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James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award

Winners of The James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award:

2022: Teri Bristol

Before she recently retired, Teri Bristol served as the Chief Operating Officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO). In her role at the Agency, she provided leadership and direction for 32,000 employees who perform the organization’s core functions of Air Traffic Services, Technical and Systems Operations, Safety Management, Technical Training, Mission Support Services, Management Services, Program Management, and Flight Program Operations. She was responsible for the deployment and integration of NextGen, as well as other airspace improvements, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and commercial space operations into daily National Airspace System (NAS) operations.

Throughout her 30-year career, Bristol had extensive experience in leading the technically varied missions of the ATO. Prior to being named COO in 2014, she served as Deputy Chief Operating Officer from 2012 to 2013. In previous positions, Bristol oversaw maintenance, monitoring and engineering services in the NAS, directed operational support and integration services across the NAS, led acquisition and program management of large automation and surveillance systems, and was directly responsible for the daily operation of air traffic control facilities throughout the Western United States, Alaska, and Hawaii.

Bristol served as the Chair of the CANSO Executive Committee from June 2017 to June 2019. CANSO works to harmonize air traffic policies and procedures and develop best practices for the safe and efficient delivery of air navigation services.

Bristol represented the ATO on the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) and was a member of the NextGen Executive Board and the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC), and an executive leader of the NAC’s NextGen Integration Working Group.

NATCA was privileged to partner with her– first in her role as deputy COO and then COO since 2014. She made great efforts every day to develop and solidify collaboration between the FAA and NATCA as well as across the aviation industry to improve aviation safety and provide the best results for air travelers. She always demonstrated respect for aviation safety professionals working at all levels of the ATO and for NATCA and the other unions that represent them.

The success of our collaborative relationship with the FAA over the last dozen years is a shining model for the federal government and has been built on trust and integrity. Teri Bristol demonstrated those positive traits and many more. She was a strong, inspiring leader for whom we have great respect. We are proud of the incredible work we accomplished together for the benefit of the safety of the National Airspace System and the employees who safeguard it.

We honor Teri Bristol as the 2022 recipient of the James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award for her great leadership.

2019: Tom Costello

NBC News reporter Tom Costello was presented with the James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award at Communicating For Safety in Las Vegas on Sept. 18, 2019.

Costello’s quarter century of national and international reporting has earned numerous awards including national and regional Emmy awards, and multiple Edward R. Murrow reporting honors. 

Costello has covered aviation since 2005, including the 2009 Miracle on the Hudson, the 2018 fatal engine explosion onboard a Southwest Airlines flight, and the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes and subsequent MAX fleet grounding. One of his first stories in 2005 when he moved to the NBC News Washington Bureau was about the first winners of NATCA’s Archie League Medal of Safety Awards.

Costello has also covered a wide array of stories across the beats of transportation, space exploration, cybersecurity, and economics. In 2017, his coverage of deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville earned NBC News an Excellence Award from the National Association of Black Journalists. Tom’s reports appear across all NBC News platforms, including online, The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, and CNBC. In fact, he was on duty as CNBC’s Nasdaq Editor in Manhattan on 9/11. Before joining NBC News in 2004, Costello spent six years at KUSA-TV in Denver, and two years at KVIA-TV in El Paso, TX.

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

2018: Gordon Graham

The 2018 James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award winner, Gordon Graham, was honored during Communicating For Safety (CFS) in Las Vegas on Oct. 23, 2018.

Graham, a risk management expert, was presented with two special honors before he took the stage at CFS for the fifth straight year. First, Graham was presented with an honorary NATCA membership that the 17th Biennial Convention voted in April 2018 in Philadelphia to bestow on him. Next, Graham was given the James Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award.

Graham, who has become a very good friend to NATCA, has been a tireless advocate for safety for decades. And each time he speaks, safety professionals leave with vitally important information that better prepare them to approach their jobs with even more care and professionalism than before.

The wildly popular Graham spoke to another captivated CFS audience about making a commitment to risk management through ethical decision making. “In every profession, there are different types of external risks in all situations,” he said. “People make commitments to risk management. What control measures do you have in place to prevent these risks?”

He went on to say that things normally go right in aviation for air traffic controllers, statistics show. But when things go wrong, the proximal cause – what happens right before the tragedy – should be identified to prevent future events from happening. “Real risk managers ask what were the causes before, that everyone knew about, but no one did anything to change.”

