NATCA Responds to the FAA

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.


Good afternoon everyone and thanks for joining this call. AsDoug mentioned, my name is John Carr, President of the National AirTraffic 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 seriousmanagement and staffing problems that are affecting the New York TRACON.Sadly, they have failed to accomplish that and once again sort ofresorted to scapegoating.

The time in our opinion has long passed for the FAA to at leastacknowledge that the problems in the New York area are real and thatthey 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 andthere 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 recordnumber of operations.

Air traffic is up five percent this year over last and yet the TRACON isonly staffed at approximately 76 percent of its authorized staffing tocomplement. And more staff have been lost this year. Air trafficcontrollers at the NY TRACON work mandatory six day work weeks and infact, in the report it even mentions controllers being tasked withworking overtime 51 of an available 52 weeks. It’s completelydisingenuous for the FAA to short-staff the facility, demand a six daywork week out of the work force and then complain about the cost of theovertime.

Operational errors in the facility are up, and the FAA themselves areforecasting air traffic in the New York area is going to rise.

And again, we believe the FAA missed a golden opportunity in the area ofoperational error reporting. They encourage the reporting ofoperational errors, and yet when the controllers report the errors whichare 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 standardwas created to allow for a margin of safety that we see as beingreduced. We believe the flying public’s safety is at stake and [that] is thereason why we continue to attempt to engage in productive dialogue. Wecontinue 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 andopenly with the FAA to identify solutions that ensure the safety of theflying public in this facility. If they are serious about fixing theproblem, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association is here tohelp. We cannot help when our representative to their press conferencetoday is thrown out. We cannot help when they’re looking to assignblame and move on. We cannot help when they don’t include us in thesearch for solutions. From our perspective, it’s unfortunate.

I don’t believe the scapegoating that is contained in that report willadd a single controller to the New York TRACON. I don’t believe it’sgoing to help the working environment. I don’t believe it will reducethe trauma that’s unique in this occupation about airplane incidence. Idon’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’sgoing to lead to a safety problem.

The FAA has mismanaged this facility. That much is clear from thisreport. They are basically conceding that they mismanaged the overtime,sick leave, the workman’s compensation, and in response to thatmismanagement they decided to make the temporary manager permanent.That’s pathetic and sad, to be perfectly honest with you. What thisreport points out is a lack of management oversight and a lack ofstewardship 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 ownnumber. The FAA mandates six-day work weeks. The FAA is the one whohas set the standards for staffing. The standards for safety. Thestandards for sick leave. For overtime, for pay and compensation, andfor 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 verydistressed to see that they don’t have a new standard. They called themcompression errors when there’s no risk of collusion, no pilot report ofa near-miss. I’m curious to see what the FAA would say their newstandards are, as I don’t know what it might be.

I know what the old standard was. It was an operational error thatcontrollers were encouraged to bring forward and report so that youcould explore the precursors to a collusion. I’m not certain how theFAA’s new standard for separation criteria is.

I do know that if you intend to cancel agreements made in good faithunilaterally, which I’m afraid says more about their integrity than wewanted to. And I know their response to management, supervision of sickleave, operational errors, and overtime is to make the management teamthe most wholly and responsible to that permanently.

So from our perspective it’s an opportunity missed by an agency that hasperfected the art of problem avoidance. It would probably be newsworthyif I was the only one who ever told you that the FAA was the onlytombstone 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 withit.

I represent hardworking, dedicated public servants whose only job is thesafe, orderly, and expeditious movement of air traffic through the NewYork metropolitan area. And to consider that character assassination ofthe work force is in some way designed to address the serious and systemicproblems is deeply troubling and saddening to me.

To read the FAA’s full 114-page report in PDF format, click here.