Looking back on the decade of my life I spent working at FAA I remember one thing for certain. When someone at the agency told me “No,” the reasons were seldom clear.
“No,” might have meant something as simple as “No,” because I don’t agree with that idea or even “No,” because the idea came from me. Sometimes “No,” meant my boss didn’t know the answer and he or she didn’t want to ask anyone else. Or sometimes “No,” meant my boss actually did know the answer and it came from pretty high up so just deal with it. Of course I haven’t worked at FAA for 25 years.
As the Sunday deadline to begin controller furloughs passed last, airline passengers, business aviation operaorts and even flight training companies have no idea what’s coming next now that sequestration-induced furloughing of air traffic controllers has begun. Air traffic delays could be ugly now that FAA decided air traffic controllers are no longer essential personnel … nor are safety inspectors or the technicians that keep all the electronic gear the FAA uses up and running.
Think about that new “non-essential” ATC tag for a moment. I recall the Reason Foundation’s Bob Poole and I chatting just a few weeks ago about how ATC was considered an essential government service to people who did not support privitization. Now FAA says these folks are not really that important. The FAA never raised the issue of controllers not being essential until this week, when that move worked in their favor.
Aviation Takes Another Right to the Jaw
When FAA was asked by Airlines for America (A4A), the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and the Regional Airline Association (RAA) to take a deep breath and rethink the furloughs, perhaps the same way the FAA did (OK, they were pressured into it) the issue of contract tower closures, the agency said no, claiming they don’t have that kind of budget flexibility. We all believe that don’t we, especially when the agency somehow managed to find the cash to extend contract tower discussions until mid-June.
Of course the essential question is why aviation? That answer’s actually pretty simple.
Mr. Huerta and his team said no, because our pragmatic DOT Secretary Ray LaHood told them to say no. And of course, Mr. (did my resignation take effect yet?) LaHood takes his marching orders from the White House who has decided that aviation is the one place in the nation where the Democrat’s scolding of Republicans will have the greatest effect.
Safety’s Not the Issue
Surprisingly, safety’s not an issue I’d worry about because of these furloughs. Controllers and pilots are professionals who won’t run airplanes close together unless they have the help they need. They’ll just run fewer airplanes [translating into delays and serious traveler inconveniences] which is precisely what the White House is hoping for.
The real problem we’ll face is going to be connections, especially at the airlines. If the first group of airplanes is late departing in the morning from Chicago, or New York or Dallas, that makes them late to their first destination of the day and also puts the next flock of departures late from those cities. The problems will grow worse through out the day and the week.
Some folks are calling the cuts “unfair.” A4A’s President and CEO Nick Calio called FAA’s move “illegal,” telling a press conference audience Friday that the agency has offerred the airlines no specifics on how these furloughs will work. “We got nowhere in our repeated meetings with FAA,” he said. “Now they’ve created an emergency situation for us.” And for the rest of us.
If A4A calls FAA furloughs “Illegal,” and others call them “unfair to customers,” I prefer to call them stupid, which is pretty much how I feel about the long list of politicians who simply sit back and watch this industry and the public take it on the chin again. Of course I don’t mean every single person in Congress is asleep.
But I’m still trying to figure out why many of our Illinois legislators didn’t sign the correspondence to the White House saying “No” to user fees for the airlines and business aviation. Now I’m wondering why they don’t stand up on this furlough issue. And a couple of our legislators like Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Jan Shakowsky are senior members of the President’s support team too.
I think it’s time to start demanding more from legislators than a form e-mail response written by a junior staffer. Please use the NBAA’s Congressional organizer to find your officials and tell them it’s time to stop making aviation a political whipping boy. We’ll do our part for the economy and the budget, but we want our legislators to start sticking up for the rest of us who keep voting them back into office.
There was some advice from Mr. Obama’s last week that really did make sense, even though it was related to gun legislation and a not aviation. After his gun bill failed, the President said it is high time Congress took a step back and remembered precisely who sent them to Washington and why.
I agree. And if you do and you don’t make that effort today … and over and over again, don’t act surprised as this industry — from flight training, to aircraft manufacturing, to airline service to business aviation — continues to shrink.
And this late edit is a letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough from 11 of the largest industry organizations asking for FAA flexibility to avoid furloughs.
Rob Mark, Publisher