11:36 AM

Scratch "We Didn't Know"
off Their List as an Excuse

This week, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Patrick Forrey went before the House Aviation Subcommittee to testify on air traffic control facility staffing issues. While we find in unconscionable that our elected representatives would somehow not have heard this all before, Forrey went at the FAA with both guns blazing, and spelled this issue out for Chairman Oberstar's subcommittee in such a clear manner, even Bushie himself could understand the severity of this country's ATC staffing nightmare.

Here are some highlights (lowlights?) of Forrey's testimony (excerpted verbatim). First, Forrey sets the stage:

"Let me be clear: This country is facing an air traffic controller staffing crisis. The crisis is real. The crisis is serious. And the crisis is now. Those losses are leading to insufficient staffing levels across the country, requiring more use of overtime, and leading to increased fatigue. All of this adds up to a burned out workforce, and an unacceptable compromise to safety. With the current authorization set to expire June 30th, and with unmatched controller attrition rates exceeding 4 per day, it has never been more imperative to address this issue than it is today. The National Airspace System is currently experiencing an unprecedented, and unsustainable loss of air traffic controllers."
He then goes at the FAA for their claims that they are " hiring enough trainees to make up for the retiring veterans". Yes, they are hiring them Forrey points out, but their training procedures leaves much to be desired:
"Between FY2005 and the end of FY2007, of the 3450 trainees still employed by the FAA, only 538 have achieved full certification. That’s fewer than 16%! Of the 525 hired and still employed in the first six months of FY2008, only 4 have fully certified."
If that 411 didn't wake them up, the following should have:
"Before the imposition of the imposed work rules, which the FAA continues to mislabel as a contract, the Agency told Congress and this Subcommittee, that there would not be a mass exodus of air traffic controllers. Unfortunately, the FAA was wrong. In June of 2006, the FAA predicted that 950 controllers would leave the workforce in FY2007. 

The actual attrition number for controllers in FY2007 was 1,622 – 70 percent higher than the Agency’s prediction. 

They exacerbated that wave by prematurely cutting off contract negotiations in 2006, and caused an attrition tsunami that has seen nearly 2,700 controllers and trainees leave the system since.

It is not a coincidence that delays, near misses, and runway incursions have all increased as the number of controllers has diminished."
In his closing, Forrey slams the ball completely out the park grand slam style – with this:
"The Agency also continues to sell NextGen as the cure-all for all aviation woes, from congestion, to safety, to efficient fuel use, and even controller staffing levels. 

But I remind Members of the Subcommittee, that NextGen is at least two decades away. Before we hang our hat on this still-conceptual program to take aviation to the next generation, let us fix the problems of the NowGen air traffic control system.

There is plenty of verbatim testimony (all PDFs) available here, here, here and here to keep you busy reading until next fall. But the bottom line on this is that once again, dire information has been delivered to a House Subcommittee, with clear details on how to fix the problem. But if Oberstar's Aviation Subcommittee ignores this just like the House Judiciary Committee's Task Force on Competition Policy and Antitrust Laws apparently has done after Big Oil's top brass testified about high oil prices on May 22, 2008, then we can expect nothing to happen on ATC staffing.

I am not quite sure why anyone bothers to testify to this Congress today. If they actually DO anything that results in legislation, W will just veto it anyway, using political ramifications and party loyalty as the only two benchmarks that matter.

Yes, I'd love to see some sort of bill hit his desk that forces the issue and makes FAA enter into a fair employment deal with NATCA...just so Bushie could veto it. That way, since the buck stops in the Oval Office, at least we'd know who to blame when two airliners cream one another over Omaha because some under-trained, fatigued controller created a "deal" that caused loss of life.

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