FAA compromising safety with privatization proposal

Posted: Monday, July 19, 2004

In 2002, the Federal Aviation Administration commissioned an A-76 outsourcing study which could result in the privatization of the Flight Service Stations in the Lower 48, Hawaii and Puerto Rico by March 2005.

Alaska is currently exempted, however, for how long is debatable. Currently Alaska has three Automated Flight Service Stations (AFSS) and 14 Flight Service Stations. Each provide vital information to pilots regarding weather avoidance, airport

and airspace conditions, restrictions, procedures, traffic, national security requirements and flight following. We work with commercial, military and general aviation pilots. When necessary we also conduct search and rescue work.

The employees that work in the FSS Option feel that such outsourcing will lead to a degradation of service and will be detrimental to safety and security. There are many well-intentioned initiatives in the government to privatize numerous public sector operations, but generally, they do not effect public safety or national security.

The FAA has basically put our services up for sale to the lowest bidder. It also has made attempts to eliminate the very standards that are used to ensure safety.

There are now five vendors and one in-house organization referred to as MEO (Most Efficient Organization), competing for the 53 AFSSs. Technical and cost proposals have to be in by September. The decision will be made by the FAA by March 2005. Then, there will be a six-month "phase in" period followed by a "transition" period, which can last up to three years.

So what can happen? Either way staffing numbers will be reduced and facilities will be consolidated. If the MEO wins, employees will remain government. If a contractor wins, employees will not be government employees. Pilots can expect higher hold times, and probably not as many services as are now offered will be available.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, safety and security have been the watchwords of our age. Congress has mandated all baggage inspectors and airline passenger screeners to be under direct federal supervision; the FAA is moving to sell the control of our airspace to the lowest bidder. Does it make sense for the safety and security of your luggage to be inherently governmental but your flight isn't?

The dedicated employees at our nations Flight Service Stations have been instrumental in restoring the National Airspace System after the strike in 1981, and again

after events in September 2001. Most A-76 studies have dealt with small contingents of employees.

The numbers involved in this study might preclude the FAA from providing some of the protections needed. The FAA may not be able to provide jobs to such a large number of people. It appears the FAA is determined through RIF (reduction in force) negotiations to limit its responsibility toward our work force.

Our job is very complex, with most functions directly related to aviation safety or national security. We provide a myriad of intangible needed services to the aviation community, most of which are not included in the "cost of services" figures used by the FAA to justify the A-76 study.

In the "performance work statement," many of the current 2000 job functions currently performed have been eliminated. Add this to a transition to a lower skilled, lower paid and lower staffed work force, quality of service is suspect.

Our employees have worked with antiquated equipment, old facilities, reduced budgets and short staffing, yet they have always maintained the high standards of quality and safety. The A-76 process is blind to this fact though, and by design, it will target the employees themselves as the best way to cut costs.

When the time comes for the Alaska Flight Service Stations to meet the fate as the Lower 48, Hawaii and Puerto Rico facilities are now facing, I hope that the state of Alaska takes pity on the flying public and bids for our contract.

Mary Ellen Cunningham, Air traffic control specialist , Kenai

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