September 12, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) has lashed out at an anonymous letter published by AVweb last Thursday in which a controller (air traffic, there are no other kinds) contends that a looming controller shortage is largely a myth and that many controllers take advantage of liberal working conditions enshrined in the union contract. NATCA initially declined AVweb's invitation to respond to *Jane Doe's* allegations, but President John Carr apparently had a change of heart. In his response letter, which appears in full in our expanded online coverage (along with multiple letters from other controllers and retired controllers who wrote in support of Ms. Doe's position), Carr categorically denies most of *Jane Doe's* allegations, doubts if she is really a working controller and appears to suggest she may be mentally ill. Carr says there is ample evidence, not only from NATCA but from the FAA, the Government Accountability Office and the Inspector General for the Department of Transportation, that the shortage is real and is going to get worse. He also defends the work ethic of controllers, noting that "time on position" is not an accurate reflection of productivity because controllers have other work to do during their shifts. Carr also defends the sick-leave provisions for controllers (two and a half weeks per year) as necessary given the numerous over-the-counter cold, flu and allergy medications that disqualify a controller from working traffic.
Carr takes a swipe at FAA spokesman Greg Martin's comments, which appeared in our edition last Thursday. Martin told AVweb that many of *Jane Doe's* allegations are well-known to the agency and that the agency is working to place more emphasis on performance and productivity. Carr criticizes Martin for commenting at all on anonymous allegations and says that if the agency knows such activity is going on then the people who have failed to act on it should be fired. Carr also criticizes CRU-X, a computerized productivity-monitoring system under development by the FAA, saying it won't work if implemented as planned. Carr claims the FAA cheaped out on the CRU-X system by basing it on off-the-shelf software that can't handle the workload of anything but the smallest ATC facilities. He says the union has told the FAA that it won't oppose implementation of CRU-X provided it goes into every facility. So far the offer hasn't been accepted.
Carr is applauding a move by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and General Government to include $10 million for the hiring of new air traffic controllers. In a press release, Carr says the money is just a beginning to ensure adequate staffing in the future. "We will not rest until we have enough eyes watching our skies," he said. Both the Senate and the House now have money in their appropriations bills to hire more controllers but the bills still have a long way to go before they are passed. "We hope the House and Senate approve this funding and work to continue providing resources to hire and train controllers in coming years," Carr said.
The following is the text of the letter sent to AVweb from NATCA president, John Carr:
My name is John Carr. I am president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA,) and I represent slightly over 20,000 aviation safety related professionals at the FAA, Department of Defense and in the private sector. One of my largest bargaining units is the air traffic controller bargaining unit, numbering somewhere near 15,000 on any given day.
I am writing to address the issues raised in the anonymous letter you printed on September 9th from one "Jane Doe," allegedly an air traffic controller. Leaving aside for a moment the propriety of printing anonymous letters, I would like to take this opportunity to comment on and challenge virtually every assertion made by your ghost letter writer.
I must begin with a moment of clarity for your readers. NATCA advised you that we would be happy to grant interviews with you on any of the topics contained in the letter, but that we did not see the value in commenting on anonymous accusations about unidentified facilities. Therefore, your characterization that we emphatically declined to comment is unfortunately not accurate. That's a shame. We think your readers would have liked to know our positions on the issues raised. That's why I am writing today. The following are the facts.
First and foremost, every AvWeb reader should be shocked and, frankly, quite concerned about the remarks attributed to FAA spokesman Greg Martin. Incredibly enough, Martin believes an anonymous letter with no investigation, no corroboration, no evidence and no due process constitutes "troubling charges" that are "well known to the agency." If they are well known to the agency and the agency has done nothing about them, then agency officials responsible for such malfeasance should be removed from office immediately for dereliction of duty. Absent such affirmative action I will assume these anonymous and unsubstantiated charges are without merit or the agency is incompetent, inept and unable to manage their own affairs.
Second, Martin alleges CRU-X is controversial. What Martin does not report---probably because his superiors don't think he needs to know it---is that I have personally offered both Marion Blakey and Russ Chew the opportunity to turn CRU-X on immediately at every facility in the nation, without bargaining or union participation. The only caveat I have asked for in return is that it be done at every facility. Curiously enough, both Blakey and Chew have refused my more than generous offer. Why? Because CRU-X does not work. It does not work at large facilities, it does not work at medium sized facilities and it is only marginally efficient at small facilities. CRU-X is controversial because the agency tried to create a boutique computer program using lightweight software (Microsoft Access,) and their productivity product is crash-prone, buggy and unsuitable for nationwide implementation. The fact that the FAA still has the DOT Inspector General buffaloed concerning CRU-X ranks right up there with "Who Shot JR?" on the list of all-time good summer mysteries.
