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FAA Intends to Declare Air Traffic Control a “Commercial Activity”; Air Traffic Controllers are Deeply Concerned, but Not Surprised - (12/4/2002)

WASHINGTON – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has received notice that the Federal Aviation Administration intends to declare air traffic control a "commercial activity."

Under the FAIR Act of 1998, government agencies must declare their job functions to be either commercial or inherently governmental. Commercial activities are those subject to contracting out and privatization, while inherently governmental functions are those which are defined as, "so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by federal employees." The law goes on to cite control of space and navigation as criteria for declaring a function to be inherently governmental.

"This move doesn't surprise me," NATCA President John Carr said. "This administration has already indicated on several occasions that it would consider privatization of our nation's air traffic control system. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the safety, security and efficiency of the greatest aviation system in the world is now threatened not by terrorists but by government policy towards privatization, which, in air traffic, has a proven record of failure worldwide."

Carr added, "This action makes no sense. The public demanded federalization of our nation's airport screeners by rightly recognizing their importance to public safety and yet air traffic control is on the list of activities we are willing to sell to commercial interests, possibly even foreign ones."

Interestingly, the FAA’s action in complying with Office of Management and Budget directives places air traffic control in a designation which contradicts the OMB’s own recent guidelines for what should remain in the hands of government. In a Nov. 14 document, under Section E, paragraph 1-C, OMB states that activities which “significantly affect the life, liberty or property of private persons” are inherently governmental. “I can’t think of too many activities which more directly or significantly affect the lives of people more than air traffic control,” Carr stated. “As for control of space and navigation, if you don't think we control it, try getting into O'Hare at five o'clock this afternoon without us."

According to Carr, there was a silver lining in the administration's decision. “With 10,000 air traffic controllers poised to retire in the next decade, I'm grateful that my generation of public servants won't have to be around to witness the dismantling of their pride and joy, the safest and greatest air traffic control system in the world."

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