Air traffic control 'commercial'

The Federal Aviation Administration's decision to declare air traffic control a commercial activity, instead of an inherently governmental function, has angered union officials.

"We are convinced that aviation safety will be threatened in the next two years," said John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "Cash-strapped private companies cut services, training and staffing to make ends meet. It's not smart public policy to cut safety-related functions."

Agencies must identify all functions they consider suitable for outsourcing to the private sector, under the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act of 1998.

The Transportation Department's latest list, which includes the FAA's information, was released Dec. 9.

Word got out last week that the FAA placed air traffic control in the commercial activity grouping as a "category A."

That means that what "controllers do is so fundamentally critical to [the agency's] mission they are not subject to cost comparisons and competitive outsourcing," said Greg Martin, a spokesman for the FAA. "As these definitions continue to undergo different interpretation and continue to be more defined there has been a shift. For now, that's what we had to work with.

"There's no intention to privatize," Martin said.

But NATCA isn't convinced.

"It's a slippery slope," Carr said. "This year's A is next year's B." Other functions, such as airways systems specialists, have been moved, he said.

"It's clearly this administration's philosophical design... and tilt towards business," he continued.

On June 4, President Bush deleted the phrase "an inherently governmental function," describing air traffic control, from a Dec. 7, 2000, executive order that authorized the establishment of a performance-based organization within the FAA.

NATCA can appeal the most recent change of status, according to Martin.

The union plans to work on legislation to undo the decision, picket and distribute leaflets at airports, and form coalitions within the aviation industry, Carr said.


  • Defense
    Ryan D. McCarthy being sworn in as Army Secretary Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo credit: Sgt. Dana Clarke/U.S. Army)

    Army wants to spend nearly $1B on cloud, data by 2025

    Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said lack of funding or a potential delay in the JEDI cloud bid "strikes to the heart of our concern."

  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.