November 04, 2000 Chicago Tribune



By Jon Hilkevitch
Tribune Transportation Writer
November 04, 2000

Some air-traffic controllers delayed flights to O'Hare International Airport on three occasions in addition to a previously reported job action last summer that resulted in 15 controllers being punished and two Federal Aviation Administration managers ousted, according to a report on the slowdowns obtained by the Tribune.

While it initially appeared that the controller protest against management policies was a wildcat action, the investigation by the FAA determined that the president and vice president of the controllers union at the agency's radar facility in Elgin participated in the illegal slowdowns July 15, 16, 17 and 20.

The July 17 incident was the most blatant, creating so much excessive spacing between arriving airplanes that thousands of travelers were inconvenienced at O'Hare and airports around the country, the report indicated. Some 418 flights were delayed and almost 200 others canceled at O'Hare.

Under an agreement between the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the local union president, Charles Bunting, and the vice president, Michael Egan, were removed from their union positions for encouraging the job action to continue after management refused to buckle to demands to provide immunity to controllers if they commit technical errors while trying to keep airplanes properly separated.

The code words for the slowdown were "run a safe operation" and appeared in the union's bulletin, according to the FAA report.

"I guess I have no other alternative than to tell the bargaining unit to continue to run a safe operation," Bunting is quoted in the FAA report as saying July 18 after the facility's manager, Kip Johns, refused to grant immunity to controllers who, while attempting to pack aircraft tightly into O'Hare, inadvertently allow planes to violate the minimum spacing standards.

The FAA report also said the "safe operation" euphemism was used in earlier job actions, in 1993 and in 1996, to show dissatisfaction with management.

The 15 controllers cited in the slowdown received either 30-day suspensions or letters of reprimand. All are appealing the FAA's action.

John Carr, national president of the controllers association, said Friday the union stands by the controllers.