Washington Report: Controllers cite UK, Canadian woes

 - May 15, 2008, 9:58 AM

Continuing its opposition to any hint of a privatized ATC system in the U.S., the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca) said it is closely watching the funding problems being experienced in the UK and Canada. Privatization advocates in the U.S. point to what they call “successes” in both the UK and Canada to justify their position, said Natca president John Carr, who argued the word “failure” now applies. He claimed that even the so-called nonprofit model puts cost cutting ahead of safety and security.

Natca said that in late February, a single case of a UK controller out on sick leave precipitated the closure of a 200-nm belt of airspace, and a source at National Air Traffic Services told a British newspaper that morale is “absolutely dreadful.”

Carr said the UK’s problems have exposed the system’s fragility. “As traffic rebounds from the post-September 11 downturn, the effect of this type of event will increase exponentially,” he added. “Therefore, it is irresponsible for one air traffic service provider to run so close to the margins that one controller’s illness can delay traffic on both sides of the Atlantic.” Natca said the eight-month-old, part-privatized ATC system is already “reeling from mounting financial woes and needing a government bailout” just to survive.

Meanwhile, Nav Canada is looking for ways to make up an anticipated C$145 million revenue deficit in the current fiscal year. Noting that “we must now ride out the worst crisis the world civil aviation industry has ever experienced,” Nav Canada president and CEO John Crichton said the company wants to make up the shortfall and achieve a break-even financial position by August 31.

Crichton said the company will strive to avoid reductions in service and staffing, and the resulting operational penalties to customers. According to Nav Canada, the plan strikes a balance between C$85 million in cost reductions; C$30 million in additional revenue accessed through non-airline sources and through the company rate stabilization plan, beyond what was already planned; and C$30 million through the removal of a temporary service charge discount this past January 1.

Natca is upset over an item in the DOT budget that says if the planned performance-based organization (PBO), which would run the ATC system, is ineffective, the department will look to other options, including partial privatization.