Marion Blakey takes on controllers union, stays mum on user fees

 - December 26, 2006, 5:04 AM

FAA Administrator Marion Blakey stonewalled the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca) in new contract talks, declaring an impasse on April 5 and unilaterally imposing a new contract on June 5. The actions came after nine months of negotiations with the union that the agency claimed cost taxpayers $2.3 million.

According to the FAA, the average controller compensation package had reached $165,900 under the previous contract and would grow to $187,000 over the life of the new five-year pact. In the recent past, the FAA came under heavy criticism from Congress, the Transportation Department’s inspector general and the Government Accountability Office for excessive controller pay scales and malleable work rules.
As provided by federal law, after declaring the impasse the FAA submitted its final proposal along with Natca’s objections to Congress, which had 60 days to take action. It didn’t, and the new contract took effect.

In what has become another contentious battle, Blakey also effectively stonewalled the aviation industry with her continued public silence on the issue of aviation user fees. In truth, however, she had little to report about the future financing of the agency.

Throughout the spring she said that a new plan for financing the FAA had gone to the Office of Management and Budget for review. But shortly after resigning in June, former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta acknowledged deep divisions within the Bush White House about how best to finance the agency.

The airlines support user fees, while general aviation wants to stick with aviation fuel taxes. Congress must approve a financing plan by September 30, when the current taxes expire.