AVmail: Dec. 27, 2004

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Reader mail this week about airport security and photo ID; and lots of controversy about the controller retirement age.


Security Incident

The system works. A recent story from Kansas shows what normally happens at an airport where someone seems out of place.

A nefarious character was spotted by a customer service person at local airport. The man just seemed out of place. The individual was identified, the local communication network was activated, and the individual was in custody within 48 hours. In his possession the U.S. Marshals found equipment adequate for making false airman credentials. A local newspaper reporter was instrumental in the process by acting as the information focal point for all of the efforts of the aviation community.

The important point is that the results were not obtained as the result of fences, video surveillance cameras, TSA guards, photo IDs, or redundant prop locks. The system consisted of people just doing their normal, everyday jobs. A customer service person noticed a person who seemed out of place and began asking questions. It is also important to understand that this system did not begin after 9/11. It has been in place at airports for 50 years.

David Dewhirst


TAWS

In your recent article about TAWS, you said, "... all turbine-powered U.S.-registered airplanes with six or more passenger seats are required to have TAWS on board (NewsWire, Dec. 20)." Not exactly. During the NPRM process, the U.S. Parachute Association fought for an exclusion for turbine-powered jump planes (mostly King Airs, Caravans, and Twin Otters), pointing out that they are typically flown in VMC and are usually climbing or descending in proximity to the airport, not flying cross-country. The FAA agreed and excluded airplanes used in parachute operations.

Ed Scott
U.S. Parachute Association


Photo ID For GA Pilots

Reading about the new bill concerning photo ID for pilot certificates (NewsWire, Dec. 20), I cannot help but smile, as this has been standard in Denmark for decades.

I got my PPL in 1988, and still have the photo ID to tell ...

Michael von Rauschenberger


Mandatory Retirement Age for Controllers

As a controller with 22 years of experience, I just wanted to share the following information (Question of the Week, Dec. 23). Every year the average age of the controller workforce has been rising, and every year the error rate has been going up. I have already seen older controllers work traffic who have had:

  1. Open-heart surgery;
  2. A stroke;
  3. A heart attack and actually flat-lined; and
  4. Respiratory problems so bad they had to push around an oxygen tank.

It is well-known that among the older controllers -- and especially the oldest controllers such as the "rehires" -- their speed drops off. To quote the FAA's own hiring rules, "Controllers skills begin to drop rapidly after age 30." This is based on CAMI's age/skill research. Oftentimes it isn't so much the sector that the older controller is working, it's all the sectors around him/her that are affected by his/her work. If they can't keep up to sequence the aircraft in a timely manner and give you every third aircraft way too high to make the crossing, then you end up spinning and vectoring an enormous amount of aircraft in order to get them down. This is a disservice to the flying public and costs the airlines an enormous amount of extra fuel. To put it another way, these controllers are like the 75-year-old driver on the freeway who's driving 55 when all the traffic around him/her is going 75. He/she is causing everyone else to swerve and is leaving a stream of wrecks in his/her wake.

I've also heard it stated that CAMI's research shows the average controller lifespan to be 55-1/2 years old.

Overall, I feel if we raise the controller age past 56 and we start seeing a larger percentage of the workforce in this older age bracket, it will only be a matter of time before we see more errors or worse as a direct result. I urge anyone who has the ability to affect this issue not to jeopardize our air safety by raising the controller age limit.

Mike Wood
Houston Center


I am 71, working in high tech and frequently outperforming the other 44-year-olds that are my usual peers.

None of us are statistics, we are each individuals and so "general" rules may apply to the center of the bell curve but there are both tails to consider. Just as the "low performance" end of the tail should be replaced early, the other end need not be.

And I don't intend to retire until I no longer can keep up with the youngsters.

Edward De Benedetti


Everybody is different. Considering that there are plenty of reports of relatively young airline pilots well under the retirement age who have suffered heart attacks right after passing a physical exam, age appears to not be that big a safety factor- nor does the physical exam itself. Nevertheless, the physical exam should be the determining factor rather than age. I see no reason for there being a different age requirement for controllers; if the medical standards are met, let both pilots and controllers work as long as they want. I am both a pilot and former air traffic controller, well past both mandatory retirement ages.

Mac Hayes


The age-56 retirement age for air traffic controllers was a political agreement with then-union PATCO and FAA management when negotiating a new contract in the '70s. It has never had anything to do with age or abilities. It was strictly a political decision. Age for controllers, as for pilots, has no bearing. It is health, ability and one's general outlook on life. Some people are never cut out for some jobs, regardless of age; while others could soldier on forever.

John Carr of NATCA is against extending beyond age 56 because of fears that the FAA will someday make it mandatory to do so.

Don Purney
Chicago Center


We don't have a mandatory retirement age for controllers in Canada. I've chaired a number of operating irregularity (OI) investigations and assisted in many others. I'm not aware of age-related degradation of performance ever having been considered a factor in an occurrence, certainly not an investigation I participated in. My gut feel is that the share of OI's is greater in the junior ranks. In our commercialized ATC world today, the age of an involved controller is noted, presumably for statistical purposes. I don't recall that being the case when we were Transport Canada.

Dave Eastaugh
YYZ


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