Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Just Me and the Kids

Did the entire blog world take off this week ? Krugman, Fallows -- even Paul at the Follies. Oh well. I guess that leaves just me and the kids. Good. Let’s talk.

The first thing I want to do is start helping separate the men (and women) from the boys for you. Forget the “I just want to do my 8 and go home” types. Some of them can be talented controllers. They can move the metal. Wonderful. They have their place in life. See if you can get them to pay their union dues and let them be.

The talented ones will try to convince you that “expeditious” is the first thing in this job. Supervisors like them because they assume the risks of putting “expeditious” before “safety” for the supes, they are mostly ignorant of rules and regulations -- and they’re easily manipulated. Being off work is their prime motivator. That’s the easiest person in the FAA for the supes to manipulate.

Once you get past the “Boeing don’t make enough to sink me” types, it’s really pretty simple. You’ve got the talented and the not-so-talented. There are some subtleties here that are worth talking about. Even at a place like ZTL (Atlanta Center), somebody has to be the worst controller. The truly awful -- the ones that slipped through the cracks in the training program -- aren’t really a long-term problem. They’ll either move into management or the job will destroy their health in short order. I know it seems like there are a lot of them right now (it scares me to think how bad it might really be) but, trust me, it will sort itself out. It might be painful...but it will sort itself out.

Once it does, you will still be left with the worst controller in the facility. It reminds me of the doctor joke. What do you call the guy that graduates last-in-the-class at medical school ? “Doctor”. No matter how much trimming the FAA does, somebody has to be the worst controller in the facility. And herein lies your first lesson in becoming a professional.

It’s busy. It’s the noon balloon. You’re feeding the arrivals to the worst controller in the facility. What do you do ? Do you feed him the most you can work -- and sink him ? Or do you slow it down a little ? This question doesn’t have an easy answer. Especially while the slipped-through-the-cracks crowd is still with you. It’s a judgment call and nothing is truer in air traffic control than this; a lot of good judgment comes from bad experience.

The answer is the same as it always is -- safe, orderly and (then) expeditious. Your first duty is to keep it safe. Keeping things orderly helps tremendously in keeping things safe. And it will help the weakest-stick-in-the-building more than it will help you. Use your superior ability to keep things safe. Let the “expeditious first” crowd whine. They’re wrong. And it’s easy to prove. They don’t have the answers any more than you do. The difference is -- you’re here looking for the answers and they’re not. And they never will be -- no matter how talented they are.

Don Brown
September 1, 2009

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