Jonee Lynn Helms, FAA Administrator During The ATC Strike In 1981 Dies At 86


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Jonee Lynn Helms, FAA Administrator During The ATC Strike In 1981 Dies At 86

By Mike Mitchell

December 14, 2011 - Former Federal Aviation Administration, Administrator, Jonee Lynn Helms died at his home in Westport, Connecticut on Sunday of cardiopulmonary failure and complications from pneumonia. 

Helms was a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer, former President of Piper Aircraft Corp. and is most recognized for the years in which he served as Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, as an appointee of President Ronald Reagan.  

In 1974 Helms was elected President and CEO of Piper Aircraft Corporation, later being named Chairman of the Board. In 1975 he negotiated with the Vice President of Brazil to construct a factory and build Piper general aviation aircraft in Brazil.  

In the 1980 presidential election, The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) along with the Teamsters and the Air Line Pilots Association refused to back President Jimmy Carter, instead endorsing Republican Party candidate Ronald Reagan.  

PATCO's refusal to endorse the Democratic Party stemmed in large part from poor labor relations with the FAA (the employer of PATCO members) under the Carter administration and Ronald Reagan's endorsement of the union and its struggle for better conditions during the 1980 election campaign. 

On August 3, 1981, the union declared a strike, seeking better working conditions, better pay and a 32-hour workweek. On August 5, following the PATCO workers' refusal to return to work, Reagan fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order, and banned them from federal service for life.  

Helms had played a decisive role during the air traffic controller?s strike in which he advised the Reagan White House that air travel would continue safely if the president chose to crush the labor protest. 

This ban was later rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1993. In the wake of the strike and mass firings the FAA was faced with the task of hiring and training enough controllers to replace those that had been fired, a hard problem to fix as at the time it took three years in normal conditions to train a new controller. 

PATCO operated from 1968 until its decertification in 1981 following a strike that was broken by the Reagan Administration. The 1981 strike and defeat of PATCO has been called "one of the most important events in late twentieth century U.S. labor history.

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