Air traffic control is yet another piece of the national security infrastructure that is often forgotten about. There is a very serious, very quiet push to privatize ATC. Some smaller facilities are already contracted out and a handful of them to non-US companies.
The big money is in the larger facilities and, though they won't yet admit it publicly, the FAA Administrator Marion Blakey is doing all she can to grease the wheels for all out removal of ATC from the government fold.
read more...beyond the bend
Typical of the Bush Administration, (remember what's happening at the National Park Service?) there are a great deal of similarities within the newly created FAA Air Traffic Organization (ATO). At times it's as if the management of air traffic has suddenly been taken hostage by drunken pirates. Instability is the norm now. Rule changes are chaotic and punitive measures (firings) are becoming a frequent threat. The head of the ATO has been quoted as saying that "causing anxiety" is a great way to pave the way for change in an organization. A first line supervisor said yesterday, "they've got everybody scared right now, and I mean everybody".
In fact, the very creation of the ATO is, by my reckoning, simply a way to make it easier to deliver ATC on a silver platter to the most well connected bidder when the time comes.
What used to be a job virtually all controllers loved and took immense pride in has changed dramatically in the past 3 years. At the core of it is the pressure to privatize, but more insidiously, it's the unspoken attitude coming from the top, that all the problems at the FAA (and aviation in general) would be suddenly fixed if they could just rid themselves of the controllers (and their union).
This couldn't be farther from the truth.
Actually, the job the controllers are doing is one of the things that's going right in ATC. The interaction with the pilots is still uniformly professional, and across the board, the controllers take great pride in causing as little delay as possible; always, with safety first and foremost. They are well paid professionals that have a very personal stake in what happens to the ATC system (though not as highly paid as FAA propaganda would suggest).
In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, controllers can also, at times, be obstinate, controlling, opinionated, perfectionists. But they take great pride in playing an important role in an amazingly safe air traffic system.
One of the tragic consequences privatization will be to subject ATC funding to the ups and downs of the aviation industry, and they are currently moving to fund ATC exclusively through (airline and private) user fees. Good years for the airlines will mean status quo, bad years will mean just a little more pressure to cut corners with air safety.
One of the Cato-lite think tanks has been twisting arms for privatization for years. Lockheed and Boeing are two of the parties said to be interested in the lucrative contracts, but foreign countries also have interested parties.
And this is all a backdrop to the current collective bargaining negotiations taking place between the air traffic controllers union (NATCA) and the FAA. The FAA is playing loose with the facts and putting a great deal of pressure on the controllers.
Frankly they want to bust the union, then sell out air traffic control to their golfing buddies.
...Not necessarily in that order.
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