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Disclaimer: Through the course of my work on netroots events, I have had a limited working relationship with NATCA, encouraging them to become more involved in the netroots via partnerships and sponsorships.

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A number of years ago, I had the good fortune of befriending an air traffic controller. Like cops, medical personnel, and others in high risk or stressful jobs, they have a tendency to flock together. One air traffic controller friend soon turned into a small posse and I've been thankful to know them all. They are talented and dedicated, often excelling in other areas, like a lot of "type A" personalities. I've known air traffic controllers to go on to become doctors, lawyers, CPA's, chefs, professional photographers, and much more -- all in addition to their career as a controller -- often doing those other jobs as a "hobby." To say they are a smart bunch is an understatement. Day in and day out, they are responsible for tens or hundreds of thousands of lives and there is no question being an air traffic controller is one of the most stressful jobs in all the land. To get an idea of how many flights are in the air at any given time, check out the NATCA website for real time flight info. I've had the opportunity to visit an air traffic control facility and can tell you that I was truly amazed, impressed, and frankly a little frightened at how many flights are in the air at any given time. It is the most complicated puzzle you could imagine -- with thousands of moving parts, changing conditions -- and real lives at risk. These men and women deserve enormous credit for keeping our skies safe.

So, imagine my horror - as a frequent flier - when they began to complain louder and more frequently about the unpleasant and often dangerous policies put in place during the Bush administration. The problems go back decades, but have been exacerbated and even accelerated under the current administration. The controllers are seeing forced mandatory overtime, decreased pay, less training, fewer vacation/personal days, and a national radar system filled with antiquated equipment. The low morale has caused many experienced controllers to retire as soon as they become eligible. In fact, since 2006, more than 20% of the workforce has quit or retired, largely due to the increasingly unsatisfactory working conditions. Many veteran controllers (hired in 1981 during the Reagan administration) left at their earliest possible retirement dates and attrition rates continue to beat all previous projections.

As if losing 20% of a veteran force weren't scary enough, the FAA - under the Bush administration and now former FAA Administrator Marion Blakely - began privatizing the training of controllers. In the process they lowered applicant standards, provide less training, and offer lower pay with fewer benefits to the freshest faces at America's radar screens.

And while America's air traffic controllers oversee more than half of all air traffic worldwide, the equipment they use is already out-of-date, often faulty, and well on its way to becoming obsolete. Now former FAA administrator Marion Blakely proposed a new system, dubbed "NextGen", that is supposed to solve all our air traffic woes and be in place in the year 2020. Unfortunately, the FAA has taken exactly ZERO input from our air traffic controllers on the proposed new system. Would you build a system for removing gall bladders or repairing a heart and not include input from surgeons or medical personnel? The very people who have the knowledge and know-how to help successfully create the new system have been completely frozen out of the process. Many see this as another way to demoralize the work force and as yet another union busting tool from the anti-union and anti-worker Bush administration. The FAA has even gone out of its way to lend the appearance of controllers being involved in the process, but NATCA has not been invited to participate whatsoever. Complicating matters even more, the FAA hasn't even explained what Next Gen really is and how it would fix the system. As one NATCA representative put it -- "Next Gen is widely acclaimed and rarely explained." Never mind the fact that a plan to have it in place around 2020 is too little too late.

Aside from the ancient radar equipment, the FAA has set-out to cut corners at every opportunity. In August of 2007 there was a radar and radio outage in Memphis, TN, which caused hundreds of flights to be canceled or delayed. Unfortunately for travelers that day, the radar and radio phone lines went out. In a normal situation, the back-up lines would have been used. But, in a cost-cutting effort, the FAA did not install the necessary back-up lines and when the main line went out, Memphis was shut down. In a pinch, air traffic controllers resorted to using their own personal cell phones to navigate traffic until the system was back online, but the entire incident could have been avoided by installing the recommended back-up equipment. Bringing down expenses is one thing, knowingly endangering thousands in the name of saving a few bucks is entirely another.

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The problems outlined here are only the tip of the iceberg. They demand serious and immediate consideration from the incoming Obama administration and should be a top priority for Transportation Secretary nominee Ray LaHood. Based on my conversations with NATCA representatives, they are hopeful Ray LaHood and the as-yet-named incoming FAA Administrator will address these issues head-on and give them the priority they deserve -- the priority we all deserve as members of the flying public.

While I'm no expert on the FAA or air traffic control systems, I've learned enough in recent years to understand we have a genuine crisis brewing....one that will end tragically if we don't get out ahead of these issues.

NATCA is eager to help us - the netroots and the traveling public at-large - understand the critical issues we face in the immediate future.  Pat Forrey, the President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has graciously agreed to be with us "live" this morning to answer your questions and will be available in the comments section below.

Welcome, Mr. Forrey and our air traffic control brethren -- you are cleared for questions. I'll start with the first question --- what can we do to help?

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:00 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  That image map... (11+ / 0-)

    I've seen it before and it never fails to scare the f.u.c.k. out of me. Like juggling a couple of dozen eggs with oily hands.

    The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

    by va dare on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:04:19 AM PST

    •  Oh, sorry... (13+ / 0-)

      Great diary, Scout Finch.

      The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

      by va dare on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:04:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  so all those specks (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Scout Finch, timbuck, MsGrin

        are not just specks of dust?  Those are planes in the air?!

        •  Those specks are just the IFR flights (21+ / 0-)

          This view does not depict the general aviation aircraft flying under visual flight rules and in contact with ATC.

          •  I love reading about this stuff... (4+ / 0-)

            Just before my flight.

            Dick Cheney... before he dicks you!

            by Ohio Angst on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:26:20 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Smart pilots support NATCA. You should too. (18+ / 0-)

            Thank you Scout Finch, and thank you Pat Forrey from NTACA for posting this.

            I'm a pilot.  Not the airline kind, I fly primarily for recreation (BTW, if you've never flown a small plane, try it sometime - it's great fun, and gives you a perspective you can't get otherwise).  I don't even fly IFR - I'm stricly a VFR pilot (jargon: VFR - flying in nice weather, primarily using visual references, somewhat more informal than IFR.  IFR is Instrument Flight Rules, where you're always "in the system" being guided by ATC, and you fly on the basis of various instrument and navigation systems - all airline flights are IFR).

            Even though I don't use the ATC system as heavily as someone who is flying IFR, I still use the system around its edges (working with ATC control tower staff at the larger airports I visit, getting critical weather information, filing/closing flight plans, getting radar advisory service on longer flights, etc.), I still have the utmost respect and appreciation of the work done by ATC staff. They are very good.  We have the best system in the world (even with all its flaws), and although it's obviously a tough job, the ATC professionals that guide us are great. I try to thank them every flight.

            What Kossacks may not know (and what Scout Finch didn't ention) is the fact that the Bush administration was moving steadily to try and outsource and privatize a variety of air traffic control services.  In fact, they succeeded in doing with part of the ATC system: Flight Servive Stations ("FSS").  FSS provides a variety of services to pilots - opening and closing flight plans, providing pre-flight weather briefings and in-flight weather information, etc.  This is (or I should say, was) a great service, provided by dedicated, knowledgeable professionals. For egnerations this has been considered a service best provided by the federal government - and I can attest to the fact that it worked well.

            A few years ago, Bush bid it out to contractors.  Ultimately, its responsibilities were handed over to a for-profit corporation (Lockheed-Martin), who know runs the service. The result? Lockheed was looking for ways to cut costs, so they consolidated 58 FSS facilities acroos the country into just 20. The result was something like calling Bombay for technical support: under the previous, government-run system, a pilot would speak with a local FSS staffer who actually knew the blocal area, knew its weather, and was familiar with the kinds of things that pilots would encounter in that area. Not anymore. Now, when I radio to FSS, I sometimes end up speaking with someone a thousand miles away, who has no idea what the hell is going on in my part of the country, who has no local knowledge of weather or airport conditions. When the FSS system was privatized, most of the veteran staffers (people who were very good at their jobs) were lost. They didn't want to uproot their families and move hundreds of miles to the new for-profit FSS "call centers" where they would lose out on many of the longstanding benefits they enjoyed.

            As a result, the Flight Service Station system is now a shell of its former self. Where it was once efficient, thorough, and a great system that pilots knew they could rely on, now it's a thinner, unreliable, hit-or-miss experience, and not surprisingly usage is down (along with pilot satsfaction).  I use the FSS sytem less now, which is not good for anyone.

            Why should non-pilots care about this system that's invisible to those who don't use it? Because the Bush adminstration was pushing to do the same thing to the larger ATC system that everyone - including your airline flight.

            There are some things that are best left to the federal government, things that should not be vended out to the lowest bidder. Things like fire departments. And air traffic control services. ATC is something that's inherantly a government function. Not something that should be done on a for-profit basis.  Duh!

            When it's a dark and stormy night, and your flight is weaving its way between the thunderstorms, threading through complex airspace filled with a lot of other planes, you are going to be glad that the men and women staffing the radar screens in the ATC Centers and directing traffic in the towers are well-paid, knowledgeable, dedicated, veteran professionals who are not worried about cutting every cost, managing call times (or the aviation equivalent). You're going to be glad to know that they haven't been forced to work excessively long shifts, put up with petty BS from their manager, or be otherwise distracted from doing their best.

            Pilots support NATCA and our ATC controllers - they're our partners in the towers and in the ATC centers.  The general public should, too.

            Let's make sure we let the new administration know that we do.

            •  What's even worse. (10+ / 0-)

              I'm an Air Traffic Controller.  I know a few ex-FSS people.  Lockheed-Martin wasn't even the lowest bidder, when the bids were being accepted, Lockheed actually came in HIGHER than what the then current system said it could do it for.  But what a surprise Marion Blakely, the FAA administrator, and her sister had stake in Lockheed-Martin.  So Lockheed-Martin was able to get a contract and then gut the system.

              •  We can't let the same thing happen (7+ / 0-)

                to ATC services.

                Frankly, Lockheed's FSS system sucks.  Every pilot I know has been disappointed with the service after the privatization took place.  Everyone expected some rough patches immediately aftre the change-over, but it seems to have just gone downhill and stayed there.

                I hope NATCA remembers that pilots want you to be able to do your jebs well, and please look to us (AOPA et al) as allies.  We're in this together (along with anyone who rides the airlines).

              •  Family member (0+ / 0-)

                was FSS. When the Bush administration privatized Flight Safety, the employees who were Federal became Lockheed employees.

                My sister had 18 years in with the FAA, 2 years shy of reaching her retirement. When Lockheed took over the FAA essentially blocked these FSS employees from moving jobs to another position in the FAA.

                Lockheed didn't have anyone to do the work the FSS people had been doing, they needed all the FSS people to operate Flight Safety.

                My sister tried to move to a ATC job in the system to protect her retirement and was locked out for over a year. She became a Lockheed employee.

                She was one of the lucky ones. She applied to any and all ATC tower positions all over the country and finally was able to secure a position in a tower. Mostly because the tower was so short of controllers the FAA had to let them hire former FSS employee.

                FSS had their own union which tried to stop the privatization and tried to protect the members. They were not very effective. I don't think the Lockheed employees are represented by the union anymore. I do know that Lockheed was holding mandatory meetings to tell the ex FSS people about how they didn't need a union. I understand that Lockheed was not truthful at these meetings, mis-representing many "facts".

            •  Any chance the FSS privatization (0+ / 0-)

              could be reversed?

            •  Excellent post, Leftyboy... (3+ / 0-)

              ...I blogged quite a bit on the FSS contracting out situation on my blog, www.faafollies.com.  (Sorry to pimp it, but what the heck.)

              You can read the specific post at:

              http://www.faafollies.com/...

              What it boils down to is this:  Lockheed Martin's terrible service wound up cutting the number of pilots using FSS by 50%.  This means that the federal government is now effectively paying DOUBLE what it used to on a per-contact basis.

              What's more, the service is worse.

              So let's see.  More expensive, less effective, and driving away customers.

              Yep, that's the Bush Administration for you!

              The contract could probably be canceled by the FAA early, and indeed it SHOULD be canceled if it's at all possible.  Whether it will or not... I dunno.  Probably unlikely; it would require a buyout of LM, I'm sure, and they'll want to soak the FAA for as much as they could get.

      •  I know, I know... amazing. n/t (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        proudprogressiveCA, MsGrin

        The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

        by va dare on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:07:25 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  "10:40 EST today" - a LIGHT travel day. (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        meg, cosette, Scout Finch, va dare, MsGrin

        Sunday morning is a low traffic time of the week.  Check it out tomorrow, if you want a sphincter tightener.

    •  I agree with Ray Gun..Fire em all..They make tooo (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      7November

      much money and for what..Anybody could do their job..What would Ray Gun doooo...?

      "Better a little late, than a little never"..Julian Winston

      by Johnny Rapture on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:06:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I notice that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      va dare, Blue Eyed Buddhist

      there's not a lot of dots in the airspace above the PNW at the moment!

      (Given the weather conditions, not surprising)

  •  State of the NAS (55+ / 0-)

    Hi everyone, this is Patrick Forrey, President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, here to take your questions.  As you may know the nation's air traffic controller workforce has been working under imposed work rules for over two years now -- work rules forced upon us by the FAA after it refused to ratify a collective bargaining agreement.  These work rules, such as telling controllers they cannot use sick leave for fatigue, have spurred a record wave of attrition.  Now we're left with far too many trainees with not nearly enough veteran air traffic controllers to train them.  Add to that the fact that we're working with out of date equipment and it isn't hard to understand why your best bet is to take the train.

    As to your question Scout, everyone should write and/or call their Congressional representatives and demand that the FAA resolve the labor relations problems between management and their aviation safety professionals.

    •  Welcome Pat Forrey and our ATC brethren. (17+ / 0-)

      What are your thoughts on the Ray LaHood as Sec Transportation nominee?

