Saturday, November 03, 2007

Backdoor Privatization

The Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS) is the union representing the electronic wizards of air traffic control. These guys perform the maintenance and certify that everything will work as advertised. Radars, radios, telecommunications -- these are the guys that make it all work. The mechanics (and a lot more) of ATC if you will. Pilots depend on controllers. Controllers depend on the members of PASS.

Tom Brantley, the president of PASS, testified recently on Capitol Hill. You should read his testimony. a .pdf file) I’ll hit the highlights for you.

”According to the FAA, ADS-B is “the future of air traffic control.”

“It is our understanding of the FAA’s plans that with the implementation of this system, ADS-B, unlike our current radar systems, will not be certified and all maintenance will be the responsibility of the contractor. “

“PASS is especially disturbed by the elimination of FAA certification of the system, the decrease in system redundancy and the FAA’s troubled history of contract management. “

“According to the agency, since ADS-B will result in more accurate tracking, aircraft will be able to fly safely with less distance between them, thus allowing for an increase in airspace capacity. The FAA predicts that the ADS-B technology will also allow air traffic controllers to better manage the air traffic at congested airports.”

“Certification is the process in which a certificated FAA technician checks and tests systems or pieces of equipment on a periodic basis in order to ensure that the systems or pieces of equipment can be safely returned to service and not negatively impact any aspect of the NAS. According to the FAA’s own order, “Certification is a quality control method used by the ATO [Air Traffic Organization] to ensure NAS facilities are providing their advertised service. The ATO employee’s independent discretionary judgment about the provision of advertised services, the need to separate profit motivations from operational decisions, and the desire to minimize liability, make the regulatory function of certification and oversight of the NAS an inherently governmental function.” Since certification is an inherently governmental function, it can only be accomplished by FAA employees. “

“Further changes the agency has made to its own orders reveal the agency’s true intentions of taking FAA employees out of the process.”

“It should also be noted that this new interpretation of the agency’s certification criteria would apply not only to ADS-B but also to any system or service that is not owned by the FAA—any future contract awarded by the FAA that provides for vendor-owned equipment or services would be barred from the FAA certification program. In addition, the pilot programs contained in the Senate’s version of the reauthorization bill that would turn over ownership, maintenance and operation of airports to entities other than the FAA would also place the systems and services used or provided by those airports in a category of being prohibited from the FAA’s certification program.”

”Clearly, the agency’s ill-advised goal is to turn over as much of the NAS as possible to the private sector.

Gettin’ the Flick ? There’s more. A lot more. As I said, you should really read it all for yourself. It’s only 8 pages. You might spot something that I didn’t. Something like this:

”According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the “the ADS-B rollout will allow the agency to remove 50 percent of its current secondary radars, saving money in the program’s baseline.” Full implementation of ADS-B would mean that the primary radar would be eliminated and 50 percent of secondary radars would also be removed. The FAA considers providing backup for half of ADS-B users sufficient, but PASS questions the consequences of such a drastic cut in redundancy, literally moving almost entirely to a satellite-based system. Furthermore, if the ADS-B technology truly allows for the reduction of space between aircraft, what happens if ADS-B fails and aircraft are forced to switch to secondary radar, which requires more space between aircraft in order to ensure safety?“

PASS has the flick. Do you ?

In case it hasn’t hit you, this is the reason that the Bush Administration and its corporate masters try to eliminate unions like NATCA and PASS. They know where the bodies are buried and can blow the whistle when needed. Most Americans don’t have any idea how the National Airspace System works, anymore than I can tell you how the internet works. Unions, civil servants and an independent Press are all part of the checks and balances in our system of governing ourselves as a nation.

It’s simple really. We can govern ourselves or we can continue to let the power of corporations grow unchecked and be governed by them. We’ve tried that before. Trust me. You won’t like it.

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go;
I owe my soul to the company store.

Don Brown
November 3, 2007

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