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Controllers Emerge Victorious in Battle with FAA over Contract Towers - (3/5/1998)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After four years of litigation, a U.S. District Court judge made an historic ruling ordering the Federal Aviation Administration to cancel its program privatizing FAA operated level one air traffic control towers and directing the agency to reconsider whether air traffic control services should be contracted out.

Judge Ann Aldrich agreed with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association's claim the FAA failed to comply with Office of Management and Budget requirements for federal agencies to determine whether services are inherently governmental functions before contracting out when it implemented its contract tower program.

The suit was based on the fact the agency exempted itself from the OMB regulations under false pretenses. The FAA argued air traffic control services could be provided at the lower traffic towers for less money with the same quality by private management firms, claiming it could concentrate on improving services at the higher level facilities.

"This was a marathon litigation and a terrific win for the union," said NATCA Counsel Bill Osborne. "Courts haven't often stopped the government from privatizing services. This decision upholds our belief the program is unsafe and unlawful."

"NATCA has always maintained air traffic services are inherently governmental. It goes to the core of the safety for the American tax payer," said NATCA President Mike McNally. "The program, designed by the agency as a cost saving initiative, has always been, and continues to be, flawed. When cost savings come out of proper staffing of safety sensitive positions, it is the public who suffers."

NATCA has made no secret of its position on contract towers. It points to last summer's fatal crash at Meigs Field in Chicago as an ample of the dangers of contracted out facilities. Officials were warned of problems at the facility, yet no action was taken until after the accident. The organization blames insufficient staffing and inadequate training as the main reasons for its safety concerns.

"We believe the controllers in these facility are quite competent, but they haven't been given the tools they need to perform their job in a safe and effective manner," said McNally. "These towers belong back with the FAA. NATCA is willing to work with the agency to find logical solutions."

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