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US takes low-key view of air boycott abroad

The US government is adopting a low-key attitude toward the Aug. 22 meeting in Amsterdam of the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations. At that meeting the loose federation of controllers from 61 countries will resume an emergency meeting begun nine days before to consider whether or not to impose sanctions on US flights. The consensus in top government circles now seems to be that if there is a boycott at all, it will be isolated and symbolic rather than total.

"Our general feeling is somewhat relaxed," says James Ferrer, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for communications and aviation. "There's always a certain psychological momentum to these things. . . . We've asked our embassies to be alert to let us know where the controllers seem to be going and the governments' reactions, but our feeling is that we had passed the crisis point last week."

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The Federal Aviation Administration has been sending telegraphed messages to a number of foreign governments to explain why the US controller strike occurred and why Washington is not inclined to make amends. According to sources at the State Department, which set up a special aviation working group involving several US agencies to monitor developments, many foreign governments have in turn explained the fuller story to their controllers.

One major reason why the US is not as concerned about a boycott as a few days ago is the agreement reached between the Canadian government and its controllers. "Everybody felt the Canadians were the key to the whole structure, " says Mr. Ferrer.

At its last meeting the executive board of the international controllers' association dispatched a telegram to President Reagan urging him to resume negotiations with US controllers and suggesting that the dispute could be solved in 48 hours. Controllers in member countries were asked to postpone any sympathetic job action they might be considering until the second meeting. The hope was that by then the impasse would be resolved.

Currently, considerable stock is being placed in that hope. Though controllers around the world may sympathize with their US colleagues and reason that there is strength in unity, the widespread hope in this country is that their government employers, who are uniformly opposed to a boycott, could effectively quash any job action.

Some veteran aviation watchers suggest, too, that the instinct of "self-preservation" may keep controllers from going too far.

"I rather think that if there were an international stop- page, it wouldn't work for long," says Frank Spencer, a former pilot and now an associate professor with the Northwestern University Transportation Center. "The governments could say, 'We won't pay you,' and the controllers might find they got hungry pretty fast."

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