AVmail: June 28, 2004
Reader mail this week about ATC retirements, pilots on Prozac, TFRs for presidential candidates, and much more.
How is it that President Reagan could fire 12,000 air traffic controllers, and replace them overnight (NewsWire, June 16) ... and today we can not find 7,000 ATC replacements over the course of many years?
John Van Baren
Well, effects of the PATCO strike are still being felt. Initially, supervisors and military controllers, as well as retired civil and military controllers, took up some of the slack. The rest of the slack came out through early efforts at flow control. Other efforts --like routings around understaffed centers and terminals, part-timing towers and the Tower En Route Clearance -- came into being. GA was hit with the General Aviation Reservation (GAR) program, where non-scheduled IFR flights had to get a reservation, similar to an SMTP or HTDA slot, before filing a flight plan.
Over the long run, more automation and additional support personnel (data side, for example, vs. radar side), coupled with redefining the workflow, also helped.
Luckily, there wasn't nearly as much traffic as today. There also aren't as many controllers today as there was then, so in that sense, the system never did recover.
Try to find a controller who refers to DCA as "Reagan National."
Pilots on Prozac
Curt Larson misses the point when he claims that depressed pilots are going to crash into buildings (AVmail, June 21). Right now, if your family doctor even mentions certain drugs to help you that are prohibited by the FAA, pilots react like a vampire to garlic. How many pilots who fly for a living refuse to consider help for depression? It is still a affliction that carries a stigma. Better to suffer in silence than to admit that you have a problem and be marked for life. It makes you wonder how many "accidents" happen each year due to a non-medicated depressed pilot.
Curt Larson’s letter about "pilots on Prozac" is typical of the kind of ignorance regarding depression that has caused many people to refuse to seek treatment for depression.
First off, to say that "... psychotropic drugs (a.k.a., "antidepressants") gave us Columbine and other well-documented tragedies," is logic on par with saying that because most women who get breast cancer wear bras, then wearing a bra must cause breast cancer. There are hundreds of thousands of people with clinical depression who take antidepressants every year and experience nothing more than a remission of the symptoms of depression or anxiety that keep them from leading productive lives. Mr. Larson might be very surprised to find that, without knowing it, he has dealt with people in the medical profession, law enforcement, government administration (even up to the highest levels), the judicial system, engineering systems in cars, trains, and yes, aircraft systems, who have been treated for depression with these "psychotropic drugs" he seems so fearful of.
If Mr. Larson didn't have an attitude that anyone taking antidepressants must be so unstable that they’re an accident waiting to happen or a tragedy waiting to unfold, he might even find out that there are pilots he knows who have undergone treatment for depression, either while grounding themselves (the legal approach) or while continuing to fly (illegal, and not a good idea, but still done).
What Mr. Larson seems to be ignoring is the possible effect of untreated depression on the judgment of people who are pilots, aircraft mechanics, air traffic controllers, and others who fall under the governance of the FAA. Given that a diagnosis of depression, accompanied by treatment with antidepressants, is automatically grounding, it's an open secret that there are an unknown number of people in aviation trying to get by without treatment, or who seek treatment covertly and never report it to their AME.
Some of the symptoms of clinical depression include:
- A persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood
- Sleep disturbance
- Restlessness or irritability, ranging from mild to severe
- Persistent physical symptoms that don't respond to treatment (such as headaches, chronic pain, or constipation and other digestive disorders)
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless
- Thoughts of death or suicide
The severity of these symptoms can range from mild to almost incapacitating. Untreated, undiagnosed depression has been implicated in a number of airline crashes, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. A thoughtful, insightful article on the problems associated with untreated depression and other psychiatric/psychological problems was published on AVweb (Aeromedical, Aug. 2000). I recommend it to readers who are interested in learning more about untreated depression and aviation.
There is absolutely no doubt that someone with untreated clinical depression who continues to fly, or to work as a mechanic on aircraft systems, or to work in the air traffic control system, is a much greater hazard than someone who is being treated and supervised by a doctor. The FAA is to be commended for taking steps toward a more enlightened and healthy attitude towards depression. I hope that as the results of the study become available, attitudes like Mr. Larson's will become a thing of the past.
Whose Job Is It, Anyhow?
Thank you for your articles (Training Time, Jun. 20). I trained at a branch of a "national" flight school in the Dallas/Ft Worth area and received my PPL about two years ago.
I wanted to relate my experience on my long cross-country solo, as it may provide fodder for future columns.
My instructor and I agreed on the route of my intended flight and I planned accordingly. When I showed up for the flight, I was simply handed the keys to the plane and told to depart. In hindsight, my instructor intended to go over my planning but a communication error caused this not to happen. In fact, the endorsements were not recorded in my logbook until my instructor found out about the flight a week or so later. I suspect he had intended to create the endorsements when we reviewed the flight plan. Who was at fault? I will certainly take responsibility, but fell back on the adage of, "This is what they told me to do so it must be correct." I think the clerk at the desk should have been more attentive in determining that I was ready to go, also.
After takeoff, I found I could not get the squelch on the radio to work correctly and did not want to spend the next 3 hours listening to loud static, so I switched to the handheld I was carrying. First distratction.
I made it to the second landing site without major problem, but then encountered someone flying backwards through the pattern and came within 100 feet of a mid-air collision. Second major distraction.
On my flight back into my home field I had to cross Class D airspace (while staying under the Class B of DFW area). I had not crossed this particular area before and decided to simply fly just below Class B and busted the Class D airspace without communication. Why? I don't know at this point, but it was stupid. I am grateful to some forgiving controller at the Class D field for not making an issue of my actions.
