Alaska exemptions prompt union protest

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) A bill seeking to block privatization of two air traffic control towers in Alaska has given the National Air Traffic Controllers Association ammunition in its campaign to have the bill rewritten.

The bill would allow continued privatization nationally, but Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, secured language to exempt the Juneau airport and another at Merrill Field in Anchorage.

Young, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, guided the bill to completion in the House. In late July, a conference committee between the House and Senate approved a final version to send back to each house for final approval.

The bill would maintain the FAA's authority to expand privatization from the current 219 contract towers to another 69 around the country.

The airline industry and airport executives support such contracting, which they say keeps costs down with no sacrifice to safety. The air traffic controllers group disputes those assertions and grasped at the proposed Alaska exemptions as good reason for the bill to be rewritten when Congress returns to work in September.

''Using federal controllers is of utmost concern to Chairman Young in Alaska,'' said Doug Church, spokesman for the controllers union. ''We only wish he would apply the same standard to the rest of the towers.''

Spencer Dickerson of the U.S. Contract Tower Association said the union is making too much of Young's Alaska exemptions.

''Chairman Young has more contract towers (in his state) than any other member of Congress,'' Dickerson told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Currently, towers at Bethel, Kenai, King Salmon and Kodiak are operated privately.

Figures show the error rate at contract towers is 2.5 times lower than at FAA-run towers, according to Dickerson. He said reporting requirements are identical for FAA and contract towers.

Some contract towers have union representation, but most do not, Church said. His union represents 15,300 controllers, most of whom work at the 266 FAA-operated towers around the nation.

Church said the union is hoping to have the full House send the bill back to the Transportation Committee for a rewrite in early September. Failing that, they'll try to kill the bill in the Senate, he said.

Young has urged passage of the bill, which would reauthorize the FAA through federal fiscal year 2007. It would allow Congress to spend as much as $3.4 billion on the Airport Improvement Program next year and calls for $100 million annual increases after that.



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