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Wed, Jun 04, 2008

NATCA Tries To Reignite Debate On FAA Funding Bill

Controllers Want Talks Reopened

It's been unusually quiet lately on the FAA reauthorization front. After what looked like an opportunity to finally get the Senate to act on reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, settle the user-fee debate for a few years, and get next-generation air traffic control underway, extraneous amendments and political tantrums derailed the debate on Senate Bill 1300, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled it from consideration.

Now, as Congress's summer recess looms, The Politico reports lobbyists on all the issues involved have pulled back to take a breather -- all, that is, except the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Admittedly, NATCA is less concerned about user fees, than its own interests. The Senate bill, like one passed last year in the House, would reopen contract negotiations between the union and the FAA... ending almost two years of pay and work rules imposed unilaterally by the FAA after negotiations broke down in 2006.

The union blames substandard pay and a poor working environment for a wave of early retirements it says is resulting in short-staffing, and unsafe levels of stress and fatigue in the nation's control towers.

Most lobbyists with issues at stake in reauthorization appear resigned to another extension of the status quo, possibly well into 2009. NATCA has distributed print, radio and Web video ads urging Americans to pressure lawmakers to deal with the subject before the end of June.

Union lobbyist Jose Ceballos warns Congress needs to get this done before the peak summer travel season hits. "If there is no bill, we fear there will be a mass retirement wave that could cripple the system at a time when we need all hands on deck," he said. "It is absolutely critical that this bill be addressed again."

To be fair, he's not the only one who would like to see movement before June 30. Andy Cebula, executive VP for government affairs at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, hates to see all the work invested in the debate so far go for naught.

"...We don’t want to do it all again next year," Cebula says. "I don’t want to sound hopefully Pollyanna-ish, but we can’t totally give up on Congress."



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