For Immediate Release

Release No. AWP5-0405
July 20, 2005
Contact: Donn Walker
Phone: (310) 725-3580

LAX Tower to Keep Eyes on Safety Mission as National Talks Begin

LOS ANGELES — On the opening day of contract negotiations with the air traffic controllers union, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today said it is seeking a contract that allows the agency to ensure safety, cut flight delays and reduce airport congestion.

The agency called on the controllers’ union to join the FAA in achieving a balanced labor agreement that allows the FAA to finance the air traffic control system going forward while still providing a fair compensation package to its professional controllers – already among the highest-paid civil servants.

FAA Regional Administrator Bill Withycombe outlined the FAA’s broad principles and the economic challenges the agency faces. Contract negotiations come during a critical time for the FAA and the aviation industry, both of which are attempting to reduce costs and transform their operations to meet ever-increasing consumer demand with limited revenue – in the FAA’s case, a declining Aviation Trust Fund.

“We are seeking a solution that is fair to controllers, fair to taxpayers, and fair to the flying public,” said Withycombe. “We cannot afford an agreement like the one made in 1998 that saddled the FAA with excessive costs, archaic work rules, and restrictions on our ability to modernize the system.”

Currently, labor costs account for 80 percent of the FAA’s operating budget. The first three years of the 1998 labor contract actually cost the FAA an additional $1 billion, or five times the initial projected cost. While the overall number of controllers remained flat since the 1998 contract, total controller compensation ballooned from $1.4 billion to nearly $2.4 billion, a 68 percent increase. This rate is more than double the wage increases for private industry, airline pilots, other FAA employees and civil servants.

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FAA Seeks Fair Controller Contract

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Over the life of the contract, the gap between controller salaries and salaries for other FAA unionized employees tripled. In 2005, average controller compensation (including salary, premium pay, and benefits) will be $165,000, and some 1,300 controllers, nearly 10 percent of the controller workforce, will enjoy compensation packages exceeding $200,000 a year.

The 1998 agreement also tied the agency’s hands in its daily operations of the air traffic control system. The FAA seeks a labor contract that restores basic management rights to allow for more flexible and efficient use of its workforce and the rapid introduction of new air traffic safety technologies without protracted, cost-consuming procedures. Provisions in the current agreement have also delayed the introduction of certain new air traffic control systems and restricted the FAA’s ability to staff its facilities to meet changes in air traffic volumes and patterns.

Locally, Withycombe reassured travelers that national negotiations would not impact air traffic operations.

“Our air traffic controllers are dedicated and professional public servants,” he said. “Throughout contract negotiations, we’ll keep our eyes focused squarely on our mission of keeping planes moving safely and efficiently.”

In December 2003, the FAA and air traffic controllers union signed a two-year extension of the 1998 agreement. The extension provided the agency with cost savings through the elimination of expensive local agreements. The current contract will expire in September 2005.