With some air traffic controllers already earning more than $200,000 annually, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey is digging in her heels during the agency’s current round of negotiations with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA).
Congress may have approved FAA funding for Fiscal Year 2006 before it adjourned for the Thanksgiving holiday, but the drumbeat for user fees in future years continues. Within days of the passing of the $13.8 billion budget, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey was telling the Washington Aero Club that her agency needed a revenue stream that is tied to the actual cost of services.
The Bush Administration rolled out its FY2007 budget plan early last month, calling for $13.75 billion for the FAA–down from the $14.31 billion for this fiscal year–and doling out a big hit on general aviation airports. Although the proposal does not yet call for user fees, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta warned that the agency will have to “relate revenue sources to the services being provided,” such as ATC.
The comment period on the proposal to transform the Washington, D.C., air defense identification zone (ADIZ)–which covers 3,700 sq mi that closely follow the Washington-Baltimore Class B airspace–into the Washington area special flight rules area (SFRA) closed early last month, with the FAA receiving a record 21,380 responses.
With the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) overseeing contract talks between the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the often vitriolic rhetoric between the two sides was dialed down several notches last month.
As debate over FAA financing continues to roil, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an analysis of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund in which it found one scenario showing the fund would reach a zero balance by the end of Fiscal Year 2007.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the FAA walked away from the bargaining table on April 5, with the agency declaring an impasse and sending the dispute to Congress. A couple of weeks later NATCA’s well oiled publicity machine cranked out a release announcing, “NATCA accepts FAA’s public offer to return to bargaining table,” but an FAA spokesman said that the union was “grasping at straws.”
In testimony before the Senate appropriations subcommittee on transportation early last month, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey continued to play her cards close to the vest on plans to finance the agency in the future.
In a curious turn of events, the FAA last month found itself launching its nationwide ADS-B program in Washington and boosting the system’s air traffic benefits, while at the same time noting that, at the request of Alaska controllers, ADS-B returns had been removed–at least temporarily–from scopes at the Anchorage ARTCC. The timing of the two situations underscores the tension between the agency and Natca, its most obdurate union.
Efforts by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca) to force resumption of contract talks with the FAA through congressional maneuverings failed early last month when the House narrowly defeated a bill that would have sent both sides back to the bargaining table.