Friday, July 27, 2007

Some People Claim...

There’s a woman to blame. It figures. After all, we are talking about pink shirts. My friend Michelle read my blog and clued me in about the history behind the “pink shirts.”

It came about as these things usually do. The leaders of the controllers working the airshow at Oshkosh (OSH) wanted their members to be easily recognizable. Every year, they’d get the entire crew the same color shirt to wear. Gray, blue, whatever. It would change from year to year. Then one year, they picked a green that they thought would provide high visibility.

They’d already determined over the years that some colors just didn’t work for them. Working OSH is a very “visual” business and some of the colors worn by the controllers at the approach end of the runway just melted into the background. Although the green was carefully chosen to contrast with the grass surrounding the runways, the grass had other ideas. By the time of the show it changed to match the shirts. The controllers were -- effectively -- now camouflaged. Not a good thing when airplanes are landing mere yards (pardon the pun) away.

It just so happened that Michelle and a couple of other ladies were in charge of the next year’s planning. They discussed what they could do about the situation. Red shirts were out. The EAA was using it to identify their people. Yellow was out for the same reason. The ladies settled on “neon pink”. And yes, there was a certain gleam in their eyes at the thought of telling their fellow male controllers that they would have to wear a pink shirt this year.

It worked so well -- it was highly visible and nobody else was wearing pink -- that it stuck. And the rest (as they say) is history.

On a more serious note, this is just a lighthearted example of what I call “institutional memory.” It’s this kind of knowledge -- knowing the history behind a procedure that works -- that is lost when a large percentage of the workforce leaves at once. A lot of controller knowledge was lost in the PATCO strike in 1981. That knowledge had to regained -- rediscover -- at a painful price. That is the reason I and many other controllers get so upset about the current condition of the FAA. We know the cost of relearning these lessons -- firsthand.

For the FAA to purposely drive their senior controllers out of the profession is morally reprehensible. It degrades the safety of the system -- needlessly. It is reckless. It’s just plain wrong.

Don Brown
July 27, 2007

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