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Air traffic controller problems linger, uncorrected in airport towers across US

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Are some of the same workplace problems that more than a year ago led to a nationwide strike and the eventual firing of 11,400 US air traffic controllers surfacing again? Many of the on-the-job frustrations linger and, in fact, may have increased, according to a number of working controllers and several recent independent studies.

Money was one strike issue. Working conditions and hours were another. Soon controller paychecks will begin to reflect the 6.6 percent salary hike proposed by the President and approved by Congress.

Some controllers insist they do (and must) work 10-hour days and 6-day weeks. ''It's sink or swim - there aren't enough people. . . ,'' one New York controller recently complained to the Ohio-based Aviation Safety Institute. Some who have been carrying heavy loads say the time between breaks can be long, that scheduled time off is sometimes abruptly canceled, and that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not been training new recruits as well or as swiftly as predicted.

A group of 14 controllers and one superviser at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport recently tried to press the manpower point by signing a petition urging President Reagan to rehire at least some of the fired controllers.

Some controllers also say that without a union to complain to (the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization - PATCO - was officially dissolved last summer), the attitude of some FAA supervisers is more highhanded than ever. ''If you can't hack it, quit'' is the message some say they get from their bosses.

''The same problems are still there, and there's a lot of dissatisfaction,'' says John Schmitt, who was president of the PATCO local that represented controllers in the Aurora en-route center near Chicago's O'Hare Airport. He says he has since become a commodity trader and would probably not go back unless working conditions improved.

Though much controller complaining goes on quietly, reaching the news media only indirectly, several recent studies confirm the widespread nature of the problem and the importance of a swift effort to correct it.


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