Now, to the text of your phantom pen pal's letter. She opens by claiming that no controller has been overworked at her last three facilities. Her remarks in this regard are telling from several perspectives. First, almost no controller refers to himself or herself as an "air traffic controller." We call ourselves just plain controllers, because we assume you know that there are no other kinds. Your author refers to controllers in the third person in much of her letter, which is also very telling. Controllers say "I," and "we." They rarely speak, Mr. T-like, in the third person when referring to themselves. For these reasons I doubt seriously that your letter writer is an active controller. Oh, she may have been one and might be in management or she could be one of those training failures she rails so mightily about, but I doubt that she's pushed much tin in her life.
Ms. Anonymous disagrees that staffing is too low. What Anonymous doesn't offer is any definitive proof concerning her claims. My organization is on record regarding the staffing issue, and as luck would have it we have no less an authority that the FAA Administrator, the GAO and the DOT IG as our proof points. Each of the three has testified regarding the looming staffing crisis. The fact that a single controller in a single facility disagrees isn't news. What is news is that we are already seeing staffing shortages occur. And what is also news is that when you increase staff to levels that the FAA actually requires, operational errors decline, or, simply put, safety increases.
Anonymous mentions time on position as if it is the Holy Grail of productivity measurements. Imagine my surprise in discovering that nothing could be further from the truth. Controllers do training, briefings, mandatory recurrency regimens and a whole host of other things that, while considered productive time, are not recorded as being "on position." Four hours on position plus two hours of non-position work is six hours a day. Allowing for two breaks and a lunch there isn't much time unaccounted for. I will also add that you probably don't want controllers staring at the ol' radar scope for more than about two hours on position without a break, a standard which the FAA agrees to, lest attentiveness wander and mental acuity fade (as all the research on the subject suggests it will.)
Stop the presses if you think using vacation time is newsworthy. Even the draconian FAA recognizes that employee vacation time is an earned right, not a privilege, and it is requested by the employee, approved by management, and used at the discretion of the controller. Anonymous makes it sound like a scandal. Sorry., . Using vacation time for a vacation is pretty much how things are done out here in the big world.
I am very grateful that your mystery scribe mentioned sick leave, because there is a misconception concerning sick leave that exists at the very highest levels of the agency. You see, controllers are drug tested, alcohol tested, vision tested, mentally tested, and are prohibited from working while taking a whole host of over the counter medications, including such medicine cabinet standards as NyQuil and Sudafed. This is appropriate, and as it should be.
I assure you that you do not want a controller working the noon balloon into Chicago O'Hare -- or anywhere else for that matter -- who's-reaction-time-is-slowed-by-the-effects-of-medication. To be blunt with you, working controllers longer, older and sicker is not only bad public policy but dangerous and unsafe. That moment of hesitation you sacrifice might be the difference between a safe operation and a thin pink mist at thirty thousand feet.
Anonymous did make one very salient and I believe correct point. The controllers union is staffed with very smart individuals. We take the safety of the flying public as our sacred trust, and we have an eighteen-year record of accomplishment in this regard. We have always been at the forefront of modernization, procedural innovation, technological introduction and productivity improvement. Our record of achievement can be abundantly documented in congressional testimony, memorandums of understanding, flexible work rules that allow for additional duties and contract after contract reached in good faith with our employer.
Anonymous allegations regarding drug use are troubling. I trust she has communicated them with the appropriate legal authorities for proper investigation and adjudication. The FAA has one of the lowest recorded drug use rates in the world, statistics readily available to anyone with the wherewithal to check. While Anonymous waxes philosophical about the protections offered these troubled individuals she ignores and even tramples on their rights to due process and rehabilitation. I can only hope she is in perfect mental and physical health for the duration of her career, lest someone suggest she, too be fired (although from the text of her letter the former is certainly in doubt.) Neither the FAA nor NATCA condones drug use, on or off duty. When it is discovered, by the very stringent protocols to which we are all subjected, the law takes over. It's pathetic and a little sad that such fair treatment escapes Anonymous' notice in her rush to judgment.
If controllers seem to Anonymous as arrogant, it's because controllers are taught to be right, 100% of the time, in 100% of the decisions that they make. Such training creates a certain foxhole mentality in towers and radar rooms, but it is no different in other high stress, high tech and high-pressure occupations, like police and firefighters. Is there a certain mental toughness required to perform the job? Absolutely. Is that something you want when you are hurtling through space in a Pringles tube full of jet fuel at five hundred miles an hour and someone else is making life and death decisions for you? I think so.
