2:46 PM

A Very Slippery Slope

With the current state of affairs at FAA, there is plenty of reason to believe the agency that protects our skies is headed down that same "Heckuva Job Brownie" path as FEMA. If this doesn't scare you, it should.

As FAA tries to figure out how best to fund the Next Generation of Air Traffic Control in this country, lots of ideas are being circulated to generate enough money to pay for this massive project. And this weekend, Associated Press ran a story that seems to suggest that cutting ATC budgets is the worst NextGen funding idea of all:

The nation's air traffic controllers and the Federal Aviation Administration that employs them cannot agree whether enough qualified people are guiding air traffic or how safe the air space is today. With airline travel rebounding almost to the volume before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, delays on scheduled U.S. flights have reached a record high. Nearly one-third of domestic flights on major carriers were late in June. And air traffic is growing. At the same time, the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association been unable to agree on a new contract. A year ago, the FAA declared an impasse and imposed a contract. Since then, the retirement of experienced controllers has soared beyond the agency's forecasts. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey says the imposed contract "is saving taxpayers $1.9 billion over five years ... to invest in 21st Century air traffic systems."
FAA says that safety will be improved with Nextgen, because precise satellite tracking can handle traffic flying closer to one another. That's great, until they reach the fence, says NATCA:
"You still have to land them one at a time," responds union chief Patrick Forrey, who says more runways and controllers are needed. "NextGen is going to take years. They need to do something...now."
With the number of fully-certified controllers dropping to 11,467 in May according to AP, and with 3,300 trainees working positions next to them, that is 14,947 total bodies in the system. So this next pull from AP really tells the whole story:
The FAA-imposed contract cut starting pay by 30 percent, eliminated incentive pay for experienced controllers and gave managers more authority over staffing. Since last September, controllers have filed 220,000 grievances.
That's an unbelievable 14.71 grievances per controller in the past year! Even one grievance per controller is unacceptable, but damn near 15 each? Talk about a system that is broken...maybe beyond repair.

Before FAA tries to build NextGen, they desperately need to make up with NATCA and get ATC back to an operational level that does not resemble NOLA's Lower Ninth Ward after Katrina hit. This management vs. labor debacle is a sad state of affairs, and unless FAA and NATCA can sit down and work out their differences, the millions of commercial passengers inside the airliners flown under the positive control of the Next Generation of disgruntled air traffic controllers, will be screwed.

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