Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wonder why air traffic controllers are falling asleep?

On August 5,1980 following the PATCO workers' refusal to return to work, Reagan fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order and banned them from federal service for life. (This ban was later rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1993.)

It took ten years at get enough controllers back on the job. In the interim they used military, non striking personnel, managers and nearly anyone else they could find to fill the positions. Now for the real coup de grace was when Bush threw his non scientific two cents into the formula. From their own controllers' web site we have:

A Nation-Wide Staffing Crisis

- As of March 31, 2009, there were 11,219 fully certified controllers, 27% below the scientifically-based staffing standard jointly authorized by the FAA and NATCA in 1998 and a 16-year low. According to an April 2009 report by the DOT Inspector General, the “FAA faces an increasing risk of not having enough fully certified controllers in its workforce – with 27% of the workforce now in training compared to 15% in 2004.”

- In order to conceal the staffing crisis, the Bush Administration’s FAA unilaterally abandoned the scientifically based standards and arbitrarily reduced the standard by 23%. The DOT Inspector General’s April report states that these vague staffing ranges, have yet to be validated and “therefore cannot ensure they truly represent the facilities’ needs.”

Now I couple this with what I've heard from the working conditions of the short flight pilots. You may know them as stump jumpers or milk run pilots. Their planes may say United or Continental but they're not. And their schedules would have killed me in my better days. Imagine having to share a crash pad with 6 or 8 other pilots because you can't afford a motel room near the airport and get only 3 or 4 hours sleep at times. And when it's all said and done you're making poverty wages. Wonder why some have been caught drunk? Because they never knew when they would have to fill in for some other sick pilot. Half way through a night on the town and you get a call that you have a flight in 3 or 4 hours. That was the one thing I really hated about emergency response work. You could never really make plans because the next thing you know the phone would ring and it was out the door and off to another exciting adventure.

For the controllers and I've known one or two, the stress comes in several forms. On the face of it they must look at a screen objectively with its' blips of numbers paying no attention to the fact that those little blips represent hundreds of passengers who's safety lies in the hands of the pilot and controller. Subconsciously there is a price to pay knowing that one wrong direction could result in many deaths. Then there has been the rotation of shifts and some working double shifts on a regular basis. I can speak from personal experience that air traffic has increased quit a bit in the last 15 years. There was a time when working at the airport meant that we could start work after the last flight came in from Hawaii at 11p.m. We would basically have the airport all to our selves with the exception of some sleeping layovers waiting for their morning flights. Everything came alive again at 6 a.m. Not so anymore with more international travel mainly from Asia. Not to mention it can take an hour or two to get through security. And someone must be there at all times for traffic control. Until recently much of the equipment they used that I saw was antiquated looking like something out of a WWII movie. The aircraft technology may have gotten better but the ground stuff doesn't seemed to have changed much. I recall at one airport they use hand written name plates to keep track of flight orders just as a precaution.
It takes three years to train a controller. I can appreciate that because it takes about three years to learn Haz Mat work and become proficient. So as you can see they just can't call up Labor Ready or temp agency for a bunch of help.

Scary times if you're planning to fly. Think I'll take the train.


Jerry Critter said...

Just another "benefit" of republican governance.

Anonymous said...

Ronnies day of the "long knives".

He surely made his bones with the nazi swine that day.

Rotten stinking bastard.

Randal Graves said...

They fall asleep because that's where they can live out the being-privatized dream. Duh.

BBC said...

They do a lot of sitting, let them have a nap.

The Blog Fodder said...

I figured that was the situation but had not seen any details. It is a wonder they don't all just quit. The stress level of constantly changing shifts ruins health if nothing else does.
What is with the pilot thing? I always thought pilots were well paid? Too many pilots and not enough aircraft?

BBC said...

Just saw a news story that said they are going to get an extra hour between shifts, against the experts advice that a nap during the shift would be better for them.

Oh well, I'm surrounded by idiots, on the bright side, I don't fly.

S.W. Anderson said...

No problemo. Just bring in a bunch of controllers from India, Korea, Thailand, etc., and problem solved. They'll probably even do double shifts for half price.

See, there's a free trade and globalization answer for everything.

(I wonder, does snoring sound different in Hindi? Korean? Thai?)

Anonymous said...

How about if they fall asleep they get a warning and are sent home, and if it happens again within the next 3 years, they get a pink slip ?

I've been hearing a lot about this problem in the media lately, and frankly I think it's a joke.

With what ATCers are paid, there should be no excuses.

40 hour work week with overtime and they can't keep their eyes open for their shift ?

I know all about shift work. I did it for 5 years in the engine room of a nuclear submarine, routinely working 100 hour work weeks, under severe stress, earning a fraction of an air traffic controller's salary. If I fell asleep on watch, I could find myself in jail.

ATC = Huge whiners.

Anonymous said...

OK, Let's say the do get an Extra hour between shifts.
You have 11,000 controllers, You have 24 hours in a day, someone has to be working that extra hour eventually. And MOST are approaching Retirement !! GFL Uncle Sam !!

Anonymous said...

Yeah? I stare at hundreds of blips at a time while enroute through pirate waters and busy harbor areas on U.S. merchant ships. Quit complaining ATC's and do your job.

Call Reagan anything you people want, but at the end of the day he was enforcing the law, a law those strikers knew damn well they were breaking. They were offered a raise TWO TIMES GREATER than any other Federal employees, but they demanded SEVENTEEN TIMES MORE. Greedy fucks....

Ron said...

Another problem: One week early shift, one week late shift, repeat. Not good for your sleep patterns.

Anonymous said...

Jeez, one idiot who could barely stand 5 whole years in the Navy can now can cast judgement on a whole class of people? Another who watches ships coming in at a whopping 15 knots with a crew of 30 understands what its like to manage a whole flight pattern. Must be republicans. They ignore the whole article backed up with facts to interject their personal jugement backed up by nothing.


Anonymous said... the end of the day Ronnie was asleep at the wheel just like he was at the beginning of the day.

Ronald Reagan = Worst president ever.

Phoenix Justice said...

Timothy Noah of Slate had a great article on this issue.

jsgamache said...

I believe the anonymous nuclear sub guy has the correct solution. After all, he was worked harder and was paid less, so we can get better results if we increase the ATCs' hours and cut their pay. If they don't like it, fire 'em. Let's stop pampering these sissies. There are plenty of people looking for jobs, so there's no problem replacing 'em. Look, if accidents are increasing, the only possible explanation is that people are just too soft these days.

christian louboutin said...

Thank you for this article. That’s all I can say. You most definitely have made this blog into something special. You clearly know what you are doing, you’ve covered so many bases.Thanks!