|NATCA President John Carr held a conference call Thursday afternoon (June 2, 2005) with reporters to discuss the FAA's report on the New York TRACON. This is the text of his opening statement, provided to AVweb by NATCA.
June 2, 2005
Good afternoon everyone and thanks for joining this call. As
Doug mentioned, my name is John Carr, President of the National Air
Traffic Controllers Association. And just to clarify, although the FAA [news conference] event happened probably was an hour or two ago, we just got our hands on the [FAA] report [on the New York TRACON] literally about ten minutes ago. So I haven't really had an opportunity to parse through it chapter and verse. But what I have seen deeply troubles me.
The FAA had a golden opportunity to address what we view are serious
management and staffing problems that are affecting the New York TRACON.
Sadly, they have failed to accomplish that and once again sort of
resorted to scapegoating.
The time in our opinion has long passed for the FAA to at least
acknowledge that the problems in the New York area are real and that
they have very important safety implications for the traveling public.
The problems in New York are the result of a fairly simple equation
there are more flights, there are fewer air traffic controllers and
there is an increasingly reduced margin of safety.
The New York TRACON handles three of the busiest airports in the world;
I don't need to tell you that. This year they've handled a record
number of operations.
Air traffic is up five percent this year over last and yet the TRACON is
only staffed at approximately 76 percent of its authorized staffing to
complement. And more staff have been lost this year. Air traffic
controllers at the NY TRACON work mandatory six day work weeks and in
fact, in the report it even mentions controllers being tasked with
working overtime 51 of an available 52 weeks. It's completely
disingenuous for the FAA to short-staff the facility, demand a six day
work week out of the work force and then complain about the cost of the
Operational errors in the facility are up, and the FAA themselves are
forecasting air traffic in the New York area is going to rise.
And again, we believe the FAA missed a golden opportunity in the area of
operational error reporting. They encourage the reporting of
operational errors, and yet when the controllers report the errors which
are a precursor of a more serious event, the FAA basically says, "Yes,
that's our standard, but we've voluntarily allowed it to be broken.
There was no risk of collision and no near miss."
The standard is not a risk of collision or a near miss. The standard
was created to allow for a margin of safety that we see as being
reduced. We believe the flying public's safety is at stake and [that] is the
reason why we continue to attempt to engage in productive dialogue. We
continue to try to bring forward what we perceive as serious safety-related problems.
New York's air traffic control force is ready to work productively and
openly with the FAA to identify solutions that ensure the safety of the
flying public in this facility. If they are serious about fixing the
problem, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association is here to
help. We cannot help when our representative to their press conference
today is thrown out. We cannot help when they're looking to assign
blame and move on. We cannot help when they don't include us in the
search for solutions. From our perspective, it's unfortunate.
I don't believe the scapegoating that is contained in that report will
add a single controller to the New York TRACON. I don't believe it's
going to help the working environment. I don't believe it will reduce
the trauma that's unique in this occupation about airplane incidence. I
don't believe it will increase safety in the world's busiest airspace.
There are too many airplanes, and there are too few people; and that's
going to lead to a safety problem.
The FAA has mismanaged this facility. That much is clear from this
report. They are basically conceding that they mismanaged the overtime,
sick leave, the workman's compensation, and in response to that
mismanagement they decided to make the temporary manager permanent.
That's pathetic and sad, to be perfectly honest with you. What this
report points out is a lack of management oversight and a lack of
stewardship of our nation's airspace.
The FAA has created this chaos by their own hand.
They have understaffed the facility. The FAA sets the staffing number,
and they are currently staffing that facility at 76 percent of their own
number. The FAA mandates six-day work weeks. The FAA is the one who
has set the standards for staffing. The standards for safety. The
standards for sick leave. For overtime, for pay and compensation, and
for scheduling. And it is by their own hand that this has come to pass.
The margin of safety is being eroded. I mean, quite frankly, I'm very
distressed to see that they don't have a new standard. They called them
compression errors when there's no risk of collusion, no pilot report of
a near-miss. I'm curious to see what the FAA would say their new
standards are, as I don't know what it might be.
I know what the old standard was. It was an operational error that
controllers were encouraged to bring forward and report so that you
could explore the precursors to a collusion. I'm not certain how the
FAA's new standard for separation criteria is.
I do know that if you intend to cancel agreements made in good faith
unilaterally, which I'm afraid says more about their integrity than we
wanted to. And I know their response to management, supervision of sick
leave, operational errors, and overtime is to make the management team
the most wholly and responsible to that permanently.
So from our perspective it's an opportunity missed by an agency that has
perfected the art of problem avoidance. It would probably be newsworthy
if I was the only one who ever told you that the FAA was the only
tombstone agency that didn't react until something horrific happened,
but I'm not. I did not coin that phrase. I'm just left to deal with
I represent hardworking, dedicated public servants whose only job is the
safe, orderly, and expeditious movement of air traffic through the New
York metropolitan area. And to consider that character assassination of
the work force is in some way designed to address the serious and systemic
problems is deeply troubling and saddening to me.
To read the FAA's full 114-page report in PDF format, click here.