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Sun, Sep 21, 2003

Privatized ATC Controversy Threatens Congressional FAA Funding

Thousands Of Workers Could Get Unpaid Vacation

The ongoing dispute over whether the FAA should contract out more air traffic control slots now threatens the very financial viability of the agency.

The New York Times reports Congress is deadlocked over the FAA reauthorization bill. That could mean unpaid furloughs for thousands of FAA employees and an air passenger tax holiday for travelers.

"We see ourselves on the brink of closing the doors," Marion C. Blakey, the agency's administrator, said this week.

There are just eleven days left before the current fiscal year runs out in Washington. That means there are just eleven days left for Congress to overcome the impasse. The Times reports FAA executives are already planning to lay off workers in case the deadlock isn't broken.

What would that mean for general aviation? Blakey said workers in the pilot certification program probably wouldn't be laid off. At least, not right away.

At the heart of the issue is the White House proposal to privatize more air traffic control towers. The Bush administration has its sights set on privatizing controller functions at 69 airports nationwide. If the president doesn't get his way on this one, he threatens to veto any attempt to reauthorize the entire FAA.

Ruth Marlin, a NATCA vice president, continuing a very public campaign of self-direction and obfuscation said, "It is astounding to me that they would be willing to push so far on the issue, particularly when they have said hundreds of times they have no intention of contracting out these towers."

But administration says the privatization of the control towers saves money at a time when every dollar counts. Air traffic and indsutry officials say the biggest concerns voiced by NATCA and others, most of them safety-related, have already been addressed. A number of NATCA's more inflammatory claims and tactics have been countered by the FAA and industry associations on a number of recent occasions and the organization's credibility is said to be slipping--again.

There is a compromise afoot, but the outlook is already grim. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) has introduced a bill to extend the current authorization law, which says nothing about the privatizing of controllers' jobs, until the end of March. But Republicans won't buy it.

"I'm not going to ask for an extension, because I am right on this legislation," Rep. Don Young (R-AK), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a recent television appearance.



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