Friday, February 22, 2008

Don’t Let The Door Hit You . . .

Those of you who are intimately familiar with the FAA's game of the past several years realizes that this agency has become a broken record of accusations and empty rhetoric. Never have I seen an entire workforce publically devalued and demoralized as this FAA has done to the nation's air traffic controllers.

Their game is simple: win the public relations war and they can ignore the controllers all together. Their latest tactic is to claim that the controllers union is trying to scare the American flying public into believing the FAA has created a mess even FEMA would shudder at. Apparently, the United States Congress has seen ample evidence from those pesky air traffic controllers to convince them that we are on the absolute wrong track. When we are staffing the air traffic control system to budget rather than needs, it is very obvious that something is awry.

I've got news for you sunshine, any labor organization worth its salt doesn't cry wolf just because they got a raw deal in contract negotiations. NATCA is no different. I have been a leader in this union for nearly 20 years and we have credibility because we don't haul out the safety card unless something is gravely askew. Make no mistake, this agency ignored hundreds of years of labor history when they rammed what they call a contract down the throats of this nation's air traffic controllers. History has shown and will continue to show that their reckless strong arm tactics at the negotiating table began the dismantling of the nation's aviation system and drove air traffic controllers for the exits. The dispute relates to the safety issues in that the former created the latter. FAA imposes work rules, controllers leave in droves, FAA fiddles a little, more controllers leave, FAA decides to ramp up hiring, controllers work six-day weeks, more controllers leave – you get the picture. Furthermore, the FAA continues to ignore their obligation to negotiate and involve the union in matter impacting working conditions to the detriment of the flying public.

It is well documented that the FAA has been trying to stick a piece of gum in the breach of this dyke of congestion by redesigning the airspace on the Eastern seaboard. Travel delays that begin in the Northeast dovetail throughout the system and can create an absolute mess. Weather delays are largely unavoidable, so we'll set that aside. What we're talking about is capacity delays. No redesign of airspace is going to fix an issue of capacity. Controllers, concrete and scheduling fix capacity issues.

The fewer eyes we have on the sky, the less airplanes we can handle. It's that simple. You're at the Piggly Wiggly and there are twenty people ahead of you in line. If they open another checkout lane, ten people move over there and they get out twice as fast. You have one controller working a sector that covers a radius of 50 miles around an airport, where 20 airplanes are trying to land. If another controller plugs in and takes half of the airspace and airplanes, the job gets done more efficiently – to a point. You still need to build the additional check-out lane. You can have 20 controllers, each with one airplane and still not increase capacity. The constant in this equation is how long it takes each airplane to touch down, slow down and exit the runway. It cannot be changed. Without pouring more concrete, the only immediate fix is smarter scheduling. The airlines argue that they fly when the people want to fly. If you ask the flying public if they'd rather get from DC to New York in three hours or leave a half-hour earlier and get there in one, the most certainly would opt for the shorter flight.

I won't argue that the airspace in the Northeast isn't congested – it most certainly is. We recognize the need to alter the airspace to increase efficiency – just do it the right way, with the subject matter experts at the table. The FAA has opted to go it alone and the controllers are speaking up. We are the ones who work the airplanes through the system day in and day out. We are the subject matter experts and we have been cut out of the process of redesigning the airspace in the Northeast. How does the FAA answer to these charges? (The full article can be found here).

"The union is dissatisfied with its contract that the FAA implemented in September 2006. They're playing the safety card, which is outrageous," said Peters. "If any controller at the Philadelphia Airport believes that these procedures are unsafe, they should look for work elsewhere.

"These procedures are put in place to ensure that the crews and passengers will arrive safely at the Philadelphia Airport. The controllers are there to ensure the planes get down safe. If they don't like working for FAA, they should reconsider their line of work."

Oh, ok. If you don't like it, leave. This is a wonderful way to treat those who are charged with keeping you safe day in and day out. Rather than do the right thing and involved the experts who work the system every single day, we'll ram this down your throat, ignore your concerns and tell you "if you don't like it, get the hell out". This is how they want to treat whistleblowers. We all know what happens when you try and quell dissent against an unsafe plan or procedure, and this is no exception. This is quickly becoming the FAA's "O-ring". The FAA is treating the controller's union just like NASA and the bosses at Morton Thiokol treated the engineers.

One final note: If NATCA were powerful enough that every representative at every facility walked lock-step with the leadership and made the same accusations in the media that you are accustomed to seeing day in and day out, we never would have been in this predicament because the FAA would never have been able to dismantle the system in the manner that they have. We all wish NATCA were that strong and unified. The fact is each individual representative from Seattle to Philadelphia and everywhere in between is taking their turn telling their story to the American people – not an empty suit in a cubicle reading from cue cards – these are working men and women telling you their story, not out of fear of their union, rather for fear of what might happen if they don't speak up.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yaz, thank you. To me, the story right now is the persistent premeditated malfeasance of one "Bobby" Sturgell:

He is the one that "Quiet Rockland" is keying on, right now. Once we get him out of office, we'll key on the next one, then the next - until the Redesign gets redesigned, and until the ATCs get treated fairly.

As just posted to the POA website, your many web-constituents might also want to look and listen to:

Dismantling the roof of cover, occurs one rotten shingle at a time. And I've got the rest of my life to do it. I trust all of you do, too.

John J. Tormey III, Esq.
"Quiet Rockland"