Saturday, January 07, 2006


Flash Paper

What follows is only tangential to Flight Service, but we found it interesting anyway.

On December 22nd, AOPA posted a story titled “Be Careful what you wish for – user fees could hurt those that want them the most.” The item cites a white paper, "Turbulence ahead: How user fees could ground the FAA," authored by one Darryl Jenkins and dated December 7, 2005. AOPA culls various quotes from the work, but there’s one problem: no link to actual the study itself, only a picture of the cover to show that yes, Virginia, there actually is such a study. In the internet information age this is curious enough, but if one reads to the bottom of the page another citation can be found; it was commissioned by the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA). This is where our curiosity began to itch and questions began to press themselves.

First of all, where is Mr. Jenkins’ white paper? Googling the title yields only three references, but no links to the paper itself. A search of the NATCA web site turns up nothing. We make no claim to be super sleuths on the web, but if it’s out there, we think it would have turned up with the effort that was put forth.

So why doesn’t NATCA admit to and release the study? A conclusion is implied: NATCA has a study that says a few things that they want made public, but includes items that do not serve their interests. So they’re sitting on it. Our suspicions are supported by this slide presentation (.pdf file) where Mr. Jenkins urges the aviation industry to operate closer to costs and prepare for some significant pain and upheaval. This includes labor. Query; if airlines and their personnel must traumatically re-vamp, would not some of the same be expected of air traffic control?

Another obvious question is who is Darryl Jenkins? This is easier. We dislike the ad-homonym approach, but without the study there’s little else to examine. Google his name and what emerges is an impressive aviation pedigree. He’s the former director of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University and is currently a visiting professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He as been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and on the PBS News Hour, just to name two of a long list of media appearances. In other words, he’s no slouch.

Question four; why did NATCA commission the study? Our guess is that NATCA sees the on-coming contracting/privatization train wreck that will do to the centers and towers what it did to Flight Service, and NATCA doesn’t like that at all. Keep in mind that private contract towers are already an integral part of the aviation landscape. Expanding the program to busier FAA towers would be easy and halting the spread of the practice is at the top of NATCAs to-do list. NATCA probably views the political playing field as follows: user fees, should they become a reality, is a definite (maybe even decisive) step in that direction. However, stopping user fees will tend to stall further contracting or privatization by the FAA.

So how did AOPA get Mr. Jenkins’ paper? NATCA probably feels that public opposition to user fees is not a good front-and-center issue for them, or that direct appeals to pilots on issues such as this is not their cup of tea right now. But they do have a friendly bedfellow in AOPA, who is viscerally opposed to user fees as well as contracted/privatized approach controls (TRACONs) and centers (ARTCCs). Had AOPA funded the study it could have been dismissed as a self-serving, pre-determined work. Since it is nowhere else to be found, we conclude that NATCA commissioned the study and did a hand-off to AOPA who promoted it as work requested by a third party. It would be interesting to know if NATCA gave AOPA the entire study or just selected parts. As we’ve seen, AOPA president Phil Boyer appears more than willing to act as unquestioning lackey when he thinks it will serve his purpose.

A curious subtitle to Mr. Jenkins’ work appears on the bottom of the cover, “An Assessment of The Proposed Changes to User Fees.” This begs the question, fees proposed by whom? As far as we know, the FAA has yet to formally suggest a fee structure. This makes an examination of the work even more important. What exactly are Mr. Jenkins’ assumptions? Are they his best-guess scenario, or did NATCA give him a straw man to knock down?

Finally, we can’t help but be amused at NATCAs resulting contradiction; they castigate the FAA for hiding the slide presentation of their business plan, but they can’t bring themselves to release the study that AOPA is promoting for them.

We certainly haven’t taken this as far as we could, but it’s getting over-long for this blog’s purpose. However, NATCA members might have reason to pick up on these thoughts. Their union should think twice about falling into AOPAs orbit of how to do political business; Mr. Boyer’s recent history of stepping before looking shows that such a partnership is a minefield best avoided.

Friday, January 06, 2006



Not too long ago the FAA put a ‘slide show’ on the internet to illustrate their business outlook for the next ten or so years. For some reason it didn’t last long in the public domain; down it came, off their web site after (apparently) only a day or two. NATCA, in a surprisingly useful effort, captured the slides and has reproduced them here. You can also read NATCA president Carr’s comments on the slide show follies here, here, and here.

For our purposes a few other things stand out. One is an official re-statement of the cost-savings of the Flight Service contract to Lockheed Martin. The savings are still “officially” estimated at 2.2 billion, but over 13 years instead of the previously advertised 10. For those who enjoy direct mathematical comparisons, that equates to 1.7 billion over 10 years. Now just where have we heard that figure before…

Also of great interest to those following this blog is an up-tick in the call for user fees, specifically on this slide entitled “Something Must Be Done.” That ‘something’ is in reference to the FAAs anticipated revenue gap. And prominently displayed under ‘Potential Sources’ for additional income is ‘Cost-Based User Fees.’ What was once just a whisper last year is now growing into an official position.

We’ve always told AOPA president Phil Boyer that cozying up to the FAA is not going to secure his pet issue (stopping such user fees), least of all his uninformed cheerleading of contracting out the FAA’s Flight Service Stations.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?