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Controllers Back O'Hare Plan, Dispute Schiavo's Scare Tactics - (5/29/2002)

WASHINGTON - National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr reacted angrily today when informed that former Department of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo cited controller safety concerns when addressing her apprehension with expansion plans at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

On May 8, the controller’s union, in a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., weighed in on the side of the Daley/Ryan runway plan, endorsing the expansion of the airport as “offering solutions that will provide controllers with the tools necessary to keep pace with projected increases in demand while maintaining the efficiency that defines the Chicago area as the vital air hub for the nation and the world that it is today.” Carr’s letter to Durbin went on to state, “it is absolutely critical to increase capacity with new runways in order to meet present and future demand. We enthusiastically support your proposed legislation for its intended purpose to expand aviation capacity in the Chicago area.”

Union officials expressed shock and surprise that Schiavo would allege they had never endorsed the plan or called it safe. “Clearly the anti-expansion crowd is getting desperate,” Carr said, “or they wouldn’t feel the need to mischaracterize our position. Previous controller concerns are being addressed through participation in the process,” Carr added, “and our national union’s current position is far more germane to this discussion than a letter penned in the heat of the public policy debate in 2001.”

Carr scoffed at Schiavo’s stated safety concerns, noting they were almost identical to the controllers’ previous letter to Fitzgerald, written when controllers were still seeking input into the plan. Since writing that letter controllers have been included in planning and development of the new runway proposal and have received assurances from the highest levels of the FAA that every step of the process will be reviewed with safety as its litmus test. “Airports all over the country have this runway configuration and it’s a little late in the game for Schiavo and company to declare it unsafe,” Carr said.

Runway incursions, meanwhile, have been headed downward, 12 percent last year and almost 30 percent this year to date. “Schiavo must think the flying public is ‘flying blind and flying stupid’ to believe her rhetoric concerning crosswind landings. To think we would operate O’Hare unsafely due to its runway configuration flies straight in the face of operations at hundreds of airports that operate day in and day out without the benefit of diagonal runways.”

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association states firmly, unequivocally, nationally and for the record its enthusiastic support for S2039 and the Daley/Ryan O’Hare expansion plan.

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