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Air Traffic Controllers’ Union not about to let a good crisis go to waste

by Resurgent Insider Read Profile arrow_right_alt

Remember that old Rahm Emanuel quote about how you never want a serious crisis to go to waste?

In the aftermath of the government shutdown, which ended after air traffic controllers ground La Guardia airport to even more of a halt than normal, said air traffic controllers’ union (NATCA) is heeding Emanuel’s words.

They’re exploiting the crisis to push for moving US air traffic control operations into a Fannie/Freddie-type, corporatized enterprise – only they’re not quite saying that on the record.

In a Politico article earlier this week, NATCA head Paul Rinaldi was cited saying that the shutdown demonstrated the need for “stable, predictable funding” for air traffic control and that his union wants an FAA overhaul.

Rinaldi fibbed a little though when he said “[NATCA] do[es] not support any one particular reform model.”

In fact, NATCA has backed the specific Fannie/Freddie corporatization model put forward by former Rep. Bill Shuster because unlike more conservative, true privatization schemes, it would improve NATCA members’ compensation packages and even offer NATCA more union giveaway freebies.

Shuster’s plan is favored by major airlines as well as NATCA.

But it is opposed by everyone from Heritage Foundation experts to Grover Norquist to congressional tax committee members to appropriators to the Department of Defense.

Shuster is now out of office, and his scheme is widely believed to be more or less dead.

However, airlines are still lobbying for it (work led by Rep. Shuster’s girlfriend, who he also dated while in office and when he proposed the plan).

NATCA and Rinaldi appear to be exploiting the shutdown to resuscitate it – probably on the assumption that with a Democratic House, NATCA’s support will make it easier to bring across the finish line.

Critics charge that in addition to the difficulty of threading the political needle where the plan is concerned, it is also likely to prove a bust if the public-at-large spends any time looking at failures in other similar air traffic control schemes.

The CEO of the United Kingdom’s equivalent to a potential, corporatized air traffic control body seems to view their entity as powerless to drag outdated airspace infrastructure and technology into the 21st century and cope with modern air travel demands.

Canada, whose model is very similar to what the Shuster plan would institute in the US, has a lengthy and abysmal track record with regard to ensuring on-time flights. Of course, given Canada’s climate, some of this is weather-related, but some of it also appears to be related to broader systemic problems, including air traffic control.

Will the air traffic controllers’ union bring this “too big to fail” scheme back to life? It’s unlikely, but worth paying attention to as we approach round two of shutdown politics in a couple of weeks.


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