7:58 PM

We Won't Get
Fooled Again

I do not wake up each morning looking for ways to bang all over the guy who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in WDC. My cup these days is 15/16ths full, I don't just live for Bush bashing. But then I read some hogwash like this from a widely-reported AP story, and cannot keep from going somewhat ballistic:

Ahead of the holiday travel crunch, President Bush ordered steps Thursday to reduce air traffic congestion and long delays that have left passengers stranded. The most significant change is that the Pentagon will open unused military airspace from Florida to Maine to create "a Thanksgiving express lane" for commercial airliners. It will be open next week for five days -- Wednesday through Sunday -- for the busiest days of Thanksgiving travel.
WTF? Now I may not be the expert on commercial airliner routings, but I do know that by looking over a few sectionals, the vast majority of MOAs I could find along the Eastern seaboard do not go up anywhere near the high flight levels. So with that in mind, red flags went flying, as they usually do when Bushie opens his yap. My guess was that his spinmeister du jour came up with this "military airspace" story as a way to put something out there to make Average Joe and Jane in the square states think he's actually doing something about airline delays. He must think we are all so stoopid.

To get clarification on this outlandish White House release, I contacted NATCA's Director of Communications Doug Church. I figured that if anyone knew if there actually was "unused military airspace" that we can cram more airliners into, he'd be the man. Church's response confirmed by suspicions that BushCo was all hat and no cattle on this issue. It is sad to see the White House missing the really seriously issue by a Texas mile:
"It’s PR spin, telling the public what they want to hear," said Church. "This will have no real effect whatsoever. The FAA tried this notion of increasing airspace once before, two years ago. It didn’t work. It was called Domestic Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum. And it doubled the amount of high altitude airspace that controllers could use for flights above 29,000 feet, by reducing minimum separation from 2,000 feet between planes to 1,000 feet. How did it affect delays? Well in 2007, delays were the worst on record! So clearly, airspace is not the problem."
So while BushCo wants the American people to believe it may be "Mission Accomplished" as far as airline delays are concerned, the Controller's Union knows better:
This is because there are 7.5 percent fewer veteran, fully trained controllers on board nationwide this holiday season than in 2006, handing 4 percent more traffic. If anything, delays will INCREASE. Until the FAA finds a way to keep its veteran controllers on staff to handle holiday traffic, and ALL traffic, and train new hires, the system will continue to deteriorate. We are losing an average of three controllers a day due to the current labor situation (we have no contract). In FY07, 856 retired, including half in their FIRST YEAR of retirement eligibility. They are tired, fed up and stressed out.
This administration is getting really old. Today's episode reminds me of that famous Bushism back in Nashville in 2002, spoken like only he can:
"There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."
You can watch the video clip of that one here. My point to all this is that while W and his buddies try to blow smoke across mirrors to create the illusion of trying to fix FAA's growing ATC crisis, reality always seems to bite them hard. Here is just a taste of one of NATCA's press releases today outlining how far our country's aviation agency has fallen:
FREMONT, Calif. – The continuing air traffic controller staffing crisis at Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZOA) resulted in two aircraft passing dangerously close over the skies above Northern California last Sunday afternoon. NATCA discovered today that the FAA is charging the air traffic controller with an operational error and is protesting the outrageously unsafe working conditions in which this incident occurred. The controller was being forced by the FAA to work his second overtime shift and seventh straight day of the week, a violation of federal law.
Just how close do airliners need to get before anyone in Washington actually sits NATCA and FAA down in the same room and hammers out a peace treaty? Does it really have to rain bodies over Omaha before that happens?

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