      •  Ray LaHood (24+ / 0-)

        I think the selection of Secretary-designee LaHood took everyone by surprise.  The President-elect said he would populate his cabinet with one at least Republican and it seems that Transportation got the call.  I think the initial message to the transportation work force, particularly in the FAA, was discouragement, especially after 8-years of policies and ideology that has left the Agency, the NAS, and most of the country's infrastructure in a shambles.

        However, when you look into Secretary-designee LaHood's record, his  legislative history shows that he is moderate when it comes to policy decisions.  We believe that the President-elect chose LaHood for many reasons, one being his ability to work across party lines and the tremendous respect he garners from other members of Congress.  We look forward to having some very pointed discussions about where this Agency needs to go before the system collapses.

        •  What's his view on privatization? (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          themank, eztempo, kurt, BeninSC, joycemocha

          I'm a general aviation (small aircraft) pilot and I strongly support NATCA (see my post above: "Smart pilots support NATCA. You should too"). Non-pilots should know that the nation's ATC staff are the best in the world, and they do a great job (under challenging circumstances) keeping you and me safe. Let's not screw that up! I thank them (and I thank Patrick Forrey) for their dedication.

          The traveling public should know that the republicans have been pushing - hard - for several years to try and privatize air traffic control services - in effect, turning away all the veteran professionals who know their jobs, and contracting out the same jobs to the lowest bidder. They already succeeded in doing this to one part of the system (Flight Service Stations - used primarily by smaller aircraft; see my post above for more details). This is NOT something that should be vended out to a for-profit corporation!

          We need to let the administration know that we don't want ATC services bidded out to a contractor. We would lose many of the veterans who know their jobs best, and the quality of ATC services -- and your safety -- would suffer.

          Patrick, do you know aything about where Ray LaHood stands on privatization?

          Thank you for visiting here, I hope you will come back from time to time.

    •  Without getting personal, how was Marion Blakey? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fabian, kurt, Blue Eyed Buddhist

      http://en.wikipedia.org/...

      I only ask because she's an alum of the university I teach at, and she gave the graduation speech a couple years ago.  The university was right proud of her, while some colleagues and I were wondering what a Bush appointed FAA Administrator might be like.

      As an Iraqi-American academic born and raised in New Orleans, this voter is not pleased.

      by naltikriti on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:25:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  So, it's still NATCA's fault if planes come down. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy

      I'd think that puts NATCA squarely at the FAA table in the new Obama admin. Obama won't even need political  cover from the opposition (like a Rick Warren type to justify the LGBT community at the table) to invite you!

      Lots of Bilderbergers and the CFR kids will have to resort to transatlantic ships if they lose confidence in the ATC system.  wtf?

      Is it just "budget" science gone awry? wtf is BushCheney about? sheer stupidity? That NY racetrack scares the sh*t out of me! I'm not flying out of here ever again. Trains or cars for me.

      "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." -Thomas Jefferson

      by ezdidit on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:44:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for doing this Patrick! (11+ / 0-)

      My Dad, besides trying to keep the maglev initiative running, worked for certain high-tech companies on DOT contracts for the creation and implementation of the original air traffic control systems and their upgrades for many years.

      I remember when Reagan decided to bust the PATCO union, he also cut the budget for system upgrades. Dad's employer continued bidding on contracts to upgrade the systems, but the biggest "improvements" they managed to make during the Reagan years were updates to make the documentation clearer, and designing better training programs.

      Dad retired more than a decade ago. I get the sad feeling from this story that the systems currently in use might be familiar to him...

      A few years ago, a co-worker who was a software systems security expert was brought in to do some consulting on the air traffic control systems at the Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, MA. He said he was terrified by the combination of antiquated machinery and lack of adequate concern about the system's potential vulnerability.

      You don't need to protect me from someone else's spelling, grammar, extra posts on a topic, or use of quotations.

      by mataliandy on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:51:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  vacuum tubes (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mataliandy

        I remember a kossack recently commenting that some important FAA hardware is still of the vacuum tube ilk.

        •  Wow (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          count, Scout Finch

          That says pretty much all we need to know...

          You don't need to protect me from someone else's spelling, grammar, extra posts on a topic, or use of quotations.

          by mataliandy on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 07:35:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  If they haven't updated from that Curtis Wright (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mataliandy, count

          Servo tube technology we are in big trouble!

          I have a picture of some of it. I actually used to work on it.
          Like back in the early 1970's.....

          NOW is time to uphold the Constitution and protect it from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

          by Mulkum on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 07:54:32 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I worked on some of the new systems installed (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          count, Scout Finch

          I installed TMA and ERIDS at several ATC's around the nation.  Those systems worked as designed and well.

          TMA (Traffic Management Advisor) works with the group of Air Traffic Controllers who schedule the incoming traffic to the airports in their region.  

          ERIDS puts the 20+ Manuals on line and right at the radar screens for the TC's to use instead of getting up to go to the end of the row to look up something.  This also includes all of the Air Traffic maps for the entire CONUS.  

          The last project was to replace the old mainframes with new equipment.  The old mainframes are being forced to retire due to IBM refusing to support them.  The new equipment is 1500 pieces in 3 rows of systems racks.  This is supposed to lead up to Free-Flight.  This replacement has been wrought with problems.  First problem was finding programmers who knew how to translate the old computer language the mainframe was programed into C++/ADA.  Then the equipment would hardly talk to each other without translator equipment. Then needed analog-to-digital translators - old radar signals.....  Yep over budget and not up to promises.  

          Good Luck guys. I supported NATCA even as a contractor.

          The voice of silence does just as much damage as hateful words.

          by doingbusinessas on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 12:50:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Wow! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      meg, Scout Finch, eztempo

      ...it isn't hard to understand why your best bet is to take the train.

      It must be bad for u to say that.

      Is that an official endorsement of Federal investment in high speed rail?

      I imagine increased competition between the two modes might benifit the quality of ATC work conditions and passenger safety for both systems?

      Moving on, finally.

      by fisheye on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:54:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Hats off to the NATCA (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kurt

      I live in Aurora IL. Home of the main control center for Chicago and Midwest air space.
      I literally could not believe that Regan with the stroke of a pen could fire an entire work force.

      BTW what did you folks think of the flick "Pushing Tin"? Any real life Billy Bob Thorton controllers?

      Peace

      Keith

      •  Pushing Tin... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Scout Finch

        is kind of a joke movie.  I mean, controllers tend to be loudmouth egotistical jerks, and I'm frequently amazed at the hotness factor of many controllers' wives (maybe not quite Angelina Jolie and Cate Blanchett hot, but pretty hot nonetheless!)

        And we have our share of weirdos.

        That said... well, it's a fictional movie, let's put it that way.  ;)

        But I have personally met the guy that John Cusack's character was (very loosely) based on.  He threatened to kick my ass in a little cafe in Sintra, Portugal, and all the other New York area controllers that knew the guy kind of looked nervous and backed away from the table a bit, because they thought he was going to do it.

        He didn't after I got in his face a bit.

        Anyway, we get a kick out of the movie, but it's more than a bit farfetched in places.  As you probably imagined.  ;)

    •  Sounds familiar (5+ / 0-)

      On the receiving end of the ledger, your customer, you and I know that these things are very true.  

      These work rules, such as telling controllers they cannot use sick leave for fatigue, have spurred a record wave of attrition.

      I deal with the same crap dealing with sick leave/fatigue and we get the same hammer.  Nobody seems to care until there is bent metal.  As a commercial pilot, I have watched the production go up, the pay go down, the barriers to enforce safety get sliced up like bread all in the name of the almighty dollar.  Without the professionalism of yourself and myself, I'm not sure we wouldn't have more bent metal.

      I used to feel that after I left Ops, I had a team following me from point of dispatch to the end of dispatch.  Now even before I leave Ops, I am on my own, with only the help of the crew and the controller on the radio.  Pretty sad, huh.  And talk about labor relations...ugh,I feel your pain.

      "Money trumps, uh, peace sometimes." -George W. Bush

      by Dahankster on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 10:15:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thank you Mr. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pollyusa

      Forrey for mentioning this.  My husband who is an ATC and that this is their main concern, will they be getting their contract back under LaHood?

    •  How does this compare to 1981? (0+ / 0-)

      I understand that the world of ATC has changed a lot in the last 27 years. However it still seems instructive to compare the fears being raised now with the fears raised when virtually all the controllers were fired in 1981 -- and if the fears expressed in 1981 "came to fruition".

      In 1981 there were grave warnings about how the replacement ATCs were not trained properly and lacked necessary experience. As a result, it was posited, flying would become less safe. This is much the storyline here.

      So, considering only incidents that were traced to ATC controller errors, how did death, injury, and/or property damage rates per commercial passenger-mile (or some other reasonable metric such as per takeoff/landing, per aircraft-mile) change from say 1978-1980 to 1982-1984? If there was an increase in these metrics after 1981, it would tend to increase the credibility of the concerns being voiced here now (and, unfortunately, if not, the inverse is true).

    •  Hello (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Scout Finch

      My husband and I worked in general aviation for many years, both for an FBO and in our own parts supply business. I remember well what happened in 1981, as well as the reasons for the strike. It ticked me off no end when St. Ronny fired everybody. Little did we realize that was just the opening shot in the war on aviation as we'd known it.

      We've been out of the field since Bush the smarter slammed the final nail in the coffin of what aviation used to be. But I keep my eye out for stories like this one. It's absolutely appalling to see that the very same working conditions that caused PATCO to strike 28 years ago are not only STILL in existence, but have actually gotten worse.

      God Speed to you, Sir. And I'll be writing one of those letters.

      Meddle not in the affairs of dragons... for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.

      by Pariah Dog on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 05:20:19 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm told not to fly on friday night.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, blueintheface

    ...by a friend of an air traffic controller.

    •  Eh... (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      meg, pollyusa, Ohio Angst, eztempo, kurt, LillithMc

      I think that kind of thing gets overblown sometimes.

      I'm an air traffic controller and I fly regularly.  My wife is a flight attendant and while I am definitely worried about her (I'm convinced that somewhere we're going to have a major collision, soon) the reality is that the odds are it won't be HER, or it won't be a flight that I'm on.

      But is the system less safe today than it was 8 years ago?  Absolutely.  I know the FAA would have kittens over that statement, and they'd have some evidence to back them up, but I believe that we do have some serious problems and issues that are being ignored.

      Should you avoid flying?  Well, that depends on you and your comfort with risk.  It's still a hell of a lot safer than driving.  ;)

  •  My neighbor (8+ / 0-)

    is an air traffic controller in Florida.  These guys should be viewed as SUPER HEROs with the lack of current equipment and the wonderful job they have done to keep our skies as safe as they are!

    What can we do?

  •  NATCA replaced PATCO (11+ / 0-)

    PATCO had a couple of small teeth, until Reagan destroyed it back in...1981.

    Yes We Did! Yes We Will!

    by TheOtherMaven on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:08:24 AM PST

    •  I was a member of PATCO (11+ / 0-)

      once upon a time. By the time of the strike, I was in a sister union, National Association of Air Traffic Specialists, so I continued working. But those of us in NAATS were afraid we'd be asked to staff posts for which we were not rated... thankfully, that didn't happen. But a lot of shit DID happen, and now it's history.

      I had no idea that this was going on, and my 1st thought is, there is nothing new under the sun. This is history repeating itself, and I foresee the same kinds of results.

      People in those days thought it was about money, but it was never about money. The money was good. It was about working 6 day weeks for 40 weeks of the year. It was about working 10 hour shifts 4 or 5 times a week. But mostly, it was about telling airplanes were to go based on WWII technology. Well, it wasn't quite that bad, but close.

      And you know what? There was some plan for some super system that would fix all the problems, for now and forever, to be implemented some impossible time in the future, like 10 years down the road. Does this sound familiar?

      I resigned from Federal Service in 1985, so don't really know if that 'new, super' system ever got up and running, 20+ years later, but I'm guessing not, based on this story.

      The real horror is the privatization of ATC, starting with the training. When the Gov't is no longer responsible and accountable, disasters happen.

      I now work in a state prison system, and there is pressure to privatize that, too... but thankfully, it has been done in some places and the disasters are now public knowledge. I don't want MY air traffic system become the 'good example of a bad example' the way private prisons have become.

      picking off right-wingnuts at the ballot box, one vote at a time

      by JohnMac on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:45:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Controller for 27 years (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Scout Finch

        No, the Sector Suites were never installed. The $5 billion went down the drain.

        Bush is not the one pushing for privatization. This has been going on and off for over 20 years. In the early 90's they started contracting out training. Then they contracted out towers in the late 90's. Now they are getting around to the FSS. There was a plan at one point to make the Centers "Super Centers" with all Center/Tower/FSS personal in one building but that was proving to be too expensive.

        The one thing the FAA has been reluctant to do is consolidate upper management and the regions. Now don't that just beat all. They would save millions. They no longer need all the regions designed in the era of snail mail and typewriters.

        A big down side is the contracts actually cost the government more than if the FAA ran the positions. It just comes out of a different pot so the FAA looks good with a cut in budget. While the contract companies still have to follow Federal regulations their controllers are not as skilled as the FAA counterparts.

        The FAA will continue to try to privatize more, you can bet on that.

  •  I'm told (24+ / 0-)

    I think the real message hear is that most of the senior experienced controllers are leaving the FAA in record droves due to poor working conditions, leaving more and more less experienced trainees (in many cases) to operate the control towers, TRACONS and en route centers without experienced personnel.  Add to that a reduction in the number of controllers needed to run a safe system, and we could be brewing a recipe for disaster.  

    •  What can we - the public - do to help? (11+ / 0-)

      How can we pressure Congress to address these issues?

    •  Isn't there a manditory retirement (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy, Blue Eyed Buddhist

      age for controllers that might be too young? I have no doubt that these people could burn out early, especially with the anti-union administration.

      I have seen students work on simulated ATC class at a certain University in FL. For a bit I wanted to push my son towards ATC, but he veered another way.

