WASHINGTON – Connecticut’s Congressional delegation is strongly urging the Federal Aviation Administration to reconsider its announced plan to privatize the jobs of 2,500 air traffic specialists – over 50 of whom are employed in Connecticut. In a letter to FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey, the state’s two Senators and five Representatives argued that the security nature of the air traffic specialists’ duties are “inherently governmental” and should not be “subject to private sector pressures.” “We strongly believe that aviation safety and security considerations should be addressed by federal government employees working locally, and not subject to private sector pressures,” the delegation wrote.
“The closing of the Connecticut Station jeopardizes aviation safety.” Air traffic specialists provide flight advisory and weather pattern information to general aviation pilots, and ensure that airspace for private and corporate aircraft remains safe. As part of its privatization plan, the FAA plans to close 38 air traffic centers nationwide. This would mean the loss of over 50 jobs in Connecticut, effective October 1, 2005, and the transfer to Virginia of the regional hub now located at Sikorsky Airport in Stratford. Other air traffic specialist locations in Maine, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey will also be closed, leaving a location in Long Island temporarily open as the only operating facility providing pertinent flight advisory information and weather reports to pilots in the Northeast. “It does not make sense to us for someone in Virginia to provide this kind of local flight information for the New England area,” the letter said. “Knowledge about local conditions, weather, and geographic considerations are an instrumental part of providing aviation safety and security services.” If the FAA’s plan is carried out, many of the air traffic specialists at Sikorsky stand to lose their retirement and health benefits, the lawmakers warned. They asked Administrator Blakey to review the contract to ensure it protects benefits the workers have rightfully earned. The delegation is also behind legislation to block implementation of the FAA proposal. Following is a copy of the letter: June 1, 2005 The Honorable Marion C. Blakey Administrator Federal Aviation Administration 800 Independence Ave., S.W. Washington, D.C. 20591 Dear Administrator Blakey: We are writing to express our strong opposition to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) decision to privatize the vital work performed at Automated Flight Service Stations (AFSSs) across the country. The decision will cause the termination by FAA of thousands of dedicated air traffic controllers, on whom pilots have relied for decades for information essential to flight safety. For years many of us in Congress have argued that the sensitive function performed by these air traffic controllers is inherently governmental, and should not be put up for bid to private sector contractors. It is not too late for the agency to reverse its flawed decision. We request that you cancel the contract award and ensure that air traffic control specialists remain trusted public servants. The decision to privatize this work would result in the closing of the FAA’s AFSS in Stratford, Connecticut. The Stratford AFSS advises pilots about factors such as pre-flight and in-flight weather information, suggests routes of flight, altitudes, and indications of turbulence or icing, and provides pilots with information about temporary flight restrictions around restricted and prohibited areas. The FAA recently conducted a public/private competition for the provision of services to the aviation industry, and the National Airspace System, by FAA Air Flight Service Stations. The FAA awarded a 5-year contract, with an option for 5 more years, valued at $1.9 billion dollars to Lockheed Martin to operate the FAA’s AFSSs. The contract would close 38 of the current 58 AFSSs, of which Stratford is one and more than 50 jobs for Connecticut workers will be lost. The Stratford AFSS opened in March 1984 and was the nation’s first automated station. In 2003, it provided more than 500,000 flight services and was the 15th busiest in the nation. The Stratford AFSS serves Connecticut, Rhode Island and the eastern two-thirds of Massachusetts. Should the Lockheed contract award stand, we understand that the flight service work will be taken over from the Connecticut Air Traffic Control Specialists (ATCSs) and moved to workers in Virginia. It does not make sense to us for someone in Virginia to provide this kind of local flight information for the New England area. Knowledge about local conditions, weather, and geographic considerations are an instrumental part of providing aviation safety and security services. We strongly believe that aviation safety and security considerations should be addressed by federal government employees working locally, and not subject to private sector pressures. Should this contract award go forward, we are very concerned about the affected employees’ retirement and health benefits and ask that you review the contract’s impact on these benefits. Specifically, the following issues have been brought to our attention: 1. As we understand it, ATCSs can retire with a guaranteed annuity of 50% of their high three salaries provided they meet one of two criteria: a) They can retire at any age but must have performed ATCS duties for minimum of 25 years; or b) They must be 50 years of age or older and have performed ATCS duties for 20 years. As we understand it, on the October conversion date of AFSSs moving to private control, an ATCS who does not meet the above criteria will lose substantially all their retirement contributions because of the application of penalties for failure to achieve minimum terms of service or age. They will also be deprived of federal health insurance benefits. These penalties will accrue to ATCSs because of government actions, not actions taken by the employees. It is wrong that the actions taken by your agency to privatize will have the impact of depriving long-standing federal personnel in good standing of substantial retirement and health benefits. We are concerned about how severely the Connecticut employees may be penalized because of their inability to achieve full service time and age requirements. As we understand it, a parallel situation may occur with employees enrolled in the FERS retirement program who suffer the same time problems for service and age requirements. 2. ATCS’ contribute an extra .5% to fund their ATCS retirement, over the amount that other federal employees pay. PL 108-176 modified the formula used for all ATCS, (including supervisors and managers), except personnel working at AFSSs as ATCSs, to an annuity amount calculated as 1.7% average of the high 3 salary years times the number of year employed. While we have received conflicting views on how this provision is to be interpreted, if this provision is interpreted to exempt employees from the 1.7% annuity figure, the formula that would be used for an ATCS would be 1.0% of the high three salary yearly average times the number of years employed. This would occur despite the fact that they have paid in higher contribution levels in order to achieve the 1.7% annuity figure. For the reasons above, we request that you cancel the contract to privatize the ATCS’ jobs and leave the Stratford, Connecticut AFSS open. The closing of the Connecticut Station jeopardizes aviation safety. We appreciate your consideration of our request. Sincerely, Joseph I. Lieberman, United States Senator Chris Dodd, United States Senator Rosa L. DeLauro, United States Representative Nancy L. Johnson, United States Representative John B. Larson, United States Representative Christopher Shays, United States Representative Rob Simmons, United States Representative