Controllers oppose privatization of Tulsa Jones Riverside Airport tower

Thursday, August 14th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Public safety would be jeopardized if the control tower at a busy Tulsa airport is operated by a private company, local controllers said Thursday.

Members of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association are urging Congress to oppose a proposal to privatize 69 airport towers, including the one at Tulsa's Riverside Airport.

``It's a big safety issue,'' said Bronson Barth, a Riverside Airport controller.

``We've got the safest air traffic control system in the world in the United States,'' he said. ``It's just not right to put safety in jeopardy by giving it to a privately run company who has profits as their first concern.''

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to assess whether to hand over to contractors smaller control towers that don't use their own radar.

The House and Senate had voted to prohibit the privatization of federal air traffic controllers' jobs. But a conference committee worked out an agreement to limit that prohibition to four years.

However, a spokeswoman for Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., said the FAA has given fellow Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe's office its assurance it has no intention of contracting out tower operations at Riverside Airport.

While the airport was included in a list of those targeted for possible privatization, it is not in the conference committee's report, said spokeswoman Rachel Oliphant.

Attempts to reach an Inhofe press aide for comment were not immediately successful.

Riverside Airport, a general aviation airport near the Arkansas River, has the nation's 35th busiest tower. It handled 322,084 aircraft takeoffs and landings in 2002, or about 900 operations a day.

Fifteen traffic controllers work there, with four people typically on a shift, Barth said.

The airport also is home to the main campus of Spartan School of Aeronautics flight school, meaning controllers deal with many student pilots, Barth said.

He questioned why the government _ at a time when it has federalized baggage screeners and airport security in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks _ would choose to privatize airport operations.

``As federal employees, our main concern is safety,'' he said. ``We don't have to worry about a bottom line.''

A spokesman for Congressman John Sullivan, R-Okla., said he is against the privatization of the Riverside Airport tower. But because he has not seen the committee report, Sullivan has not said how he'll vote on the amendment.

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