      Having seen the simulations, I thought that any computer-savvy, gaming-savvy young adult could figure it out. I know, there have to be conversations with flights in the air, and being a butt-head doesn't work then.

      Let us all hope that we get well-trained young people to watch our airplanes flying around who can land them, as well as getting them safely off the ground.

      My son will be in management work-on-airplanes. I suspect that you have no problems with those people.   Have a good holiday season.

      Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby

      by riverlover on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:36:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  When has this never been the case? n/t (0+ / 0-)

      I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat. Will Rogers

      by thestructureguy on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:04:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Took a tour of KC center in the mid 70's (4+ / 0-)

      Our "tour guide" was a scope guy who had been put on waivers.
      At the time, ATC had the highest incidence of hypertension, alcoholism, divorce rate and suicide. But you never heard any of that in the media, just the same "look at how much money they make" BS we're hearing again. The primary issue of the PATCO strike wasn't even about money, but that's what the reagan propaganda machine fed out through the "4th estate".

      Toward the end of that tour, when our guide seemed a bit more comfortable with us, one of the guys asked him what had gotten to him. He explained that you can get used to the high tension, but that one day he just stopped seeing symbols on the screen and started visualizing 200, 300 or 400 "Souls On Board". He said that's when the stress really started to multiply.

      That situation alone (busting PATCO), is enough reason to permanently revile the Ronnie RayGun administration. This is history repeating itself.

      Get to work slackers.....2016 is almost here.

      by geez53 on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 10:37:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's a weird thing... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Scout Finch

        ...a counselor I saw for a while (after a long-time girlfriend's death, nothing work-related) some years ago one time kind of mentioned the same thing.

        He said if you really stop to think about it, Air Traffic Control is a pretty nutty job.  If you screw up, hundreds of people can die a pretty nasty, violent death.

        He believed that thought, if you really chewed on it for a while, would wind up paralyzing many people; his belief was that controllers have a bit of a weird switch in our brains that allows us to simply put that kind of thing out of our mind.

        I think he's on to something.  I mean, intellectually we KNOW that we're safeguarding thousands of people on every shift we work, but I personally don't find myself thinking in those kinds of terms that often.

        But I know that thought does get into some people's heads.  We lost a pretty promising trainee in another area at Seattle Center a couple of years ago.

        He was the assistant controller during an "operational error" (or what we call "a deal"), where two planes got too close to one another.  They didn't hit, obviously, and weren't actually THAT close (but were definitely closer than the rules allow!)

        He was completely not-at-fault; it was another controller who was responsible.

        Yet the trainee was ruined after that.  He tried working for about another month, then came in one day, turned in his headset, and went back to Hawaii to be a school teacher.

        Personally, I'd think that teaching would be far more stressful than ATC- but maybe I'm just weird.  ;)

  •  Welcome NATCA (8+ / 0-)

    One of my good friends from high school is an air traffic controller; its a very hard job from what I hear, so thanks for being there and good luck in the future.

  •  Americans never do anything.... (12+ / 0-)

    ....until the problem becomes a disaster.

    Then they usually overreact.

    Arghh.

  •  Another scary fact (10+ / 0-)

    One you are on the ground in the airport you are in the most danger.

    The systems to prevent collisions are the ground are old, not up to the job, and in most places have not been replaced despite moderate costs and a high payoff.

    The whole system was destroyed by Raygun and has never recovered.

    Another Republican deregulation disaster.  We are so lucky it has not come completely apart.

    "We will now proceed to construct the socialist order."

    by 7November on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:11:31 AM PST

    •  eh (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RustyBrown

      the mess is a bipartisan effort.

    •  Good point... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leftyboy666, Ice Blue, kurt, joycemocha

      ...although there is indeed a higher level of danger on the ground, the reality is that the FAA has implemented efforts to allow planes to come closer while in the air.

      Still, most aviation experts think that the area in need of the most focus is on/around the immediate vicinity of runways.

      •  More infrastructure (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Scout Finch, joycemocha, brein

        One thing I haven't seen mentioned here yet is the physical airport infrastructure: runways.

        It might (or might not) come as a surprise to learn that our country's airport infrasructure is aging, in some cases crumbling, and in many places overloaded.  ATC controllers (and the flying public) have to deal with an increasing number of aircraft that are trying to use a limited number of runways.  It shouldn't be too hard to figure out that there are consequences of this.

        We don't build airports much anymore.  Most of our airports were built in the WWII and immediate post-war era.  Just like our bridges and roads, these things don't last forever, and with tremendous increases in demand, the runways that we've been enjoying since the 1940s may not be adequate for the demands we're placing on them in the 21st century.

        When the new administration starts funding infrastructure projects as part of an economic stimulus, I hope that airports are included.  We all use them, and they have been neglected for decades as we expect more and more from them.  Time to start fixing that.

        If there were more runways available, safety would increase and controllers' jobs might get a little easier.  The traveling public would even enjoy fewer delays.

  •  Any guess on how much it will cost (5+ / 0-)

    to upgrade the radar system to state-of-the-art?

    And the cost of fully training the ATC to use the system?

    God, I miss Paul Wellstone.

    by Naniboujou on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:12:59 AM PST

    •  New system (11+ / 0-)

      It's anyones guess, but the new navigation and surveillance system technology (ADS-B) will run in the Billions for the federal government, and almost as much for the users to equip.  

    •  question (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, goodasgold

      why should tax payers at large pay for the system. It appears to me that this one of those cases were the users of the system should be paying the cost. I find it rather interesting that we can't find the money to provide health care to poor children but want to use tax payer money to subsidize the wealthiest - all those corporate jets.

      If there was ever anything in the government that should be privatized air traffic is one of them. Let the FAA go back to become a pure regulatory agency- making sure that the private airlines and private air traffic system comply with safety regulations. They will impose the requirements the private operators will have to comply and will bill the users. It will end up in a much better and safer system if doesn't rely on government appropriations.

      •  Are you kidding me? (9+ / 0-)

        So, you don't want to pay for it -- it must  be privatized?

        OK....let's go there. I don't have any kids and I'm no longer interested in paying taxes for schools. Why should I have to pay for all those snot-nosed brats to get an education? If their parents don't have the money for school.....tough.

        •  if you could only come up with a better example (0+ / 0-)

          give me a break.

          We have accepted the idea of universal public education because we believe that is a fundamental right. The idea is that poor children and rich children are all entitled to a good education so that they can all live up to their potential. That's why we are all paying for it.

          To point out how stupid your example is are you advocating that poor people get vouchers from the government so that they can go and visit Grandma or go to disneyland and that in your mind is the same as a right to good education.

          •  Nice strawman. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mataliandy

            Who is talking about vouchers for the poor to travel?

            Should our roadways be privatized too?

            •  DON'T PRIVATIZE ATC (7+ / 0-)

              This is a TERRIBLE idea....and one that the Bush administration and the far-right has been quetly pushing. Privatizing the ATC system is a perfect example of what NOT to do.

              There are some things that the government should do.  ATC is a perfect example (unless you're one of those "shrink the government down so you can drown it in a bathtub" types).

              When you're on a flight some dark, stormy night, and the plane is bouncing around, with the pilot threading between thunderstorms, the sky is filled with hundreds of airplanes all converging...you're not going to want the guy sitting at the scope to be worried about keeping his call times down, or other nickle-and-dime cost cutting issues.  There are some things that should NOT be done by for-profit companies - health care, social security, fire departments...and air traffic control services would be good examples.

          •  what about all of us that live and walk around (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Naniboujou, kurt

            under those airplanes in the sky? If a plane comes down, it doesn't just impact those that "use" it. This is a public safety issue.

        •  I think it's a valid question (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Fabian, brein

          whether it should be paid for out of general tax receipts or whether it should be financed through a surcharge on air travelers.

          Air travel is valuable to the nation - but so is rail travel, and rail travel is more efficient and has been starved for funding pretty much forever in favor of the sexier air travel.

          I don't know that I have an opinion either way on the specifics, but I think looking at our transportation funding sources and expenditures in aggregate and rebalancing them to suit the overall interests of the country is long overdue.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:33:26 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  That's an easy one... (11+ / 0-)

        ...the taxpayers should pay for the system because THEY are the ones who benefit from it!

        The National Airspace System is an asset for the entire country.  We all benefit from it, daily, in ways we can't even imagine.  Aviation is a significant percentage of the GDP.

        What's more, everyone has a stake in ensuring that the airplanes flying over their heads are being kept safe and safely apart!  ;)

      •  As a member of the flying public (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Fabian

        and a former controller I have no problem privatizing controllers with FAA oversight.  

        I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat. Will Rogers

        by thestructureguy on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:11:00 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  This isn't an official position of NATCA... (0+ / 0-)
          •  Oops, hit the wrong button. (6+ / 0-)

            Not an official position of the union, but I'm one air traffic controller that would be perfectly happy if you fully commercialized or privatized the ATC system with regulatory/FAA oversight.

            Just as long as you also gave controllers the full right to stage job actions, strikes, etc. as any other private industry union has.

            Do that, and sure, I'd be fine with it, because I bet we'd wind up making about three or four times what we do now.

            However, if you think (as most of us do) that a union shouldn't be able to hold the entire general public "hostage" through strikes for salary demands, then giving us a right to strike is probably a bad idea.

            In the alternative, though, we should have the right to true, fair, good-faith negotiations.  Right now, we don't.  Bush's appointees have run roughshod, doing whatever they like.

            Likewise, our working conditions have gone WAY downhill.  We have fewer certified, experienced controllers working today than any time in the past 10 or 15 years- and it's because we've had massive retirements.

            People left in droves thanks to the way Bush and Blakey have run the FAA.

            So if we're not going to go the full privatization route (and I think there's not a lot of support for that route), and Bush's plan has decimated the FAA's controller ranks, we're going to need to find a decent alternative.

            Hopefully Obama can bring some reasonable people into the show now.

            •  I would be willing to accept binding arbitration (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Blue Eyed Buddhist, joycemocha

              for labor issues as a trade off. However, I do not support job actions by controllers. It's blackmail over safety. I know, I was on the front lines. The strike and firing of controllers was a tragic story with reprecussions to this day.  I to this day believe the controllers were not served well by PATCO.  

              I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat. Will Rogers

              by thestructureguy on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 10:16:59 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Well, we used to have... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Naniboujou

                ...binding arbitration.  But back in 98, the law was changed to allow the FAA's employee unions to bargain over wages.

                Part of that change also put into place a new impasse resolution method, where if the parties couldn't agree, rather than binding arbitration the matter went to Congress.

                If Congress took no action, then the agency's "last, best" offer took effect in 60 (or maybe it's 90, can't recall) days.

                There is considerable disagreement whether that portion of the law was only intended for the FIRST negotiation of wages and then subsequent negotiations would be under the old version (with binding arbitration), or if the "send it to Congess and if they don't act the agency can implement" version continues to be the law.

                (You can guess what the union believes; NATCA's position has always been that we are supposed to get arbitration.)

                Fast forward to 2006; the FAA came into new contract negotiations and NEVER BUDGED from their original offer.  NATCA moved HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS towards the FAA's offer.  Why?

                Because NATCA tried to bargain in good faith, but the FAA knew perfectly well that if they simply went to impasse, the Republican-majority Congress would uphold whatever the Bush Administration did.

                Boom, impasse, last best offer implemented.

                Thankfully, President-Elect Obama knows this is BS and introduced a bill to try and reverse the result.

                The thing is... the FAA continually beat up controllers in the press, claiming we make anywhere from $150K to over $200K each, blah blah blah.

                And all the while, we're not asking for anything unreasonable; we merely want a FAIR SHAKE.  We'd be perfectly happy with binding arbitration!

                •  Hmm. (0+ / 0-)

                  Base pay for starting AT trainee is 28-36,000 yr.  You must train for 2 yrs.  Then get tested.  If you pass and get to that point you are now at 40,000yr.  To work the floor you must be trained in 3 sectors, now you are at 50,000/yr.  4 sectors, 60-75,000/yr.  

                  Only the very most SR controllers who have 6+ sectors + TMA make 150K - and they only have a yr or two left before retirement.

                  The voice of silence does just as much damage as hateful words.

                  by doingbusinessas on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 01:01:37 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

      •  Well, let's see (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kurt

        Maybe we like the idea of our friends and relatives not being killed in crashes?

        Or how about we'd like our homes to remain intact, instead of being filled with airplane shrapnel?

        You don't need to protect me from someone else's spelling, grammar, extra posts on a topic, or use of quotations.

        by mataliandy on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:14:40 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  If it were privatized (5+ / 0-)

        you'd get the standard max-the-profit pressures.

        Everything but high-density routes would get less and less coverage.

        To lower workforce costs, lower and lower skilled workers would be hired while the good ones get attritioned away.

        Eventually, you'd start seeing "death by spreadsheet" calculations on plane crashes, just like in the privatized health insurance industry.

        You wanna put a $ number on the lives of 300 people? Does that bother you? News flash, it doesn't bother Wall Street at all. They would gladly let those people crash if the price was right.

        The W ... it stands for Wrong.

        by nosleep4u on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 11:55:08 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  taxpayers only pay about 25% (7+ / 0-)

        Only about 25% of the FAA's budget comes from the "General Fund", 75% comes from airline ticket taxes and aviation fuel taxes. Airlines have been pushing for years to privatize the air traffic control system to wrest control of it. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a general aviation (GA) advocacy group (yes, I'm a member) has been fighting this for, oh 20 years or so because they've seen it kill general aviation in Europe and other countries where it's been implemented. AOPA actually asked Congress to increase fuel taxes on general aviation, because they think a well funded FAA is good for GA.

        And yes, you should care that GA remains strong in this country. GA is not just a bunch of rich guys flying jets, it's a lot of middle class guys (sadly, still mostly guys) flying older Cessnas and Pipers that cost less than middle of the road new car. They create a lot of local jobs, and through groups like the Experimental Aviation Association (yes, I'm a member), teach people how to actually build things. Skills we're rapidly losing.

