Friday, February 8, 2008

Math is Hard!!

The toughest thing about writing is coming up with a catchy title every day I decide to write a new article. You have to read today's title with the whiny voice inflection of a teenage girl and picture how she stomps her foot when she says it. Make sure and use those exclamation points. It'll help you see the sarcastic wit I was trying for when I chose "math is hard!!" as the title.

You see my friends, aside from being an air traffic controller, I am also a 39 year old college student. I had my one experience at college in the fall of 1986. It involved beer, vodka, companionship and - hmm – what are all these rooms with chairs for? Needless to say a 0.64 GPA was not going to get me into Harvard Law let alone Spencer Hill Institute of Technology. 20 years later, I enrolled at the National Labor College and I'm on the brink of graduating with a degree in Labor Studies, Labor Education and Union Administration. I have a few more hurdles to clear, one of which was passing a college level algebra CLEP exam. Yesterday, I went to Schenectady Community College, had a flashback that would have made a deadhead say, "wow, what a trip!" and squeaked out a passing grade.

Yes, math is hard. Apparently, it's even difficult for the acting administrator of the FAA….or as I like to call him, "the former assistant to the assistant administrator", Bobby Sturgell. People who watch The Office will get that – everyone else, you'll have to trust me when I tell you it's funny. Yesterday, I wrote about the beating Mr. Sturgell took at the hands of the United States Senate. Apparently, the Commerce Committee is not impressed with a Government official who is as long on rhetoric and manure as he is on longevity. Mind you there is a distinct difference between experience and longevity. Generally, the two are not mutually exclusive. They certainly are in this case.

We read yesterday that Senators Lautenberg, Boxer, McCaskill and Menendez are concerned with Mr. Stugell's lack of math skills. The acting administrator cannot come to grips that when you add airplanes, subtract controllers and morale, multiply by overtime and divide the workforce the result is fatigued controllers, delays and a dangerous situation for the flying public.

Congressman Mica agrees: "We are courting disaster and a further national aviation system meltdown without a confirmed FAA Administrator." I could not agree more, Congressman…but not this man. I'm glad to see you are seeing the same meltdown that we are. Recognize that the man with his hand on the rudder of this ship has steered it over the falls. Seriously, I know they serve Kool Aid with the hash-laced muffins over at 800 Independence. Just say no. Here are the facts, unfettered by Kool Aid and psychedelic drugs:

Total fully trained, certified professional controllers (CPCs):

September 30, 2001: 12,580

September 30, 2002: 12,801

September 30, 2003: 12,720

September 30, 2004: 12,585

September 30, 2005: 12,215

September 30, 2006: 12,170

September 30, 2007: 11,256

January 5, 2008: 11,077

* this is the LOWEST total we have seen in over 15 years. On Sept. 30, 1992, there were 10,696 CPCs on board in the FAA

Total developmental air traffic controllers (otherwise known as CPCs in training):

December 2005: 1,062

September 30, 2006: 3,618

January 5, 2008: 3,484 (add to that 260 new hires at the Oklahoma City FAA Academy and the total is 3,744)

*NOTE: 1,619 of these trainees have NOT completed the first of four FAA training stages

Total attrition:

In Fiscal Year 2007, FAA projected 1,197 total attrition. But actual total attrition was 1,622 controllers and trainees (includes retirements, deaths, firings, promotions to supervisors, transfers to other FAA jobs and resignations). That worked out to be an average of 4.4 controllers leaving the workforce each day. So far, through the first three months and five days of the 2008 fiscal year (our data is "as of Jan. 5, 2008"), total attrition is 603 (including 316 retirements and 93 resignations), which is 6.2 per day.

Of the 911 FY07 retirements, we found only 16 who reached the age 56 mandatory age.

Of the 911 FY07 retirements, we found that 404 retired within one year of their retirement eligibility date. This is DOUBLE the number, as a percentage, in the previous two fiscal years. FAA's March 2007 controller workforce plan, on page 21, says that in FY05 and FY06 combined, only 24 percent of total retirees left within one year of retirement eligibility date.

Total attrition in FY08 thus far:

603 (as of Jan. 5, 2008)

316 retirements (only eight of these retired because they reached the mandatory age of 56)

93 resignations

1 death

62 "removals" (fired or failed training and no longer in FAA)

131 promotions or transfers out of the controller workforce, most to an FAA supervisory position

With attrition at 6.2 controllers per day, we are on track to see 2,269 total attrition by end of this fiscal year. FAA projection for total FY08 attrition is 1,276 (including 695 retirements), which was rebaselined in March 2007 from earlier projection.

