Monday, July 05, 2010

ITYS #506

Or maybe it should be “I Told You So” squared?

Near-collisions on rise in Washington area's skies amid influx of inexperienced controllers

”The number of times planes have come too close for comfort in the region in the past six months has surpassed the total of 18 the previous year. Nationwide, air traffic controllers committed 949 errors last year.”

Trust me, there were a lot more errors than that. Those are just the ones that got counted. But there are a lot scarier facts than that in this article.

”Forty-nine of the 177 controllers who handle in-flight traffic for the Washington region, the third-busiest airspace in the nation after New York and Los Angeles, have yet to be certified in all aspects of their job, according to the FAA.”

”In all four incidents the planes came so close that they merged into a single dot on the radar screens of the air traffic controllers based at the FAA's Potomac TRACON facility.”

I guess that’s enough to get you to read the article.

Let’s review. There is nothing you, the FAA, Congress, nor anyone can do about the underlying problem -- now. We tried to warn you. Nobody listened and the damage was done. Thousands of years of controller experience left the system.

The only thing to do now is to ameliorate the circumstances. Having 49 trainees in the Potomac Tracon at this late date is not the way to do it. It will take a lot of money, a lot of commitment and a lot of ingenuity. It hasn’t been done in the FAA before. That doesn’t mean no organization has been transformed before. Look at the Army post-Vietnam and then during the first Gulf War. That monumental change didn’t happen by itself. It will require a 180º shift in the FAA’s current (and long running) emphasis on technology. The emphasis has to shift to the people. That isn’t an anit-technology message. Look at the Army again. The technology is unbelievable. The people still come first.

I got this article from Peter Nesbitt. He’s still in the FAA and despite every reason to quit caring, it’s obvious he still does. He isn’t alone. The talent to do what needs to be done is still around. It always has been. The FAA’s management culture just keeps trying to crush it instead of using it.

Unfortunately, nobody that cares believes the FAA’s management wants to make the change. Which means we’ll just have to wait for the event that will change them. None of us are under any illusion that concern about the FAA will rise to the level needed to change it before disaster strikes. When it does strike, you can rest assured that I will be first in line to say “I told you so”. It won’t give me any pleasure -- it doesn’t now. But I will be sure -- then -- that I have your attention. And maybe -- just maybe -- somebody will listen.

Don Brown
July 5, 2010


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