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White House Puts Aviation Safety Up for Sale to the Lowest Bidder - (7/29/2003)

CONTACT:   Doug Church, 202.220.9802, (cell) 301.346.8245

WASHINGTON – Placing politics over aviation safety, the White House has destroyed the bipartisan-supported measures passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate that would have prohibited the privatization of air traffic control services to the lowest bidder.

After both the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly in June to protect the safety of the air traffic control system – the world’s safest, largest and most efficient – the White House waged an all-out lobbying campaign to reverse the actions taken by Congress and undermine the will of the American people.

The result was a back-room deal waged by the leaders of the Congressional conference committee reconciling the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill – without debate or on-the-record accountability – that would allow the removal of FAA controllers from 69 air traffic control towers and replace them with part-time contract employees. While there is an effort to assuage the concerns of the American people by referring to the targeted towers as “rural airports,” they include towers like Van Nuys, Calif., the eighth-busiest airport in the country.

“Despite repeated denials that the administration wants to privatize air traffic control, the conference committee report does exactly that,” National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr said. “In the wee hours of the night last week, the conference committee leadership bowed to the pressure of the White House. It’s time for all members of Congress to stand behind their votes and uphold the safety of our skies.”

Amazingly, not even the chairman of the conference committee, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, favors privatization. He exempted the air traffic control towers in his own state from privatization. “Should it only be safe to fly in Alaska?” Carr asked.

Air traffic control privatization defies both public opinion and the abysmally poor example set by other countries’ privatized air traffic control systems. Surveys show that more than 70 percent of the American public wants to keep the system in the hands of the federal government. Privatization has failed miserably in other countries. Skyrocketing costs abound, while users are paying more, the private systems are less efficient and understaffing has led to near accidents in the sky. Additionally, the U.S. air traffic control system is 74 percent more efficient and 79 percent more productive than the European system, according to a recent study by Eurocontrol, the air traffic control organization for the European Union.

“Safety is NATCA’s No. 1 priority and we will use all of our resources over the next six weeks and mobilize all of those who share our commitment to protect the safety of the flying public,” Carr said.

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