How controllers dress for work is immaterial to performance, but since she mentioned it I will cover it nonetheless. The dress code for controllers is negotiated between union and management. While I appreciate Anonymous' fashion sense she has no clue regarding what the employer thinks is appropriate work attire. Perhaps she could sit down with Greg Martin and hash that one out. While I doubt that a snappy Versace ensemble with matching broach and shoes will make one a better controller, I'm always willing to try new and innovative techniques.
Anonymouscloses by mentioning controller pay. I must assume from her tone and tenor she believes herself to be overpaid, and I anxiously await your research into what she does with these excess purloined wages. Does she do like Congressman DeFazio, and fund scholarships with her pay raises? Does she contribute them to charity? I can't wait to see if she is dedicated to her convictions, or if she is, as they say in Texas, "all hat, no cattle."
For the record: controllers are fairly compensated for the high stress, high tech, high-pressure work they perform. They are in a career that OPM has designated for special retirement provisions due to the fact that most employees would be unable to achieve a normal retirement due to the unique demands of the job. They give the very best years of their lives to their employers, and they give every ounce of themselves to the work they love and the people they serve. While you cannot put a price tag on safety, the salaries paid to air traffic controllers in this country rank as the best bargain since Manhattan Island was bought for a couple strings of colored beads.
Anonymous will respond to emails from you, but fears her peers. What I say to Anonymous is, "have no fear. Call me directly." My number is 202/628-5451 and if anonymous, or any of your readers, wish to discuss these matters further, I would be more than happy to oblige.
You see, I run an organization that is bedrocked on trust, honor and integrity. Facts, as our FAA Administrator would say, are stubborn things, and the facts are not with your Pulitzer pretender in any way, shape, form or fashion.
The staffing crisis is real. I am disappointed, that you found such anonymous rumor and hearsay to be newsworthy. You have not served the public well.
Best personal regards,
John S. Carr President NATCA
PILOT INSURANCE CENTER BIG SAVINGS, SIMPLE AND QUICK
Shortsighted ... ridiculous ... outrageous ... lunacy ... these are just a few of the terms that quickly filled the air after U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill into the House last week that would impose onerous security procedures on general aviation. The bill (H.R. 5035) would require the Department of Homeland Security to ensure the screening of all passengers and property on each flight of every passenger aircraft in the U.S. -- including general aviation aircraft of all types. It would also prohibit any non-airline aircraft from flying within 1,500 feet of any structure or building and prohibit non-airline aircraft from flying over any U.S. city with a population of 1 million or more. Land of the free, home of the brave. It would further require that pilots of all aircraft in U.S. airspace remain in contact with the FAA, presumably by radio, regardless of altitude or location. "It's sad that the solemn anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is being used to introduce this bill, which does nothing to enhance security and smacks of election-year grandstanding," said EAA's Doug Macnair, vice president of government relations. "Preposterous, unrealistic, and unnecessary," were the choice words from AOPA President Phil Boyer. "General aviation is not a threat. The TSA has already said so."
EAA and AOPA staff snagged members of the House Transportation and Aviation Committees last week to express their dismay, and AOPA spokesman Chris Dancy told AVweb on Friday they got some assurances the legislation would meet staunch opposition. Dancy also said Weiner has agreed to meet with AOPA President Phil Boyer, but no time has yet been set. Both EAA and AOPA are asking their members, and all concerned aviators, to contact their congressional representatives and express opposition to this bill. AOPA staff are also talking to Senate staffers in an effort to head off the introduction of any companion legislation, Dancy said. EAA's Macnair said on Thursday, "The extreme shortsightedness of this bill speaks for itself and completely counters the government's own security experts, who have continually stated that general aviation does not pose a significant security threat to the U.S."
While H.R. 5035 seems destined to die under the weight of its own excess, the fact that such a bill is even introduced in the U.S. House suggests that GA still has a long way to go. Three years after 9/11, a restrictive ADIZ has shut down a huge chunk of Washington, D.C., airspace. TFRs are frequent and hard to track. Overflight bans remain in place at stadiums. And as Rep. Weiner's legislation shows, not everyone is aware of the work that has been done to secure GA and to explain why small aircraft are not a threat. And general aviation businesses still have seen no financial reparations for losses due to the airspace shutdown, though $100 million was authorized for GA through legislation.
