AVmail: Apr. 25, 2005

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Reader mail this week about privatizing FSS, firefighting planes, Meigs Field and much more.

Flight Service Privatization

This letter responds to Fred Twigge's letter about ATC privatization (AVmail, Apr. 18). As a flight service specialist, I would like to know what bonus package us AFSS personnel are getting! If we are not at a facility that's staying open, come six months after L-M's takeover, we'll be shown the door. Also, the FAA is actively fighting against us from getting other FAA or government jobs (maybe to save our retirements that you got but we are getting screwed out of). They are doing this to save face because that will force us to take temporary jobs with L-M. They awarded the contract to a company that had no experience or standing workforce to take over the flight service system. If they did what other agencies did when privatizing (helping with jobs, giving time for people with less than a year 'till retirement) the whole AFSS system would have crashed when L-M takes over. You are right on some aspects: Local knowledge will be a thing of the past. L-M will charge the government more money or pilots user fees when they have realized they've bitten off more than they can chew. It's either that or just drop flight service all together and let the pilots fend for themselves to deal with false automated weather reports and bad forecasts. When all is said and done, the big losers in all of this are the pilots. The will have to pay the consequences for the FAA's terrible decision.

Richard Kane

Apparently Fred Twigge must have been one of the ones we're glad retired, as he apparently has no accurate conception of reality in today's FSS system.

Mr. Twigge says the FSS specialists are getting "quite a nice bonus package." Lets see what my "soft-landing" package is. I have 22 years as an AFSS controller, including 14 years as a Supervisor. I have 12 years left on my mortgage, two children ready to go into college, and two elderly parents I'm supporting. On October 1, 2005, I'll be four months short of qualifying for my pension. The Agency is doing nothing to help me get the necessary four months. In the year 2023, I'll be able to collect approximately $800 per month from the funds I've contributed to date. That money does not grow, or even earn interest in the intervening 18 years.

Lockheed promises "jobs for everyone that wants one." Well, that's only partially true. As an employee in an AFSS scheduled to close in March 2006, my job offer is only for five months, until my facility closes. There are approximately 1,050 employees in closing facilities; only 350 of those will be permitted to move to one of three Lockheed Mega-Hubs. According to Lockheed, the 350 will be selected purely on whoever filed their paperwork the fastest. No consideration of the employee's work, conduct, or attendance record, will be made.

Mr. Twigge's "nice bonus" must be the laptop computer Lockheed has promised every employee that signs on with them. I'd rather have my pension, thank you.

And on another subject in his letter: An AWOS cannot report "clear." Only "no clouds below 12,000." Maybe the clouds were higher than 12,000, or the system was OTS, or the deck was not directly over the ceilometer. That's what a real FSS controller would have known.

Bill Moriarty

I would like to alert AVweb readers that there are two bills currently pending to make Flight Service Stations "inherently governmental," which means they cannot be contracted out.

HR 1474
S. 776

Please tell your Congressman and Senator to vote in favor of these bills. If they would pass, user fees would not be in the near future.

David W. Vitko

FAA Resists Change

In regards to the article "FAA Resists Change, Panel Determines" (NewsWire, Apr. 18), it should be noted that the bulk of panelists involved in the report includes several members of already-privatized national air traffic systems, Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation, a pro-privatization "think tank," as well as a representative from Boeing, a corporation that has spent lots of money "researching" solutions to the current system, having formed an air traffic management group in November of 2000 and publicizing several "solutions" to the U.S. air traffic system.

This panel is obviously highly partisan; loaded with pro-privatization pundits.

In 2002 the Bush Administration budget A Blueprint for New Beginnings stated:

As part of this effort, the Administration will work with the aviation community and Congress over the next year to develop a plan of action for improving the Nation's aviation record, and in particular to examine the success that various nations, such as Canada, have experienced with individual air traffic control systems owned and operated by private companies.

Tim Duffrin

As a controller, and therefore the bottom rung of the ladder, I have a unique insight into the workings of the FAA. The report you stated was right on. It is a wonder that the FAA functions at all. At my small facility, located in the greater Phoenix Metro area, we have equipment that dates to the CAA (our light gun came in '90 and is the best working piece of equipment we have). Our radios routinely fail, especially at critical times; our cab was built for the Navy in the mid-60s. Back-up power during summer power outages are a couple of double-A-powered hand-held fans! We are scheduled to get STARS only because Phoenix is getting a new tower/TRACON and the old ARTS system isn't compatible with STARS. Of course we could just do without radar. We consider ourselves lucky to have pen and paper to write upon.

Our facility has been understaffed for over three years, while our traffic continues to climb. Of the 11 current controllers, three can retire today, and five by the end of the year. We are lucky that it is less than 50%.

No, the FAA is in shambles. Mr. Chew has done an admirable job trying to bring the FAA into the 19th century (not a typo), but has met resistance at every turn. And who does it affect? The pilots, passengers and anyone trying to use the system. Delays at ORD and into New York are not strictly the result of weather or lack of capacity, but the lack of controllers and equipment. The outage at O'Hare is much like the outage a few months ago at Los Angeles Center ... old and antiquated equipment that is being held together by a dedicated crew of technicians (we share one technician for six towers) along with skill of the controllers. Ask the management and they will say everything is just fine ... don't believe it.

I love the line, "this report is unfair." The only thing unfair is the FAA lack of competent leadership!

