AVmail: Jul. 18, 2005
Reader mail this week about GA security, using a parachute, NATCA vs. FAA and more.
General Aviation Security & Public Fears
Let's stop preaching to the choir (NewsWire, July 14). Whenever GA makes the news, listen carefully to the patter coming from those who do not fly. The public instantly forgets the positive stories (i.e., Rutan's space shot), and yet they easily remember negative reports. I still endure hearing about that Connecticut joyride after many weeks. (Sorry -- numerous helicopter rescues don't seem to cancel out one joyride and a few airspace blunders for some reason). Every time there's mainstream press about a general aviation "joyride" or a D.C. restricted airspace incursion, these reports resonate with our nation's public and their elected officials 50 times louder than before. Politicians have only started to push for draconian security measures for the sport. This will surely gain momentum.
This isn't the (now old) argument over the effectiveness of a 4-6 seat, 1-2 ton aircraft in a terror attack, or who's been inquiring about agplanes; it is about public perception of GA security. Like it or not, the future of our sport is in the hands of a fretful majority. I am not suggesting keeping general aviation fields as armed camps (this would finish off the sport in no-time). We can, however, as a widespread airport policy agree to throttle locks and prop locks on every aircraft. It's a big nuisance, but it is a detail we can add to our already careful preflight and postflight checks.
Take a local newspaper photographer, legislator, baker or candlestick maker up for a goodwill flight, and these days they're likely to inquire about airport security. When you tell them that you and your buddies keep a good eye on the place (often rural or remotely located), know that they are only being polite when they don't laugh. Preventing more regulations and restrictions is essential to the survival of the sport. How is field security where you fly? You can easily check. Drive out to your local field (driving a strange vehicle if possible) at 2:00 a.m., or on a lousy weather day, stretch your legs for few minutes, and see if anyone notices. (Guesses anyone?) Negative headlines continue to do the sport irreparable harm. Public perceptions and keeping joyrides and airspace incursions out of the news will weigh heavily in determining the future of the sport. We can change nothing and see what happens, but how many more chances do we expect we'll get?
As a student in Tiger Moths in World War II, we were taught to always be looking for a place to land. As much as I admire the man who used his aircraft parachute, I disagree with him that you should not fly an aircraft not so equipped (NewsWire, July 7).
NATCA vs. FAA
I am a controller. I certainly do not make $165,000, let alone $200,000 (NewsWire, July 14). I work at a VFR tower in the middle of a major metropolitan area. I listen to the FAA talk about modernization and how NATCA has placed roadblocks in its way -- totally false. I have equipment that dates to the CAA (the mid-1950s), no weather reporting, radios that routinely fail (with limited parts to fix them and a serious lack of trained personnel).
This administration has yet to install any new piece of equipment that it conceived. STARs, AMASS, ATOPS and the rest of the alphabet projects began long before Ms. Blakely came to power. It is my understanding that, in fact, they have no ideas at all ... none! There is no long-range goal other than the vilification and crippling of NATCA and the men and women who belong to the union.
When the FAA doesn't want operational errors called, they change the rules. The New York TRACON reported errors, but the FAA said, "Well they are compression errors and really don't compromise safety." Wait a second: Our operating handbook says that 3.0 miles lateral separation is the minimum, not 2.7 or 2.8. What the FAA doesn't say is that if controllers vector so that the compression insures 3.0 miles, then controllers are admonished (or worse) for having too much spacing between aircraft. So, too much spacing bad, too little spacing good? Does that make any sense? On the other side of that same coin, when tower controllers are required to have certain distances between landing aircraft to insure that our minimums are met: In the case of large jet aircraft, the first arrival must be off the runway before the following aircraft crosses the fence. At three miles in-trail spacing, the time it takes the lead aircraft to go from the threshold, land, apply reversers/brakes and exit the runway is about the same time for the following aircraft to cross the threshold. If the lead aircraft misses an intersection, then the following aircraft goes around ... burns more fuel, causes more delays (to themselves and others), and puts increasing strain on the system ... but it is OK because we have less than standard separation.
The FAA is full of waste and fraud: nine regional offices, a tech center, training facility and two buildings in Washington full of people who basically do the same job. The bill for mail alone must be well into the millions! Forget the money needed to keep all those buildings, keep them maintained and fully staffed.
Fully staffed ... hmmm ... my facility hasn't been fully staffed, according to FAA numbers, in over five years. And salaries: When 75 % of the workforce can retire in the next five years, salaries will be higher. What the FAA doesn't say is that when we do leave (and I have less than 50 days until I can retire), we will be replaced by controllers making nearly half our wages.
We in NATCA have always maintained "Safety Above All" as our credo. I wish the FAA had the same sentiment.
Aviation Safety & Security
Airline employees and their contractors have a whistleblower law that protects them when they speak out on aviation safety/security issues. I would note that local government (city, county, state and municipality) airport maintenance employees who work at America's 450 FAA-towered airports do not have this protection. If they are caught speaking out on such issues they can be retaliated against for doing so. What can be done so that local government airport maintenance workers can have the same protection as airline employees? What is your position on this issue? Do you feel that these airport maintenance employees should have the same deal, same protection as the airline employees? Should these employees speak out on such issues or should they turn the other way and pretend not to see them and thus save themselves from any possible retaliation by airport management?
Should they have protection from retaliation? Without this protection, local government airport maintenance employees will be afraid to report any unsecured doors, gates or other potential safety violations. Employees are going to look out for number one -- themselves -- first and not take chances if they think a heavy-handed management will retaliate against them for speaking out for aviation security/safety.
One might point out that one has a union or the courts that one can go to if they feel it is necessary to do so. But that can take many years to fight for one's job back while being out of work. So an employee can quickly, easily just turn the other way, pretend not to see anything and save themselves from all that trouble. But where does that leave the airline transportation industry? If the system is not going to protect the employees, then why should they come forward and speak out? I await your response on your position on these matters.