Mineta Warns Of User Fees, NATCA Contract

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On Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta made use of his speech at the annual luncheon of Washington's Aero Club to talk about the future of the FAA and how it will be funded. First there was the encrypted user-fee warning: "I cannot give you the details yet, but I expect that we are going to see a cost-based plan that creates a more direct relationship between revenue collected and services provided," he said. That new plan is in the "final stages," he added. Then, Mineta moved on to blast NATCA's contract proposal, now under negotiation. That proposal would cost the FAA more than $2 billion over the next five years, Mineta said, diverting funds needed for capacity improvements and modernization. "We cannot afford this," he said. NATCA, to no one's surprise, begs to differ. The FAA is "playing loose with the facts," according to Ruth Marlin, NATCA executive vice president. A large portion of the nation's controllers are very senior and are at retirement ages, Marlin said in a statement. "All the FAA has to do is let them retire and replace them with new hires, and under the Union's proposal they will save $543 million over five years."