February 23, 2001 Chicago Tribune

Tribune Staff Writer
February 23, 2001

Charles Bunting learned to direct airplanes as a young sergeant in the Marine Corps. He went on to lead a local chapter of the national air-traffic controllers union at one of the busiest flight-control operations in the nation.

Mr. Bunting, 49, was killed Tuesday, Feb. 20, when his pickup truck overturned on a Northwest Tollway embankment near Hampshire.

He had been traveling to his home in Rockford after just having been inducted as a master Mason at the Masonic Temple in Elgin, said his wife, Becky. State police still are investigating the accident.

"He was everybody's Uncle Charlie," she said. "There was never a guy he wouldn't help. He would go out in the middle of the night to help anybody."

A big, friendly man, Mr. Bunting, a native of Michigan, got his start in air traffic control while a Marine Corps sergeant in South Carolina. After he left the service, he worked as a meat cutter in Toledo, Ohio.

Then in August 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired striking members of the old PATCO air-traffic controllers union, effectively ending its existence. But the president's action created a job opening for Mr. Bunting, whose first assignment was at an airfield in Jackson, Mich. From there he went to the Federal Aviation Administration facility in Cleveland, and later to the Chicago area's Terminal Radar Approach Control facility, considered one of the country's busiest air traffic control operations.

"Being there at times is like being in a foxhole with your mates," said John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and a former facility representative at TRACON in Elgin. "Charlie Bunting had command of the foxhole every time he plugged in."

Mr. Bunting was the facility representative for the air-traffic controllers union at TRACON last summer, a time of great turmoil between controllers and management.

He was one of 11 air-traffic controllers disciplined after an investigation into the delay of several hundred flights on July 17. An investigation by the FAA and the Inspector General's Office of the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded that a job action at the facility led to the delays. NATCA officials said there was no job action, and have vowed to appeal the disciplinary measures.

Mr. Bunting was transferred in September to the FAA's Chicago flight control center in Aurora.

A charter member of NATCA, Mr. Bunting eventually served on the executive board of the local NATCA chapter. He was elected facility representative in 1999. Carr praised him for his leadership abilities.

"He had tenacity and integrity," Carr said.

Other survivors include three children from a previous marriage, daughter Christy Avalos and sons Todd and Troy; a brother, Lawrence; and a sister, Diane Wollam. Memorial services will be at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St., Rockford