      •  Seriously, what? (6+ / 0-)

        want to use tax payer money to subsidize the wealthiest - all those corporate jets

        You don't have the slightest idea of what you're talking about.  Take a look at the map in the article, or here: http://www.natca.org/...  Maybe 1% of those are private, VIP-style shuttles.  Probably 50% or more are cargo, and the rest large commercial passenger airliners.  Flight and the associated necessary services comprise an enormous and hideously complicated institution and requires extensive and skilled coordination bound by a cohesive set of rules.  You will not get any part of that equation if we privatize.

      •  only privatize what ... (0+ / 0-)

        .. you can afford to have fail.

        90% of all businesses fail in the first year. I would prefer that flights not be handled by a private ATC in bankruptcy proceedings.

        Ignore reality. Create your own.

        by sworddance on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 03:29:25 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Why will it take until 2020 to install NextGen? (3+ / 0-)

    Freedom is what you do with what has been done to you...Sartre

    by kevsterwj on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:15:06 AM PST

    •  nextgen (13+ / 0-)

      We will have nothing close the visions of nextgen by 2020.  I believe the system will have improved in it's modernization efforts, but what the FAA has been sounding out about the panacea of nextgen is baseless.  

      It has become abundantly clear that the FAA's version of nextgen was away to avoid the problems of the nowgen... there doesn't appear to be a real goal associated with what the outcome should result in, and it's better to get everyone talking about fixing the system 20 years down the road than dealing with the myriad of problems in existance.  

      For instance, is the goal of nextgen to provide an increase in capacity through technological advancements, or a Buck Rogers future concept? Maybe some day, but the FAA has undergone a "go it alone" style of technology development and not all of the stake holders have participated in that process - the controllers for one.  

      •  Wow, we are really lucky (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mataliandy, Blue Eyed Buddhist

        that we all don't own flying cars now. There could be more air accidents than highway accidents if the Jetsons life had been fulfilled.

        Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby

        by riverlover on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:43:59 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Exaclty like the 80s (5+ / 0-)

        When there was a promise of a new, bigger and better system to solve the problems of the time. It never happened then, and is not likely to happen now unless there are big, newsworthy accidents causing the right questions to be asked.

        Government by crisis rather than by prevention.

        The problem is that the flying public doesn't notice these issue until they have to wait for delayed flights, accidents, and other unpleasantries that affect them directly. THEN they have to get in touch with their Congresscritters and demand answers.

        picking off right-wingnuts at the ballot box, one vote at a time

        by JohnMac on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:52:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Because sewing that many (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy

      Superman capes takes a long, long time!

      /snark

      Party like it's 1929!

      by arielle on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:45:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's a Friedman Unit (5+ / 0-)

      But with a bureaucratic multiplier. In reality, it's a way of saying:

      "We don't care, but we can't say that out loud, so we're punting it down the road with a meaningless date."

      You don't need to protect me from someone else's spelling, grammar, extra posts on a topic, or use of quotations.

      by mataliandy on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:18:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Federal Employee Unions Rock (8+ / 0-)

    Reagan and Reagan type policies made an enemy for life when he busted the air traffic controllers.

    "It stinks." - Jay Sherman

    by angry liberaltarian on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:17:09 AM PST

    •  Contradiction (0+ / 0-)

      If Civil Service employees work for "we the people" why do they need a union? Is it possible that "we the people" when acting in the capacity of employers behave just like any other employer? If so it seems hypocritical to criticize private employers.

      One has to wonder why the political process can't protect worker rights?If civil servants weren't unionized I believe there would be much greater protection for workers (union and non union)because the political process would have been pressured to act. (because Medicaid is universal not means tested the best connected ensure that system provides quality. Similarly if we banned private schools the quality of public schools would improve as the well connected would rather than opting out would ensure that the schools improved.)

      I believe that the union movement would be much more popular with the population at large if it wasn't for civil service and teachers unions. Unfortunately those are the unions we come into daily contact and their favorable deals -work rules, pensions, overtime etc come at our expense.

      •  In a perfect world... (10+ / 0-)

        ...you're absolutely right, civil servants wouldn't need a union.  They would be treated fairly, especially if they had a complaint or grievance about their supervisor.

        They would be paid fairly for the work they do.  They would get a reasonable amount of vacation time, their working environment would be clean and safe, and their input into their jobs would be actively sought out.

        Unfortunately, we don't live in that perfect world.

        I work for the FAA as a controller and am a proud member of NATCA.  We are NOT treated fairly; oh, it's usually better under a Democrat than under a Republican, but either way we still REQUIRE a union to help protect us against the abuses from lousy managers.

        My pay has been CUT, in both real dollars and in actual amount, three years running.  I can't get a day off here or there; all vacation time for the upcoming year must be scheduled in October-November-December.

        My employer couldn't care less about my input into new technology or systems or work schedules.

        So please, before you tell us we should dump civil service unions and that we (civil service unions) are harming the labor movement, fix the worker rights you are talking about.

        Until then, you're just blowing hot air.

        •  I think your answer makes my point perfectly (0+ / 0-)

          "So please, before you tell us we should dump civil service unions and that we (civil service unions) are harming the labor movement, fix the worker rights"

          your position is essentially "I got mine go get yours"

          Unfortunately it is not hot air that I am blowing but hard earned tax dollars that I spend supporting lots of lazy civil servants.

          •  The Political Process is what corrupts it (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pollyusa

            look at the agenda of the right wingers...even politiucal pressure can't protect federal employees from demagogues.

            "It stinks." - Jay Sherman

            by angry liberaltarian on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:18:53 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Yeah, you're showing where you come from w (4+ / 0-)

            Unfortunately it is not hot air that I am blowing but hard earned tax dollars that I spend supporting lots of lazy civil servants.

            I think you've outed yourself here as someone other than a liberal/progressive sort.

            I'm one of those bloody civil servants you've got the nerve to call "lazy."  

            Just keep in mind that we pay the same damned taxes you do--and that those taxes go to our salary as well.  How many other workers have to pay a portion of their own salary?

            •  And (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              joycemocha, brein, Nebraskablue

              all those years I thought all of those people working witout compensation on the week-ends next to me were just lazy and couldn't get their work done in a regular 40 hours.

              There were some who were lazy, to be sure. But, there were a lot more who toiled quietly, and uncompensated, for their constituency, the American taxpayer.

              Common Sense is not Common

              by RustyBrown on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 10:41:15 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Never took a logic class, did you? (7+ / 0-)

            The "I got mine" attitude is actually what you're spouting with the "blowing my tax dollars" concept: you've got your money and want to keep it, and to heck the anyone else who wants fair pay.

            Blue Eyed Buddhist is expressing the exact opposite: he is saying that by working together with others to ensure fair pay, both he and those others will be better off. He recognizes that if he tolerates it when someone else is being cheated of fair pay and decent working conditions, he's only making it easier for employers to cheat him, too.

            You don't need to protect me from someone else's spelling, grammar, extra posts on a topic, or use of quotations.

            by mataliandy on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:51:43 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Yeah, all those hard-earned tax dollars in... (4+ / 0-)

            ...this instance is just a pittance compared to the dozens of pallets of shrink-wrapped "bricks" of 100 dollar bills shipped to Iraq to bribe the locals or the hundreds of billions of dollars given away to financial executives with no oversight during the bailout.

            There are always going to be inefficiencies with taxpayer money... but bitchin' about the comparatively trivial amounts civil servants receive is a waste of time.

            If you wanna complain, go after the assholes in this current administration who have really wasted taxpayer money.

            Dick Cheney... before he dicks you!

            by Ohio Angst on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:56:13 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Ummm... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pollyusa, joycemocha, Nebraskablue

            you mean when I said that in a perfect world, I agreed completely with your comment, it means I'm a lazy civil servant?

            I think you MISSED my point completely.  I agree- I'd love it if civil servants didn't need unions.  Hell, I'd love it if NOBODY needed a union.

            Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and in the real world we definitely need unions.  The same forces that are trying to grind down labor everywhere are doing it in civil service.

            Government employee unions are not the problem; they're a REACTION to the problem.  The problem is that human nature is such that the employer will very frequently take as much advantage of the employee as possible.

            If you can somehow legislate that problem away, then I'll happily give up my union.

            Until then, yeah, I want to keep it- and you should want me to keep it, too, because otherwise nobody's speaking out for YOUR interests against the power of the giant corporations and lousy BushCo political appointees that suck at their jobs.

          •  Hard earned tax dollars (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            joycemocha, brein, junipercussion

            Sorry, I don't believe that this is how the system works. First, you earn what people are willing to pay you, not because you work hard. Second, The tax money is not yours, it belongs to the society at large which provided you with your income to begin with.

          •  You are SO full of HOT air... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pollyusa, Blue Eyed Buddhist

            The FAA under REPUBLICANS has been broken, their neanderthal managment  actions have driven the best and brightest from that organization for 20 plus years.   Over the LAST 8 years the FAA has attempted to manage more traffic with many less controllers, for no reason other than they are driving people out of the system.

            If there is an agency that has suffered the most under the GOp it would be the FAA.

            As to your comment about LAZY civil servants to be sure there are some that are, but in my opinion there are MUCH MUCH more out there in the private section that produce nothing of any value, most of whom are in Management and executive positions.

            Your hard earned tax dollars are spent providing YOU and your fellow Americans with infrastructure that allows you to live in this great country at the current level of income and safety you have.

            Even with the current problems we have with our own national flight control system, we are still ten times better than the rest of the world.

            Is the entire Republican party composed of relatives of Bagdhad Bob? - Catatonia

            by Nebraskablue on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 01:51:30 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  As a former Teacher's Union member... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Blue Eyed Buddhist, joycemocha, brein

        Teachers would still have starting wages of $15K if there was no union. The government will shit on its own workers before it cuts anything else, because it is in the public eye. Teacher's unions are the only thing that makes the profession viable as a way to make a living.

      •  Because they still have bosses (4+ / 0-)

        and those bosses still have to answer to their bosses, budgetary restraints, etc etc. And some of those in the chain of command are really mean people.

        The political process cannot protect them because political deals are inherently unfocused. Contracts shouldn't be bargaining chips over abortion or whatever the political football of the days happens to be. "Hmm well, you want 15% less mandatory overtime for ATC's? I could support that if you support my pork-barrel bridge project. Deal?"

        Finally, these particular unions are unpopular because conservatives use whatever union happens to be in the spotlight as their whipping-boy. If these unions hadn't been around, it would just be the next union down the line. It isn't about this union or that union, its about conservatives demonizing unions in general.

        The W ... it stands for Wrong.

        by nosleep4u on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 12:11:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  No unions for public employees? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Scout Finch, Blue Eyed Buddhist

        If Civil Service employees work for "we the people" why do they need a union? Is it possible that "we the people" when acting in the capacity of employers behave just like any other employer? If so it seems hypocritical to criticize private employers.

        One has to wonder why the political process can't protect worker rights?

        Given human nature, and the changeability of political philosophies currently in power, the "political process" will only protect worker rights when the party in power sees fit to do so. That should seem obvious. Haven’t you read enough good information in this thread on Bush Administration philosophy being projected on ATCs through the FAA to know why this is so?  Workers of all types deserve a little stability in their lives, and not have to resize their family dreams and plans every four or eight years.  The practical aspect to this is, for example, who with a government job is going to buy a home if they sense the distinct possibility that an incoming conservative administration is going to do its best to cut back their wages?

        I am, yes, criticizing the sometimes worshipped "free market" (private employers) and its acolytes because greed is a fundamental aspect of human nature, one that must be disciplined and often is not.

        If civil servants weren't unionized I believe there would be much greater protection for workers (union and non union) because the political process would have been pressured to act.

        Who? would or could effectively apply this idealistic "pressure" you dream of during the reign of a conservative administration with philosophies in direct contradiction to worker rights being on a par with managerial rights?  If you believe that could happen, I’ve got an effective PAC to sell you for pennies on the dollar.

        (because Medicaid is universal not means tested the best connected ensure that system provides quality.

        I’m assuming you mean Medicare, not Medicaid, as Medicaid is means tested. And if you think Medicare is some bed of roses with no reasonable limitations, then trade places with me and my 67 year old fears about what will happen to my health care when I have to retire.

        I believe that the union movement would be much more popular with the population at large if it wasn't for civil service and teachers unions. Unfortunately those are the unions we come into daily contact and their favorable deals -work rules, pensions, overtime etc come at our expense.

        "Our expense?" Why must free market acolytes always look at money and not the finer things?  Perhaps work rules and pensions allow those doing the work of teaching and civil service to each do a better job, if they are willing to be grateful for those benefits and act accordingly.  Maybe they all won’t act out of gratitude, but at least provide the possibility of them rising to the occasion rather than worrying about being abused by some small time tyrant in an administrative or managerial position.

        Come with me and leave your yes-ter-day behind And take a giant step outside your mind

        by paz3 on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 03:45:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  What, specifically, is wrong with NextGen, and (2+ / 0-)

    what are your proposed alternatives?

    •  Next Gen is vaporware (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sphealey, brein

      The phrase "don't buy a pig in a poke" means don't pay for something the seller won't let you look at, because you probably won't get what you bargained for.

      No one is letting the people who rely on the current systems look at what this "super duper" new "extra double secret" system looks like. Nor will they provide any input into how to make it work. The most likely reasons: (a) it doesn't exist or (b) because it couldn't pass muster.

      You don't need to protect me from someone else's spelling, grammar, extra posts on a topic, or use of quotations.

      by mataliandy on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:55:56 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Actually... (9+ / 0-)

      controllers don't mind NextGen.  In fact, we favor improved technology and agree with the notion that we must continue to improve our infrastructure to handle the ever-increasing amount of air traffic.

      However (or howiever for those NATCAvists reading!)...

      ...there are some serious problems with NextGen.

