November 22, 2000 Chicago Tribune


John S. Carr
November 22, 2000

WASHINGTON -- We at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association remain vigilant in our efforts to help maintain the world's largest and safest air-traffic control system.

Although the airlines and other advocates of privatizing the system--such as the Tribune--spend time justifying their stance by assigning blame, the Federal Aviation Administration has improved the system.

In September, air-traffic controllers handled 13.9 million landings and takeoffs, 7.4 percent less traffic than in August. But delays caused by air-traffic control equipment declined 71 percent, from 452 in August to 132 in September. There were 250 such delays in September 1999.

That leaves other factors to blame for delays. The Tribune identified several in "Finish deregulating air travel" (Editorial, Nov. 13) but was irresponsible in omitting airline scheduling from its list.

The most advanced system of controlling planes in the air won't work if there's nowhere to put them on the ground. Until we find the will and the means to increase the capacity of our airports and airspace, review air-traffic control separation criteria and address aircraft scheduling, delays will escalate until reaching the point of virtual gridlock. As a community that has played political hot potato with a new runway at O'Hare, Chicago should know this better than most.

The air-traffic control system is a national treasure that demands thoughtful, proactive decision-making to achieve real, lasting improvements in procedures, processes and infrastructure. The same people who brought you no legroom, lost luggage and pretzels for a meal now want to privatize the ATC system. Privatization of this system is not the answer.