Graham gave a 10-step process on how to think things through, in order to limit mistakes and prevent risks in the ATC profession:

–      Identify what needs to be decided.

–      Do you have time to think?

–      Do you have jurisdiction? If you don’t, give it to the people that do..

–      What does your policy say? Look it up policy and follow it.

–      Think about past practices and ask how have WE done it before? It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done it, ask if someone else in your facility has.

–      Are you doing the right thing? Ethics has to be a part of your decision making.

–      What are the consequences if you do it? And what are the consequences if you don’t do it? Make consequence analysis a part of the decision-making process.

–      Make the call and do something.

–      Document the process.

–      If you learn something new, share it with others.

Graham told the audience that controllers should be training daily, to avoid mistakes and make good decisions. He also emphasized the need for the Union to capture the knowledge from members that did great things in their career, before they retire.

“Collectively, this group knows everything about ATC, but individually, ATCs have limited knowledge. You must learn and share,” he said. He continued to say that every day, controllers are making people safer and, at the same time, improving the quality of the ATC profession. “You are sending people home to their families daily,” he said. “Your profession is so important in the scheme of things, that continuous improvement is warranted. Take this message and work safely.”

2017: Margaret Jenny

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert presented the James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award to RTCA President Margaret Jenny at the annual NATCA Corporate Partner Appreciation event on Nov. 13, 2017. 

“Tonight we are very proud to present this honor to a leader who has been at the forefront of the collaborative effort to modernize the National Airspace System,” Rinaldi said. “Margaret Jenny, as the president of RTCA, has been an advocate for NATCA since day one. She’s a thread inside NATCA’s fabric. Through her work and partnership, NATCA has built relationships throughout the aviation industry and has become a vital stakeholder in the eyes of industry leaders.”

“We wouldn’t be able to solve the problems we are trying to solve, and make progress with NextGen, without NATCA,” Jenny said in her keynote remarks for the event, after which she accepted the award. “Paul and Trish understand they need a seat at the table. These two understand you’ve got to try to find common ground or you are not going to move forward.”

“I look forward to many more years of partnership between our organizations,” Jenny said.

BELOW: Watch NATCA’s video tribute to Jenny.

2017: Michael Huerta

On March 22, 2017, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert presented the James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety award to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta before he spoke at the Archie League Medal of Safety Awards banquet at Communicating For Safety.

Rinaldi explained that under Huerta’s term as Administrator, the relationship between NATCA and the FAA has come far. Rinaldi said that we have built a culture of collaboration that has enabled us to make progress on NextGen, strengthen the workforce at the local and regional levels as well as at FAA headquarters, and ultimately enhance the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS).

“I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” Huerta said.

Administrator Huerta is the first Administrator to come to the Archie League Medal of Safety Awards banquet, and he has attended every year he has been Deputy Administrator, Acting Administrator, or Administrator. Rinaldi said this embodies Huerta’s commitment to the work that aviation safety professionals do each and every day.

“I can’t really say that I can take credit for the amazing things that we’ve accomplished because we have done so much together,” said Huerta. “Our ability to go so many years with this incredible safety record is due to the work of all of you.”

Huerta said that on any given day, thousands of people are getting on airplanes and they are thinking about a lot of things — whether the bag is going make it, what the TSA line is like, will that kid ever shut up — but if you think about it, they’re not worrying about whether it’s safe.

“It’s gotten to the point where the public doesn’t even think about it — but we know that we have to be vigilant each and every day to ensure the system we love so much is the safest it can possibly be,” Huerta said. “Thank you for all that you do and thank you for this. It means a great deal to me.”

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

2017: Christopher Hart

At NATCA’s Communicating For Safety conference in March 2017, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert presented the James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety award to a pillar of the aviation community, former NTSB chairman and member Christopher Hart. Rinaldi commended his dedication to the safety of not only the National Airspace System, but all modes of transportation.

Rinaldi explained that Hart fully embraces a collaborative approach and understands that in order to improve safety, the workforce must be engaged at the earliest stage possible.

“Yes I played a role in it, but the people who really did it was the staff,” said Hart. “The wonderful, competent, proud, professional staff. They did all the work and I got all the credit.”