James "Beaner" Bermant

What do you think the PATCO strike in 1981 was about? Someone really needs to overhaul the FAA and their simple-minded ways.

Charles Williams
PATCO 1981

NORAD Lasers

Is it just me or is it somewhat ironic that someone with a laser pointer (under 500 mw) is a security threat to aircraft, but the military (the same people who want to develop laser weapons) can fire "safe" red and green lasers aircraft without risk to air crews (NewsWire, Apr. 18)? What is the definition or "safe" -- percentage of charred cornea?

Charles M. LaBow

Firefighting Planes

What am I missing on these stories of not enough aircraft and their airworthiness (NewsWire, Apr. 21)? The Russians have some great firefighting aircraft, custom designed, that are used all over Europe. Why can't we have some of them here? Or buy some of them? Other than probably politics, what is the reason for keeping them out?

Walter W. Stumpf, Jr.

As a resident of the fire-prone state of Arizona, it is a scandal that the Forest Service and the FAA have resisted use of the Ilyushin 76 water bomber in the US. Your article on the B-747 is interesting, but the IL-76 is already certified for firefighting using modern retardants and water. It has demonstrated itself many times around the world to be able to put out fires in difficult places very quickly. I have not financial interest in this aircraft or its operation, but I would like to know what the latest information is on why we continue to burn millions of dollars (and acres) of wood each year in this country and refuse to look at tools that can do the job.

Roy Zaborowski

Typical of government nearsightedness, the federal government is slow to appreciate the effectiveness of Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs), like the 800-gallon Air Tractor and helicopters. There is already a fleet of these aircraft in place that can serve the fire fighting industry, and in many states, already doing so. Think of the illogic of waiting on a fire to get out of hand, when SEAT aircraft can stop the fire, in most cases, before it becomes a problem and far more economically.

As for Evergreen's 747, how big of a fire does it take to warrant launching that gas hog? Where's the efficiency in letting a fire get that big to begin with? The same holds true for the Firehog, with its relatively high maintenance costs and high airspeed attempting to fly in close proximity of mountains while trying to target, hopefully, a small fire.

Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest for the trees. In this case, the vast majority of all forest fires could be contained with SEAT aircraft, with few exceptions. But, that might affect too many jobs and budgets, right?

Bill Lavender

In your article you talk about refurbishing old aircraft to fill the role of a waterbomber to control wildfires. You also state that there is a shortage of aircraft to fill the role.

Bombardier Aerospace builds the best, purpose-built water bomber in the world. It is used by many countries in the world to do just what you ask. The CL-415 waterbomber would be the answer to that need.

Why not look into why the U.S. is not buying the aircraft. Why are crews left to fly aging aircraft like the DC-7 and taking a chance that the old bird will not fall apart? Why continue to endanger life when the equipment is there to save it?

Brad Gillies

Meigs Won't Rest In Peace

Your Question of the Week answers don't really do much to constitute a poll (QOTW, Apr. 21).

Suppose you boycott Chicago now, but did do business there before?

Suppose you still have to do business in Chicago, but every time you're there you let all the locals you encounter know about Daley's doings, and how they have hurt Chicago's reputation?

I attend Supercomm because I must. I was at an event last year where I met one of the organizers who had met with Daley. He said that Daley was almost obsessed with bringing more business to Chicago through casino gambling, and we all know the prime restricted-access waterfront location planned for that. He wants Chicago to take convention business away from Las Vegas.

He just didn't seem to get it that Las Vegas has convention business because of:

  • Proximity to the Airport
  • Great Shows
  • Hotels near the Convention center
  • Good weather most of the year

The city of Shaumberg, Ill., built a nice convention center not far from Chicago. I wish them well.

Jack Burton

I think that you left out some information. It seems to me that the fight is still on. The city of Chicago can still be fined for their act. OK, the field is lost, but the proper notification and procedure was not followed. So, in this case, the city needs to be fined as much as possible for their failure to do so. I hope the Daley mob has to pay dearly for their stupidity!

Glen Phelps

The options in your Meigs QOTW should have included, "Elect Congressman Jessie Jackson Jr. as Mayor." He's in favor of the Friends of Meigs Field proposal to reopen Meigs.

William J. Hooper

The question of the week was rather poorly designed.

I think that had you offered a choice allowing a respondent to say, "Daley was wrong, and I'll never think a good thought about him for the rest of his (hopefully) short life," you'd have found 40% of the respondents would have chosen it.

The survey was about as thought-provoking as a "What's your favorite color?" one.

Jack Cunniff

In ref. to your question to Meigs, none of the answers fit my company or me. I did have business in Chicago and some with the actual city. That has stopped! Yes, I have replaced the lost money from the switch; but trust me: Everyone that I talked to knows the reason why. This airport to me represented a place to complete cross-country flights with in the early years and then later to show the beauty of the aviation world and city to a helluva money/ time/ and conv. saving airport to what once was a great city. The Daley dynasty lives on. Thank God I'm not bitter!

Tim Smith

Walter the Pug

It's hard to tell whether Walter is scared or happy on his first flight (Picture of the Week, Apr. 21). Looks like me on my first flight-with those bug eyes.

Joel Boucree

Sun 'n Fun 2005

I could not make it to the event this year, so thanks for the very good photos of it (Sun 'n Fun 2005). I appreciate it.

Bob Johnson

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