In FY07, total attrition was 1,622. FAA projection (rebaselined) was 1,197. There were 202 resignations in FY07. So far in FY08 (only three months in), there have been 93 resignations. I was hired in the wave of 1989, once the Agency realized that they could not replace 11,000 fired controllers with 7000 (or whatever the number they chose was). We are working with the lowest number of certified professional controllers since 1992. I was one of the 10,696 certified professional controllers in 1992 and guess what? I had less than one year of experience.

History shows that when faced with a similar situation in 1992, this same FAA rushed controllers through training, stuffed the busiest facilities with zero experience controllers, worked with less than adequate staffing causing controllers to take on too much responsibility and people died. Look at my friend and Brother Don Brown's blog for some information about the LAX accident of 1991. Do you see a correlation? Similar numbers of CPCs, similar actions by the FAA and people died, including an air traffic controller.

The sad thing is, when we aren't working we're sitting and watching, helplessly waiting for the news report. As another Brother of mine surmised last week, "The FAA already has the press release written for the first accident. The law of averages indicates that there will be a catastrophe in aviation and this Agency will likely chalk it up to that. What I wonder is how they will explain the second and third accident, and how many more will it take before the FAA and Congress finally do something? To quote our good friend Ed Schultz, "What is it going to take, a high profile politician losing their life in an aviation accident for Congress to act?"

Sadly, they don't call the FAA "The Tombstone Agency" for nothing and Big Ed knows that. He knows that it will take a catastrophe before the FAA is forced to act. It's been that way since Archie League's time. This isn't a game folks and it isn't about money, labor strife, controller demands or any other sorry excuse the FAA comes up with for not answering to the charges that they are playing Russian roulette with your lives. Ed Schultz knows it. Congress knows it. My brothers and sisters know it. Hell, the FAA knows it but, as I said, they cannot seek help until they are willing to admit they have a problem. I want you to know it, be angry about it and demand action. Contact your Senator today. Ask them to protect you and family by passing S1300.


Randall said...


Love the blog. One of the number counts refers to "CPCs in training" but should it not be developementals or new hires in training or something like that? CPCs in training are you and me when we transfer to another facility and are not yet certified at that facility.

Keep up the great writing!

Randy Buxton

jjf42 said...

CLEP Test!!! There are some exclamation points for you. I remember teaching my mother algebra when she went to night school at Pitt in the 70's. Word problems (Oh my god - not the train scenario again) were not her thing. However, we/she got an "A" and I started losing my hair.

I had to read this great post with a "whiny voice" in my head, because my voice certainly won't go very high. Not that I can't whine.

Congratulations on the "almost there" degree. We have discussed your participation at the National Labor College before, but it will always be "George Meany U" to me. Those slash and burn Facrep courses in the early 90's were a unique event.

Jeff Fisher - ABE ATCT

Anonymous said...

Citizens in Rockland County, New York – as well as citizens in New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, and elsewhere – were mouth-agape aghast while watching “Bobby” Sturgell’s evasive and false under-oath testimony and answers today on February 7, 2008, to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. We have thanked Congress for making Mr. Sturgell’s webcast testimony and the proceedings available to all of us, real-time, and now archived, through RealPlayer software, on the Senate website.

“Bobby” Sturgell arrogantly insulted Senators Boxer, McCaskill, and Lautenberg – among all of the rest of us - with his persistent utter refusal to answer the most simple of direct “Yes or No” questions. Sturgell made Watergate conspirators sound like they testified on sodium pentothal, by comparison. Senator McCaskill asked the core essential question: “Do you think air traffic controller fatigue was a contributing factor[?]” to runway incursion mishaps – and the slipperiest of eels, the eel of Sturgell, the Sturg-eel – sought to squirm away with the scripted slime of non-answers.

“Bobby” Sturgell, acting FAA head for three months, testified that he had no prior knowledge of the San Diego aircraft near-miss a few weeks ago?


Sturgell testified that he had no prior knowledge of recent Newark, NJ departures flying out in the wrong direction in the past few weeks?


“Bobby” Sturgell’s nomination as proposed FAA Administrator should not be confirmed. Instead, after he first personally apologizes to Senators Boxer, McCaskill, and Lautenberg, “Bobby” Sturgell should then be INDICTED - for contempt of Congress, for rendering perjured testimony under oath, and for already putting millions of otherwise-innocent and unsuspecting Americans in harm’s way. I have now faxed every Senator on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, asking them to please refer this matter to the AG, IG, GAO, and a Special Prosecutor – and to please now cook this eel.

John J. Tormey III, Esq.

Anonymous said...

The accompanying photo:

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