Clinton shifts FAA air traffic control to independent unit

By DEB RIECHMANN

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Just weeks before he’ll have to give up Air Force One and fly commercial like everyone else, President Clinton took steps on Thursday to end frustrating flight delays.

Clinton issued an executive order that shifts responsibility for the nation’s air traffic control system to an independent management unit within the Federal Aviation Administration.

Managing traffic in the crowded skies will still be done at the FAA, but the new unit, called the Air Traffic Organization, will operate separately from the agency’s regulatory and enforcement arms.

"The FAA’s 20-year effort to modernize its air traffic control technology simply has not been able to keep pace with either the emergence of new technology or the growth and demand for air travel," Clinton said in making the announcement to more than 100 representatives from consumer and passenger rights groups, airline executives, aircraft manufacturers, congressional staff and government officials.

Flight delays have increased by more than 58 percent in the past five years; cancellations of flights by 68 percent, Clinton said. he called the rate of delays "horrendous."

Noting that he’ll be flying commercially after Jan. 21, Clinton said, "I will try to wait patiently in those lines next year for Congress to do its part."

Part of the problem is outdated technology, but the core problem is the way the FAA operates, he said. The agency needs to be structured differently to manage the high-tech, high-demand operations of today’s air traffic control system, which manages 93,000 flights every day — more than one every second.

It also falls short of a plan proposed last month by Leo Mullin, chairman of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, who recommended that the system become a government-sponsored corporation separate from the FAA that would be "free to take business risks, make plans and react quickly."

However, Delta spokesman Russ Williams said, "This is a positive step toward that goal."

Clinton directed the FAA and Transportation Department to review existing laws and regulations that block efficiencies. For instance, airlines could be charged more to land at airports during peak hours.

The president also urged Congress to reform how the system is financed. Currently, passengers pay an excise tax when they buy airline tickets. The president said airlines should pay user fees that would more directly reflect the cost of providing the service.

Some airlines back this idea, but low-cost, no-frills carriers worry that it might raise ticket prices too much.

Clinton appointed five business and labor leaders from outside the aviation industry to serve as a board of directors for the new organization. They are: Nancy Kassebaum Baker, a former Republican senator from Kansas; John Cullinane, a computer software businessman; Leon Lynch, international vice president for human affairs for the United Steelworkers of America; Sharon Patrick, president of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.; and John Snow, chairman of CSX Corp.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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