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Stressed-Out Air Traffic Controllers to Get Raises

March 29, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Federal Aviation Administration plans 10 percent pay raises at seven of the nation’s busiest, most stressful air traffic control centers in hopes of enticing new workers and keeping others from quitting.

The plan, to be officially announced Monday, falls short of experimental bonuses tried at understaffed centers beginning in 1989. Congress has been phasing those out over the past few years.

Some controllers and technicians will be disappointed that the new incentives are lower, ``but for the most part they’re just glad we’re getting something to recognize these facilities,″ said Ken Kluge, a Chicago safety representative with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

``They’re pretty busy and the stress can get real high, tempers can flare pretty quickly,″ Kluge said.

The new bonuses will be paid in the Chicago, New York and San Francisco areas, sites where the FAA has trouble attracting and keeping workers, deputy administrator Linda Hall Daschle confirmed Thursday.

``These people do a very difficult and complex job,″ Daschle said. ``These facilities are the busiest in the country, in some cases the world.″

Like their peers around the nation, the affected controllers and technicians contend with obsolete radar and computer systems prone to sudden failure, and chronic manpower shortages that require routine overtime.

``The bonuses are a temporary fix,″ said Barry Krasner, president of the controllers’ union. ``We want to take care of these people initially. The next step is a new classification system that will help all of the controllers.″

Krasner expects further pay increases under a wide-reaching law that takes effect Monday, sweeping away thousands of pages of regulations, including rules that prohibited the agency from paying a premium to workers in higher stress jobs.

To start, bonuses will be handed out at the control tower at Chicago’s O’Hare, the busiest airport in the world, and at three regional control centers, which control planes descending or climbing from airports. They are the Chicago Center in Aurora, Ill.; the New York Center, in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.; and the Oakland Center, in Fremont, Calif.

Also affected are three Terminal Radar Approach Controls, or Tracons, which handle high-altitude traffic between airports. They are at O’Hare, Westbury, N.Y., and Oakland, Calif.

The affected controllers and technicians will get 7 percent pay increases in mid-April and an additional 3 percent in October, Krasner said. In effect, raises will be smaller for some people whose checks still reflect the last vestiges of the old, experimental bonus program.

Base pay for controllers in those centers is more than $60,000, Krasner said.

Daschle confirmed the plan after helping unveil streamlined personnel rules and procurement procedures to be phased in beginning Monday.

The changes, part of Vice President Al Gore’s ``reinventing government″ initiatives, will speed up both hiring and the replacement of 30-year-old computers, Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said a news conference with Gore.

``FAA has made the boldest, the most dramatic changes in a generation, and it starts now,″ Pena said.

The FAA already has begun updating its computers, faulty power systems, and communications systems, but the job will take years.

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