Controllers protest privatization

The union that represents more than 15,000 air traffic controllers has launched a campaign to protest the potential privatization of their profession.

Off-duty controllers at airports nationwide distributed leaflets expressing their concerns to passengers Dec. 20.

The outreach effort follows the Federal Aviation Administration's decision to declare air traffic control a commercial activity, rather than an inherently governmental function.

Union officials believe the change opens the door to outsourcing controller jobs.

"Commercial activity sure sounds a lot like privatization to me," National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr said, speaking at a news conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Under the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act of 1998, agencies must identify all functions they consider suitable for outsourcing to the private sector. The Transportation Department's latest list, which includes the FAA's information, was released Dec. 9.

FAA officials maintain that they have no intent to privatize air traffic control, but the union is unconvinced.

Earlier this year, President Bush deleted the phrase "an inherently governmental function," describing air traffic control, from a Dec. 7, 2000, executive order. That omission raised alarms within the union ranks.

"Privatization will introduce a profit motive or other financial pressures into a system whose current imperative is safety," Carr said. "We have seen this happen in other countries that have tried [this], and we are determined to prevent it from happening here."

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