Foes attack idea of exempting control towers from privatization

Opponents of air-traffic-control privatization sharply criticized a proposal Thursday to protect certain control towers from privatization, in an effort to secure votes for Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization legislation.

The plan, floated this week by House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., would remove almost half the airports currently included in the authorization's contract tower provision.

In comments reported by Aviation Daily, Mica said he was mulling a proposal, currently included in the conference draft, to pull about 30 airports from the list of 69 that could employ private air-traffic controllers.

The 30 airports would all be in Republican areas, "since we're not getting any Democratic support" for the FAA reauthorization, Mica said. To gain enough votes to pass the reauthorization, Mica said, "we may have to take it tower by tower."

A Mica spokesman told CongressDaily the idea was one of many that Mica has explored to reach a compromise and gain Senate approval of the bill. "The focus is on securing the few remaining votes we need in the Senate," the aide said. "We're focusing on Republicans, because the Democrats have taken an all-or-nothing approach."

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association decried Mica's idea, saying it puts partisan politics before safety.

"This plan is not about safety; it's not about efficiency; it's not about cost," said NATCA President John Carr. "It's about being lucky enough to live in a Republican district."

NATCA opposes any control-tower privatization, and Carr said Mica's "deal-making" threatens the safety of the American air transit system.

"While we're out trying to run the largest, most efficient air travel system in the world, there are congressmen trying to play Monty Hall," Carr said.

AFL-CIO Transportation and Trades president Sonny Hall similarly blasted Mica's idea, calling the proposal "ridiculous."

"This is partisan politics in its worst form," Hall said. "This latest proposal would create two standards of aviation safety, a gerrymandered map of where it is safe to fly in this country.... To suggest that the level of safety of a region would be directly related to who it elects to Congress is a sign of just how little support this legislation enjoys."

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