Tuesday, August 30, 2005


The Lies of Ventris Gibson

Two things the FAA has done very well during the contracting out of Flight Service: one is keeping up the PR. Every few weeks there seems to be some high-profile FAA executive giving an interview emphasizing how there is absolutely no down side to the contract. The second is actually related to the first; liberal use of the old maxim that any falsehood told often enough becomes accepted as truth.

Ventris Gibson is head of FAA Human Resources. Last week was her turn in the barrel, so to speak, in the continuing disinformation campaign. The venue was an interview in the Federal Times issue of August 26th. Serpent-of-Eden-like, she coiled around the questions with lies of both omission and commission. You can read the whole article here. But for now let’s take a look a just a few of the factual felonies she committed:

Q: I heard not all employees were offered jobs with Lockheed.

Gibson: All employees were given the right of first refusal. The right of first refusal from Lockheed was, ‘Here’s the job offer. You accept or not.’ Some accepted, some obviously did not apply, and some declined. But they were all offered jobs.

This response glosses over the fact that over half those ‘jobs’ will come with a pre-printed pink slip that terminates employment in 6 to 18 months. In context, we wouldn’t call that a ‘job offer.’

Q: What did you do to help employees with the transition?

Gibson: It was a significant challenge for us. We went all out. We have dedicated Web pages to provide transition information. We have a special placement program where if an employee walks out the door under a reduction in force for two years [after] they receive their reduction-in-force notices, they can receive consideration and must be selected, if well qualified, for a job within the agency.

For the head of FAA HR, Ms. Gibson seems mystically unaware of FAA order 3350.2c which requires that she “…make every reasonable effort to place surplus employees in other jobs or regions of the agency with the least possible interruption to their careers and personal lives” before conducting a Reduction In Force, up to and including a hiring freeze. Far from going “all out,” the FAA has yet to go beyond a few token acts.

For those outside the FAA the “special placement program” sounds like a very nice foot in the door. But given how the program is actually applied, it means little; using the FAA’s definitions, Flight Service controllers who are “qualified” for a move to a tower or center are “well qualified” only for Flight Service positions. Of course the FAA won’t be hiring any of those, so the two-year placement consideration is an empty benefit.

That leaves the job assistance and placement programs. These are worthless when the FAA is keeping actual jobs beyond reach. Hundreds of Flight Service controllers are qualified (there’s that word again) to take other controller jobs, yet these are being filled by new hires off the street, as she herself emphasized in this, the last question of the interview:

Q: FAA is hiring nearly 600 air traffic controllers next year as part of the plan to hire 12,500 air traffic controllers over 10 years to cope with new waves of retirement and other personnel losses. Are you confident you’re going to be able to hire all these people in time?

Gibson: Most definitely, yes. We have various lists that are robust. We have what we call the college training initiative. These are where our colleges and universities have accredited aviation programs that graduate individuals as air traffic controllers. That has hundreds of candidates on it a year. The second is veterans. These are individuals who are air traffic controllers in the military. We have hundreds on that list as well. We have former controllers seeking reinstatement. And then another is when we choose to do job fairs.

Note that one readily available list goes unmentioned; Flight Service controllers already in her employ.

The retirement issue is also addressed:
Q: What about employees’ concerns about losing their retirement benefits?

Gibson: That’s really not so because if I’m not eligible for voluntary or regular retirement, my retirement can stay in the retirement fund and I can get it at the time I become eligible….pretty much the majority of those questions have settled as people have become aware of their individual circumstances...

We wonder if Ms. Gibson was really listening to what controllers were saying during those site visits she pointedly mentions elsewhere in the interview. If she did, she’s not being at all honest with the interviewer, since those 'settled questions' are usually not friendly to what people had been told to expect. And this statement clearly shows that she is unfamiliar with annuity calculations. Let’s take a common example of a CSRS employee, late 40s with 20-24 years of ATC service. He will have few or no Social Security quarters and no 401-K. His annuity (mentioned by Ms. Gibson above) will not start until he is 62. During that 14 year period there will be no COLA adjustments so the eventual pay-out will have lost an expected two-thirds of its value, if not more. Plus the annuity will be off-set by any Social Security payment earned during that 14 years. Plus all retirement medical benefits will be lost. No loss of retirement benefits indeed…

To our knowledge, this is a first. We could be wrong but we don’t recall other such defense-of-contract exercises addressing the retirement issue, let alone answered with such a ready-made glib response. It could very well be that the lost annuity issue is gaining ground in the Beltway and the FAA is feeling some heat on the cavalier handling of their employees.

