Friday, April 07, 2006


Game, Set...

As we mentioned before, it’s contract negotiation time for the union that represents air traffic controllers in centers and towers (NATCA). We made our thoughts known long ago (“The Archaic Playbook”, 12/1/05 and “Mr. Carr Gets a Blog”, 12/11/05) and haven’t seen reason to reassess.

Suffice it to say that NATCA President Mr. Carr has gone weepy lately, crying crocodile tears over the fact the FAA has left the bargaining table and gone to Congress. As presently written, the law gives Congress 60 days to respond to the FAA/NATCA impasse. Otherwise, the FAA gets what it wants.

Now we are no fan of this particular set of rules, being the victim of same. But likewise, pardon us if we don’t cry in our beer over the fortunes of NATCA, instead rejoining with a round of “We told you so.” Let us go so far to as to say that NATCA is at least partly responsible for the position they find themselves in now.

On 12/11/05, we stated that “A ‘firewall’ for NATCA was available during that A-76 'study', but they chose to ignore it. Mr. Carr doesn’t seem to have a very far or wide tactical vision.” Our point was that NATCA could have short circuited the FAAs negotiating methodology by taking the side of Flight Service during those earlier contract negotiations, out-sourcing study (A-76), the efforts to keep the FAA honest and the service in-house during the contract contest period and beyond. It’s not like they weren’t asked, but apparently Flight Service was beneath their station.

Yes, yes, it can be said that NATCA wasn’t in the business of representing AFSS controllers. But then there’s that “tactical vision” thing. If Mr. Carr had any foresight, he would have served his membership best by watching, learning, and derailing FAA methodology while he had the chance. Instead, the Blakey Cannonball gained momentum and is now in the process of rolling over NATCA. The membership would be correct in demanding some answers of Mr. Carr as to why he didn’t take action to stop or at least slow this juggernaut while he had the chance.

Meanwhile, in the now-contracted Flight Service Stations, the general sympathy level tends to be rather low, with stated reactions along the lines of “Now they know what it's like,” and other less charitable observations.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


April Fool

Let us now revisit the promised land of upgraded Flight Service facilities under the direction of the contract awarded to Lockheed Martin by the FAA.

A recap first. The Lockheed plan called for two major equipment upgrades; new computer data architecture (FS21) and voice-switching (i.e., radio calls could be transferred between facilities). These would allow for consolidation to begin six months after the contract went into effect on October 4th, 2005. In other words, right about now, facilities were supposed to start closing their doors. You will also recall that AOPA’s Phil Boyer was given a personal presentation of these new technologies, during which “…all [he] could say was ‘Wow!’” At that time we called these promised upgrades nothing but ‘beta and vapor’ which had never been shown to work in the National Airspace System (NAS).

So what has happened since 10/4/05?

First, Lockheed fired its voice switch sub-contractor, Redflex, last November; things apparently weren’t progressing very well. This effectively placed the voice-switch ability back to square one.

Then, the Boyer-touted FS21 was discovered to be incompatible with the NAS data flow (as we predicted) and could not be readily ‘plugged in.’ Lockheed apparently attempted to buy a working NAS compatible database (called OASIS) from Harris Corporation. Harris had paired with the losing FAA bid to keep Fight Service in the government, and OASIS was already installed at a number of facilities.

One letter we received over the transom stated in part;
“…Lockheed has now briefed the FAA that neither of these functions will be ready until first quarter of ’07! …I know that Lockheed was trying desperately to bring in some outside help to try to stop this huge schedule slip. (My company is a contractor on the FAA’s OASIS program and Lockheed was trying hard to essentially buy our software and expertise --- but they didn’t want to pay anything near what it was worth!)…”

The upshot is what we originally anticipated…major delays due to a lack of system knowledge. The first station closure will be more than a year behind schedule (a generally good thing in our book), and all the promises of cost savings and better technologies remain locked in Mr. Boyer’s dreams.

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