Darren Shannon / Washington DC

Agency's "complex" management structure to be tidied into line units and business groups

US air traffic control is one of the first parts of the Federal Aviation Administration to face a feasibility study under the plan to revamp the agency into functional units.

Last week, the FAA unveiled the broad outlines of a new corporate body - known as the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) - to administer air traffic services, although a final plan that incorporates workforce changes will not be in place for several months.

The ATO is to consist of five service units and five staff-level business groups, each headed by an agency official renamed a vice- president. The entire FAA staff reports to the agency's newly appointed chief operating officer Russell Chew, formerly of American Airlines. This is, theoretically, the beginning of an FAA reorganisation that was government-mandated in 1997. The plan is to consolidate the FAA's "complex" managing structure into five line units - en route and oceanic, terminal, flight services, system operations and technical services - and five business groups - safety, communications, operations planning, finance and acquisition.

Chew says the revised management structure is expected to make the agency more transparent to its airline "customers," as well as drive an internal focus on accountability. In addition, Nicholas Sabatini, associate administrator for regulation and certification, has been named chief of a new Air Traffic Services Oversight Office.

It will be several months before more is known about the final structure of ATO. "The service units have not been built yet," says Chew. "There is no preconceived notion of where we will end up."

The FAA has appointed Peter Challan to the temporary role of ATO transition vice-president, a position that is partly responsible for the integration the existing services into the new ATO.

The controllers' union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, has been lobbying against any move in the direction of ATC privatisation, and a plan for more "contract towers" at small airports has been put on hold for a year while talks proceed.

Source: Flight International