Continue our partnership, Fuller tells air traffic controllers

March 5, 2009

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AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller speaking at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Pilots and controllers need to work together to make the system safer—and to defeat user fees—AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller said March 4 at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association “Communicating for Safety” conference in Las Vegas.

“The big issue that we’ve been working on together is getting the FAA funding bill passed,” Fuller told the controllers. “The Obama administration, in a footnote in their budget documents, talks about the use of direct user charges out in 2011.

Fuller presented AOPA Air Safety Foundation commendations to US Airways Flight 1549 First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, and Patrick Harten from the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control

“Our concern is that with so much money going out of the federal coffers, there’s a huge effort to find every dollar they can find. And a ‘pay as you go’ air traffic control system where pilots are charged every time they are in contact [with a controller] isn’t the way to go.”

Fuller said every country that has launched a user fee approach eventually expands fees “from turbines to pistons, and then raises those fees.” That inevitably results in fewer contacts with controllers, which “imperils the pilot.”

He said that AOPA and pilots were very grateful for what controllers do. Referring to both safety and political issues, Fuller said, “We very much want to continue that partnership.

“We need your voices, we need your participation at the table as we debate in the FAA and Congress these very important issues that face the air traffic control system,” Fuller said.

“There is a competition for ideas in Washington. If you don’t stand up for your point of view, you’re liable to be the victim of someone else who stands up for theirs. It is important we stay at the table together.”

Later in the program, Fuller presented AOPA Air Safety Foundation commendations to US Airways Flight 1549 First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, and Patrick Harten from the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control facility who assisted the stricken flight to its safe ditching in the Hudson River.