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Letter from NATCA President Patrick Forrey to DOT Secy. Mary Peters - (1/2/2008)

The following letter was sent to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters last week as well as the CC list at bottom. NATCA is releasing it publicly today, as this is the first day back from holidays for many reporters.

December 26, 2007

The Honorable Mary E. Peters
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC  20590

Dear Secretary Peters:

On January 3, 2008, and continuing for the next several months, over 1,100 air traffic controllers, or nearly 10% of the depleted veteran workforce, will likely retire, making the already dire ATC staffing situation even worse.  Equally distressing is the fact that the FAA is unable to replace these experienced controllers.  Since the beginning of FY 2007, the agency claims to have brought in 1,800 new air traffic trainees.  At year’s end, only 40 of them had made it to certification, often at small-to-medium facilities with lower volumes of traffic.  Worse still, “developmental controllers” with less than several months of experience are directly managing aircraft in some of our busiest airspace.

Last Wednesday in Chicago, we witnessed the alarming safety impact of severe staff shortages mixed with inexperienced controllers when a veteran controller had to intercede with a trainee to avert a mid-air collision.  I won’t recount the growing list of similar events on runways and in the air that we have seen in the last several months.  I did so with FAA acting administrator Bobby Sturgell in our emergency meeting last week when, on behalf of NATCA, we made a plea to FAA leadership that they recognize the safety problems we are experiencing.  They did not.

We simply cannot safely handle the volume of air traffic that the FAA is currently demanding of us, let alone even attempt to do so with further staff losses in the weeks ahead.  Whether we agree about the causes of the safety crisis or not, without immediate relief from the terms and conditions of the FAA-imposed work rules, pay cuts, and freezes, we feel that it is our obligation to the traveling public, and to the men and women on the brink of leaving federal service next week, to appeal directly to you.

I ask you to send an immediate message to the air traffic control workforce that you will entertain a new round of discussions on the controller contract.  Soon-to-retire controllers have told us that such negotiations might preclude their exodus.  If you are willing to do so, we stand ready to work with you to find solutions to the staffing crisis.  If no such avenue is open, then we urge you to consider immediate flight restrictions at our most short-staffed facilities.

Secretary Peters, this is not simply a partisan or labor-management issue, nor do we need to relive the past.  We now face a national crisis in air transportation that demands national leadership.  Together, you and President Bush tried to exhibit that leadership on air congestion.  We now need you to show that same determination on air safety.


Patrick Forrey

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