Air traffic control has been under the magnifying glass of late, with most recent incident being the loss of separation between Michelle Obama’s C-40 (Boeing 737) and a C-17 cargo plane. I’m puzzled. Numerous reports, including the story in the Washington Post, said ATC managers “were unaware of the potential problem.” Tell me, did the FAA do away with the computer snitch that goes off with any loss of standard separation?
But I digress from my intended point: how the FAA addressed the situation that, I’m told by friends and acquaintances who are air traffic controllers, is neither rare nor dangerously frequent. ATC supervisors will now back up the computer snitch (assuming it’s still in place) by overseeing the controllers who handle the departure and approach of any airplane that carries the first lady or vice president. I’m sure congressmen are next to receive this special treatment.
One of them already has. Remember when Jim Inhofe, the republican senator from Oklahoma, landed his twin-engine Cessna last year on a closed runway at Texas’ Cameron County Airport? Through a Freedom of Information Act request, The Smoking Gun got the FAA documents about the incident. In short, Inhofe saw the big yellow X but decided to land anyway, scattering the construction crew at work on the pavement.
But that’s not the ugly part. If you or I had done this, the FAA would have lifted our tickets without hesitation, justifying this action with a long list of violations. What did Inhofe get? Before you answer, remember that Inhofe supports aviation in Congress and represents the state that’s home to the FAA training center and airman-medical certification branch.Yup, contrary to the orders guiding FAA inspectors, Inhofe got remedial training.
In his blog, James Fallows, an aviator and writer for The Atlantic, provides all of the details, which were provided by one of his readers. The key section of the thorough explanation is this, from the FAA Order covering remedial training: “Deliberate, willful violations, which involve gross negligence, recklessness, recidivism, or flagrant disregard of [the FARs], shall continue to be handled by the imposition of strong, legal enforcement actions. This is clearly an area where remedial training is inappropriate and would be ineffective.”
Safety is the FAA’s primary job, and enforcement is one of the tools it employs to maintain it. To the masses the FAA preaches one level of safety; like being pregnant or dead, either you are or you’re aren’t. And if you break the rules, you pay the documented price. Just ask the ATC guys who have lost their jobs, or soon will, for losing the battle with the sleep monster. So why don’t we get the same level of safety and enforcement as the people we’ve elected to work for our common good? When it comes to safety, aren’t we worth as much as they are? And shouldn’t they play by the same rules they enforce on us? –Scott Spangler