Friday, September 30, 2005


MIV Lives!

At 2pm today, Millville AFSS re-opened for business, albeit for a limited engagement, and many services will not return at all. Here is the scoop as we understand it:

- MIV will be doing airport advisories only until a mobile tower can be moved on-site, in about three weeks.
- About that same time, in-flight communications will be restored.
- Pre-flight services will not be restored.

All the above is predicated on getting the appropriate equipment in place, of course. Air-to-ground communication without a weather database is pretty useless…

As for the controllers, all five who were unable to move to different jobs with the FAA or Lockheed Martin were re-hired. It remains to be seen how quickly MIV will be shut down, though. Lockheed might move them to the head of the line, but this is better than the pre-existing alternative.


Injunction Denied

Today Judge Kennedy ruled against Flight Service controllers on an injunction to put the Lockheed contract on hold until a case on age discrimination could be heard and ruled upon. This was the last legal hurdle before the contract would go into effect at 12:01am next Tuesday morning.

We have always been dubious about this discrimination strategy and are not surprised (see ‘Injunction Function’ on 9/8/05). The text of the ruling can be found here.

Update: We've put a link to the decision in the last sentance (10/01).

Thursday, September 29, 2005


What Were They Thinking...

Never let it be said that the FAA doesn’t go the extra mile. To help compensate AFSS controllers for the lost careers, pensions, and denial of employment rights, Jim Washington, the FAA’s Vice President of Flight Service, has done a remarkable thing. We’ll let him tell you in his own words from a memorandum dated 9/27/05:

During the past 85 years, the Flight Service option has met the challenges of an
evolving aviation environment. From supporting the inception of airline operations, to meeting the ever changing demands of general and business aviation, Flight Service personnel have been a part of the entire growth of American aviation history, as depicted on the Flight Service History website*.

The Flight Service family is evolving yet another time, and will expand on the proud
legacy that you have provided the flying public for over 85 years. In recognition of
your dedication to quality service, it is my privilege to present each of you with a
commemorative poster that illustrates the profession that you represent.

I salute you all!
Needless to say, the controllers are viewing this ‘salute’ as something very different than Mr. Washington has written of, and from what we hear thus far are ‘saluting’ back in kind. The probability that any of those posters are put on any controller’s wall seems less than winning the power ball this week.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Pilot’s Plaint

Many who make liberal use Flight Service have not been fooled by AOPA President Phil Boyer's pitch to contract out and consolidate AFSSs. Here is one letter from a very upset AOPA member (PDF file). We’re very certain that there are more, and are grateful for their support.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


From 'Controllers' to ‘Call Centers’

We’ve heard that Lockheed Martin has hired an outside contractor to set the schedules for the Flight Service Stations starting sometime next year. The company is Aspect Communications (currently being merged with Concerto Software).

Details are sketchy and subject to change. But up until now, scheduling has been accomplished at the local level where the controllers and staff have first-hand knowledge of not only the kind of unique services the area pilots need, but changing the schedule to match seasonal and daily differences. Apparently this is another part of providing Flight Services that LM does not understand; local expertise and effects on scheduling. So now another inexperienced company with zero ATC knowledge is brought in to dictate to the experienced professional how their job will be done.

One by-product of such a management style is faster turn-over of personnel, as high as 14% annually in some ‘call center’ industries (and these don’t even involve decisions that can effect life and limb). This runs counter to the vision of AOPA President Phil Boyer who repeatedly has told his membership that quality of personnel will not decrease with the LM takeover, but will most likely increase. Keep in mind that many of the 1000 controllers left over from the slash-n-burn consolidation will be FAA retirees who will feel they are able to leave on a moments notice. Almost all Flight Service controllers have over 15 years of experience; a large share have more than 20. Imagine how rapidly the level of experience will decline with a turnover rate of one-in-seven, with green controllers rapidly put in place. If we are correct about their intentions, and LM continues this apparent 'dissing' of controllers, expect the turnover rate to go higher, with average years of experience declining to below 10 within three years, and a downward trend firmly in place.

