4:24 PM

Why Not Support
NATCA's Troops
for a Change?


As our nation's air traffic control situation continues to spiral out of control, at least the controller's union is trying to do something about the mess that FAA has made of our skies. In a wave of new press releases from NATCA each more horrendous then the preceding one, it is easy to see this problem has reached a tipping point when you read headlines like this:

CHICAGO CONTROLLERS DECLARE SAFETY PROBLEM AFTER SIXTH SERIOUS CLOSE CALL PUTS FACILITY OVER FAA-MANDATED LIMIT FOR INCIDENTS
In just 11 short weeks, already Chicago Center has had six serious incidents – two more then the FAA-mandated limit of four incidents – for the entire 2008 fiscal year! The latest incident happened 15 miles north of Springfield, Ill:
At 9:34 a.m. CDT on Wednesday morning, Southwest Airlines Flight 3757 was inbound to Midway Airport from St. Louis when it encountered a King Air 200 at the same altitude and headed toward the same horizontal point. The TCAS aboard the Southwest jet sounded a warning to the pilots to descend, moments after the pilots received an expedited emergency descent instruction from a veteran controller who had to intercede to take command of the radio frequency from his trainee. The aircraft came as close as 3.11 miles horizontally.
Now you might think that having a trainee at a position would not be dangerous, as you'd assume that FAA regs must call for very thorough training procedures. So why then did the veteran controller have to step in and keep the King Air and SWA3757 from trading paint? NATCA's release has a clue that is scary as hell:
Chicago Center has recently changed the way trainees are trained. The facility has been issued waivers so that managers there can compress training that would have previously taken 36 months into a six-month period. Trainees here are being rushed into positions they are not ready to handle because FAA management has no other way to staff this facility. These trainees are also not getting the overall level of experience needed to become a qualified controller because the FAA doesn’t have time to wait for them to get the seasoning they need before the system completely collapses. Compounding the problem is the agency’s rush to certify trainees as controllers whether the individual is ready or not for the daunting task of controlling airplanes alone in an extremely stressful environment like Chicago Center.
I am sure that this is but one topic that NATCA President Patrick Forrey brought up when he met this week with Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell. At this face-2-face, Forrey requested something substantive that may actually help the crisis:
To try to come up with some near-term solutions, NATCA requested that the FAA convene an air traffic control safety conference to bring the nation’s pilots, airlines, and controllers together. In the meantime, Forrey and Sturgell agreed to meet January 3, 2008 to develop a process to identify and address safety related issues that NATCA and the FAA could address jointly.
I applaud NATCA and Forrey for pushing FAA on this so hard. It is clear that our air traffic controllers are being "handled "by FAA about as well as FEMA "handled" their response to Hurricane Katrina. In front of the cameras, it's all "Heckuva Job, Brownie" from FAA, while behind the scenes, rookie controllers with one-sixth the training are pushing tin towards one another with increasing regularity. It is so sad that these controllers must suffer through the most arrogant administration in our country's history, because all NATCA's troops want is a little support too.

Gee, I wonder how many controllers we could buy and train with the money spent on ONE DAY of Bushco's war, which by the way is $275 MILLION according to nationalpriorities.org. That kind of cash would go a long way towards filling those chairs at Chicago Center with trained bodies. So I propose we stop the war - just for one day, say maybe Christmas Day, which when you think about it IS what Jesus would do - and give all that money to NATCA to hire and train more controllers.

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