Wednesday, July 16, 2008
This will be a tricky blog entry. The truth usually is.
It’s almost time for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual Airventure. It’s held every year is Oshkosh, Wisconsin and it is General Aviation’s pilgrimage to the near-holy land. Imagine Woodstock with airplanes. Many do camp out, there’s not a hotel room to be had for miles around and -- on any given day -- there are about 100,000 people gawking at airplanes and having the time of their lives.
For at least one or two of those days, Oshkosh (OSH) becomes the busiest airport in the world. That means, for Tower Controllers (lovingly referred to as “swivel heads”), it is the Super Bowl of ATC. You’ve often heard me say that air traffic controllers can only let one airplane at a time on a runway. During Airventure, the FAA issues all kinds of waivers, issues all sorts of special rules and air traffic controllers put up to three airplanes at a time on the runway. And that doesn’t include the seaplane base, the ultralights or the helicopters. It is the wildest, craziest, most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen (in air traffic control anyway.)
Controllers beg to go to OSH for Airventure. They plan, they plot, they do whatever they think they can get away with to be selected. Except this year. In case you’ve forgotten in the midst of all the feel-good enthusiasm above, the controllers and the FAA are at war with each other. I’m sure the FAA will find somebody to work it -- there’s always somebody willing -- but a lot of controllers that normally go didn’t bid on the job this year.
Whoever winds up working there will be in new digs. The taxpayers have paid for a new air traffic control tower (ATCT) at OSH.
New control tower ready for AirVenture
You may not realize it, but that article is an excellent piece of journalism. I know -- I wasn’t expecting it out of the Appleton Post-Crescent either but it is what it is. Let me show you. (Here’s the tricky part.)
Officials of the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday opened the $6 million, federally funded tower...
You might not think that odd. But the article also contains this piece of information.
Contracted air traffic controllers began operating in the new tower on July 1.
You see, for 51 weeks of the year, a contractor operates the OSH ATCT. The FAA oversees the Tower (from an office far, far away) but the day-to-day operation is managed by a Federal contractor. Unless there’s a brand-spanking-new Tower to be opened with a lot of feel-good publicity attached to it. Then the FAA shows up.
"Miron really pushed to get the tower done, and it's incredible," said Adelman, who will supervise 64 volunteer FAA air traffic controllers from across the country during AirVenture.
In case you were wondering why the contractor doesn’t run the operation during Airventure....
Wittman, which has no scheduled air carriers but caters to several aviation-related businesses, normally has one or two contracted air traffic controllers on duty.
... that’s why. The contractor doesn’t have enough bodies. But the taxpayers do. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking the FAA is really short of controllers. That’s true. But we can still find enough to take over a contract Tower for a really cool event.
"The tower's control room is a little big for two controllers, but it was designed for AirVenture when we have 15 controllers working at one time," Adelman said.
The FAA has enough of your money to splurge on a really nice, big Tower -- for a one week event -- too.
For those of you that are aghast that I would violate the speak-no-evil-about-Oshkosh rule, let me elaborate. I love Oshkosh. I fully support what OSH is about. I believe Oshkosh is worth every penny of taxpayer dollars the FAA pours into it.
My goodwill is tempered by the shabby treatment of air traffic controllers. Your air traffic controllers have been without a contract for over 682 days. They are being used and abused. They are leaving the profession in record numbers because of it. And yet, the ones that are still left continue to do their best to keep you safe.
I’ve warned my readers before -- the controller’s goodwill won’t last forever. Neither will mine.
Aviation’s movers and shakers will all be at OSH this year -- just like every year. I want the aviation community to start making some noise. I want this thing settled. I know my readers and I know what kind of clout they have -- financial, political and moral. The controllers have made their case. They have spoken the truth and they’ve been patient. It’s time the aviation community started using their clout to correct this wrong.
It’s time for another truth.
You are their boss. Not the FAA, not the DOT and not George W. Bush. You. You are the taxpayers -- you are the citizens. I know you’ve hired/elected these other people to take care of the country for you. It’s time to either wade in, take action and clean up this mess or it’s time to approve of this Administration’s actions by your silence -- and accept the consequences.
July 16, 2008