      First of all, it's unproven- yet we've committed to spending tens of billions on it.  We tend to believe that before we do so, we should have more development of the system.

      We also believe that if you've got several billion bucks to spend, you can have a much more immediate impact on delays and such if you use some of it to build RUNWAYS and taxiways instead of throwing it to corporations for technology that isn't yet in production.

      A reasonable alternative to the present plan for NextGen would include a number of things.

      First of all, more of the R&D behind NextGen should be owned by the government.  Right now, we're paying for all of the R&D... but we won't OWN the stuff when it's done; the present plan calls for us to lease it from the companies who are supposed to create it.

      So these corporations have no risk but all the rewards in profits.  That's not right.

      We also need more immediate hiring and better retention of "NowGen".  Today's air traffic controllers are NowGen; we're the ones who're doing it right now, and even in a best-case scenario, NextGen won't significantly improve ATC in the next ten years.

      Well, ten years from now, a person hired today will have 7 or 8 years of experience as an air traffic controller!  (Assuming they make it through the demanding program.)

      What controllers would also like to see is a lot more input into NextGen.  The FAA's history is full of new technology that is developed by a bunch of well-meaning engineers... who don't know diddly about ATC.

      So the new stuff finally makes it to us, the controllers, for testing, and we ruthlessly pick it apart.  This sucks, that doesn't work, who the hell designed this, this is moronic.

      And that input goes back and it turns out that we were right, and a bunch of the stuff doesn't work, so now it's time for expensive (although profitable for the corporations!) revisions and improvements.

      We think it makes more sense to involve the experts who're going to be using the stuff EARLY in the process; that way we can avoid the expensive revisions later.

      Finally, there are serious concerns about the relationships that have gone into creating NextGen.  The FAA's former Administrator, Marion Blakey, is the one who pushed strongly for the system; then she went into a several-hundred-thousand-a-year job working for a lobbying group made up of... all the contractors and corporations that are going to make a bundle on NextGen.

      That smells a little bit funny to most of us.

  •  OT: JFK ATC having a bad day at the office (8+ / 0-)

    Rabindranath Tagore-"Bigotry tries to keep truth safe in its hand with a grip that kills it."

    by joy sinha on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:17:23 AM PST

  •  Do you think the system will suffer... (8+ / 0-)

    ....a gradual degradation, leading to more outages and delays. Or will there be some kind of catastrophic overload/cascade failure that results in a collapse of the entire system? Even though it is obsolete, is it robust enough to avoid a catastrophe in the event of such a major systemic failure?

    This Space For Rent

    by xynz on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:18:54 AM PST

  •  How can we help? Here's a possibility (8+ / 0-)

    In the ATC workforce (current and retired) we have a corps of seasoned and trained professionals who are highly opinionated about how their jobs should be done and the kinds of tools needed to do it.

    In the open-source software community we have a pool of talented computer programmers who enjoy a challenge and, while they might not (now) know how to design an air traffic control system, they know how to design software and tools, and creating processes to be used in building that software and those tools. Even if those tools and processes are implemented by someone else on a platform other than what your average open-source coder is familiar with (PC-class workstations), it wouldn't surprise me a bit to see an air traffic conttrol system come out of an open-source design process that was transparent (written in Python, Java or a similar well-known language), scalable, robust, and above all maintainable.

    I say, put the two groups together and see what they can come up with.

    We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.

    Now the real work begins.

    by Omir the Storyteller on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:19:01 AM PST

    •  heh. (5+ / 0-)

      I would pay to see that.

    •  Putting these two groups together (7+ / 0-)

      could potentially cause a worldwide coffee shortage from which we would never recover.  ;o)

      Party like it's 1929!

      by arielle on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:36:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Omir... (5+ / 0-)

      ...there is WAY too much money to be made by the corporations providing private-service, closed-source software for any such movement to work.

      It's a shame, because open-source would be a tremendous way to create and implement our newest technology.  

      Right now we're in the process of putting the new system 'ERAM' into the field; it's literally the central nervous system of air traffic control, as it is the main software package for ALL of ATC in the United States.

      And those of us who know/understand how open source works would LOVE it if it were an open-source created project.

      Unfortunately, like I said, never happen.  The lobbying-industrial complex is way too strong.

      http://www.dailykos.com/...

      Paul Please read/rec my latest diary!

      by Blue Eyed Buddhist on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:05:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That might be true right now, but . . . (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pollyusa, mataliandy

        the scenario I am envisioning isn't to just get together with a project manager, work out the specs, and expect the OS community to do the project for free. I'm thinking more like creating a virtual company, bid for the contract, and then hire programmers to do the programming, either on a per-routine basis (paying someone a set amount for . . . oh, I don't know, the code that encapsulates the flight data into a library) or as a programmer for hire for the duration of the contract. You would also need testers, program managers, documentation writers and any other members of the team you'd need to create the software.

        At the end of the project you could either disband the company, it having accomplished its objective, or turn its assets over to a successor company that could contract with the FAA to do ongoing maintainence and implement new features.

        You may be right. It could be that lobbying would kill an effort like this. I could totally see Sun, IBM or Microsoft bidding on a project like this and using their clout and lobbying muscle to win the bid. But I wanted to throw it out there because the way things are now is not the way things will always and forever be, and thank the FSM for that. And it might be a jumping-off point for an idea that could actually be implemented at some point.

        We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.

        Now the real work begins.

        by Omir the Storyteller on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:40:43 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Open Source, maybe; "bazaar" coding, probably not (0+ / 0-)

      It makes some sense to make the code freely available, since that makes it easier to ensure that there aren't logic bombs, back doors, or other nasty surprises. I don't know that it would happen, but it at least has some advantages that might make up for the additional cost - the cost, that is, of hiring an initial company that wouldn't be locked-in to the system and would therefore have to get all its development money up front.

      But I doubt that there are enough free coders out there who a) might be interested in the challenge b) would have the expertise to handle the issues specific to ATC and c) would be able to put in the time required to completely code a system of this size complexity. Even if there was payment of some sort available.

      RV

      Al Gore is running for Gray Champion.

      by RanxeroxVox on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 10:46:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm not suggesting this be a "bazaar" approach (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Blue Eyed Buddhist

        Like you, I don't think that would work. But it would be worthwhile at least to get a bunch of coders together to create an "expert system" to describe how air traffic control works, and then implement designs based on the expert system.

        As for free coders . . . well to tie this to a discussion in Devilstower's directory, infrastructure money shouldn't just go to roads, or even just roads, rail and sea. I don't know if there are as many programmers looking for work as there were during the dot-bomb days, but I can't imagine that you couldn't hire enough people to create an air traffic control system. If the economy continues to tank, this will be even more true. And if air traffic controllers are as good at picking up careers like medicine or law as Scout says, programming should not be a big barrier, at least for some of them. You can teach a person to write Python code faster than you can teach them to be an air traffic controller.

        And yes, having the code freely available is a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned. In an environment where people's lives and billions of dollars of commerce are at stake, you don't want to be messing around with having to reverse-engineer a patch when you can examine the code to figure out what's going on.

        We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.

        Now the real work begins.

        by Omir the Storyteller on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 11:08:32 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Ugh! I just can't (0+ / 0-)

    take it anymore, what with the environment, health care, all the wars and fighting nations, poverty, the infrastructure, now the air traffic.  I must go bury my head.

    Bush's presidency is now inextricably yoked to the policies of aggression and subjugation. Mike Whitney

    by dfarrah on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:19:02 AM PST

  •  To add to the picture of wha this is about (5+ / 0-)

    you have to add that the basic economics of the airline industry is that planes have to be in the air as much as possible to make revenue.  Planes sitting on the ground are just increasing costs to the company; planes in the air generate revenue.  That means that controllers' lives get more and more stressed as airlines continue to try to generate revenue and cut costs.

    •  depends (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueintheface

      on the number of controllers you can spread that load out over, and how that ratio is leveraged with technology, no?  I don't think you can lay air controller stress at the feet of the airlines.

      •  No, I'm not blaming the airlines. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xaxnar, blueintheface

        Im just saying that as long as airline profits depend on having as many planes in the air as possible at any given moment, the number of landings/takeoffs is driven by the airline schedules.  If you try to maximize airline profits, you have to keep the planes aloft.  That, it seems to me, no matter how you spread it across the nation, is what sets the traffic controllers' work load.  And with the airlines cutting back on the number of planes they are using (to save fuel, etc), I think that requires more landings and takeoffs and more traffic control.

      •  stress (6+ / 0-)

        I don't think you can lay controller stress at the feet of the airlines either... most of the time :-)  Airlines, for marketing reasons, like to schedule their arrivals and departures at some very busy hubs when the "traveler" wants to fly.  The hub and spoke system they created with deregulation has good and bad sides, but the major bad side is that everyone wants to land or depart at the same time of the day.  

        Controllers love to work traffic, that's what we get paid to do.  If there was better technology that helps us work more safely, then bring it on.  Right now the system is finite.  When you drive everyone to the same point at the same time, delays result.  That is the basic problem that exists today.  Nextgen should provide technology that allows us to increase capacity while maintaining safety.  That's the challenge for the future, and a change in paradime is most likely required...

  •  Who are NATCA's major critics? (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ice Blue, xaxnar, blueintheface, timbuck, brein

    and do any of them have fair points?

    (I ask this because I think it's always useful to understand the major issues in play, and you'll never get a full understanding of the story just listening to one side.)

    •  see my earlier post (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueintheface, brein

      why isn't the system completely privatized. It caters to a small group private companies- airlines and those who can afford to own an airplane. Let the FAA act as a purely regulatory agency i.e. the same model as private airlines- the FAA sets the rules and ensures compliance. I believe that it has given us quite a safe system.

      •  privatize (14+ / 0-)

        There are many reasons why not to privatize, but let me give you just a few... Our national airspace is a national treasure, not something to be given to the lowest bidder to operate for a profit while the taxpayers pay for the technology, facilities and equipment.  Peoples lives depend on a safe system, not a profitable one, because the bottom line will override any safety concerns once a "cost-benefit" analysis is completed... Our aviation system supports our national defense; it supports commerce.  It's too important to allow a small group of people decide what stays and what goes.

        •  sounds (0+ / 0-)

          like your argument is that it is therefore it is.

          Why is the airspace a national treasure any more than a toll road? Are you therefore also advocating that there should be no privatized tolls roads? National defense - hum so I suppose you will also be advocating that government should take over all the armaments companies starting with Lockheed and Boeing. By your logic they clearly play a major role in National defense which can't trusted to the private sector.

          Why shouldn't we put the system out to bid-require that the winning bidder make all the necessary investments to run the system according to the specifications required.

    •  critics (11+ / 0-)

      I would say the major critic is the FAA and the Republican party... We are viewed as cogs in a wheel, easily replaced.  That philosophy has led to the dismal situation that exists today.

      The entire user community understands the challenges we have in performing our safety critical duties, and they understand that any disruption to that costs them money. We have the full support of the user community.

    •  one point (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Blue Eyed Buddhist

      controllers didn't get to be controllers by sitting back and letting themselves be bossed around.  they are hard headed and opinionated when they feel they are right.  this rubs a lot of people in management the wrong way and they tend to resent controllers. many of them have really enjoyed turning the screws the past few years.

      the other issue is budgetary.  the money pie was recut a few years ago and the controllers pay became smaller, but the contractors slice is increasingly bigger.

      ...the train's got its brakes on and the whistle is screaming.

      by themank on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 05:53:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good point. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Scout Finch

        In fact, I'd go so far as to say that at least some of the strife in the FAA between management and the ATC workforce will ALWAYS be there... simply because of the nature of controllers.

        After all, you take someone, you give them a headset and a radar scope, and you say "okay, pal.  You're in charge of all these airplanes.  They'll do whatever you tell them to do.  If you screw up, a bunch of people die.  

        "You're on your own; everything you say and everything you do is being recorded.  If there's any error, your actions and words will be picked over with a fine-tooth comb, probably by people who've never been there or done that.

        "No matter how good you are, you can probably do it better.  Whatever happens is entirely up to you and is your fault or credit."

        The type of person who's going to do WELL under that kind of circumstance is probably not someone who takes all that kindly to being micromanaged by pinhead bean counters!

        What this means, of course, is that if you really want to be a good employer, you're going to have to work even harder than "normal" employers to keep your employees engaged, part of the process, and give them input into their working conditions, their equipment, new technology, and so forth.

        The FAA under George W Bush (and his political appointees) has gone the opposite direction and is WORSE than the average.

        Go figure.

  •  this is scary - i take a train whenever i can (0+ / 0-)

    "may your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view." Edward Abbey

    by timbuck on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:26:18 AM PST

  •  Mr. Forrey, could you perhaps describe, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Buckeye BattleCry, tlemon, timbuck

    for those of us not familiar, the kind of conditions air traffic controllers work under on a daily basis?  By this I mean the work-a-day demands of the job itself.

    results trump orthodoxy

    by ravedave on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:28:05 AM PST

  •  Has the "Hub" system (0+ / 0-)

    made things better or worse for air traffic control?

    Party like it's 1929!

    by arielle on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:31:53 AM PST

  •  Back in 2004 at LAX (Los Angeles) (7+ / 0-)

    radios went down in the control tower once again due to equipment that did not receive regular maintenance:

    The three-hour radio failure, at the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center, caused widespread disruptions. The system shut down while 800 planes were in the air, and forced delays for 400 flights and the cancellations of 600 more.

    While there were no accidents, there were five incidents in which planes flew closer than rules allow.

    In two cases, ''controllers could see the two data blocks superimposed on each other,'' said Doug Church, a spokesman for the controllers union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said, referring to the block of letters and numbers on the radar screen that locates a plane. ''It was about the longest 12 seconds of their life,'' he said.

    The back up system didn't work either because of a software problem.  This was followed a day or so later by a similar problem at Palmdate, a regional airports.

