"Trouble in the Air," Feature, 10/18
Money Trumps Safety
I read your article "Trouble in the Air" published October 18 and want to express my gratitude for shining the light on a situation that is becoming volatile.
I am an air traffic controller at Oakland Center who works those quick turnarounds with the graveyard shift. I have been doing it for almost 10 years now. I also have a three-year-old, and a baby that is due in two weeks. The tough part of it all is that my wife is also a controller at Oakland Center. We have to juggle our schedules to care for our children, which becomes frustratingly impossible sometimes. So far we have been able to do it, we just don't know for how much longer.
I can attest to the low morale that we are experiencing at work. Within the last month I have witnessed high tension between controllers while working traffic. It is this kind of distractions that are clearly becoming unintended consequences that the FAA miscalculated when imposing their work rules. This distraction is where safety becomes compromised.
My father was a controller for 40 years with the FAA and I can honestly say that this is my dream job. I still love working airplanes, but it is unfortunate that I can't do it anywhere else but with the FAA. Conditions are as low as I have ever seen them.
I am a dedicated professional who holds the safety of the flying public as a sacred trust ... as do my co-workers. But it's unfortunate that money has become a priority over safety.
Bill Rodenhurst, San Ramon
Next Up, Privatization
Good article, but I think you overlooked the obvious Bush's attempt to privatize all government services. The argument is that since the FAA cannot manage our air traffic control system (while simultaneously gutting efforts to upgrade the infrastructure), we should just hand it over to a private contractor a private contractor who will further reduce wages and impose harsh working conditions; all in the name of profit. Not my idea of safe air space.
Robert Ruhl, San Francisco
Something Has Got to Give
Your article concerning the air traffic controller situation is right on. This is not an exaggeration. It is so frustrating trying to get the nature of the job explained to the general public. My time on position has dramatically increased in just the last few months, and it will, no doubt, get worse. It is difficult to explain the difference between working heavy jet traffic for 45 minutes and getting a break versus working for one and a half to two hours or more until getting a shorter break ... then knowing you are going back in to do the same thing again. The thoughts behind the current management structure and imposed work rules are mind-boggling. Stress has only increased, morale continues to decrease, air traffic continues to increase and staffing levels continue to decrease. Something has got to give.
Doug Dunham, Crawfordsville, Indiana
Here Comes Outsourcing
The controllers being hired now are being "hired on the cheap," much like he [Bush] does everything, such as Iraq. What I am seeing is too few, paid way too little, and too many with insufficient aptitude to do the job in the larger and more difficult facilities.
To get 2,500 controllers trained and able to work in the busier facilities will require hiring 6,000 young people. You will net 2,500, lose 2,500, and hopefully get 1,000 for the smaller, less difficult facilities. To keep pace for the next four years, upward of 15,000 will have to be hired that, I swear, is no joke.
What Bush wants to do is make it so bad that he can just turn it over to his friends in the military-industrial complex. Let them suck up billions, buy really good attorneys and insurance, pay the workers peanuts, and pocket a fistful of dollars for companies like Lockheed, WCG, etc.
Domenic Torchia, Columbia, California
Get the Word Out
Congratulations on your thorough and balanced look at ATC since the strike. I was a journeyman controller at LA Center up until 1981. The general public just has no clue about what happens behind the scenes in ATC ... and many pilots aren't much better informed.
Sam Wachtel, Cordova, Tennessee
One Day in Florida
Ah, me! I've lost count of media reports of the effects of Ronald Reagan's firing of 11,400 controllers in 1981.
I concede that your writer described Reagan's reckless mass firings with more precision than other sources. The others have omitted the deadly situations that have gone unreported because the FAA has a "no-tell" policy about near-midair events.
You mentioned my friend, Californian Dom Torchia, in your report. Dom is an experienced controller familiar with understaffing and doubled and tripled workload factors, so you would be well-advised to deepen your probing of current conditions in ATC facilities compared to pre-1981 facts.
President Bill Clinton saw the folly of Reagan's stupidity and tried to correct it, but the FAA is bossed by an equally stupid Republican president, George W. Bush, so the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Your writer did a good job probing facts about crashes in which current controllers were adjudicated to be partially to blame. Those that were reported, that is. What your writer was powerless to uncover were the many incidents in a given year where the FAA successfully covers them up. Then the NTSB plays with the facts for a year and a half before publishing its results, which were obvious to any controller or pilot ten minutes after the occurrence.