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Making the FAA a 'good boss to work for'

When US commercial airline and aiport officials meet in Washington today with the heads of the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration there is little dispute about what must be the priority topic of discussion. That, of course, is taking all possible steps to ensure continuing air safety within the US. To that end, everyone involved must take a careful look at the scheduling plans now being drawn up by the airlines, not just for the current month of federally mandated reduced flight operations, but for the six-month period commencing after Labor Day.

Underscoring his policy of firmness toward the air traffic controllers, Mr. Reagan has declared that the strike is over. More than 8,000 letters of termination have already gone out to the 12,000 strikers, with the remaining notices soon to follow. And while the possibility remains of some support for the strikers from controllers in other nations, such as Canada, where controllers in Vancouver diverted at least one US-bound flight, the administration's assertion that domestic flight operations should be stabilize in the weeks ahead may be well founded.

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For the Reagan administration then, the task at hand will be one of reconstruction -- putting the nation's air traffic control system back together again with the least possible disruption to the public and the maximum insistence on public safety. Precisely because of the need to ensure safety -- a goal that the administration has been determined to keep in the forefront during this difficult period -- it is somewhat starting to find Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis conceding that the striking controllers probably had some legitimate complaints in asserting that the FAA was a "bad boss to work for."

Mr. Lewis seemed to be referring to such matters as communications between supervisors and employees, equipment, and work rule changes. But as any labor consultant would quickly note, these are the types of issues that touch on long-range safety considerations in the sense that they affect the attitudes of workers as they go about their tasks. The administration, which has committed itself to a $10 billion program to upgrade equipment used by controllers during the next decade, must be zealous in undertaking a careful review of appropriate management and personnel changes within the FAA that will make the agency a "good boss to work for."

Meantime, the practical short-term issues remain, including absorbing private and corporate small aircraft flights back into the operating procedures of commercial airports; cutting the hours of the controllers still remaining on their jobs back to 48 -- and eventually 40 -- from the 60 hours or so during past days; and gradually integrating the 2,000 military controllers coming on line this week into normal work roles. That the nation's air traffic has been able to smoothly operate at close to 75 to 80 percent of regular operations during the past week is a tribute to the dedication of all parties involved, from the airlines to government. It is to be assumed that vigilance and professio nalism will not be relaxed.

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