     

    •  This kind of thing... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pollyusa, blueintheface, joycemocha, brein

      happens more and more lately.

      It's not just something that happened once, three or four years ago!

      The FAA's technicians union, PASS, has been very concerned over the agency's decisions lately to "fix on fail" rather than do regular preventative maintenance.

      So are the controllers!  We have been living with the effects of this; as nearly anyone can predict, the failure rate of many of the components of our work is starting to rise.

      That stinks, because thanks to Murhpy's law, when stuff fails it's a naturally unpredictable event; it can often happen right at the WORST possible time.

      Preventative maintenance, on the other hand, can happen when we can afford for it to happen- during good-weather, low-traffic time periods.

      Yet more madness brought to you by the mind of George W Bush.

  •  Hi (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phil S 33, blueintheface

    Uncle Pat.  A very nice surprise to see you here.

  •  Thank you for all your hard work. (0+ / 0-)

    I cannot imagine the pressures put on your members every day. I also know the Bush administration has been outright hateful to your organization, and has so far failed to implement a proposed agreement with the FAA. I hope the new year brings a thawed relationship with the FAA.

  •  Fundamental conflict (6+ / 0-)

    I used to subscribe to FLYING magazine for a number of years, and have always had a strong interest in aerospace issues, so I've been watching this for some time.

    My impression is that the FAA has always been more than a little dysfunctional because of the inherent conflict in the way it's constituted - and because of the way it is susceptible to political machinations. On the one hand, the FAA is expected to operate and  maintain the physical and regulatory infrastructure so that people can fly safely. On the other hand they're expected to promote air travel (the airlines) while using as few tax payer dollars as possible.

    From what I've picked up from FLYING magazine, it seems like the FAA has always been years behind replacing aging hardware, always been pushing new technology that would solve  the problems - but never quite comes in on time, on budget, or within acceptable performance. It's been going on for decades.

    There have been news stories about FAA personnel being physically threatened for trying to do their jobs, seeing their careers torpedoed by managers for trying to do some whistle blowing, and generally doing an incredible job despite the FAA upper levels of management.

    The big problem the FAA faces is at root a battle between Money and Safety, with the Public Good taking a distant third. Employees are seen as an expendable problem, not as an asset or a resource - commodities to be outsourced and privitized. As long as the government is in the hands of people who worship Money above all else, the situation is not going to get better.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:41:40 AM PST

  •  NATCO (0+ / 0-)
    Is that the scab union formed after the Reagan hatchet job?
    •  It's NATCA... (6+ / 0-)

      ... and some call my union "scabs".  (Note- I don't speak for NATCA, but there's a lot of comments here so I thought I'd jump in to help Pat out!)

      To be fair, when PATCO went on strike, after a few days the FAA had the union decertified.  By the time the VAST majority of NATCA's present members were hired, there were no picket lines, no striking air traffic controllers.

      But within just a few years of the strike, the new controllers (who, like I said, some would call "scabs"- although most unions don't and have made their peace with NATCA) formed a new union.

      What does that tell you about the working conditions at the FAA?

      I got hired ten years after the strike.  At what point are "replacement workers" of a decertified, defunct union no longer "scabs"?  Is there a point?

      Today, NATCA is directly affiliated with the AFL-CIO.  My union works with any and all other unions for all the same goals that Labor does in general; we have a large, effective PAC; and while we (like other federal unions) can't go on strike, we can certainly try to improve working conditions for employees of all companies and the government in the USA.

      When, if at all, would we no longer be a "scab union"?

      •  when (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Blue Eyed Buddhist

        When, if at all, would we no longer be a "scab union"?

        When you petition to take Reagan's name off National Airport.  To me, that name is like a swastika or stars and bars, it hurts whenever I see or hear it.

        •  Tell you one thing... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ohio Angst, Scout Finch, joycemocha

          the controllers were NOT happy about the name change at the airport.

          And even today, the vast majority of clearances given to DCA are this:

          "United One-Two-Three, you are cleared to Washington National Airport via..."

          Most controllers don't call it "Reagan National", just because.

          Now, personally, it doesn't hurt me to see/hear it.  While I didn't like a lot of his policies, I liked Reagan.

          But I'll tell ya... I don't clear folks to "Reagan National", either.  ;)

      •  This is one reason why I'm slightly... (0+ / 0-)

        optimistic even in the event that the UAW goes down (although I naturally don't want anything remotely like that to happen). There will always be workers, and given the nature of the "other side", there will always be workers getting taken advantage of in some way. Thus, to me, unions won't ever vanish - who knows, maybe what's going on today will actually be a wakeup call to those that always seen to vote against their own best interests.

        "And when justice is gone, there's always force."

        by soundchaser on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:59:57 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  How many hours (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kml

    are worked in a week or month? What is normal, how about in extreme times? Hrs. off between shifts?
    Are shifts rotated or permanent? What is typical policy for breaks and meals?
    I worked in a 24/7 environment. Ten days without a day off, some sixteen hr. days. Eight hrs. of sleep? Yeah, like over three days.

    "Never get out of the boat."

    by tlemon on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:44:05 AM PST

    •  40 hours a week... (4+ / 0-)

      ...the normal shift rotation goes something like this:

      Sat: Off
      Sun: Off
      Mon: work 1600-0000
      Tue: work 1300-2100
      Wed: work 0800-1600
      Thu: work 0700-1500
      Fri: work 0001-0801

      There's some variations there; sometimes your afternoon shifts start a bit earlier, sometimes you don't have the graveyard shift at the end of the week.

      Personally I work all afternoon and evening shifts, which makes for a shorter weekend but is nice on the body clock.

      Of course, there are a ton of people who do not get Sat-Sun off; basically about 1/7th of the folks have each "set" of regular days off (S-S, S-M, M-Tu, etc).

      We generally bid our schedule (days off, etc) annually.  It's done by seniority, so you're not stuck with Tu-W off your entire career; sooner or later you'll move up.

      Breaks vary.  Sometimes they'll be frequent (once an hour) and sometimes you have to sit for well over two hours.  Safety studies dating back to WWII show that for this type of concentration task, a break at least every two hours is demanded for safety's sake, but thanks to short-staffing over the past several years that doesn't always happen.

      The schedule you're talking about would be a disaster in the world of ATC.  :(

      •  That is a lot. How many working days each year? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Blue Eyed Buddhist

        I think the controllers I know down under work a roster with four days on, two off.

        I've no idea how many annual leave days they get, but it's a lot more than the usual 10ish govt holiday days + 20 days annual leave (that's the legal minimum here) + 10 days sick leave that those of us in Mon-Fri jobs have.

        •  Amount of leave depends... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          joycemocha

          ...on how long you've been working for the FAA/government.  The amount is the same as any federal worker.

          First three years of your career, you get 13 paid days off a year.

          In years 4 through 15, you get 20 paid days off a year.

          In years 16 and up, you get 26 paid days off a year.

          That's annual leave.  For holidays, it's kind of hit-or-miss; as an essential service job, lots of the time we have to work on the same federal holidays that everyone else gets the day off.

          In those instances, we get the holiday pay on top of our regular pay, so while we don't get the day off we do get "double pay".

          In my 18 years, I've probably worked over half of the Christmases, Thanksgivings, and so forth.

          Sick leave, like all federal employees we get 13 days of sick leave a year.  Thing is that if you use all of your sick leave days in the FAA, you'll probably get a letter counseling you on your sick leave abuse and you'll be required to go and get a doctor's note each and every time you call in sick.

          And if you need MORE than that for sick time, you'll run the risk of getting fired.  Most other westernized nations allow their air traffic controllers to call in sick as much as they want, but after the basic number of days it's unpaid leave.

          That way if a guy is really sick but out of sick leave, he can still stay home and not be forced in to work.  In the FAA, nope, unless someone's got some longer-term type of problem that has a lot of proof and documentation.

          I'd be delighted to work 4 ten-hour days, or 4 9-hour days with a similar reduction in pay, but that won't happen in the USA anytime soon.

      •  It was a disaster for me. (0+ / 0-)

        "Never get out of the boat."

        by tlemon on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:41:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks Blue (0+ / 0-)

        We had five staff to cover five shifts. When someone  was on leave, overtime. One sick another on leave, three of us left to cover two vacant shifts. It meant working a double (16 hrs.), or on your day(s) off.

        "Never get out of the boat."

        by tlemon on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 11:34:36 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Blech. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          tlemon

          Unfortunately, the situation you describe is pretty doggone close to what we have right now in many FAA facilities.

          The contract situation and the management actions have driven so many journeymen controllers to retire that many facilities are presently working mandatory 6-day weeks (lots of overtime).

          We can't do a "double"; we're restricted by law to only work a ten-hour shift, and there's mandatory rest periods in between, and you have to have at least ONE day off every week.

          But yeah, there's plenty of controllers who are working 50+ hour weeks (held over two hours each day, plus a full 8 hours of OT on one of their days off.)

          Thank W Bush and his cronies.

          •  Much more worse conditons (0+ / 0-)

            Training?
            We had required HAZMAT, First Responder, Chlorine Response, Respirator Training (SCBA), Medic-first aid, Terrist Threat, more. And req'd CEU's to maintain certification.

            "Never get out of the boat."

            by tlemon on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 12:41:47 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Hi Pat! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Scout Finch, blueintheface

    Paul from ZSE here... here's a softball question for you:  How does NATCA feel about new technology and automation in general?

    Don't you feel that the Bush Administration has painted the union as though we (disclosure to Kossacks- I'm a member!) are against new stuff?

  •  Back up systems (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueintheface
    1. were the back up communication lines in Memphis removed or never installed?
    1. does this same situation exist in other air traffic control units?
    1. did the Memphis incident prompt any reviews or recommendations (yeah, I know, this is bushco and if it did they were probably just sham if it came from the politicos.)

    What an important article. More journalism in Scout Finch's little finger than in the quickly disappearing Washington bureaus of the nation's newspapers.

    And thanks for the opportunity for questions & discussion!

    Republicans can't run a country. All they can run is a smear campaign. ~ GMT

    Vice harms the doer ~ Socrates

    by kdub on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:46:53 AM PST

    •  The MEM stuff... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kdub, pollyusa

      The most recent incident in Memphis with comm lines was due to the NEW (and supposedly "improved") contract that the FAA had for communications and data.

      Unfortunately, the contractor in a LOT of cases routed the lines through a single-point-of-failure, which later went on to... surprise surprise... fail.

      This situation exists all over the FAA these days.  I have personally seen it on a smaller scale in Seattle Center.

      It didn't prompt any serious reviews or improvements; instead, the political gurus just waited for it to blow over and continued on their path of "cutting costs" and handing over more and more of our critical infrastructure to private contractors.

  •  I think we all know how it's going to work (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phil S 33

    Nobody will pay attention until something catastrophic happens.

    Blame the union for it whatever it was.

    Break union, again.

  •  "You're doin' a great job, [insert nickname]!" (0+ / 0-)

    Where have we heard that before?  It kind of figures, coming from a dufus whose most formative college experience seems to have been cheerleading.

    We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

    by david78209 on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:56:13 AM PST

  •  Really scary (0+ / 0-)

    I mean, seriously, these guys have hundreds of thousands of lives, live that are airborne, in their hands.
    this is the whole Republican philosophy - cut back, privatize, lesser quality, lower quantity.
    The problem may be decades old, but Democrats have only had full control of the government for about four years out of the last 30.
    Things are so antiquated in our country - train systems, highways, air traffic control, etc. that it is going to take a while to get anything close to modern.
    Sigh. I hate Republicans. Really and truly.

    Electing conservatives is like hiring a carpenter who thinks hammers are evil.

    by MA Liberal on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 08:57:19 AM PST

  •  I must leave now (16+ / 0-)

    It's been a pleasure.. sorry I couldn't get to all of your questions.  If you want, please email me at pforrey@natcadc.org and I'll be happy to follow up with your questions.  Thanks you all, and have a happy holiday season!

    Patrick Forrey

  •  What are your views on commercialization? (0+ / 0-)

    As has happened in some other countries?

    I live down under in New Zealand and know a number of people who work at Airways NZ - a couple of controllers and a few other staff. New Zealand was, I think, the first country to have ATC performed by a fully commercial entity - since the mid-1980s or so.

    My discussions with friends there are universally positive - that things run smoothly, it requires no government funding and returns a reasonable dividend to the govt each year, charges to airlines are very low by international comparisons, relations with the unions are mostly good, and Airways returns a portion of profits as rebates to airlines.

    But this environment is seen by those I know as all predicated on the government retaining sole ownership, so that the company can put safety before profit. Their worst nightmare would probably be a sale of Airways to a non-government owner.

    Do you see such a model having any benefit for the United States? Or know of examples where commercialization has been much less successful? My knowledge on the topic is restricted to only this country, and I've no idea its success with this model has been typical or an exception.

    •  Pat's gone now... (7+ / 0-)

      ...but I'll comment some more!  :)

      (Controller for 18 years, blogger, Kossack, etc.  I'm a NATCA member but not speaking for the union and not a NATCA official.)

      Privatization or commercialization partly depends on the competence of the people running the show.  For example, next door in Australia, they have also commercialized their system to some extent, and it's been a disaster; they're continually short-handed and have actually shut down ATC entirely on at least a couple of occasions.

      Here in the USA, we do not have a history with the type of government/corporate working arrangement that a successful system would need.  In nations like New Zealand, or in some of the European nations, they're used to being able to keep a healthy regulatory environment watching over such govt-corporate enterprises; here, though, we don't do it.

      What's more, it's not universally loved.  After 9/11, many nations that had commercialized or privatized ATC systems saw serious problems in funding thanks to the economic downturn and reductions in flying revenues.

      As you point out, putting safety behind profit would be terrible.  Sadly, that's exactly what the FAA has done in many cases with recent moves to contract out services.

  •  What a Fascinating and Informative Story (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Scout Finch

    There's something I don't understand. Isn't the country's air traffic a top-level national security issue?

