International air traffic controllers in holding pattern

The executive board of the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations (IFTACA) made an urgent plea Aug. 13 for controllers around the world to suspend disruptive strike action until next week.

The IFTACA called on President Reagan to use the time to bring the two parties in the US dispute together again and end "a barely tolerable situaton."

Harry H. Henschler, president of IFTACA, said in a telegram sent to Mr. Reagan Wednesday that the US President so far has received "incomplete advice," suggesting that indeed American airspace is unsafe while positions previously occupied by now-dismissed controllers are manned by military and other personnel.

Officials of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers' Organization (PATCO) have argued that the controllers called in to replace them are unqualified.

In emergency session, the five-man executive board recommended to the 61 air traffic controllers unions and professional associations belonging to IFTACA that they continue to work normally until Aug. 22. Then, "if required," a meeting of the directors of the 61 associations will be convened on what further action to take.

IFTACA president Henschler said in the telegram to President Reagan that in the meantime the US dispute could be resolved in 48 hours given the "goodwill" of both parties. The plea by the IFTACA board for controllers around the world to stay on the job is excellent news for travelers between the US and Western Europe. IFTACA officials said it will help improve a situation that has already been easing since Tuesday when Canadian controlers called off their strike, which had disrupted transatlantic traffic earlier in the week.

There were few illussions at the IFTACA meeting that the telegram sent to Mr. Reagan would persuade the President to reverse his decision to fire thousands of controllers for striking illegally.

But the message from the board to the US President appeared designed to do exactly that. The telegram said the only real solution to the problem was the complete restoration of "a fully qualified system."

Training new controllers could take years, yet the telegram signed by Mr. Henschler went out of its way to recommend the "immediate" return of "previoius high standards" existing in the American air traffic control system. Mr. Henschler told a news conference following the meeting that he had telephoned the air traffic controllers' association in Portugal and asked it to call off a planned strike starting Aug. 15.

The controllers agreed, he said. The strike would have disrupted traffic between southern Europe and the US.

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