Thursday, May 31, 2007

The High Price of Low Staffing

Funny how an accident tends to get the press’ attention. I want you to pull out your calculator and then go read this story. When you see a sentence like this...

” The controllers worked 17 times more overtime in the eight months after the Aug. 27 accident, in which 49 of the 50 people aboard the flight were killed, than during the eight months before that.”

...I want you to calculate the cost. Assign whatever value you’d like to the controller’s hourly wage. (I bet that will depend on whether or not you’ve booked your summer travel plans on an airplane.) Add it all up.

Whatever the official outcome of the NTSB’s investigation, there’s no doubt that the FAA’s newly discovered sensitivity to staffing was due to the Lexington crash. Think of how much the FAA thought they were saving. Look and see what it really cost them. Don’t forget to add in the cost of the FAA’s internal investigation and the NTSB’s. Those are your tax dollars too. Then there’s the lawsuits. The true cost of this one event won’t be known for years to come. The only thing we know for sure is that the FAA will pay and pay for violating its own staffing rules. You’ll be writing the check.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. All of this has been known for years. It’s one reason the FAA is known as “The Tombstone Agency.” We can’t prevent every accident. We can only do our best, but it has to be our very best. Not some cheap, shortsighted version of our best. The true cost of low staffing doesn’t lie in dollar and cents -- it lies underneath 49 tombstones.

Don Brown
May 31, 2007

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