There are so many other falsehoods in the article (such as the misleading sick leave buy-back answer) that we could spend a great deal of time on each. But alas, time grows short and we are still seeking employment that will allow us to finish with our careers and retirements at least minimally intact. It’s a difficult undertaking in a field where there is only one employer, and that employer is creating every roadblock she possibly can.

UPDATE: We neglected to add the link to FAA Order 3350.2C above. That has been corrected, and added here as well (9/4).

Saturday, August 27, 2005


ATC Zero in Jersey

Millville (MIV) Flight Service in New Jersey suffered a roof collapse this past week. Thankfully no one was injured, but the future status of the operation is in question. One authority asserts that the building will be open again in two weeks. Another says that it may not be ready until sometime after the Lockheed Martin contract begins. If the latter is true what happens to the controllers? MIV is one of the stations that will close sometime within the first 18 months of the contract. Will the controllers be transferred to another facility, held over on administrative leave or simply let go immediately instead of 6-18 months down the road? Temporary facilities are possible and have been done before, but for now, if you’re in New Jersey or one of the surrounding states whose Flight Service is filling the gap, the system might be a bit slow for a while.

One of MIV’s controllers, ‘RK’, left the following comment under the previous post:
Do you have an opinion on the catastrophic closure of MIV AFSS? It seems that
the traffic that is being sent to other stations is really causing havoc!!!
Could this be what we'll be in for when LM closes the so called "Leprosy
(Note: the term ‘leprosy station’ is an inside joke referring to the 38 FSSs that will close under the contract as opposed to the 17 ‘legacy stations’ that will remain open)

We find it hard to view the two situations as analogous. One is a catastrophic failure occurring in a moment, while the other is a planned event scheduled to occur over months. Still, RK’s point is not to be lightly dismissed. Flight Service areas tend to be unique in few or many ways. Even making operations and methodologies uniform over all stations won’t erase these variables. We discussed before how we expect pilot contacts in general to become longer and more involved (Mythical Metrics, 8/11). Keeping all this in mind, RK’s question can address two different aspects of the same problem: planned consolidation vs. a sudden loss of a facility.

An accurate answer to the first situation isn’t easy to come by. Since the contract is still under seal we have no way of knowing how Lockheed will operate Flight Service; what will the 'local' areas be? Will controllers be trained in non-contiguous areas? What services will the legacy stations provide? We are still convinced that Lockheed does not understand the nature of the service they are about to start providing. This is not entirely their fault since they’ve relied mostly on the FAA bureaucracy to fill them in. But it does explain why they seem to think Flight Service is the aviation equivalent of home computer tech support, with little difference between the expectations of pilots in New England vs. Texas, or Indiana vs. Washington. The 18 month consolidation will probably be smooth from a hardware standpoint. In terms of the software, service and pilot satisfaction however, even the AOPA has gone from “…all I can say is ‘wow’” to “…there may be some service glitches...” during the change-over.

Second, should one of the 20 end-state facilities be taken out of commission, how will it affect services (for comparison it should be mentioned that MIV is the 12th busiest FSS among the 61 in the nation)? Remember that there will be less than half the controllers than exist now. And if a disabled facility’s controllers constitute a relatively large portion of those available to service a particular area, how will the promised metrics be maintained?

Again, the answer lies in the still sealed contract. It would not be surprising if there were a clause that releases Lockheed from the metrics should some ‘act of God’ take a station off-line. But even given that the controllers serving a particular area will likely be spread out among at least three facilities (and we would guess more), there’s little doubt that pilots will notice delays in service. But it probably will not be of the same magnitude that they’re currently experiencing in and around New Jersey.

Friday, August 26, 2005


The Scrooge Effect

It’s conventional wisdom that corporations are less ‘compassionate’ or ‘caring,’ (choose your favorite adjective) than the government when it comes how they treat people. But in the game of ‘industrial relations’ within the current outsourcing of Flight Service, you might say that the score is Lockheed Martin 2, FAA 0 (although if possible, the FAA would have a rather large negative score).

First of all, as discussed previously, LM originally offered to carry the controllers as contracted federal employees for up to two years so those close to earning their federal retirement could become vested rather than lose everything. But the FAA flatly refused to explore any kind of accommodation.

