Air traffic workers fear privatization

Air traffic control has lost its inherently governmental status, potentially opening the door to privatization of critical aviation positions.

Under the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act of 1998, agencies must identify all functions they consider suitable for outsourcing. The Office of Management and Budget published the Transportation Department's Fair Act list this month, and deemed air traffic control a commercial activity.

Controller jobs are not subject to competition, but they could later be shifted to another group that would allow them to be outsourced.

The change follows President Bush's deletion of the phrase "an inherently governmental function" from an executive order describing air traffic control in June 2002.

Transportation officials have maintained that they do not intend to privatize air traffic control. But the recent events have made union officials and some members of Congress skeptical of that claim.

"I'm watching what they do, and it speaks volumes," John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told reporters Feb. 13 at a breakfast sponsored by the Aviation Safety Alliance. "Privatizing air traffic control is, quite simply, inviting disaster."

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has introduced legislation to prevent outsourcing of controller and maintenance-related jobs.

"These men and women perform a critical government function," Lautenberg said in a statement Feb. 11 at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. "It should not be farmed out to private contractors."

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