Taking point on financial hardship, National Air Transportation Association (NATA) President James K. Coyne last week sent a letter to all members of the U.S. Congress to remind them that three years later, GA is still waiting for financial help. "While the airlines were allowed to operate within a few days after September 11 and received $5 billion in federal grants to compensate for being grounded, general aviation's gradual return to the skies took several months, and in some cases operations are still prevented today," Coyne wrote. "Thousands of businesses of all shapes and sizes still regularly confront federally mandated restrictions preventing them from conducting revenue-generating flights." While payments of $100 million to GA were authorized in legislation last year, those funds have yet to be appropriated or disbursed. And as for airline security, the Allied Pilots Association reports that despite all the money and effort that has been invested, the system remains vulnerable.
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About three dozen representatives from the aviation industry met at the FAA's newly minted Light-Sport Aviation Branch in Oklahoma City last week and spent three days working on the details of the Sport Pilot regulations. On the agenda were defining the practical test standards for all Sport Pilot ratings; written tests for Sport Pilots and Sport Pilot instructors; Sport Pilot examiners; Light-Sport Aircraft operating limitations and airworthiness issues; Light-Sport Aircraft repairman courses; and requirements for Light-Sport Aircraft designated airworthiness representatives. The FAA expects the final operating limitations for Experimental Light-Sport Aircraft to be completed later this fall, in time for the initial training sessions for Sport Pilot designated pilot examiners, EAA said at its Sport Pilot Web site on Friday. At the meeting, FAA officials confirmed that the FAA's Registration Office in Oklahoma City will be ready to accept student pilot applications for Sport Pilot certificates beginning Nov. 15, EAA said. The FAA expects to begin issuing the first Sport Pilot certificates by early January 2005. "This session is a historic milestone," said Earl Lawrence, EAA vice president of government and industry relations. "It is a groundbreaking approach for FAA to include the aviation community in the development of testing standards and inspection processes, rather than just giving them review privileges after the fact. FAA has made clear it's willing to make this a cooperative venture."
It seems counterintuitive that while Delta Air Lines is cutting 7,000 jobs and Alaska Air says 900 jobs will disappear, Delta's flight-school subsidiary is expanding and the airline is worried that a looming pilot shortage may cause flight cancellations -- but the juxtaposition shows to what degree the industry is in flux. Delta Connection Academy opens a new branch in Dayton, Ohio, this month, ready to train new pilots for regional jets, which are growing in number even as the "legacy" carriers like Delta struggle to avoid bankruptcy. Delta said last week it will expand its regional-jet fleet from 36 to 48 aircraft. Delta also faces disruption from a possible crew shortage, as pilots worried about the airline's future take advantage of a pension plan that allows them to retire early with big lump-sum payouts. If the loss of pilots can't be stemmed within a month, bankruptcy may be inevitable, the company said in a statement last week.
FOR AVIATION PROFESSIONALS WHO WORK WITH YOU ON YOUR AIRCRAFT INSURANCE,
Cirrus Aircraft announced on Friday that sales orders so far in 2004 have already surpassed the total number of aircraft deliveries in 2003. Last year, Cirrus reported 469 aircraft deliveries, and last week, Cirrus said it has sold its 475th aircraft for 2004. "Recently we had an incredible week [43 aircraft sold] that pushed us past last year's delivery total," John M. Bingham, executive vice president of sales at Cirrus, said in a news release on Friday. Cirrus said it has 45 delivery spots left before the close of the year. The "bonus-depreciation" tax relief act now in effect allows buyers to write off accelerated depreciation on new aircraft bought before Dec. 31. The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 included an incentive for companies to buy new capital equipment, including business aircraft. The incentive changes the timing of the standard depreciation schedule to give more depreciation in year one but less depreciation in all future years (the total amount of depreciation remains unchanged). Cirrus Design Corporation is based in Duluth, Minn., and has an additional manufacturing facility in Grand Forks, N.D.
Two Northwest Airlines pilots have been fired for landing at the wrong airport in June, and their union is protesting the dismissal. "We believe the punishment is excessive," said Will Holman, spokesman for the Northwest Airlines Air Line Pilots Association. Since the incident, charts and navigational databases have been modified to clearly distinguish the airport and air base locations, he said. The NWA Airbus 319 was headed for Rapid City (S.D.) Regional Airport when it landed at Ellsworth Air Force Base instead, about 7 miles away. The two airports have similar runway layouts, and one approach path takes aircraft straight over Ellsworth on their way in to Rapid City. On a tape from the Air Force tower, an unidentified woman said the mistake was a common one. "When they pop out of the clouds, they see the [Air Force base] runway, they don't trust their instruments and all of a sudden make a dive. And that's basically how it happened." The Twin Cities-Rapid City flight had 117 passengers on board. The pilots were fired on July 23, and the grievance was filed on Aug. 20, according to the union. The airline has declined to identify the pilots or confirm that they were fired. A hearing for the two pilots is expected this fall. After the erroneous landing, late-night host Jay Leno poked fun at the carrier: "Northwest Airlines announced a new slogan today -- 'Where the hell are we?'" No word from Northwest regarding whether that indignity influenced their decision.