Within the last couple of weeks a new wrinkle developed within the retirement issue. Some background first: Federal employees are allowed to use annual leave (vacation time) to reach retirement. In other words, if you wanted to retire in a month and had a month of unused vacation time, you could go on vacation and have your retirement effective at the end of that month without having to report back to work.

The LM/FAA agreement calls for all employees to be fired by the government on October 3rd. In order to be hired by Lockheed under the contracted terms of employment, the controller must report to LM for work on the 4th, or whatever their next scheduled workday would be. A few controllers very close to being retirement eligible have enough vacation time on the books to reach their annuity after October 3rd. But they also want to continue working as controllers with LM while 'on vacation' from the FAA. The FAA refused this arrangement saying there would be a ‘conflict of interest’ if an employee of an agency were being paid by both the agency and a contractor of that same agency. Controllers rightly asked what possible conflict would exist since the job they were doing no longer existed within the agency. But the FAA remained unmoved.

Lockheed, to their credit, has unilaterally come to the rescue. They will allow controllers to enter the contract late if by doing so they will become vested in their annuity through use of their unused vacation time.

Controllers are, of course, grateful. But this should not have been a difficulty in the first place. The FAA seems to have a steadfast policy of avoiding any act that might help any controllers reach their retirement. This in itself is not a matter of concern for pilots, but it does highlight the mindset of those who will be monitoring the contract.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Senate Update

We last talked about the Senate’s possible action regarding a one-year delay in our 7/22 post entitled ‘Tyson Bites’. At the time things looked very bleak. However, the situation has improved a bit for favorable Senate action that would result in a one-year delay for the Lockheed-Martin take-over of Flight Services; support seems to have increased.

The bill (Transportation, Treasury, Judiciary, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations, or TTHUD) will be debated on the floor in early September, followed quickly by a conference committee. The amendment being offered is identical in wording to that passed by the House earlier this year. Historically, if House and Senate language in a particular section is identical, it is not subject to conference. How true this holds currently is something we can’t say. In any event, this may be the final opportunity for pilots to support the controllers who have served them for so long by contacting their Senators and asking that they support the Tim Johnson (R-SD) amendment to the Transportation appropriations bill. You can find contact information here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Marion’s Poodles – Act 4

Earlier we touched on this article in AOPA’ web site (see ‘Marion’s Poodles – Act 2’) and promised to look at it again.

This time we want to concentrate on a couple additional comments by AOPA president Phil Boyer who more and more talks like someone who wishes not to make sense. Specifically he says the following about a proposed one-year delay in the contract:

Lockheed-Martin's bid keeps 20 facilities in place with 1,000 employees, while
the FAA's in-house bid would build three new facilities and keep only 966
employees… With no funding for outsourcing, services would have to be provided
by federal employees. Unfortunately, there aren't enough federal employees to do
the job. The FAA estimates that more than 600 FSS employees will have
voluntarily retired or quit by the time the measure could take effect.
Now let’s see if we can decipher Mr. Boyer’s main points:

1) Reducing the number of controllers from 2200 to 1000 is acceptable, but dropping an additional 34 (for a total of 966) is not.

2) 600 fewer employees on October 4th is ok if Lockheed Martin takes over, but not if the Federal Government continues to provide service for up to a year more.

3) Three facilities instead of 20.

Mr. Boyer calls the above scenarios “grim.” His objections are ‘res ipse loquitur’ absurd, but let’s address them anyway.

To the first point, if there is no discernable problem in a 54.5% reduction in the controller workforce, why should a 56% reduction become a harbinger of doom? We would think the first 1200 controllers shown out the door would raise eyebrows, not the following 34.

Second, if 600 fewer controllers would be a problem for the FAA, why would they not be missed with LM at the helm, especially given that there will be no facility or equipment changes during the first six months of the contract?

An additional note…that 600 person guesstimate has little basis. Given the FAA’s heavy-handed tactics in keeping the workforce temporarily in place, we’re not likely to see that sudden a drop in personnel by October 4th. While many hundreds of new controllers are hired off the street, only about 150 current, experienced controllers have found work outside of Flight Service and will be leaving no matter what. What’s left of the ‘600’ are those who plan on retiring rather than work for LM. Should a delay mean that the FAA continues to provide Flight Services past October 4th, expect many of those retirement applications to be quickly withdrawn.

