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Union claims security lax at many air control towers

By Kathleen Koch
CNN Correspondent

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A union representing many of the nation's air traffic controllers Tuesday called for tighter security at air traffic control facilities nationwide, saying unescorted visitors can access some towers and vehicles can drive up to the base of the facilities.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is asking for armed guards and better identification cards at all 325 Federal Aviation Administration controlled facilities.

NATCA said while security is adequate at control towers and centers at major airports, 180 smaller towers need improvement.

"It is vitally important that the FAA make extra efforts to guard air traffic control facilities because our national security is at stake," NATCA President John Carr said in a statement.

"We want to ensure everything possible is done to protect our responsibility to oversee the National Airspace System."

Besides a lack of guards, NATCA said in some cases ID badges aren't being worn, unescorted visitors can access towers and vehicles can drive up to the base of towers.

Doug Church, spokesperson for the union, said there have not been any specific threats against air traffic control facilities since the September 11 terrorist attacks, but the security measures are still needed.

"Let's not wait until something happens," said Church. "Let's do what we can to beef up security."

The NATCA said it has had ongoing discussions with the FAA about improving security, but accused the agency of dragging its feet.

"The agency is moving too slowly for us," Carr said. "I'd like for our controllers to feel much more secure doing their jobs. They should be watching their radar scopes, not watching their backs."

The FAA responded in a statement, saying that since September 11, it has increased security at many air traffic facilities.

The agency says it is in the process of placing additional guards at facilities and making other security improvements, such as re-validating employee identification.

The statement points out that many FAA air traffic control facilities are inside airport security areas.

Aviation experts contend that even if intruders were able to access a control tower and disrupt operations, the nation's air traffic control system is designed with multiple back-ups so that other facilities could pick up control of the affected air space.


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