    How is it that, with a decade of vast expansion in national security spending, that this vital conduit would fall into neglect and decay?

    •  what exactly makes it national security issue (0+ / 0-)

      I can understand that we want to know who is our airspace but that is not an ATC issue. I think there is a difference between a safety and security issue.

      •  Considering the amount of (0+ / 0-)

        business, shipping and so on that is handled by air rather than by rail or truck, I'd say that good airspace management is a national security issue.

        I don't have the numbers but my guess is that if you compare the income from freight shipped by air vs the income from passenger flights the results would be rather eye-opening.  Additionally, given the domestic investment in aerospace, safe management of our airspace would be an economic national security issue.

      •  KIS... (6+ / 0-)

        well, you know the old joke- if I told you, I'd have to kill you!

        The reality is that a ton of military stuff goes on in ATC.  We control all of the aircraft used by the armed forces when they're flying in the United States, of course.

        We also have some defense roles.  For example, the radar units that we use are jointly owned/operated by the Air Force and the FAA.

        When fighters are scrambled on unknown targets, they are worked by FAA air traffic controllers on their way to the intercepts.  We also provide backup for drug smugglers.

        Enroute controllers have security clearances from the government and must maintain them to keep their jobs.  We have secure communication lines, those neato encrypting telephones, you name it.

        And of course we saw on 9/11 how the hijackers tried to avoid our ability to watch them.

        One of the bigger national security issues that the FAA has dealt with is that prior to 9/11, there was a strong push by the FAA to stop using "primary" radar, which was the only radar available to watch those aircraft on that horrible day.  The hijackers all turned off their transponders, which makes them invisible to the secondary radar systems that the FAA wants to keep.

        After 9/11, you quit hearing about the FAA wanting to do away with primary radar.

  •  Shouldn't We Automate With GPS? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CT Yankee, Scout Finch, brein

    I fully appreciate our air traffic controllers, who are as important as pilots and other cockpit crew in getting my plane from one airport to another safely. And whose job, because it deals with more than one plane at a time, is more difficult.

    But I wonder whether we should keep the current way of managing air traffic at all. It seems the current ways are defined mostly by the technology: radar and ground-air radio. But technology has changed radically since air traffic control was defined on those basic techs.

    We now have highly reliable GPS satellites providing exact 3D coordinates for any aircraft, including on the ground. We also now have satellite and other wireless high-speed networks transferring vast quantities of live data. We have gear that can use that infrastructure cheap, small and reliable enough to fit on every plane. And we have very powerful computers and sophisticated software (and techniques for new software) to process all that info, giving very simple pictures (literally) of traffic flow and planning. The systems are commodity enough that we can have multiple layers of backups to assure redundancy and thereby "failover" reliability.

    It seems to me that rather than the centralized ground control systems we've got, we'd be much better off with each plane's position and trajectory, as well as their flight plan, updated live in a model held in computers networked around the world. And with flight controllers on the planes, both navigating their own plane, and teaming up with other controllers across the network to manage the other planes in the air (and getting to and from the air). With ground support largely as a coordinator and backup, and a place for other ground personnel to tap the network, especially in a crisis (like fire chiefs meeting with controllers and managers to prepare for a crippled landing).

    Instead of the reach of local radio and radar leaving some places overwhelmed in a crisis, and other, distant places with extra personnel idle, we could use today's sensors and networks to tie everyone together more efficiently. With controllers on board seeing local conditions, including visuals, weather and the state of the crew, and with everyone having a little more "skin in the game" for keeping those flights on track.

    In fact I'm disappointed that we still rely on recovering "indestructible" black box recorders from often remote and usually cataclysmic crash sites. I don't know why every plane isn't streaming its "black box" data live to a network that both records it safely and is set with alarms dragging emergency personnel over to check the moment something goes abnormal on a flight. Why planes don't have cameras hooked to those live streams to the ground as part of security systems, for counterterrorism and just medical emergencies. We really seem stuck not just in 20th Century technology, but in a 20th Century mindset.

    Does the NATCA have a policy that will bring real 21st Century technology in service of its controllers and the flying population that depends on them? Or are we gearing up to get just "20th Century 2.0", rather than the increased performance and efficiency the newer tech would bring?

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:13:14 AM PST

    •  Doc... (6+ / 0-)

      ..awesome points.  Thing is, you're kind of wrong about some of it.

      Today's most advanced computer systems in the FAA cannot do the things you describe.  What's more, nobody has designed or tested or built the systems you talk about.

      I still regularly work aircraft that do not have GPS.  It's not required by the FAA, and if/when the FAA proposes to require GPS use by all aircraft, there will be a scream from the user community about the costs involved.  

      (They hate having to upgrade, because it costs them lots of money in downtime for airplanes, equipment costs, etc.  Don't forget, this is an industry where many of the airlines are happy to make a $1,000 profit on a trans-continental flight.)

      There are systems on the drawing board that would do all the things you're talking about, but many of them are still in the conceptual stage.  It takes years- literally years- for the FAA to get all the stakeholders to come to agreement on standards for this kind of thing.

      Then it takes more years to get rules written to require their use, and finally years for everyone to upgrade their systems enough for it to be fully implemented.

      The bandwidth required for your datastream isn't there.  The FAA still uses analog radios for voice communication- and that's not proposed to change for at least a decade, if not more!

      NATCA doesn't simply refuse new technology.  Many controllers are, like me, perfectly comfortable with gadgets and so forth; in fact, we have many geeks among us.  :)

      The reality is that we often DO push for newer, better technology.  We would love a true 21st century system.  Thing is, we have these crazy notions that we should be involved in the design, testing, and implementation of that equipment since we're kind of the experts on controlling airplanes!  Yet the FAA refuses to deal with us fairly and has explicitly rejected our participation on projects.

      (For example, NATCA used to have a number of volunteer controllers, working on behalf of the union, stationed in DC and other spots to provide expert advice on new projects.  The FAA terminated all of these liasons and sent them all back to their home ATC facilities.)

      What's more, the "let the pilots control themselves" bit hasn't worked in simulations.  The problems start when you have pilots from competing airlines arriving at the same airport at the same time.  Guess who gets to go first?  Both of them, because neither wants to let the other guy be first!

      When you start injecting profits into it, it gets messy really quick.

      Bottom line is that a lot of what you're talking about is indeed needed and a good idea; it's just that the nitwits in charge of things at the FAA and DOT are Bush appointees, who have all the expertise and ability to manage that kind of program that you'd expect.

      •  "The FAA still uses analog..." (0+ / 0-)

        but TV viewers without cable or satellite are required to go digital in February?

        I'm not gettin' it.

        •  Pretty simple... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ohio Angst, Scout Finch

          the airlines and private pilots have far better lobbying groups than the general public does.  Those groups have successfully lobbied against radio upgrades.

          Yeah, I know- I thought that the general public's "lobbying group" was called Congress.  Silly me!

        •  The FAA moves slowly. Very sowly. (7+ / 0-)

          I'm a pilot and own a small aircraft.

          First of all, my thanks go to Blue Eyed Buddhist and all the great folks who work the ATC system. Their dedication and professionalism show through every time I interact with them - they are awesome (pilots know this).

          Folks should be aware that the FAA moves very, very slowly. They're a very conservative (in a non-political sense) agency, and sometimes what they do (or don't do) can be maddening, even surreal. Yes, some of what the FAA does can seem really dumb at times (to pilots and aircraft owners ay least), but caution and deliberation is not always a bad thing when you're dealing with flight safety.

          Pilots want to see the national aviation system modernized, but we don't want that effort to be used as a way to sneak in other, unwanted, and ultimately negative changes.  As the sytem is modernized, we need to be vigilant to make sure that we don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

          As a pilot, I have two worried about this.

          First, that ATC services will be privatized (contracted out to the lowest bidder). The Bush administration was quietly pushing for this. It's a way to bust the union and reward cronies (see Lockheed Martin).

          Second, that user fees will be imposed as a way to pay for the sytem upgrade.  User fees will lead to dangerous situations as pilots try to economize by skipping some services that they would be billed for on a use-by-use basis. The existing funding mechanism is perfectly adequate (aircraft owners pay a fuel tax to support the system - it's efficient and fair: the more you use the system, the more you pay, it works well). The Bush administration has been crying about a (fictitious) "funding crisis" - just like they have with Social Security. There's no funding crisis, this was just a screen to try and privatize things more.

          There are times when I wish the FAA would move more quickly...in many ways they do seem stuck in the 1940s....but whatever changes may come to that agency (and how we modernize the national airpsace system), we need to be careful not to break what is working well.  Some aspects of our aviation system are great.

          We could use some of the infrastructure investments though....

          •  And actually.. (6+ / 0-)

            in some ways, moving slowly isn't always a BAD thing.

            By moving deliberately, at least, we can avoid spending money on stuff that isn't going to work out in the long run.  For example, remember when "push" technology was the hottest thing on the internet?

            There were companies that popped up all over with little streaming text crawls and such, forcing stuff onto your screen.

            Well, what do you hear about push now?  Not much- because it wasn't really what the internet users wanted.

            If we'd gone heavy into something like that in aviation, we would have spent a lot of money only to wind up with something that nobody really wanted to use.

            In fact, there are examples of that IN aviation.  For a while, MLS (microwave landing systems) were THE hot technology.  Everyone was going to have one.  They were (supposedly) way better than the old-school, traditional ILS navigation aids.

            Today?  The vast, vast majority of airplanes landing in the US- and I'm talking like 99% of them- are not using MLS.  In fact, I don't know if there's an MLS in regular use anywhere in the USA.

            But for a while, man, that was THE thing, and the FAA was very gung-ho about it.

            As leftyboy points out, there are a couple of big danger zones out there for the FAA, and putting Obama into office won't stop the push by some for user fees and privatization.

            Hopefully we can move deliberately on the things that are unproven.

            •  IM and Email Are Push (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Blue Eyed Buddhist

              Actually, instant messaging and email are "push", as well as texting (including texted news/etc). It works, it's the most popular kind of transaction on the Internet.

              But if it were up to AOL/Microsoft or AT&T/Verizon, those apps would never have been rolled out. They were, in each case, originally a hack by some users of the tech that crudely delivered push, that those controlling gatekeepers refused to believe would be business centers for them. But the clever hackers and early adopters made it happen, until the gatekeepers were forced to deliver what the people wanted.

              That's not possible with the FAA and control systems. But it's the same parallel. Like when AOL/Microsoft or AT&T/Verizon tried to roll out their own many futile features that the market didn't want, and they failed. The model you're subscribing to doesn't really work, either in the air or over the air/Internet.

              I hope we can move past that kind of "idea monopoly" mindset. We're long overdue for it, and the Obama Era is as good a time as any for getting ahead of the curve that's leaving us behind.

              "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

              by DocGonzo on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 06:16:43 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Didn't mean to threadjack, and thanks for all (0+ / 0-)

            the explanations. I'm a techno-wimp.

            Our office went totally digital two years ago with great success except for the fax machines.  They were all sent back and replaced with analog machines.

            ...still threadjacking...

            Bad Hoolia.  Bad! Get yer book and get off the 'net.

        •  Newer and shinier (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pollyusa, Blue Eyed Buddhist

          Something that is very hard for people who are deeply invested in the Internet world to accept is that "newer and shinier" does not necessarily equal "better".  Those who have been around the deeper levels of technology for a while will almost all tell you that when life is on the line less-capable-but-proven it vastly preferable to newer-shinier-techier-unproven.

          Just as one example, digital (anything) is not necessarily better than analog (anything).  Over the last 20 years "analog" has come to used as an insult meaning obsolete, ineffective, or just plan old, but there are many very solid analog technologies that are still in use and well should be.

          sPh

          Digital IS almost always cheaper to mass-produce and easier to put eye-candy on though.

          •  The Analog vs Digital Difference (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Blue Eyed Buddhist

            The actual difference between digital and analog value is that digital is much more effective for control systems, while analog is much more effective for fidelity in reproduction.

            The kinds of comms and location tech that I'm describing has specific benefits over the old analog systems we're still using. We don't need hi-fi radio comms, we need a lot more comms among a lot more points. We don't need "hi-def radar", we need each plane's location easily and quickly found and communicated among a lot of interested parties. That all means digital.

            I didn't propose those new technologies because they're "shinier". I proposed them because they solve specific longstanding problems in the best way. That happens to be digital for most communications problems these days, especially when media reproduction quality need not be more than adequate.

            "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

            by DocGonzo on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 06:21:25 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  I'm Not Wrong (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Blue Eyed Buddhist

        You kicked off that insightful response by saying I'm wrong about some points. But I'm not, at least not according to your response.

        Because I'm explicitly talking about upgrading the flight control tech. I say so explicitly several times through my post. I'm talking about upgrading from the low-bandwidth analog radios and isolated radar to the high bandwidth comms and location tech that's available now, though not applied to flight control. Which I detailed.

        Now, you do make important points about the people involved in such an upgrade, to a more "peer to peer" system like I described. And indeed I do specify keeping ground control centers, which should resolve the conflicting decisions that competing flight crews might make which don't maximize safe traffic, but instead maximize their personal interests (like their flight, their airline, or their boyfriend arriving ontime). That problem seems entirely solvable in application.

        The bigger problem, of course, is the FAA. Its resistance to new tech. Its resistance to working with its labor, especially NATCA members. Probably filtered through 14 years of Republican Congress, 8 years of Bush, and grounded in Reagan's epic NATCA unionbusting. But the point of this story is that we have a new administration, more sympathetic to unions as a whole. And perhaps less interested in fetishizing the airlines that prefer to armor cockpits than to make them telecom centers. My point is that the new administration can use new technology to make this stuff work.

        We're looking at the future. The NATCA initiatives shot down by Bush and the FAA which are consistent with better communications for more distributed cooperation in improving air traffic should be revisited now. I've got my own ideas, as I explained, which I'd like to see NATCA get behind. If they already have them in the archives, let's dust them off, update them to the latest good gear, and try to bring the industry into that future together.