Finally, let’s look at the number of facilities, 20 for LM, 3 for the FAA in-house bid. It should be made known that LM has not guaranteed that the 17 ‘legacy’ stations will remain after three years. In fact they’re quite adamant about keeping their options, not the stations, open. It has yet to be explained why Mr. Boyer prefers any given number of stations. We can’t help but get the impression that the answer is simply, as always, “Because the FAA told me so.”

Monday, August 15, 2005


The Coming Lockheed – AOPA Conflict

Ted Sturm is in charge of Lockheed Martin’s Human Resources department. His comments to one air traffic controller included words to the effect that there would be some sort of ‘performance expectation’ in terms of 'numbers productivity' that if missed could result in release from service.

If some form of ‘quota’ is indeed implemented, the impact on pilot briefing will not be good news for pilots. Should controllers feel that they have to ‘keep numbers up’, the unintended consequence is predictable; a bias toward completing contacts in rapid fashion.

This would run afoul of the vision that AOPA’s Mr. Boyer has for future service. As mentioned earlier, more data, interactive briefing and diluted area knowledge will tend to increase the amount of time it takes to work a given pilot contact. If this occurs (as we expect it will), LM will move to keep individual contacts short and sweet.

But Mr. Boyer is of the impression that if AOPA isn’t satisfied with performance, LM will respond quickly and decisively. So if pilot contacts become rushed to meet LM’s productivity requirements, Mr. Boyer can be expected to give Lockheed Martin a call. When the two worlds collide, who will win?

A number of possibilities exist; It could be that Mr. Sturm hasn’t gotten the word about the promises to APOA. Or, in his meeting with LM where Mr. Boyer states that his team asked “all the tough questions," maybe this one didn’t cross their minds.

Most likely, the real answer is based in the fact that neither LM or Mr. Boyer understand the business of providing Flight Service products to pilots. Should goals conflict, only one of them can win. Mr. Boyer may believe he’ll have leverage enough to steer things his way, but it will be Lockheed Martin in the drivers seat.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Blog Adjustment

We've altered the 'comment' setting to that a reader does not have to register to post a comment.


Cognitive Dissonance

AOPA president Phil Boyer doesn’t think much of the FAA’s ability to provide Flight Services. As he says here, “...the FAA was unable to effectively modernize the current system…”. In essence, the FAA could do little, if anything, right. This sentiment is repeated in many AOPA articles. In many ways he is quite correct.

The FAA is now painting a verbal picture of the FSS contract for Mr. Boyer that he can’t seem to praise enough. If he has expressed any reservations about the upcoming changes to Flight Service we have yet to read about it.

To Mr. Boyer’s thinking, the FAA can’t run Flight Service to save its life but they will be flawless when it comes to making sure someone completely inexperienced in the field will do things properly.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


The Breaking Dawn

The AOPA may just be getting a glimmer of what the FAA has planned for aviation.

There’s an interesting GAO report floating around with the rather unwieldy title of “Characteristics and Performance of Selected International Air Navigation Service Providers and Lessons Learned from Their Commercialization”. The link provided opens a PDF file. Open it, then word search for the term ‘fee’.

You will now see what has raised AOPA eyebrows; numerous mentions of fee-for-service. The GAO report seems to be paving the way for a commercialized ATC system including towers and centers, likely to result in greater general aviation fees. Couple this report with the current out-sourcing of Flight Service, the GAO report we referenced earlier, and the intent seems clear; the eventual outsourcing or commercialization of all ATC functions.

FSS controllers have been trying to explain this to AOPA for some time; the FSS contract to Lockheed Martin is the ‘gateway’ to other such contracts in ATC. It has been rumored that the FAA would like to be out of the ATC business by 2025, and LM people have been heard saying quite directly that, given the groundwork already in place for the FSS contract, it wouldn’t take much additional work to contract and operate the centers and tower approach controls.

That level of contracting faces significant political resistance from both Capitol Hill and the AOPA, who have sworn to resist any out-sourcing of these services. It will have to be done piecemeal. Expect it to start with the level 5 towers in about two, maybe three years. Then the FAA will work up the chain through levels 6 and higher until all that is left are the towers with associated approach controls (TRACONs). Once that point is reached the FAA will boast about how safe and efficient the contract system is, muting any objections.