Hart concluded by thanking all of the aviation safety professionals who have helped him safeguard the NAS and that he looks forward to continuing their positive and growing relationship.

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

2016: Joseph Teixeira

Joseph Teixeira, Inmarsat’s Vice President of Aviation Safety and Cybersecurity, was awarded one of the highest accolades in aviation safety at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)’s Communicating For Safety conference.

Introducing this year’s award, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said that the award is given to “those whose leadership in aviation safety has been historic, aggressive and courageous.”

During his tenure at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Teixeira implemented key programs, in collaboration with FAA labor unions that changed the face of aviation safety.

These included a safety management system that uses operational data to proactively identify risk long before there is a safety issue; a voluntary safety reporting program for air traffic controllers, technicians and commercial airlines that is the world’s largest today; new procedures and programs that improve runway safety and surface operations, and the overhaul of new and recurrent training for air traffic controllers.

Many of Teixeira’s initiatives have won awards from the U.S. Department of Transportation and other industry groups for their improvement to aviation safety.

NATCA National Safety Committee Chairman Steve Hansen, who worked with Teixeira in his many roles at the FAA, lauded Teixeira for his ability to collaborate, saying, “Even though we had disagreements, there’s not one issue we did not complete while we were working together.” He complimented Teixeira’s leadership skills and noted, “He’s willing to make the hard choices.”

In accepting the award, Teixeira thanked NATCA: “This is perhaps the most meaningful award that I could receive because it’s from you.” He praised the NATCA-FAA teams that worked together to advance aviation safety: “I met some very courageous people along the way. I developed great friendships, and for that I’m grateful. I was honored to serve with you.”

Watch the award presentation below:

2015: Deborah Hersman

Of the many awards NATCA bestows, the Sentinel of Safety is among the most prestigious. The award, a mainstay of Communicating for Safety (CFS), was renamed at the NATCA Biennial Convention in 2014 in honor of the late Chairman Jim Oberstar. This year, NATCA honored former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman.

“As many of you know, we suffered the untimely death of Congressman Oberstar, a very dear friend of ours and also to many in aviation,” said NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. “Congressman Oberstar was the first recipient of the Sentinel of Safety Award, and we have renamed the award after him this past year during our convention in Minneapolis.”

The award was created as a way to honor a member of the aviation or legislative communities that has displayed outstanding achievement in the advancement of aviation safety.

“This year’s winner is a true friend to NATCA and no stranger to CFS,” NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said in his introduction. “She is a defender of safety and safety is in her DNA.”

Appointed to the NTSB in 2004, Chairman Hersman became chairman in 2009. While at the NTSB she investigated over 25 major transportation incidences, including the D.C. Metro rail collision, the Colgan crash in Buffalo, and the midair over the Hudson. She also played a vital role in the Dreamliner 787’s battery problem. Last March she left the NTSB to become the President and CEO of the National Safety Council. Chairman Hersman also led numerous hearings and testified in front of Congress frequently.

“Doing the right thing for safety is not always the popular thing. She’s brave, she stands up for safety every time,” Rinaldi said, commenting on Chairman Hersman’s many remarkable accomplishments. “And that’s why she won this year’s award.”

After taking the stage and accepting the award, Chairman Hersman began by sharing her past experiences with Oberstar. “I had the good fortune of knowing him for many years as a young congressional staffer,” Chairman Hersman said. “Congressman Oberstar treated everyone with respect, and I’m sure when I was a 22-year-old junior staffer he didn’t realize that one day I would be the Chairman of an agency he helped create in 1967. He taught me that people are important, and I just want to stress that the people are what’s so important.”

Stressing the importance of the people who work the safest airspace in the world, Chairman Hersman was very humble in her acceptance of the award. “We have so many people who work so hard for safety, and when we talk about the sentinels of safety, it’s you guys,” she said. “I work in an environment where I fly everyday; I’m so appreciative of what you do. I know that all of you, no matter where you work and no matter what you do, have to make decisions. You have to make sacrifices about when you’re going to get sleep, about what you’re going to be able to do with your family, and even about coming here and what shift you have to work when you go home. Thank you all for being the true sentinels of safety.”

Chairman Hersman has been a strong ally of NATCA and has worked extensively with NATCA leadership throughout her distinguished career. The daughter of a military family, Hersman wanted to honor that relationship by presenting Rinaldi and Gilbert the challenge coin of the President’s Office of the National Safety Council.