MARV GOLDEN'S END-OF-SUMMER SIZZLIN' SPECIALS
As Florida continues mopping up from two recent hurricanes -- and hopes to be spared a direct hit from Ivan -- money already is starting to arrive to help with the recovery. The FAA last week OK'd a grant of $404,700 for repairs at Melbourne International Airport, where damage from Hurricane Frances was estimated at about $5 million. Melbourne is also the site of the FAA's primary network operations and control center for airspace, which successfully made a transition to a backup site in Chantilly, Va., before Frances arrived. "The [control center] is essential to managing and monitoring FAA air traffic control operations nationwide," said Steve Dash, FAA telecommunications manager. The backup system worked smoothly, he said. "There was no impact whatsoever on the National Airspace System."
Two small aircraft got an up-close encounter with fighter jets during President Bush's visit to Kansas City last week. On Monday morning, an airplane nipped into the edge of the TFR while en route from Pittsburg, Kan., to rural Roosterville Airport, and was intercepted by two F-16s. The jets determined the airplane was not a threat but followed it till it landed, FAA officials told the Kansas City Star. On Tuesday morning, an airplane penetrated the restricted airspace, and F-16s again followed it until it landed. There is nothing unusual anymore about such events -- "We have had to do this more than 1,600 times since 9/11," Maj. Douglas Martin, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), told the Star. "Vigilance has to be maintained."
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A Cirrus SR22 crashed into the Flambeau River in Northern Wisconsin on Friday, killing at least one of the two people on board, one of whom was an instructor with the University of North Dakota. Cirrus Design spokeswoman Kate Andrews told AVweb yesterday that the accident is under investigation by the NTSB, but had no further details. Local news media reported the airplane was trying to make an emergency landing. It was not clear if the aircraft was involved in a training exercise. Witnesses said boaters were on the scene and pulled the aircraft occupants from the wreckage and immediately called rescue crews. One was taken to a hospital by helicopter, and the other was pronounced dead on the scene.
Bob Mackey, of Falcon Insurance, says the premium estimate that was quoted in our Monday edition was not for a Light-Sport Aircraft but for a new Sport Pilot in an Experimental Amateur-Built Aircraft. A new Sport Pilot -- as well as other pilots wishing to exercise the flight privileges of a Sport Pilot -- flying a Special or Experimental Light-Sport Aircraft would most likely be quoted premiums no higher than what they would be quoted for a Standard Category aircraft, Mackey said.
Andrew Kerans, vice president of AOPA Australia, wrote to us to clarify that his group is NOT condoning a no-radio no-transponder protest of Australia's new airspace rules. "We encourage all pilots to show that they are angry" about the policy, AOPA-Australia President Ron Bertram said in a news release on Thursday. However, "we don't support flying illegally." ...That's another group.
AVIDYNE'S NEW CMAX APPROACH CHARTS TAKE SITUATIONAL AWARENESS TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Red Bull Air Race, coming to Reno Sept. 16-19, now has flight videos and interactive games online...
Romanian X Prize contenders successfully launched a rocket to 3,000 feet on Thursday...
Oprah Winfrey reportedly is taking ground school to prep for flying lessons...
Navy and Marine pilots in San Diego have completed nine months of training to help fight fires...
The FAA's list of type-certified aircraft that meet the Light-Sport Aircraft standards is posted online...
University of North Dakota flight-training fleet will transition to all-glass cockpits and help to develop new SATS technology...
New landing procedures aim to lessen noise at Portland Airport by having planes come in higher and maintain a constant rate of descent instead of leveling off.
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Motor Head #2: Excerpts from the Oshkosh Notebook
AVweb's new engine columnist, Marc Cook, found fresh tech everywhere he looked at Oshkosh, and some of it for certified airplanes, even.
Reader mail this week about cell phones in airliners, spin training, and VFR over-the-top, and a lot of comments on air traffic controller "Jane Doe's" letter.
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AOPA'S STEVE ELLS RATES MIKE BUSCH'S OWNER SEMINAR "INVALUABLE" ...
...Overheard one evening in August just west of ATL:
Tower: (To aircraft doing touch and goes alone in the pattern) ...You watching the fireworks just north of here?
Piper1234: Yup ... what's the holiday on August 18th that includes fireworks?
Tower: No clue.
Unidentified: Well, I know what it is. Ten year aniversary of my diviorce.
...And now I know where the money has gone.
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