Bill would nix privatizing air traffic control

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation that would prohibit the privatization or contracting out of the federal air traffic control system.

The Air Traffic Control System Integrity Act of 2003, H.R. 1711, was introduced April 10 by four senior members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: Reps. James Oberstar, D-Minn., ranking Democrat on the committee; Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., chairman of the Coast Guard and maritime transportation subcommittee; Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., ranking Democrat on the aviation subcommittee; and Jack Quinn, R-N.Y., chairman of the railroads subcommittee.

The bill would prevent the Transportation Department from authorizing the conversion of any Federal Aviation Administration facility or the outsourcing of work performed by FAA air traffic control employees to private or public entities other than the U.S. government.

"Should we risk the uncertainties of creating a new system to promote ATC safety and security when we already have in place a system with an outstanding safety record? The answer is simple: No," said Oberstar in a statement.

"Air traffic control is a critical component of our nation's aviation system," LoBiondo said. "Its reliability and security should remain in the hands of the outstanding professionals who have made our skies the safest in the world."

Quinn said: "The safety of airline passengers exceeds the desire to streamline the role of the air traffic controller."

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has come out in strong support of the bill. John Carr, president of the association, said the bill is "a bold and critical step to preserve the safety and integrity of the world's best system and ensuring this country maintains its role as the world leader in air traffic control."

Air traffic controllers have been angered recently by the FAA's decision to classify them as not filling an inherently governmental function but protected from outsourcing. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has said that despite the reclassification, there are no plans to privatize air traffic control.

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