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Office of Management and Budget Move Puts Air Traffic Control in Jeopardy - (2/11/2003)

WASHINGTON – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is condemning the unprecedented decision – released late last week – by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to designate air traffic control as a commercial activity. Controllers say the decision serves as a prerequisite for future privatization of the U.S. air traffic control system and has dangerous implications for the safety of air travelers.

“We reject the OMB’s conclusion that the jobs of air traffic controllers aren’t inherently governmental, or vital to the safety of the American public,” National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr said. “For this Administration to federalize airport security workers and then take steps toward privatizing air traffic control is not only a stark, head-scratching contradiction in policy, it’s the continuation of a march toward the erosion of safety in our skies.”

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, a fact controllers believe should have taken precedence over the administration’s ideological philosophy that presumes nearly half of all government jobs are subject to competitive outsourcing.

“It’s highly disturbing that the safety of the flying public is being moved around like a pawn on a political chess board,” Carr stated. “We have the safest, most sophisticated system in the world. There is no good reason to put that at risk and introduce it to words like ‘commercial’ or ‘privatized,’ which we have seen in other countries translates into a degradation of safety standards. Contracting out air traffic control to the lowest bidder is not the direction our nation should be heading as we work together to keep our skies safe.”

The OMB’s decision comes at a time when opposition to privatization of air traffic control is growing. According to a recent national poll, 71 percent of Americans oppose changing the air traffic control system from federal to private control. Business aviation, general aviation and the airlines’ trade group are also leading the opposing voices, as are an increasing number of members of Congress, including Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Texas, and Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C.

Opposition is also growing in countries where air traffic control is privatized. British government officials have had to bail out their system to avoid total economic collapse while delays, technological glitches and near-misses have all increased. In Canada, the airlines’ trade group has criticized the consistent fee increases which are a trademark of privatized air traffic control while understaffing is becoming a serious and chronic problem.

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