Mr. Boyer has been penny-wise and pound-foolish. His lackey-like acceptance of the FSS contract will be a major stepping stone to the fees he fears most.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Mythical Metrics

One thing that pilots have been told over and over about the Lockheed Martin contract is that response times when contacting Flight Service will drop dramatically via a guaranteed 20-second answer to a phone call. Most pilots are already aware that fast responses are the norm, and the 20-second metric is rhetoric, meaning little in reality.

So let’s examine the telephone response time that can be expected. We at Flight Service Sigmet would like to point out a few hurdles that might get in the way of achieving that metric; some expected, some not.

1 – Slashed workforce. The number of controllers will be reduced from about 2200 to 1000. Now there’s no doubt that some efficiencies are to be had from the present system, but such an immediate, radical reduction is overkill when dealing with an untested system by a company who doesn’t understand the service they’re about to start providing.

2 – Increased data. This will lengthen briefing times in two forms. First, there’s the data itself. Understandably, pilots want as much data as possible. The more that can be accessed, the more that is wanted. In our experience pilots will always ask for a bit more than is available with current equipment and data. When something comes along to provide that extra capability, pilots take it and ask for a bit more. This is to be expected. But providing that ‘extra’ takes time.

Secondly, we must consider that each controller will be working with much larger areas. As we showed in a previous post, this will dilute area knowledge and experience. The likely result will be more double-checking on the part of the controller, further adding to briefing time.

3 – “At-will” employment. Up until now, controllers could only be fired for a justifiable reason. However, this will change since Lockheed-Martin is an ‘at-will’ employer, able to fire anytime for any reason. It is safe to assume that controllers will believe that any cause of liability could jeopardize their career. Add this to the two ‘increased data’ factors above and you have another reason to expect longer brief times as controllers, even more so than now, brief in such a way as to ‘cover’ themselves.

4 - Interactive briefing. This means that the pilot, via a web link, is looking at the same graphics as the controller during a weather brief. AOPA president Phil Boyer touts this as his organization’s idea, proud to have it included in the final product. But if anything will increase briefing times, it is likely to be this. We’ve had experience briefing pilots who are looking at their own data sources. It tends to result in more, not fewer questions, as the pilot substitutes his judgment for that of the controller, or begins asking detailed questions about what he’s seeing. These are not unreasonable things for the pilot to do, but let’s be realistic on how this will affect the ’20 second’ metric.

To sum up; the number of controllers will be cut in half, while a number of new factors will tend to increase briefing times. Someone is going to have to explain how this will add up to reduced ‘on hold’ times.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Bait and Switch

There’s a Flight Service controller I’ll call 'David’. At one time he was a Full-Performance Level (FPL) controller at Jacksonville Center. He is also a military veteran. He has been trying to return to Jacksonville to finish his ATC career and earn his retirement.

Jacksonville won’t have him. Instead, they’re hiring new people off the street, forcing him to stay in Flight Service so he can be fired by the FAA, stripped of his annuity, and forced into Lockheed Martin.

David is not alone. Word has filtered down through channels more friendly to Flight Service (or simply appalled at what’s being done to the controllers) that this is based on an edict from on high; when it comes to general openings for controllers in towers and centers, no FSS controller need apply.

The FAA and AOPA repeat ad nauseam that their main concern is the best and safest service for the pilots. I wonder how David’s situation fits into that rhetoric?

Monday, August 08, 2005


Marion's Poodles - Act 3

Our friends at AOPA seem intent on continuing to entertain us with their attempts at cheerleading Lockheed Martin as Heir Apparent to the nation’s Flight Service Stations.

The latest installment appeared on August 5th. You can read the whole thing here.

The first thing we noticed is the now familiar repetition of old, disproved excuses for supporting the contract; 20 minute wait times, $550 million per year cost, undocumented (thus far) metrics that are little or no improvement over the current system.

There are a couple new wrinkles to the arguments; they are weak attempts, and false as well. Contrary to Mr. Boyer’s assertion, FSSs can indeed measure hold times and abandon rates. Any controller that has walked by a supervisor desk and viewed the call monitor screen or printed out the end-of-day traffic log knows this (further proof that AOPA is only repeating what the FAA tells them without talking at all to the controllers actually doing the work).

