FAIRBANKS - A bill seeking to block privatization of two air traffic control towers in Alaska has given the National Air Traffic Controllers Association ammunition in its campaign to have the bill rewritten.
The bill would allow continued privatization nationally, but Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, secured language to exempt the Juneau airport and another at Merrill Field in Anchorage.
Young, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, guided the bill to completion in the House. In late July, a conference committee between the House and Senate approved a final version to send back to each house for final approval.
The bill would maintain the FAA's authority to expand privatization from the current 219 contract towers to another 69 around the country.
The airline industry and airport executives support such contracting, which they say keeps costs down with no sacrifice to safety. The air traffic controllers group disputes those assertions and says the proposed Alaska exemptions are a good reason for the bill to be rewritten when Congress returns to work in September.
"Using federal controllers is of utmost concern to Chairman Young in Alaska," said Doug Church, spokesman for the controllers union. "We only wish he would apply the same standard to the rest of the towers."
Spencer Dickerson of the U.S. Contract Tower Association said the union is making too much of Young's Alaska exemptions.
"Chairman Young has more contract towers (in his state) than any other member of Congress," Dickerson told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Currently, towers at Bethel, Kenai, King Salmon and Kodiak are operated privately.
Figures show the error rate at contract towers is 2.5 times lower than at FAA-run towers, according to Dickerson. He said reporting requirements are identical for FAA and contract towers.