“They have been amazing champions for not just all of you but everyone using the national airspace,” said Chairman Hersman. “Their tenure as leaders of NATCA has been unprecedented as far as cooperation, and working with other groups and organizations. I will tell you, at times relationships between the controllers and whether it’s the FAA or the NTSB haven’t always been easy, but I can tell you that under their leadership things have gotten measurably better. I believe that we are in the best place that we’ve been for many years when it comes to NTSB investigations. I never had an issue working with Paul and Trish that we couldn’t figure out how to make a win-win, and that has been a hallmark of my experience with them.”

Other winners of the Sentinel of Safety Award include Chairman Frank LoBiondo, Representative from New Jersey; Peter DeFazio, Representative from Oregon; Jerry Costello, Former Representative from Illinois; Steve LaTourette, Former Representative from Ohio; Frank Lautenberg, Former Senator from New Jersey; Jane Garvey, Former FAA Administrator; Randy Babbitt, Former FAA Administrator; Capt. Lee Moak, Former ALPA President; and the very first recipient of the Sentinel of Safety Award Chairman James L. Oberstar, Former Representative from Minnesota.

Below, watch the award presentation.

2014: Lee Moak

With the National Safety Committee onstage in support, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert presented Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) President Capt. Lee Moak with the Sentinel of Safety award on March 25 to open the second day of CFS in Las Vegas.

The Sentinel of Safety award is NATCA’s highest honor for those outside of the organization who have displayed outstanding achievements in the advancement of aviation safety.

“This award puts a special emphasis on those whose leadership on aviation safety issues has been extraordinary, aggressive and courageous,” Rinaldi said during his introduction of Capt. Moak. “I can’t think of any better adjectives to describe this year’s award winner than extraordinary, aggressive and courageous.”

Capt. Moak is at the forefront of aviation safety, fighting for both pilots and the safety of the National Airspace System. He was elected ALPA President in 2010, beginning his four-year term in 2011. Among the many notable initiatives he spearheads, Capt. Moak works with the FAA and NATCA to create pathways for NextGen, review runway modifications, and conduct weather research, all of which improve commercial air operations.

Much in line with NATCA’s fatigue campaign, Capt. Moak is currently fighting to extend to cargo pilots the same rest requirements passenger pilots follow. Given the recent crash of a UPS cargo plane in Birmingham, Ala., it’s “becoming more apparent that separate rest requirements for cargo and passenger pilots is unsustainable, unsupportable, and unconscionable,” said Capt. Moak. “Pilots who operate in the same skies, take off from the same airports, and fly over the same terrain must be given the same opportunities for full rest, regardless of what is in the back of the plane.”

Capt. Moak is also an advocate for the American aviation industry as many international airlines attempt to skirt regulations to gain unfair advantages in the market. Recently, Norwegian Air attempted to avoid regulation by basing different aspects of operation in different countries. Capt. Moak is fighting this in international court and has resisted their plans to fly to the U.S. Additionally, Capt. Moak is fighting for U.S. pilots as DHS plans a pre-clearance facility at Dubai International Airport, where no American carriers currently fly.

Before his award acceptance remarks, Capt. Moak went down the line and shook the hand of every member of the Safety Committee.

“When a passenger buys a ticket, nowhere on the ticket does it say, ‘oh by the way, you’re going to be flying in the safest airspace in the world,” Capt. Moak said. “It should say it on there. This is the safest airspace in the world and it is that way because of the work that’s done by this group, the work that we do when we have government, industry, and labor working together to improve safety.

“What you do is so important. At the Air Line Pilots Association, I am standing here with this award because of them, because of the hard work of our engineering and safety department. … We have a government affairs department and we have a communications department. Because of them, I am here to accept this award.

“This is truly an honor. Thank you.”

2013: Randy Babbitt

Randy Babbitt, a true champion of aviation safety for more than four decades, was the 2013 recipient of the James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award.

“Paul and Trish and all of you at NATCA, thank you very much,” said Babbitt as he accepted his award. “I’m humbled by this recognition (and) flattered by your thoughts, but I’m really pleased to see the progress, happy to be a part of it. Any organization is reflected by the characters of its people. And you, the people at NATCA, have made this airspace system the safest it has ever been, and will continue to be.”