With this latest development it’s difficult not to conclude that LM looks at Flight Service controllers as script readers, not professionals providing ATC services. This bodes ill for pilots who expect a level of individualized (let alone improved) interpretive service, and reinforces the concern that controllers will have to meet ‘quotas’ or face disciplinary action (see our 8/15 post ‘The Coming Lockheed – AOPA Conflict’) . In our personal experience, quality and customer satisfaction suffers when a service is managed by such a mentality. For the good of the service and safety of the pilots, we hope we are wrong.

Monday, September 26, 2005


ATC Zero in Jersey – The End?

It’s pretty much official. Millville AFSS will not re-open, except for a remote possibility of air-to-ground communications for a short period of time. You can read a local news item about it here.

The Millville controllers are finding themselves having to make some sudden tough choices. This makes even worse the existing insult-to-injury situation caused by the FAA. It’s bad enough that the agency cut off their careers, then refused to follow established law by placing the controllers in other positions for which they’re eligible; they must now uproot and move within two weeks (at their own expense) or lose six to eighteen months income that was previously promised.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Running out the clock.

Some time next week, or the week after, the Senate will consider the Transportation, Treasury, Judiciary, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill (TTHUD) on the floor. Amendments will be offered, hopefully one that will delay the Lockheed Martin AFSS contract for a year. This will allow Congress to get a first look at the plan before it actually goes into effect. Remember, no one has seen this contract aside from a select few in Lockheed Martin and the FAA, both of whom have a large vested interest in this contract.

However, there’s little chance that the bill will be voted on, sent to conference committee, re-voted, and signed by the President before the October 4th change-over just 10 days away. By that time, it will be a moot issue; the FAA will have beaten Flight Services (caveat: the judge who heard the controller’s request for an injunction to halt the transition based on an age discrimination complaint has yet to rule. See our post ‘Injunction Function’ dated 9/8).

Despite the steep odds, action is still possible. We know that there are pilots out there who are as uncomfortable with the Lockheed contract as the controllers are, and we ask for their help. The amendment mentioned above is authored by Senator Tim Johnson (R-SD) and is identical to a successful amendment passed earlier this year in the house (see our post of July 20th, ‘A Surprise in the House’). Fax, e-mail or call your Senator and ask him to contact Mr. Johnson’s office and offer support for the amendment. Jamie Uken is his aide who is working this issue. If you can, include a personal story of how Flight Service has enhanced the safety of your flying experience.

You can find contact information for the Senators from your state here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


The Congressional Circus

An Air Traffic Controller from Georgia has been writing his senator, Saxby Chambliss on the imminent loss of Flight Service Stations to the Lockheed-Martin contract. The letters specifically ask the Senator to support S. 776, a bill that would make Flight Service an ‘inherently governmental’ function (i.e. not subject to outsourcing). Like too many others, the Senator’s response is hilarious:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the outsourcing of
maintenance jobs by American airline carriers. It is good to hear
from you.

The safety and vitality of our airline industry were issues of the
highest importance to lawmakers here in Washington, D.C., long before the
attacks on September 11, 2001. Since then, however, the airlines
have come under considerable economic strain, and the government has tried
to institute policies aimed at alleviating this crisis while ensuring the
security of air travel. American jobs in the airline industry have
also felt the affects of these trends, especially in Georgia.
Airlines across the country are laying off employees and furloughing
pilots and flight crews at unheard of rates. The financial bailouts
and heightened role of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
are just a few examples.

Someone needs to ask the Senator who it is that reads and responds to his mail.

Friday, September 16, 2005


ATC Zero in Jersey- Part 2

We mentioned in our post ‘ATC Zero in Jersey’ the loss of Millville Flight Service Station (MIV) due to a roof collapse. There was a hope that the station would be up and running in as little as two weeks. Those hopes have now faded; expect MIV to be closed for good.

