To some observers, contract negotiations between the FAA and its air traffic controllers are shaping up to be the most divisive, confrontational and acrimonious talks since President Ronald Reagan fired striking controllers in 1981 -- and the latest round of bargaining hasn't even begun yet. The two sides don't formally sit down until next week but in back-to-back news teleconferences, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), each promised courteous and productive talks while delivering (sometimes) carefully worded but plainly pointed barbs at their counterparts. "Frankly, I'm surprised she stooped so low so soon," Carr said of Blakey's comparison between the wages and working conditions of controllers versus firefighters and police officers, who are generally paid less and who, Blakey noted, "put their lives on the line" on the job. Even the backdrop of the teleconference had its share of drama. NATCA announced its Wednesday teleconference to selected media representatives late Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, the FAA announced it would be holding a teleconference 90 minutes prior to NATCA's 1 p.m. (EST) conference, although problems with the FAA's telephone conference system forced a one-hour delay in the start time. FAA spokesman Greg Martin said that when FAA officials learned of the NATCA teleconference, which the union said was to discuss, in part, "concerns about the effect of recent FAA hostile actions on the workforce", the FAA felt it had to get its side of the story out. "It was not our intention to begin this way but we are not going to let others define what this is all about," Martin told AVweb.