Reauthorization may reignite fight between FAA, controllers

Rep. Mica faces off with Democratic leadership

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently blamed delays at John F. Kennedy Airport on understaffed air traffic controllers, a charge FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown called "completely ridiculous." She said increased flights are causing congestion at JFK and other airports, which is leading to delays.

Brown said the FAA disagrees with the controllers' union that the labor dispute is making it more difficult for the FAA to retain staff. While a wave of retirements is on the way, she said it has to do with controllers hitting mandatory-retirement age.

The FAA is having no problem attracting new hires, according to Brown. "If we have three or four positions open, we get hundreds of applications," she said. The contract terms now in place for air traffic controllers can provide a $50,000 income at the end of an employee's first year, and a $90,000 annual income after five years, Brown said. "An enormous number of people" want to work for such terms, she added.

The union paints a different picture. In March, National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Patrick Forrey testified to a House panel that controllers have been leaving the workforce at a rate of three a day since last October, outpacing the FAA's projected retirements. Forrey said trainees being hired by the FAA to replace those workers must be trained for an average of three years to be fully certified.

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