Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Answer

There seems to be a new question floating around for the next generation of controllers; “What are you going to do about it ?”. The perception seems to be that this is the beginning of a new era. The controller profession has found the limits of its power. They’ve endured three years of turmoil and trouble. NATCA -- the controller’s union -- will have a new president soon and there is a vote pending on a new contract. Pay has already been decided by arbitration. While there might be a sense of vindication, there is no sense of victory.

So, where do we go from here ? What’s the new strategy ? PATCO went on strike. That didn’t work. NATCA has toyed with various strategies. Like PATCO, some were successful for awhile. Some weren’t. The strike was a disaster. We can argue about right vs. wrong all day but it remains a disaster. It was a disaster for PATCO, for Labor, for the profession and for the country. NATCA has avoided disaster but the last few years have been consumed with surviving instead of winning.

NATCA (and the FAA) are now filled with a new generation of controllers. Like all new generations, they will be filled with new ideas but they don’t know which path will lead to success. I do.

I know that sounds conceited. I guess I’ll just have to live with that. Take note. What you think -- or think of me -- isn’t important. Truth is important. Opinion ? Not so much.

The answer is the same as it has always been -- Safety.

That’s it. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. No grandiose ideas. I’ve said it a hundred times before but like most others, you don’t hear. The answer to all of the controller’s professional problems is in one simple word -- Safety.

The very definition of air traffic control encompasses such a simple concept that most fail to grasp it. Air Traffic Control is the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic. Each word -- each concept -- is there for a reason and in a specific order for a reason. While the people that are controllers are around but for a short time and the technology changes constantly -- these words endure. They are a constant. They have not been improved upon for decades upon decades.

They are the “Faith, Hope and Love” of ATC. And the greatest of these is Safety.

If you will adopt Safety as your professional religion, you will win. If you will adopt that simple definition -- safe, orderly and expeditious -- as your professional creed, you will win. Constantly. If you will adopt “by the book” as your duty -- and not some sort of twisted revenge or weapon -- your profession will thrive. And, most importantly, the people whose lives have been entrusted to you will be safe.

It won’t be easy. Doing the right thing -- for the right reasons -- rarely is.

Don Brown
August 25, 2009

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