Winter plan for air safety
The report of the National Transportation Safety Board on the impact of the air controllers' strike comes at just the right moment, what with inclement fall weather beginning to be felt in some parts of the United States. For the Reagan administration the report should be read as both a reminder of the need for absolute vigilance in the nation's control towers and a confirmation of the dedication and hard work with which working controllers are going about their tasks.
The NTSB found high morale prevailing among those supervisors, military personnel, and nonstriking controllers manning the towers. At the same time it urged additional cutbacks in flights for the fall and winter months ahead, as well as tightened controls over general aviation and business flights.
The administration might want seriously to consider the additional cutbacks proposed by the safety board. Such reductions would be short-term in the sense that they would be linked to winter weather. With thoughtful scheduling they need not inconvenience travelers. There would simply be fewer flights, but more crowded planes. The Federal Aviation Administration has already told airports and carriers to cut back from 83 percent of prestrike flight activity to about 78 percent of full service. New cuts would be on top of that. In addition, starting next week new restrictions will be placed on general and business aviation, including a requirement that such noncommercial flights must have reservations to use controller guidance systems.
Meanwhile, the striking controllers continue to press their case through administrative and legal channels, even as the government is stepping up the training of replacements. Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis has reiterated the government's position that it will not rehire strikes, even if the controllers' union is decertified as a bargaining agent. But might there not yet be some face-saving formula for everyone involved of the union is decertified? The Democratic-controlled House Post Office and Civil Service committee surprised few persons this week by urging the administration to rehire the strikers. But the administration to rehire the discount the committee's concerns that the control system could face serious problems by 1983 because of the need for personnel. In a related vein, the new NTSB report expressed concerns that the long work now in effect for controllers might lead to problems down the road.
The administration has stood its ground on the question of illegal strikes by public employees. Now, as it looks to the months and years ahead, it must make every effor to ensure that the controller system is adequately staffed and that there is no slackening of the strictest possible safety standards.