Babbitt served as FAA Administrator from 2009 to 2011. During his tenure, he was committed to restoring fairness to all air traffic controllers and worked diligently to provide frontline employees with pre-decisional involvement. Babbitt made it clear that achieving lasting success would require both the FAA and NATCA to “put chains” on the pendulum swings that often result when there is a change in leadership.

A veteran pilot and internationally recognized expert in aviation and labor relations, Babbitt was no stranger to the FAA. He was a member of the agency’s Management Advisory Council since 2001. In that capacity, he provided guidance to the FAA Administrator on a variety of topics, ranging from air traffic modernization to regulatory policy. He was chairman of the council from 2004-06.

He also was appointed by DOT Secretary Mary Peters to be a member of a special Internal Review Team to assess safety oversight within the airline industry and the FAA.

Babbitt had been the founding partner of Eclat Consulting, a highly successful aviation firm, in 2001 and was the President and CEO until Eclat was acquired by Oliver Wyman in 2007.

Babbitt began his aviation career as a pilot, flying 25 years for Eastern Airlines. A skilled negotiator, he served as President and CEO for the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l. (ALPA), the world’s largest professional organization of airline pilots. While at ALPA, he championed the “One Level of Safety” initiative implemented in 1995 to improve safety standards across the industry. He also promoted the international expansion of ALPA through a merger with the Canadian Air Line Pilots Association in 1997.

He was recognized by Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine with the Laurels Award for outstanding achievement in the Commercial Air Transport.

2012: Jim Fossey
Jim Fossey accepts his award from NATCA Great Lakes Regional Vice President Bryan Zilonis.

On February 1, 2012, at NATCA’s Communicating for Safety conference in Atlanta, Jim Fossey, the former FAA Air Traffic Organization director of safety and special projects, was presented with the NATCA Sentinel of Safety Award. The honor is given annually to a person outside the union who has helped promote the strong safety culture that NATCA strives for daily.

During a special presentation at the conference, Great Lakes Regional Vice President Bryan Zilonis said Fossey was the catalyst that got the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP) off the ground in 2008 after multiple false starts. Since it began four years ago, there have been over 45,000 ATSAP reports filed with no employee retribution.

Zilonis and the union had been trying to develop a program for employees to report safety violations and concerns without fear of losing their jobs over it. To that point, efforts had been met with stiff resistance from the FAA under the Bush administration, which had resisted efforts by federal labor unions to push programs they were developing.

“What we couldn’t accomplish was implementation,” Zilonis said of ATSAP prior to the late years of President Bush’s second term. “The culture at the time was ‘we won’t work with unions.’”

But Fossey did, putting air safety above labor-related disputes. After two unsuccessful attempts to convince the FAA to implement ATSAP, Zilonis said the program was as good as dead until Fossey called him one night and vowed to work with the union.

“My thought at the time was ‘one more strike is the end of the program,’” Zilonis said, adding that he told Fossey he was risking his own job to help the union. “[Fossey] asked me, ‘how about we do the right thing?’”

With Fossey’s support, NATCA and the FAA began working to develop the program that is in place today. After being presented with the award and a video was shown of NATCA staff and controllers thanking him for his service, Fossey was quick to praise the union members as the ones who made the voluntary reporting program possible.

“The people on those slides were the people that did it,” Fossey said. “It became difficult, but they never gave up.”

Former acting FAA administrator Bobby Sturgell signed the agreement in March 2008, but full implementation of the program didn’t happen until during the labor-friendly Obama Administration. However, Zilonis stressed that it never would have happened at all without Fossey’s support.

“Jim Fossey made that phone call and he changed the culture of the FAA in a very profound way,” Zilonis said. “Nobody else could have done it at the time.”

2010: Jane Garvey

In honor of her dedication to aviation, NATCA awarded former Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey with its Sentinel of Safety Award, its highest honor for those outside of the organization who have displayed outstanding achievements in the advancement of aviation safety.

Dedicated to building a collaborative partnership with NATCA, Garvey, who served as the 14th FAA Administrator (1997-2002), was both the first female Administrator and the first to serve a five-year term. The Sentinel of Safety award puts a special emphasis on those who have gone above and beyond to preserve and improve the National Airspace System. Said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi, “I can think of no better way to describe the leadership of Jane Garvey, one of NATCA’s strongest allies, than extraordinary, aggressive, and courageous.”

