What Effects Will Cost-Cutting Have?

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The FAA says it's trying to operate the National Airspace System as a "business" and it's therefore looking for efficiencies through consolidation and staff deployment. The New York Times last week reported that the agency intends to virtually freeze staff transfers between facilities, pare down the numbers of air traffic controllers in favor of better technology and consider eliminating the staff meteorologist positions at the 20 en route facilities. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association says the changes will discourage the most experienced controllers from seeking the most challenging jobs and cutting weather jobs may cost lives. "There's no doubt in my mind that people are saved, literally saved, every year by having [meteorologists] in the control room," union spokesman Kevin Bianchi told the Times. Ruth Marlin, NATCA's executive vice president, said the system's busiest control rooms have traditionally hired experienced controllers from somewhat less busy facilities and groomed them for the demanding positions. But she says the FAA's plan would result in pay cuts for such transfers (when the freeze is lifted), meaning more novices would be hired by the high-traffic centers. FAA Deputy Administrator Bobby Sturgell told the Times there would be "transition issues" to be addressed in the new policies but he also stood behind the rationale for them. "We're operating like a business, trying to do this as efficiently as possible," he said.