Controller negotiations continue

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For nearly three years, air traffic controllers have been working under imposed work rules after they failed to reach a contract agreement with the FAA. Now that a new administrator has taken office — and an arbitration panel is in place — are things finally getting settled? Maybe.

The two groups are not eager to discuss the arbitration efforts until there is something positive to report.

However, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt recently unveiled a change in the way operational errors are reported, saying the names of controllers will not be included on operational error reports sent to FAA headquarters.

“We need quality information,” said Babbitt, “and the best sources of that information are our front-line employees.”

Removing names will allow investigators to focus on what happened, rather than who was at fault, he explained.

The change was met with questions from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the controllers’ union.

“We need clarification of it,” said spokesman Doug Church.

What is clear is that the identity of controllers involved in errors will be known at their local facilities, with disciplinary actions taken and recorded in the controllers’ records.

If this is part of the non-punitive reporting system, it is confusing, Church said. “We need Babbitt to back up his words with his actions,” he said, adding, “we do hope this is an indication of the new administrator reaching out.”

REAUTHORIZATION

The controllers group is one of the many organizations that favor the Senate’s version of the FAA reauthorization over that passed by the House. NATCA President Patrick Forrey says the Senate version “addresses so many key issues that affect the safety of the National Airspace System and provides for the advancement of the much-needed modernization of the air traffic control system.”

Both the Senate and the House bills push the Next Generation Air Traffic Control program (NextGen), a goal supported by general aviation interests as well. The Senate version, however, does not include two provisions that are opposed by the Air Transport Association, which represents the major airlines: An antitrust immunity sunset provision; and a provision to raise the cap on passenger facility charges from $4.50 to $7.

The Senate and House versions now will go to conference, where some changes will be made, with a final version going to a vote in both Houses. This needs to be done before the temporary authorization period ends in September.

CHANGES AT NTSB

Two members of the National Transportation Safety Board have submitted their resignations, leaving the way open for President Obama to make appointments.

Board member Kathryn O’Leary Higgins left the board Aug. 3, while Chairman Mark Rosenker said he will stay until replacements are nominated and approved.

Higgins, who joined the board in January 2006, said she is leaving “to pursue opportunities in the private sector.” She previously held positions as Deputy Secretary of Labor, Vice Chair of the Presidential Commissions on Coast Guard Roles and Missions, and assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary.

Rosenker became a member and Vice Chairman of NTSB in March 2003. Three years later he was sworn in as the 11th chairman. He was nominated by President Bush for a second term in 2007. Before being appointed to the board he was Deputy Assistant to the President and director of the White House Military Office.

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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