Dedicating her term as Administrator to modernization, more modernization efforts took place in her tenure than in the previous 20 years. During her term, Garvey unveiled the FAA’s Operational Evolution Plan – designed to serve as the backbone for large-scale modernization in the system. She even oversaw the Y2K transition, calming public fears by taking a flight on New Year’s Eve.

Prior to her time at the FAA, Garvey served as the director at Boston’s Logan Airport, followed by tenures as Acting Administrator and Deputy Administrator for the Federal Highway Administration.

NATCA has worked with Garvey in recent years when she served as a judge for the first two years of the Archie League Medal of Safety awards, and through her service last year on the three-person mediation and arbitration panel overseeing the negotiations on NATCA’s new bargaining agreement with the FAA.

“Jane Garvey was one of the finest FAA Administrators and public servants this country has ever seen. I’m proud to call her one of NATCA’s most steadfast supporters and a friend,” said Rinaldi.

2009: Rep. Alcee Hastings

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., whose impassioned dedication to aviation safety has been highlighted by his efforts to demand accountability and a thorough examination of flawed and secretive Federal Aviation Administration efforts to realign air traffic control facilities and services in Florida and across the country, was presented with NATCA’s Sentinel of Safety award on May 17, 2009, during his appearance before the organization’s annual legislative conference.

The Sentinel of Safety award was created as a way to honor a member of the aviation and legislative communities who has displayed outstanding achievement in the advancement of aviation safety. The award is open to all leaders of the aviation community, with a special emphasis on those whose leadership on aviation safety issues has been historic, aggressive and courageous.

“It is a great day for NATCA when we can bestow this type of honor and say a well-deserved thank you to such a courageous and forceful champion of aviation safety and Congressman Hastings is all of those things and more,” NATCA President Patrick Forrey said. “It is extremely valuable and inspirational to have a leader like Congressman Hastings standing beside the aviation safety professionals that NATCA represents, fighting to demand a complete examination of FAA policies and decisions and open dialogue with all concerned parties.”

The FAA is moving forward on ad hoc air traffic control facility and service realignment efforts without a comprehensive review procedure to determine whether the realignment provides an operational benefit to users, increases safety and efficiency, and/or saves the taxpayer money. This despite overwhelming, bipartisan Congressional opposition, including the delegations from 27 states. NATCA believes FAA Reauthorization is needed to provide that review procedure and compel the FAA to subject all current realignment efforts to this needed layer of oversight, accountability and transparency.

Just as with technological development, realignment efforts completed in a collaborative environment will ensure benefits are realized rather than squandered. Nobody believes this more than Congressman Hastings, whose efforts to put a spotlight on FAA realignment plans in Florida included a March letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that was co-signed by members of the Florida Congressional delegation.

The letter stated, “We write to inquire about the FAA’s plans for air traffic control services in Florida, particularly the relocation of terminal radar approach control (TRACON) services from West Palm Beach (PBI) to Miami (MIA) and the service provided to the expanding areas around Fort Pierce (FPR) and Vero Beach (VRB). During meetings between Members of Congress, the FAA, and controllers from Miami Approach, Miami Center, and West Palm Beach, discussions have repeatedly centered on the FAA’s lack of a strategic plan for Florida. All the parties agree that FPR and VRB would be better served by an approach facility.

“We are deeply concerned about the recent FAA decision to split tower and radar functions at Orlando International in spite of overwhelming Congressional opposition. The combined configuration at Orlando provided management with flexibility to place controllers where circumstances dictated they were needed. … We are also concerned about the operational benefits of air traffic control facilities that house controllers certified in both radar and tower operations. It is more effective and efficient for a controller to have hands-on working knowledge of both aspects of the operation, so that they can more safely and proficiently hand-off and receive aircraft from and to the next controller. When these functions are split that vital symmetry between radar and tower controllers is lost.”

2008: Rep. Peter DeFazio and Rep. Frank LoBiondo

NATCA honored Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., (above) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., with its annual Sentinel of Safety award during each Congressman’s respective appearances NATCA’s 2008 annual legislative conference, NATCA in Washington.

The Sentinel of Safety award was created as a way to honor a member of the aviation and legislative communities who has displayed outstanding achievement in the advancement of aviation safety. The award is open to all leaders of the aviation community, with a special emphasis on those whose leadership on aviation safety issues has been historic, aggressive, and courageous.

