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Senate Bans Privatizing Air Controllers

June 12, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate defied the Bush administration on Thursday by voting to prohibit the government from transferring air traffic control to private companies.

Despite a veto threat, the ban passed 56-41 as an amendment to a spending plan for the Federal Aviation Administration. Air traffic controllers supported the amendment, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

``One thing we learned from 9/11 is that the public does not want private contractors responsible for the safety and security of air travelers,″ Lautenberg said.

Controllers’ jobs were protected from privatization in 2000 when President Clinton signed an executive order calling air traffic service ``an inherently governmental function.″ Last year, President Bush amended that order by deleting those four words.

The FAA notified the controllers that their jobs would be reclassified as ``commercial.″ Controllers said the change meant the government could hire a private company to take over air traffic control, though Bush administration officials have insisted there are no plans to do that.

All commercial airports have government controllers, though many small, private airports use independent companies to run their air traffic control towers.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said the FAA wants flexibility in administering those ``contract towers.″

The Lautenberg amendment exempts contract towers, but includes people who maintain the air traffic control system and others who provide flight information, such as weather forecasts, to pilots.

The Office of Management and Budget said such restrictions are not necessary and would hinder the FAA’s ability to manage the air traffic control system. OMB spokesman Trent Duffy said the administration is reviewing the amendment.

The House on Wednesday approved a four-year, $58.9 billion plan for the FAA that includes a ban on privatizing air traffic controllers and the people who maintain the equipment, but not the support people who provide flight information.

The two versions must be reconciled before they go to the president.


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