        "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

        by DocGonzo on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 06:11:09 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm sorry... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          sphealey

          you're right, I didn't explain how you're wrong.  ;)

          You're wrong in presuming that such technology will make much (if any) real difference in how effective we are at the real goals of ATC.

          For example, the FAA keeps touting "NextGen", which implements a LOT of what you're talking about.  GPS-based systems will, through airplane-based data transponders (the "ADS-B" system) update much more frequently the exact position of the aircraft.

          That update will not only go to ATC, but also to any/all properly equipped aircraft in the immediate vicinity.

          So why won't that help?  Because the fact of the matter is that the REAL constraint on the system, when you're talking about delays, is in how many airplanes can use a given runway in a given time period (to land, take off, or a mix of both).

          And THAT metric is pretty much limited by physics- and we've already gotten pretty much right up against the theoretical limits on those numbers.

          In other words, letting them fly more precisely and closer in the skies is great, but it won't help the guy at JFK to launch more airplanes in the 7am departure rush.

          Basic physics of wake turbulence and safety rules (you can't let one airplane land until the preceeding airplane has cleared the runway) mean that you can, even in perfect weather, only land so many planes per hour.

          When the airlines schedule more planes to arrive in an hour than the absolute good-weather limit, you're going to have delays- and all the gee-whizzy stuff in the cockpit in the world won't make a bit of difference.

          So I guess we're just kind of talking apples and oranges.  NATCA isn't anti-technology, really.  We're all for it; anything that improves safety and capacity is GREAT in our book.

          But we also are realists, because we're the ones doing it daily.  We know that a lot of what the Bushies are selling (and what the AIA is selling- see my diary on "Who Are These AIA Guys Anyway") is BS and won't actually help the situation.

          That's why I think that your suggestions, while good, aren't really a super-duper solution to the real problem.

          The real problem is that there's too many planes trying to use too little concrete.

          •  I'm Still Not Wrong (0+ / 0-)

            Are you telling me that the only problem with air traffic controller productivity (or working conditions) is the constraining rate of planes that can physically take off from an airport? Are you really saying that the old technology's delivery of position and voice/cockpit data isn't a bottleneck?

            And how about if the heralded infrastructure revolution in the next several years distributes passenger load more equally around regional airports connected by rail. Does the old tech keep up with the traffic complexity, when there's more traffic in the region, as airport bottlenecks are avoided by sharing?

            "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

            by DocGonzo on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 04:52:41 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  This is interesting and I've wondered in all (0+ / 0-)

    our travels lately just how good/bad things were.  
    I along with many here was disgusted with RayGun's policies and the way the Air Traffic Controllers were treated.  It was the start in a long Union bash-fest by repubs.
    I DO call my congresspeople, as well as leaders, to express my concerns on issues, always citing specifics as they come along.
    To that end, I'd look forward to occasionally reading about specific issues the Controllers what congressional action on.
    However, I must say that whomever I call, Repub or Dem, I feel like it's often a waste of time.
    I know it would be a terrible inconvenience and I'll probably take flack for saying so, but a good old fashioned strike may not be out of order.  We will have a Prez who insists he's pro-Union, so if things don't improve quickly I'd say force his hand. Many of the things workers want - safety concerns and the like, often don't cost much of anything to implement.
    You may not get everything, but we may all be better off in the long run.  A little regulation with a little Union strength may just bring better balance to these issues.

  •  I could be wrong, but (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RustyBrown

    I would suspect that any 20-something that's had a Game System joystick in his hands before he was one - and that would include practically every 20-something - has the general makeup to assume the duties of an Air Traffic Controller. That's NOT to say that they're all qualified, but that the job is much like a video game. Albeit a live video game. So, I would suspect the job would appeal to Gamers. And, there are a whole bunch of Gamers out there. And, sure, the pay and bennies are being "right sized," but where ain't that happening?? Welcome to the real world. And, thank God I don't fly.

    Second Life NetRoots Nation. Party with us at Cafe Wellstone!

    by winkk on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:30:54 AM PST

    •  right, except there's no Level Save and restarts (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sphealey
    •  You're wrong... (8+ / 0-)

      ... the reality is that it's just not a job that "just about any" 20-something can do.

      First of all, it's not a video game.  In fact, while some skills that gamers have do translate, some do not.  It's absolutely impossible to get a do-over in ATC; if you don't get it right the first time, a few hundred people are turned into a thin pink mist in the sky while teeth, luggage, and aluminum shower down onto a neighborhood.

      (Sound overblown?  Ask the people of Lockerbie, Scotland what happened when a Pan Am blew up overhead.)

      The reality is that historically, only a very small percentage of those who apply for a job as a controller manage to make it all the way through training.

      Even today, we're seeing washout rates in some facilities of well over 50%- and everyone that's hired to BE a controller is in their 20s, because there's an age limit for hiring (you must be hired prior to your 31st birthday).

      Believe it or not, controllers are not demanding huge fat raises.  What our union has been so upset about is that the FAA never negotiated with us in good faith; instead, they simply declared impasse and walked away from the table, unilaterally implementing their own set of work rules.

      Yeah, those work rules included over 30% pay cuts, but there's a lot more to it than that.  Vacation time?  Forget it.  Taking sick leave?  You're getting threatened by management.  Dress codes, shorter staffing, more time spent in front of the scopes, you name it- they're doing all of it, in a petty, small-minded way.

      Controllers have big egos.  It pains me to admit it, but we do.  But the reality is that we're not asking for the moon and the stars; we just want a fair, equal shake in things.

      The day that's "too radical" is a sad day indeed.

    •  Very wrong (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Blue Eyed Buddhist

      Spatial-temporal reasoning

      Visualize in 3 dimensions with a strong sense of time.

      Separating airplanes is not a game.

      •  Sounds a Lot like Gaming to me. (0+ / 0-)

        And, I didn't say that all Gamers were qualified. Just that, if I were a recruiter, I'd go look in the Malls for the kids with the highest scores. Or, maybe hold a Gaming Conference. See who can play and who can't. I think the best candidates for the job would come from the Gaming world. The Military recruits Gamers. Maybe ATC should take a page from their book. Could be wrong, though. And, not for nuthin', but R.R. stuck his d*** up the Union's butt in 1981, initiating the decline if not the demise of Unions everywhere. I doubt if the FAA gives a flying flip about the "plight" of the Air Traffic Controllers. Wouldn't be surprised if their goal is to hire 19-somethings at minimum wage. And, dare take more than 2 minutes to pee and you're looking at a 3 day suspension. Maybe the Obama Admin will set a friendlier tone towards unions. We can only hope! I sympathize with the Controllers! I do. But, this handwriting has been on the wall for almost 30 years. And, i don't know how we reverse it unless the Flying Public gets sick of flying in busses with wings for trips farther than the Wright brothers made at Kitty Hawk.

        Second Life NetRoots Nation. Party with us at Cafe Wellstone!

        by winkk on Mon Dec 22, 2008 at 12:23:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent (0+ / 0-)

    diary. The whole affair, from Reagan forward, has been a sad and frightening one. Those who stand in the breach deserve more than just credit for a job well done. They also need to be respected. The least part of which would be listening to them, concerning air traffic control.

    Common Sense is not Common

    by RustyBrown on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:49:39 AM PST

  •  pushing tin (11+ / 0-)

    Here are a couple of links to some fascinating videos depicting air traffic.

    Air Traffic Worldwide

    Created by the Zürcher Hochschule School of Engineering in Switzerland, this shows global air traffic during a 24-hour period.

     

    Flight Patterns is a collection of videos created by Aaron Koblin using the Processing language. Data -> beautiful.

    "They're telling us something we don't understand"
    General Charles de Gaulle, Mai '68

    by subtropolis on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:59:17 AM PST

  •  I have friends who are ATC (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pollyusa

    and have told me some things.

    One friend talked about how an undersecretary to Blakely talked at their Air Traffic Control Academy graduation and was stunningly incompetent - like, didn't understand the question he was being asked incompetent.

    Another point to remember is that all these younger controllers who have just entered the system that have been absolutely screwed out of the much better pay their senior colleagues are making and which they were promised.

    One friend of mine got his college degree (as was required at the time) before submitting his paperwork and then waiting around for a year and a half for the system to catch up to him. In that time, they slashed the pay for controllers, breaking a contract and an agreed starting salary he had already signed.

    As a result, you have people in a stressful, demanding job in a vital part of the national infrastructure still living paycheck to paycheck. To me, that is absolutely irresponsible and reckless. And grossly unfair when the guy next to him, doing the same job, is making magnitudes higher than he is.

    If God hadn't wanted us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

    by HamillianActor on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 09:59:20 AM PST

  •  The image, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WillR

    shows the US less than three inches wide.The flight symbols are of airplanes less than 200 ft wide with a 1,000 ft minimum altitude anywhere from 4M to 40M ft.or more,plus the required horizontal separation. The real air traffic control problem is within a mile or two of the destination airport and especially on the ground. The only real answer is of course more runways and ground infrastructure to handle both aircraft and folks. Once a flight is out and about the risk is negligible

    •  Those two airplanes that whacked over Brazil (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pollyusa, Scout Finch, geez53

      sending 154 people to their untimely deaths would beg to differ.

      You make an excellent point- the reality is that most of the danger these days is immediately in/around the airports.  But you're kidding yourself to say that the risk is "negligible" once you're "out and about", because the consequences of a collision while enroute are so dire.

      As soon as airplanes are in holding patterns, they're taking up a LOT more airspace, even while enroute.  And thanks to delays, holding happens all too often.

  •  Would the Airline's unions be of help here? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    geez53

    Given they are the most frequent of flyers, wouldn't the airline pilot's and flight attendant's unions be a good way to raise consciousness on this problem?  They certainly have lots of ways to act including a work stoppage.  And they have perfect reasoning beyond labor solidarity (i.e. their own lives and livelihoods).

    Paul
    ('scuse my login name, chosen in a fit of snarkiness during the recent election to illustrate how much John had changed for the job)

    •  The problem is... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pollyusa, Scout Finch, LillithMc, geez53

      ...that the pilots and flight attendants' unions are busy keeping their own heads above water these days.

      Personally I'd like to see NATCA do more outreach with other unions, but we only have so much for resources and time as well.

    •  Nail on the Head, Yes, they "could" be very (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Blue Eyed Buddhist

      helpful if they, and all other unions, acted as a UNION. But even if Management were not trying to "divide and conquer" full time, it would still be tough to get all the seperate unions to pull as one.

      It does happen though, our school system custodial unit would not have gotten as much "traction" as fast as it did, had it not been for the teachers union honoring the work stoppage. But that was 30 years ago.  

      Get to work slackers.....2016 is almost here.

      by geez53 on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 11:24:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Don Brown's blog is an excellent source of info (4+ / 0-)

    If you are interested in this topic I strongly suggest visiting Don Brown's blog.  Don is a recently retired controller and long-time safety committee member who has written many understandable articles about ATC for various publications.  Be forewarned though:  he makes his opinion quite clear!

    sPh

  •  Just a couple of comments from a Flyer (3+ / 0-)

    I am an Army Guard Helicopter FLight Engineer.

    The new Flight Station service under Lockheed is staffed by people that do NOT know their job, and are VERY unknowledgable about local conditions.
    The quality of service delivered to pilots has gone down considerably since they took over.

    Secondly, while we do have excellent folks at the FAA (The Controllers are pretty much wonderful professionals) the US Radar system is not very good, there are still a lot of areas where radar coverage is spotty at best.  And many of the radar sites have blind areas where if an aircraft is flying on instrument flight rules (IFR) the controller in many cases cannot SEE the aircraft
    they are supposed to be controlling.

    Throw bad weather into this mix, and/or higher levels of traffic density and I fully understand why controllers get ulcers and high blood pressure.

    Privatization of anything in the national airspace is a VERY bad idea.

    Is the entire Republican party composed of relatives of Bagdhad Bob? - Catatonia

    by Nebraskablue on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 02:27:41 PM PST

  •  lame (0+ / 0-)

    I would be more inclined to believe air controllers to be independent. And throw in some right and left wing people in there too. Otherwise, how could it fly?

  •  I'll vouch for every word (3+ / 0-)

    I'm a controller with 22 years experience.  Management is very deliberately trying to demoralize the workforce. It is premeditated and systematic.  The only thing that makes sense to me is that they just do not like controllers. They would like to just get rid of us but they can't. And unfortunately they are just as deliberately lowering the standards for the new hires as well.

    I don't know how many times a week I simply sit back and shake my head in disbelief at what is being done to a once great air traffic control system.  Many, no, nearly all, of the old-timers that are still 'working traffic' feel the same way. We felt such loyalty and pride in this great system. And it's painful to see it simply being trashed by a bunch of incompetent Bushbots.

    It will be a long time before a human can be replaced with a machine in air traffic.  In the meantime we need professionals with loyalty and pride in their job.  I can't stress enough how important this is.  The way management is trying to break the union is to destroy this pride and loyalty.

    ...the train's got its brakes on and the whistle is screaming.

    by themank on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 06:15:02 PM PST

  •  Thanks for an interesting and informative piece. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MissInformation

    "The other folks are voting!" Rep. Chambliss (R-GA)

    by keeplaughing on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 07:07:00 PM PST

  •  Being on your toes. (0+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    Hidden by:
    Blue Eyed Buddhist

    That many flights in the air at one time really keeps those guys on there toes.

  •  Contract Tower Program (0+ / 0-)

    Just ask NATCA about the Contract Tower Program. Less cost, significantly better safety rate with less equipment in tougher environments and a darned better attitude with great customer service. Ask any pilot, the majority will agree. NATCA should join hands with the UAW Detroit Dinosaurs and sing thier union song as the water rises over the deck. "Go down and join the Union, go down today..."

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