But the article also represents an apparent change of heart for the AOPA on how this will effect controllers. For the first time we can remember (and we confess that we haven’t read everything written by Mr. Boyer and the AOPA on the matter), there is an grudging admission that there will be some significant difficulty for the controllers themselves. Andy Cebula (Government and Tech VP) and Mr. Boyer soft-peddle the issue and avoid the real problem facing controllers (more fully, but still not completely, covered in our post ‘On a Pale Horse’). While still a tap-dance around the hard facts of the matter, we must admit that this is a small step in the right direction, a far cry from parroting the inaccuracy that the contract will “protect the employees.”

But Messrs Boyer and Cebula still can’t resist a couple opportunities to mistake assertion for fact. The article ends with Mr. Boyer’s contention that "In a recent AOPA survey, the overwhelming majority of our members told us that they would be satisfied with the government contracting out FSS services." The AOPA webmaster knows how to use links. He (or she) uses them quite often. Curious that they are not utilized here for the benefit of the reader. But we have noted before (see Marion's Poodles - Act 1) that pilots are quite satisfied now.

Secondly, Mr. Cebula states that “…rumors pilots are hearing are just plain wrong." What these rumors are he doesn’t say. The article only says “One accusation is that AOPA has not supported the FSS employees in their concerns for job losses or the need to relocate.” Mr. Boyer’s response to this is that such concerns are not part of AOPA’s job. That is not a denial, but a justification of position. True, that is not AOPA’s job, and we at Flight Service Sigmet do not disagree. But we do wonder why Mr. Boyer continues to misrepresent our performance as controllers, and misinforms his membership over his knowledge of the contract and how it will negatively impact those who serve them.

Friday, August 05, 2005


The Blind Leading The Blind

When reflecting on the contract awarded to Lockheed Martin it is always wise to remember that the people who wrote it or are celebrating it have little or no experience with what FSSs actually do.

This was demonstrated recently when FAA Administrator Marion Blakey attended the EAA gathering at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. When asked why flight plans in and out of the D.C. ADIZ could not be filed by DUATS, her response was "That’s the first I’ve heard about that."

The reason pilots must go through Flight Service, of course, is all the post 9/11 hoops that must be jumped through to get into or out of the ADIZ. One would think that the Administrator would at least be up-to-date on security measures around that most sensitive of areas, our nations capitol. Apparently that would be too much to ask.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Marion’s Poodles – Act 2

An example of the bad reportage we’ve come to expect from the AOPA is this article entitled “House bill could terminate flight service station modernization.” While typical of the ‘target rich environment’ of inaccuracy that the AOPA has displayed recently over the A-76 process, it’s the blue side-bar on the right that we draw your attention to today.

There is so much that is wrong in so little space that it’s difficult to know where to begin. But let’s start with AOPA president Phil Boyer’s first quote as he addresses the impact of the House bill;

"Everything that AOPA has worked for — improved services, performance
guarantees, Internet access to briefings, and $2.2 billion in cost savings over
the next decade — would be lost,"
This is a curious statement to make about a mere delay in a contract that is still under seal. No one outside of the Lockheed Martin bid team and the selection committee knows what’s in the contract (we’ve covered this before in our post entitled "With a Tangled Skein: Part 1"). Add to this that none of the other contract bids for the job are fully known either.

He then gets histrionic by saying “…GA pilots could expect to receive worse service at a higher cost, potentially compromising safety…” How can this be? Mr. Boyer doesn’t say. Probably because there is no reason to believe this is so.

Instead of posturing, let’s speak from knowledge. Should the House bill as amended become law, it means, at worst, current FSSs would function as is for no more than one year. On or before October 1, 2006, one of three things would take place: 1) the bid to LM would be reviewed and honored, 2) the bid would be awarded to the MEO, or 3) the contract would re-bid. Does any of these outcomes merit the dire warnings of Mr. Boyer?

On the other hand, there are definite reasons for the delay. As it stands now, no one is going to know what the contract contains until September. By then it will be too late for Congress to exercise its oversight powers to object to any significant flaws. Does this matter? Remember that this is the largest, most technical non-defense outsourcing ever done. The FAA is buying a yet-to-be-built, untested Flight Service system. Think of the military contracting for planes that have never flown…

As said before, this particular AOPA page is a target-rich environment. We’ll visit it again sometime soon. But as we read more and more from Mr. Boyer, the assertion that he is merely a third party advocate who wants the best for pilots seems less and less plausible.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


A Damning Report – The Incredible Disappearing Savings

It is conventional contracting wisdom that actual savings never reach projections. Contracting Flight Service to Lockheed Martin was supposed to result in savings of $2.2 billion over ten years. But within a couple months, that figure fell to $1.7 billion. The GAO has recently issued a report that reduces the savings even further to $1.2 billion.

