Friday, March 20, 2009

Najeeb Halaby



Considering the realities of the day, I can’t help but wonder what is going through the minds of my younger readers as they read the name “Najeeb Halaby”. I don’t think many will come up with the “second Administrator of the FAA”. But it’s true. Perhaps even stranger, I’ve taken the time to read his book, Crosswinds: An Airman’s Memoir.

This book won’t be on anyone’s best seller’s list and I’m not trying to get you to read it. Frankly, it’s not that good. But it is educational and, in an ATC-geeky-kind-of-way, interesting.

Mr. Halaby was the FAA Administrator from 1961 to 1965. From 1969 to 1972 he was CEO of Pan Am World Airways. If you look at Mr. Halaby’s Wikipedia entry, you’ll get a whole different lesson about history. Despite both of these remarkable accomplishments (and being a test pilot and being a successful businessman), Mr. Halaby’s entry is consumed with his lineage. That is what happens when your daughter becomes Queen Noor of Jordon.

I’ll limit my comments to the aviation portion of his life. He starts off with;

“My attitude toward air traffic controllers was a carbon copy of how I felt about pilots; tremendous respect for the vast majority of them, sympathy toward their problems, and an intense awareness of their dedication and devotion to their duties. Along with national defense, there is no more important federal job than that of the air-traffic controller. Human lives depend on him. National security rides with him. The economy of the airlines depends on him.”

Yep. Controllers are so important he spent 5 pages out of 356 talking about them. Within those pages, he found time to criticize the Civil Aeronautics Administration men (the agency men that preceded the Federal Aviation Agency) and those “militants” that transformed the Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) into a labor union known as PATCO.

When President Kennedy went to issue Executive Order 10998 that would allow Federal employees to form labor unions, Mr. Halaby fought to have controllers excluded. Some of the language Mr. Halaby used was interesting.

“I believe the job of controller is a calling so high that he must sacrifice some of the normal rights of a private citizen in the area of collective bargaining and unionization. But I also believe that the controller is owed a special set of benefits -- prerogatives, if you will -- for “taking the cloth” as he commits himself to the public service.”

I don’t really think Mr. Halaby understood controllers. What he thought they wanted and what they really wanted were two different things. Take this passage for example.

“We built sixteen new ATC centers, with the personnel literally going from shacks to the most modern industrial structures. Instead of badly ventilated, poorly lit cubbyholes, they got air conditioning, indirect lighting and even snack bars.”

That’s so quaint it’s almost cute. The controllers got snack bars. The equipment demanded air conditioning and indirect lighting. If it hadn’t, the controllers would still have been in shacks.

It’s depressing to see the signs in this book that still persist in the FAA.

”I visited shifts at the busy New York center, for example, and was shocked at their dingy, overcrowded, and almost primitive working conditions. They were using World War II radar to handle six-hundred-mile-an-hour jet traffic.“

Huh. Imagine that. If he was shocked in 1961, I wonder what he’d be now, when he discovered we’re still using the same radar and his new Centers are now discarded, dingy, asbestos-laden relics ?

Don Brown
March 20, 2009

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