Friday, April 11, 2008

Hearing the Hearings

I’ve spent the entire morning watching the Aviation Oversight Hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. You’ll find the link to the webcast on the linked page or you can click here if you have a couple of hours to burn. It’s an unedited broadcast so here are a couple of time hacks for you. The hearing doesn’t actually get started until the 00:35 mark. The hearing starts again at the 2:12 mark, after a recess.

Besides the failure of the FAA to provide oversight of the airlines, this committee and Congressman Oberstar’s hearing kept coming back to the same root cause -- the FAA’s “culture.” The thought struck me that the FAA just doesn’t “get it.” Mr. Sabatini, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, offered up his solution for tightening up his administrative processes by assigning control numbers to documents and requiring review of cases by higher management. How will that address the culture problem ? How will that change the mindset that “airlines are customers” ?

And then there is poor Hank Krakowski, Chief Operating Officer of the Air Traffic Organization at the FAA. Unlike Mr. Sabatini, Mr., Krakowski is relatively new to the FAA. In other words, he didn’t help create this mess. The best thing he could do would be to say he had no idea that the trouble ran this deep and walk away from the FAA. But he offered up his controller-specific version of the airline’s Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) as a cure.

Again, it’s another good idea that doesn’t address the problem. Just as everyone agreed that the voluntary disclosure program with the airlines’ maintenance has positive benefits, so too does ASAP. It isn’t the programs. It is the culture inside the FAA’s management. An organization’s culture isn’t easy to change but it can be done. As a matter of fact, the Bush Administration did it. The only problem is, they made it worse.

Please tell me that I’m not the only one that sees a connection between a “Customer Service Initiative” -- treating the airlines like a customer -- and Marion Blakey’s mantra of acting “more like a business.”

”The FAA is working hard to run more like a business, and concurrent certification projects can help us get there. “

Marion Blakey
December 12, 2006

”More planes, smaller planes, cheaper tickets – they point to the increasing need for the FAA to operate more like a business. “

Marion Blakey
February 28, 2006

The Bush Administration knew exactly what it wanted and Marion Blakey delivered it. Now that it has blown up in their faces they don’t want to accept the consequences of their incompetence. Instead of being hailed as liberators, the Bush Administration's minions are facing an airline passenger insurgency. And in typical fashion, President Bush has nominated Marion Blakey’s right-hand man, “Heck-of-a-job” Bobby Sturgell, to be FAA Administrator.

Guess what folks ? This isn’t over. Not by a long shot. There are a lot more rocks to turn over in the FAA and each one of them will have something nasty hidden under it. Don’t be surprised when you find out that Alberto Gonzales wasn’t the only legal mind with a warped interpretation of the law. Don’t be surprised when you find out that Blackwater wasn’t the only out-of-control contractor. The Army isn’t the only force stretched too thin. And the FAA won’t be any easier to rebuild than New Orleans.

Don Brown
April 11, 2008

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