Projected savings from the contract has fallen by over 40%, even before the contract has begun. And the FAA has yet to add the expected additional services to the contract.

You can read the full report here, but allow us to point out some highlights:

- 80% of the savings won’t accrue until 2011 and beyond. This means that only $241 million in savings is going to be realized in the first five years of the contract, about $48 million per year.

- Two reports in 1997 indicated that $80 million in annual savings could have resulted from a consolidation of the nine regional offices. The FAA never acted on these recommendations (although a few changes have begun).

Here we have support for what controllers have been saying all along; when it comes to what is wrong with the current ATC system, it’s not so much the bottom of the organization where the service is provided to the public, but mid- and upper-level management structures. Yet in very Dilbert-like fashion, the bottom is where the FAA has chosen to start fixing things.

The report has other disappointing words for Mr. Boyer of the AOPA, who seems to think that the FSS contract is a significant step in producing the savings needed to protect his pet FAA projects and agenda, current and proposed, from being examined for ‘efficiencies.’ Particularly, keeping the fee-for-service concept deep under lock and key. According to the report, the FSS contract to LM and other lesser measures to date “…do little to constrain cost growth and materially improve [FAA Air Traffic] operations funding outlook over the next 5 years.”

Should the report become a roadmap for ATC, the implications are immense; for the FAA to reach a financially responsible position, action will have to be taken that could materially and negatively impact general aviation. Such adoption seems more likely than similar reports that emerged in the past since we now have in place an FAA executive team that seems most willing to move in such directions.

We will continue to peruse and revisit the report, posting on additional points of interest.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Marion’s Poodles – Act 1

This blog has reached an executive editorial decision; AOPA president Phil Boyer and his staff shall henceforth be known as Marion’s Poodles. They can flip, yip and do tricks on command with the best of the show puppies.

Today’s example involves Andy Cebula, AOPA’s senior VP of government and technical affairs who seems to hold FSSs and the controllers who work there in low esteem. He recently stated “Regardless of who provides the service, pilots need and deserve much better than what they’re getting now.”

Contrary to Mr. Cebula’s assertion, (and as mentioned in a earlier post), pilots seem quite satisfied with the service they’re getting. A study titled “Importance and Satisfaction of Flight Service” showed that 85% of IFR and 82% of VFR pilots were satisfied with FSS services. The conclusion stated that “Clearly, today’s flight service system is delivering items that are highly important and a level of service that produces highly satisfied customers.”

And who conducted this survey? It was done by Quantum Market Research at the request of that very same AOPA. It appears that not only are the AOPA executives disconnected from their own research, they are also very disconnected from the flying public they insist that they’re representing.

Monday, August 01, 2005


“A lie can fly halfway around the world..."

"...while the truth is still doing the checklist” – (with apologies to Mark Twain.)

The latest to parrot the FAA line on the Flight Service contract is the conservative Heritage Foundation. You can read their comments here. Note that they are identical to what the AOPA has said, as well as Congressman Knollenberg during floor debate in the House, as well as anyplace else the discussion occurs. This leads one to conclude that the FAA is playing the same three-note samba for all it’s worth (safety, savings, controller-friendly) because they have nothing else.

Of course, all this constant repeating of the same phrases can lead to over-use, especially as more and more people realize the promises are empty. That creates a rhetorical opening than can be leveraged to great advantage.

However, NAATS (the controller’s union) has been unforgivably slow to take on the public relations challenge, attempting to slog through this fight without a ‘rapid response team’ to rush the counter arguments whenever this verbal charade pops up. But the rank-and-file controllers may be helping to take up the slack. Already a number of e-mails have been sent to the Heritage Foundation web site where their story appeared. I expect more in the next couple of days. We’ll be watching to see if an addendum is published.

UPDATE: It turns out that the web site on which the article appeared is not associated with the Heritage Foundation, although the article’s author is indeed that organization’s President, Mr. Ed Feulner. The web site itself, theconservativevoice.com, is a sole proprietorship run by one Nathan Tabor, a fine fellow, judging by our e-mail exchanges. I apologize to the reader and him for any confusion.

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