...FAA, NATCA, She Said, He Said...

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Blakey told reporters that, "We can't afford an agreement like 1998." The existing contract, signed under a previous administrator and extended by her two years ago, is a "bad deal" that costs too much. She said the average controller's annual pay package, excluding retirement benefits, is now more than $165,000 and that some make more than $200,000 a year. Blakey also claims the contract gives the union "de facto control" over scheduling and staffing levels. NATCA's Carr vehemently denied that the union had seized control of staffing and shifting, and offered to pay Blakey or any of the reporters taking part in his teleconference $1 million if they could find within the wording of the existing contract proof the union was granted such powers. Carr called the assertions "patently false" and said it's ludicrous to think that a bureaucracy the size of the FAA could be cowed by a 15,000-member union.

The disagreement comes a couple of months after the FAA issued a blistering report on staffing and overtime issues at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) that painted the picture that FAA managers had virtually lost control of the facility. She noted that the conditions in New York are not typical of the agency's other facilities. However, Carr alleged that both the timing and content of the report were a "shot across the bow" and part of a "very aggressive PR campaign leading up to the negotiations" on the part of the FAA. He described the FAA's handling of the New York situation and other recent decisions, like the disbanding of a union-management liaison unit on technology, "strong-arm tactics" and accused the FAA of having a "narrow and ideologically driven" agenda. Blakey eliminated one potential hot spot from the discussions -- privatization. She dismissed any notion of privatization or outsourcing air traffic control and said any discussion on the topic would be a red herring. Blakey and Carr both agreed that new technologies and new methods must be employed to meet rapidly increasing traffic counts and that both will cost huge amounts of money.