A former ranking member of the House Aviation Subcommittee and now a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, Congressman DeFazio has dedicated himself to promoting efficiency and fairness for all users of the National Airspace System. Throughout his Congressional tenure, he has been a champion for aviation employees and the flying public by authoring, co-sponsoring and supporting bills and initiatives calling for vast overhauls in the aviation system including his introduction of legislation that would amend Title 49 of the Federal Code to provide a fair and collective bargaining process for FAA employees both before and after the agency’s imposed work rules.

Said NATCA President Patrick Forrey: “Congressman DeFazio has fought to ensure that the United States continues to operate the safest and most efficient aviation system in the world. He has been the voice of reason and integrity and a champion for aviation employees. Throughout his career, he has stood as a friend for NATCA, often times selflessly defending us from our sharpest critics. His pointed commentary during committee hearings and working sessions has always been spot on in its support of NATCA, our membership and most importantly, the flying public.”

At the time of the award presentation, LoBiondo was serving his seventh term in the U.S. House, and was also beginning his fourth year as the Co-Chair of the Republican Labor Caucus. In that role, he had been an outspoken leader on countless issues affecting the lives of working union members and their families. LoBiondo has been a champion for NATCA time and again whether fighting with the FAA on our behalf for a fair collective bargaining agreement or convincing his party colleagues to vote on legislation to get the FAA back to the collective bargaining table with NATCA. He has also co-sponsored legislation to improve aviation security after 9/11, supported beefed up and standardized training for aviation cabin crews, and voted to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

“As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (including the Aviation Subcommittee), Congressman LoBiondo has stood up time and again for NATCA, fighting with the FAA on our behalf for a fair contract and a positive work environment for our members. For that great effort we owe him a debt of gratitude,” Forrey said.

2007: Rep. Jerry Costello and Rep. Steven LaTourette

NATCA honored Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, with the third annual Sentinel of Safety award during each Congressman’s respective appearances at NATCA in Washington 2007.

NATCA created the Sentinel of Safety Award as a way to honor a member of the aviation community who has displayed outstanding achievement in the advancement of aviation safety. The award is open to all leaders of the aviation community, with a special emphasis on those whose leadership on aviation safety issues has been historic, aggressive, and courageous.

“We are proud to present this year’s award to Congressman Costello and Congressman LaTourette for their dedication to aviation and air safety and their strong and passionate support of every air traffic controller in this country,” NATCA President Pat Forrey said.

Costello, a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee and chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, has been a beacon for the aviation community throughout his tenure in Congress. Costello has fought to ensure that the United States continues to operate the safest and most efficient aviation system in the world. The language he has authored, the legislation he has introduced, and the oversight he has provided, have raised the bar for aviation safety in this country.

The list of Congressman Costello’s accomplishments in the field of aviation safety is long and distinguished. It includes:

  • In 1996, he co-sponsored legislation to ensure that the primary responsibility of the FAA administrator was to enhance the safety and security of the commercial civil aviation industry.
  • Immediately following the events of 9/11, Congressman Costello co-sponsored legislation that required the screening of all passengers and property carried into the cabin of an aircraft be conducted by the federal government. In addition, this legislation provided for the expansion of the air marshal program on domestic and international flights.
  • In 2003, he co-sponsored legislation that would improve and standardize training for commercial aviation cabin crew members.
  • He co-sponsored a bill implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which included significant improvements to aviation security.
  • In February 2006, with Congresswoman Sue Kelly, he introduced legislation that would amend Title 49 of the Federal Code to provide a fair collective bargaining process for FAA employees.

As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Congressman LaTourette consistently introduced and supported legislation that makes aviation safety a priority. Throughout his 12 years in Congress, LaTourette has been a solid supporter of the nation’s air traffic controllers.

In 2006, Congressman LaTourette led the fight to establish basic fairness and equity to FAA/union negotiations. He understood that a fairly negotiated and ratified contract would provide consistency and stability to the National Airspace System, thereby ensuring the safety and security of the flying public.

LaTourette and his bill’s many supporters courageously and enthusiastically took to the House floor on June 6, 2006, during debate. LaTourette was especially critical of FAA Administrator Marion Blakey’s move to impose work rules before the vote: “I am a pretty calm guy, but I really think that she just took her finger and stuck it in the eye of 268 members of this House (who co-sponsored the Kelly-Costello bill) and 75 of them happen to be Republican, 75 of them happen to be members of this President’s party. I am insulted.”