The first indication was a scheduled meeting to discuss the future of the building and its tenants, including MIV. The Delaware River Bay Authority scheduled a meeting with an FAA representative, John Harris, on the 7th. Mr. Harris did not show up.

A Delaware pilot group asked the FAA to expedite the re-opening of MIV, only to be told that the FAA considers the facility closed permanently. Lockheed agrees.

One recent crash has lead to some questions over the lack of services.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Injunction Function

Last Thursday there was a hearing in D.C. The issue at hand was an injunction filed by Flight Service controller union NAATS to stop the Lockheed contract from taking effect until their age discrimination complaint can be heard and ruled on in court. The charge is that the contracting out adversely impacts controllers based on their age; a large portion are over 40 (the threshold for such complaints) and many will suffer major financial damage through total loss of retirement benefits just before becoming eligible to claim them. The decision on whether or not to grant the injunction should he handed down this week. NAATS president Kate Breen is optimistic about the outcome.

We, on the other hand, are skeptical that this will be a successful venture. As we understand it, an injunction can only be issued under very particular circumstances: 1) plaintiff (NAATS) shows a good chance of prevailing on the merits in court. 2) no other person will be harmed by the delay. There are other tests, but let’s look at these two.

In the first case, NAATS can only win a discrimination suit on court if age is substantially the only apparent factor driving the outsourcing decision. But while the FAA has publicly put forth the ‘aging workforce’ argument up front, they’ve also listed a number of other reasons to contract out FSS, such as inherent inefficiencies, and old technology and infrastructure. To the second point, it can be argued that Lockheed, who has invested a lot of money in this contract, could suffer financially if there is a delay. It has been reported that one of the NAATS witnesses stated that the controllers will be hurt, not exclusively, but worse than Lockheed.

Some who attended the injunction hearing are heartened by the fact that the judge took the apparently unusual step of allowing NAATS to present witnesses as well as a power point presentation (normally it's just two lawyers talking). We’re not so sure this is a good sign. The judge could simply have been closing all possible doors to an appeal, knowing from the pre-hearing briefs that NAATS stood very little chance.

A caveat to all the above; we are speculating in an area where we have no expertise, and hope that we are very wrong.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Help for Katrina’s Victims

The blogosphere is a marvelous place. This past weekend a ‘blog-a-thon’ was held to raise money over the weekend, and they’ve hit the $1,000,000 mark. We were unable to make the proper connection with the host blog, Truth Laid Bear, and take part, so allow us to take a moment and have our say now.

We Flight Service Controllers have had to deal with a lot this past year and half of us are facing substantial losses at the hands of the FAA. But even those of us who will be turned to the street starting in 7 months will still have our homes, families, and lives intact. The same cannot be said for the victims of Katrina, which may turn out to be the largest natural disaster in our country’s history. They don’t know where their families are. They may, in fact, be gone. They have lost not only jobs but also the means to find one. Their homes may be simply looted or completely destroyed.

We don’t have the gift of inspirational prose that others posses, so please excuse us if we quote Winston Churchill: “We have not journeyed across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.”

Blogger Austin Bay adds the following: “There's no America out there except America to respond to it. We've got to do it ourselves.”

If you haven’t made a contribution to Katrina relief yet, please do so now. We’d like to suggest the following fast responders:

Samaritan’s Purse

Operation Katrina Soldiers Relief Fund (run by Soldiers Angels)

Mercy Corps

World Vision

In the heart of New Orleans is a church that, by all reports, is deeply connected to the surrounding community. They will be good stewards of any check you can send:

Canal Street Presbyterian Church
4302 Canal St.
New Orleans, LA 70119

Or you can use their Paypal link here.

If you’re connected to a church, consider adopting Canal or one of the other churches in the Katrina affected areas You can find lists and links to other lists on Hugh Hewitt’s blog.

Dozens of additional charities can be found here. Please find your favorite and make a donation.

Thank you!

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