaison program also comes despite the fact that the program has routinely demonstrated success and has been commended by FAA management officials themselves. NATCA liaisons have previously been described by FAA management as, "an integral part in getting many projects deployed" and "an asset to the program."

"It should be clear now to Congress and the flying public that this agency's leaders are more concerned with saying the National Airspace System is safe than in actually working to make sure it is safe," National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr said. "The agency's action, on the eve of their contract talks with controllers, is further proof of a total disregard for the value of collaborative relationships with its own employees. While discarding safety at the front door, they continue to destroy the trust that once defined the relationship between FAA and America's air traffic controllers. It is time for the FAA to remember that only through collaboration with controllers will it be possible to modernize the National Airspace System to achieve smart, safe, effective results."

The agency's action is particularly surprising, coming as it does just one day after Russ Chew, the chief operating officer of the FAA's Air Traffic Organization, praised the collaborative effort that marked the successful implementation of new technology at New York Center that provides satellite coverage of oceanic air traffic. Chew said, "I want to thank the technicians and controllers, the unions and management which made this happen."

Concluded Carr: "Our dedicated controller liaisons came to Washington to serve their organization, their National Airspace System and their country and sought only to ensure that the FAA's efforts to modernize the system resulted in equipment and procedures that were safe for the flying public and usable for their fellow controllers. To be summarily dismissed in the heat of their employers' war against this union only proves that this agency is indeed putting politics ahead of passenger safety. That's wrong for the FAA, wrong for air traffic controllers, and, above all, wrong for the safety of the flying public."

FMI: www.natca.org, www.faa.gov

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