Thursday, September 13, 2007


Farewell Follies

There’s something to look at in the annual speech by FAA Administrator. Two quotes just don’t seem to mesh very well. First, there’s the self pat on the back:

“If you want to be a first-rate organization, you’ve got to operate like one. From the creation of the ATO back in 2004 to the competitive outsourcing of automated flight service stations, we’ve shown that this organization is capable of handling change and big-ticket items. [emphasis added]”

It’s difficult to square this with an earlier statement in the same speech:

“With all of that said, the focus, and success, of the Flight Plan has been its link to the organizational success increase — the OSI. The big question, as always, are we going to make it? This year, going into the final weeks, I can’t predict whether or not we’ll hit 90 percent of our goals and receive the full payout. As of today, we know we have three red targets that will stay red for the remainder of the year. Those are the commercial fatal accident rate, the average daily airport capacity at the big seven metro airports, and our customer satisfaction rating. That last one, which comes from the 2007 commercial pilots survey, was an unexpected reversal. We're still analyzing the specific comments submitted by the pilots, but they seem to be concerned about three things: the response they’ve been getting from Flight Service Stations during the transition, the perennial issue of standardization among FSDOs, and the potential for user fees. [emphasis added]”

The OSI (organizational success increase) is an annual ‘bonus’ of increased base pay given to all FAA employees if the agency meets it’s preset goals for the fiscal year. Three items are in ‘red,’ one of which is customer satisfaction, brought about, in part, by the poor performance of the contracted flight service stations.

So, the FAA has shown that it is “first rate” by providing bad service via contracting. This could result in an interesting justice…FAA employees my not get their full pay increase because of how badly the contract was handled. For an organization trying to paint itself as ‘successful’ they obviously didn’t know how one of their key components functioned, thus couldn’t tell if they were letting a properly written contract. They weren’t, of course, and the result is pilot dissatisfaction that might finally hit FAA employees in the pocketbook.

Flight Service was always the FAA’s ‘front line’ air traffic function, the agency’s daily ambassadors to the users, if you will. Blakey may claim an “unexpected reversal” in pilot satisfactions, but the AFSS Controllers, who know pilots and their needs best, said from the get-go what would happen.

Monday, September 03, 2007


Bad memories

John Carr left the FAA after losing his bid to keeping his job as NATCA president. Taking his bat and ball and going home? Did he forget how to actually control traffic while acting as President and couldn’t face the scope again? Hard to say…

But his bluster continues on his blog and there seems to be no change to the self-serving, self-delusional reading of his tenure as NATCA president. In this post he attempts to remind people of “…the lengths to which NATCA went to try and get the Flight Service folks transferred into Centers, Towers and TRACONS.”

As Flight Service controllers who lived through the A-76 outsourcing to Lockheed Martin, this caused us to laugh out loud. John Carr and NATCA did nothing of substance to assist us in 2004-2005, or anytime since. Oh, there may have been some pretty statements and a few crocodile tears but there was never anything approaching “lengths” to come to the aid of his AFSS controlling brethren.

Really, though, NATCA has long looked at Flight Service in the same manner the FAA did…second class controllers (at best), red-headed step-child, etc. etc. It used to be common for FSS controllers to ‘cross options’ and move into a tower or even center. But NATCA pushed for a job bid form that punishes FSS controllers by deducting ‘bid points’ for each year they did not work in a tower or center. This effectively removed many previously eligible FSS controllers from consideration for tower and center positions.

Then there was the ‘seniority rule’ that NATCA adopted a few conventions ago. Seniority used to be based on ‘2152’ time, which included FSS controllers. But NATCA changed that, sending multi-decade controllers to the bottom of the seniority list at towers and centers.

The only “lengths” Mr. Carr goes to involves spin of the most extreme sort.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Maid Marion and the Train Wreck

Imagine the following scenario…a railroad engineer accelerates a train to top speed toward a broken bridge. Once the train reaches top speed he leaves the engine cab. With the train unable to stop before reaching the bridge, a second engineer takes control and does not prevent the crash. In fact, the actions of the second engineer are debatable as to any positive effect in mitigating the situation, and may have made it worse.

Question: who is most responsible for the crash, the first engineer or the second?

To use the reasoning found in some Air Traffic Control (ATC) blogs, the answer is the second. Everything that is wrong with ATC can be laid at the doorstep of departing FAA administrator Marion Blakey, and all was hunky-dory prior to her arrival.

Let’s add a second facet to our initial scenario: the passengers on the train were cheering the first engineer as the train gathered speed, yelling “Faster! Faster!” while accusing the second of “malfeasance in office, perjury, theft, and treason.”

In FAA terms, the first engineer can be thought of as Ms. Blakey’s predecessor, Jane Garvey. During her term, controller compensation skyrocketed, operational discipline declined, infrastructure problems went unaddressed. Controllers grew to expect that they also controlled the FAA, in effect at times, displacing local management. No wonder they enjoyed her reign and despise Blakey’s, who saw the out-of-control work area, sky-high compensation structure, loose work rules, and tried to do something about them.

This is not to say that Blakey made the right choices; we disagree with some of them ourselves. But there’s no question that ATC operations were out of control and needed to be reigned in. The excesses of the previous administrator set the table for a financial train-wreck that led to the AFSS outsourcing. No matter what the “right” choices were that Blakey did or did not make, they would have raised the ire of her NATCA detractors.

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