Controllers Want Talks Reopened
It's been unusually
quiet lately on the FAA reauthorization front. After what looked
like an opportunity to finally get the Senate to act on
reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, settle the
user-fee debate for a few years, and get next-generation air
traffic control underway, extraneous amendments and political
tantrums derailed the debate on Senate Bill 1300, and
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled it from consideration.
Now, as Congress's summer recess looms, The Politico reports
lobbyists on all the issues involved have pulled back to take a
breather -- all, that is, except the National Air Traffic
Admittedly, NATCA is less concerned about user fees, than its
own interests. The Senate bill, like one passed last year in the
House, would reopen contract negotiations between the union and the
FAA... ending almost two years of pay and work rules imposed
unilaterally by the FAA after negotiations broke down in 2006.
The union blames substandard pay and a poor working environment
for a wave of early retirements it says is resulting in
short-staffing, and unsafe levels of stress and fatigue in the
nation's control towers.
Most lobbyists with issues at stake in reauthorization appear
resigned to another extension of the status quo, possibly well into
2009. NATCA has distributed print, radio and Web video ads urging
Americans to pressure lawmakers to deal with the subject before the
end of June.
Union lobbyist Jose Ceballos warns Congress needs to get this
done before the peak summer travel season hits. "If there is no
bill, we fear there will be a mass retirement wave that could
cripple the system at a time when we need all hands on deck," he
said. "It is absolutely critical that this bill be addressed
To be fair, he's not the only one who would like to see movement
before June 30. Andy Cebula, executive VP for government affairs at
the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, hates to see all the
work invested in the debate so far go for naught.
"...We don’t want to do it all again next year," Cebula
says. "I don’t want to sound hopefully Pollyanna-ish, but we
can’t totally give up on Congress."