Congressman LaTourette’s efforts in 2006 are but one example of his legislative accomplishments to improve aviation safety. Here are some other aviation safety advancement highlights from his career:

  • Co-sponsored Secure Transportation for America Act of 2001 which, among other things, established standards and responsibilities for the TSA.
  • In 2002, co-sponsored legislation that would allow pilots of commercial aircraft to carry guns to be used in the event of a terrorist attack or cockpit intrusion.

2006: Sen. Frank Lautenberg

NATCA presented the 2006 Sentinel of Safety award to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., for his continued dedication and commitment to the aviation industry. He retired from the Senate in 2000 after 18 years of service, but returned in 2002 to once again serve. The Union bestows the annual award to a member of the aviation community as a way of honoring the individual for his or her outstanding achievement in the advancement of aviation safety.

Lautenberg has made aviation safety a priority and has fought for what was right for all users of the aviation system – whether it was air traffic controllers, the flying public, and even pets. His leadership in the aviation community is evident through the multiple pieces of legislation he has authored, programs he created, and hearings he requested.

Throughout Lautenberg’s career, he tirelessly supported NATCA and worked on behalf of its membership. No matter how small or large the request, the senator and his staff have always exceeded the union’s expectations. It is extremely difficult to sufficiently summarize Lautenberg’s career long dedication to aviation safety on one page because his list of accomplishments is lengthy and his results are impressive.

Highlights of Lautenberg’s contributions to aviation include:

  • Wrote the Lautenberg runway safety law, which holds FAA to a deadline to improve runway safety areas at over 280 commercial airports. The Lautenberg measure which signed into law by President Bush on Nov. 30, 2005, requires all major U.S. airports to bring their runways up to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) runway safety area standards, which are designed to help prevent accidents like the one that occurred in Chicago’s Midway Airport in December 2005.
  • Authored legislation in 2003 to prevent the privatization of the U.S. air traffic control system, which led to a landmark Senate vote against the Bush privatization plan. When majority party leaders dropped the legislation from the FAA bill in conference, Senator Lautenberg led the filibuster of this $60 billion legislation package for six months.
  • On Jan. 28, 2004, Sen. Lautenberg called on the Senate Committee for Commerce, Science, and Transportation to hold hearings on the Bush Administration proposal to slash funding for the nation’s air traffic control system while calling for a tripling of U.S. air traffic space. Sen. Lautenberg also sent letters regarding this issue to Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and FAA Administrator Marion Blakey.
  • Wrote the Pets on Planes law to improve air carriers’ handling of animals aboard airlines.
  • Authored the legislation that banned smoking on airlines.
  • Created a new FAA program to help preserve small airports by allowing creative funding mechanisms for states.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg receives the Sentinel of Safety Award from NATCA President John Carr as NATCA members from New Jersey look on.
2005: Rep. James Oberstar

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association saluted Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., with the first Sentinel of Safety award during NATCA in Washington 2005.

NATCA created the Sentinel of Safety award as a way to honor a member of the aviation community outside of the NATCA organization who has displayed outstanding achievement in the advancement of aviation safety. The award is open to all leaders of the aviation community, with a special emphasis on those whose leadership on aviation safety issues has been historic, aggressive, and courageous.

Oberstar, serving his 14th term representing Minnesota’s eighth district, is the senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and former chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee. Among his contributions to aviation, he championed legislation and a provision in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill in 2003 to prohibit the transfer of air traffic separation and control functions from the federal government to the private sector. He also sponsored the FAA Revitalization Act of 1995 to require FAA procurement and personnel reforms and in 1990 chaired hearings and wrote the legislation implementing the recommendations of the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism.

“We proudly present this year’s award to Congressman Oberstar for his lifelong dedication to the aviation industry,” NATCA President John Carr said. “Jim Oberstar is our champion and he has one of the biggest hearts in Congress, in every sense of that word. He has a compassionate heart, drawing upon his roots in the Democratic Farm Labor Party. His father was an iron miner and union organizer who passed on to Jim the values of loyalty and solidarity. But he also has the heart of a fighter, drawing upon his upbringing in the hardscrabble Iron Range of Minnesota.”

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