On contacting my home field I was told to report a waypoint (local name for a highway intersection) that I was not familiar with. Instead of asking for clarification I made the wrong assumption that it was a different intersection and headed in that direction. An irritated call from the local controller as to my location got me final clearance to land.
Unfortunately, by this point the radio situation, wrong direction traffic, and insecurity at what radio calls I should be making had taken their toll and my flying suffered. I flared too high on landing and bounced. At this point, I made one of the few good decisions of the day and decided to go around instead of trying to salvage the landing. I finally got down on the next try (though not pretty) and was fairly shaken by the time I got back to the terminal.
I have dissected this event many times in my mind. I think many of my problems would have been prevented by a good pre-flight briefing with my instructor. I do feel I was ready to make the flight from a skills standpoint. As often, communication may have been the biggest problem -- making sure that everything was in order before I launched would have possibly prevented many of these problems.
I look forward to your future columns.
Name withheld by request
SpaceShip One Launch
I think many fail to recognize the parallels between the first sustained, controlled flight in 1903 and this flight (NewsWire, June 23). Did anybody really think this feat would be easily done in one flight or one vehicle? Sure, it may not be the most stupendous thing we've ever seen -- and let's face it, we've come to expect an awful lot since 1903 -- but it will undoubtedly usher in a new era in general aviation flight.
Ginger S. Baldwin
Fire Tanker Procrastination
Somebody or some bodies need their collective butts kicked for not seeking a solution to the problem at the end of fire season last year (NewsWire, June 23), instead of waiting until this fire season to ground the big tankers.
This borders on being criminal.
C. A. Buzbee
TFRs -- A Different Perspective
I recently landed a flying gig I never would have dreamed possible in my wildest imagination. After 38 years of flying more than 40 types of aircraft including hang gliders, gliders, taildraggers, round engines, piston twins, turboprops, tactical fighters and airliners I find myself as one of six pilots flying a presidential candidate around in a Boeing 757-236.
The vast majority of my time is in general aviation flying small aircraft from small airports. More than once I have been inconvenienced by being put into holding, vectored or having my takeoff delayed because of Air Force One. Like most pilots similarly inconvenienced, I was not happy about it.
As a former officer of a general aviation advocacy organization still active in a western state, I am sensitive to the economic havoc airspace denials such as TFRs can wreak on small general aviation businesses such as FBOs and flight schools. Consequently, I have always been of the opinion that TFRs in general are onerous overkill.
A recent incident changed my mind. Several weeks ago we were flying the candidate into a small airport near Boston. This airport, like many he visits, seldom hosts large aircraft but is a very active general aviation airport. Extensive vectoring below 10,000 feet was required.
During that time our TCAS equipment was totally saturated with targets making it practically useless. Although we did not receive any Resolution Advisories(RA's) we did receive several Threat Advisories(TA's.) We had already acquired the TA aircraft visually which was fortunate because had they been maneuvering aggressively, the TA's would have come too late for us to maneuver to avoid them.
One small aircraft passed 500 feet directly below us which ordinarily wouldn't bother me but the same aircraft passing 500 feet above us could have enough energy to reach us before we could get out of the way had he decided to do something malicious or just something stupid.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is I don't like TFRs but my present situation requires me to re-evaluate my opposition to them. The present world condition promises to make this election a particularly polarizing one. As long as the world is peopled with religious and political zealots, high-profile politicians are attractive targets. I believe the survival of our democratic principles require we protect our candidates for elective office as best we can.
I don't expect pilots to like TFRs. I just ask pilots to put up with them as a necessary evil while lobbying through proper channels to make them less onerous without diminishing their effectiveness.
You want to talk about inconvenience? Try having a Secret Service agent wanding you and inspecting the contents of your flight bag while a K-9 bomb-detecting dog sniffs your drag bag before boarding your aircraft. Every flight. Day after day.
Name withheld by request
Waiting For DC FSS
After having operated in the DC ADIZ for just over six months, I have found constant hold times of 30 minutes or more when trying to get a briefer to file with. Others who have this same problem can do what I do: Call Altoona FSS in Pennsylvania (1-866-708-9987) and file with them. They are always ready to help and your flight plan will be ready with approach in a few minutes longer than normal. Still better than waiting on hold for an hour.
Transponder Fault or Security Fault?
Regarding the incident whereby Governor Fletcher's King Air flew into Reagan National with a transponder glitch (NewsWire, June 21), it seems that FAA spokesman Greg Martin, told AVweb the FAA and other security agencies in Washington, D.C., would meet to discuss where the system broke down. Now that we have determined the failure was a communications breakdown between ATC and security officials, let's break out the punishment stick on General Aviation again rather than acknowledge security and ATC didn't properly coordinate prior to the incident.
It seems to me that security at the White House should have had a "open land line" to every ATC facility that could have assisted with a potential incident prior to screaming "Fire" in the auditorium. Rather than admit fault, we will continue to lockdown D.C. even tighter, knowing full well that everyone in ATC and in the air did their jobs correctly.
I seem to recall that, after 9/11, President Bush calling for sharing of information by the different agencies to prevent another situation of the sort. Seems that hasn't happened yet. I can't imagine how an event of that magnitude was orchestrated not having a direct "hot link" between the agencies. It doesn't matter ... let's just take it out on GA.
I would just like to say again how much I enjoy your news service. I have a big mouth and tell everyone this. The educational aspect of your web-site is greatly appreciated. I'll miss John Deakin's articles. I hear he's busy. I signed up for his seminar in July. The free library of information that you offer the public is unsurpassed.