News that the FAA intends to declare ATC a “commercial activity” is not sitting well with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca), the union that represents the nation’s controllers and other FAA workers in the ATC system.
Natca said that under a 1998 law government agencies must declare their job functions to be either commercial or inherently governmental. Commercial activities are those subject to contracting out and privatization, while inherently governmental functions are those defined as “so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by federal employees.” According to Natca, the law cites control of space and navigation as criteria for declaring a function to be inherently governmental.
“This move doesn’t surprise me,” Natca president John Carr said. “This Administration has already indicated on several occasions that it would consider privatization of our nation’s ATC system. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the safety, security and efficiency of the greatest aviation system in the world is now threatened not by terrorists but by government policy toward privatization, which in air traffic has a proven record of failure worldwide.”
Carr added, “This action makes no sense. The public demanded federalization of our nation’s airport screeners by rightly recognizing their importance to public safety and yet ATC is on the list of activities we are willing to sell to commercial interests, possibly even foreign ones.”
Natca contends that the FAA’s action in complying with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directives places ATC in a designation that contradicts the OMB’s own recent guidelines for what should remain in the hands of the government. According to the union, a November 14 OMB document states that activities that “significantly affect the life, liberty or property of private persons” are inherently governmental.
“I can’t think of too many activities that more directly or significantly affect the lives of people than ATC,” said Carr. “As for control of space and navigation, if you don’t think we control it, try flying into O’Hare at five o’clock this afternoon without us.”