Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Grassroots

Traveling takes a lot out of me and unfortunately, the pages here were the one thing that had to take a back seat. Just like any form of journalism, I realize that it's difficult to gain a following if you write sporadically. Fortunately, I write for the sheer pleasure and not to gain recognition or groupies. :-) I want to say I do appreciate the messages of support I have received while in Washington this week.

It was fantastic to see all of my good friends on Capitol Hill this week. I am a person who values every friend that I have and every time I travel, I feel as if I simply do not have enough time to spend with those friends. We all lose sleep because we make that effort to catch up with one another and for the fear that we'll miss something! I spent the remainder of the week working on a project that I hope will help build grassroots activism beyond our wildest imaginations.

Having said that, words cannot explain how it warmed my heart to see all of the new folks who walked with us to bring our message to the leaders of this country. I have been traveling to DC off and on since 1995 and every year since 2002. The NATCA in Washington event is the single most important event NATCA holds and the attendance grows every year!

Over 400 activists "banged the Hill" this year (to steal a quote from my good friend Nitro). As the reports roll in, I can say that the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Our friends in the House of Representatives are anxious to pass their version of FAA Reauthorization (HR 2881), which will return fair collective bargaining rights to FAA employees and restore what was stolen from us in September of 2006. They stand at the ready to defend their language when the time comes to iron out the differences with the Senate.

As it has been for many months, the Senate is still a very tough nut to crack. Our message is clear: S 1300 is vital to the continued safety of the flying public. The air traffic controllers, the engineers, the technicians, know the system is stretched beyond the razor thin margin of safety. Those of us working within the system have been robbed of the tools to keep the skies above this great land safe. We will continue to work six days a week, ten hours a day because we have to. We will continue to be vigilant on our watch and do everything possible to ensure the system is safe. To put it boldly, our knowledge, skills and abilities are no longer enough.

As I sit here and type this from 24,000 feet above the Northeast, I wonder if the controller working my flight is on his or her sixth day. I wonder if they are working a combined sector because there are not enough controllers to split off the airspace. I wonder if they have a "hand-off", an extra set of eyes and ears to take some of the workload off his or her hands. I am reasonably assured that their professionalism and dedication will guide me home. I just pray they have the tools to get me home safe.

The FAA knows it and they agree - not on why S 1300 is essential - but simply that is it crucial. Time is of the essence my friends and as every day passes where aviation safety professionals work without a contract, four or five more of my brothers and sisters decide to call it a career. The FAA Administrator knows it too and he has the ability to fix this. The FAA has what I liken to a drug addiction: they cannot and will not get help until they admit that they have a problem. To date, they continue to distort and deny. Just this past Monday afternoon, the FAA send another pack of distorted half-truths, bald faced lies, accusations and shots across the bow of the controllers to all of Congress. Obviously, an intervention is needed, because they just do not get it.

This FAA Administrator has been there since 2003 as the Deputy Administrator and now as the Acting Administrator. He has played a major role in the destruction of the national airspace system. We cannot live for five more years with this Administrator. Let us not be fooled by his acting status. He was there when the destruction began and he refuses to take the steps necessary to fix it. I made that point abundantly clear to the lawmakers.

To my brothers and sisters, keep the faith and keep fighting the fight. We are winning and they know it.

To the United States Senate, all of our safety – including your own – is in your hands. We need S 1300 today, not in six months or a year.

To everyone else, I leave you with this thought. I have told many of you that I never give it a second thought when I get on an airplane, no more than when I get into my car. You know what? Sunday was the first time I thought about it.


Epilogue: To my brothers and sisters at BWI, PCT, ZDC, ZNY, ZBW and especially ALB – thanks for getting me home safe.

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