Thursday, February 02, 2012

CFS -- Groundhog Day

I just got home from Communicating for Safety and I’m trying to pull my thoughts together about it. And of course, today being February 2nd, the first thing that came to mind was the movie Groundhog Day. For those that don’t understand the cultural reference, visit here first.

First, the good news. There were even more people at this CFS than in Vegas. I was told twice as many (and it looked like it.) That is great. NATCA gets better and better with the presentation and it really makes me proud that they have done such a good job with it. I detect a more pronounced feeling of professionalism. I attribute it to the fact that so many of the new guys actually went to colleges that concentrate on aviation.

I must say that I’m feeling more and more disconnected from air traffic control. I still see many things that concern me but I have to express them as concepts rather than specifics. I can’t talk “Q routes” but I know they’re just the most recent incarnation of colored airways. At the Archie League Awards, I noted that one pilot was using a GPS with a dying battery and that, in another incident, no one else knew how to operate the GPS on a Cirrus when the pilot became incapacitated -- even though numerous pilots were available to help. We didn’t have those problems when we had a standardized system of VORs.

I still see the silliness of complexity for complexity’s sake. (That’s a nice translation for stupidity.) It took me a few minutes of searching but I was finally able to recall Exhibit A -- the National Reference System. It only took 2 seconds from there to find a report on it (a .pdf file). And of course, the first report said exactly what I expected. (I’ve been writing too long. I can find what I said about it but I know it’s out there somewhere.)

”Negative Aspects. The pilots we interviewed indicated that they restrict their usage of NRS waypoints to original flight planning only (i.e., a strategic use). They reported that using them tactically while enroute (such as for a diversion around weather), their workload could be come
quite high due to:

• increased frequency congestion (NRS waypoints take longer to verbalize than named waypoints)

• human working memory limitations (due to their structure, NRS waypoints create a greater demand on working memory than named waypoints do)

• lack of geographical knowledge about waypoint locations,

• lack of waypoint MFD display capabilities

• paper chart readability issues, and

• the increased potential for waypoint entry errors in the FMS. ”

That’s being kind. You ought to see what the controllers think about it. But somebody got a feather in their cap for dreaming it up and some contractor made another million doing work on it. Groundhog Day.

One thing that bothered me. NATCA (in toto) did a lot of enthusiastic clapping for DOT and FAA types. I’m really glad we’re all getting along. Seriously. But never forget that the same FAA guys that you applauded will turn on you the second their political bosses change. Barack Obama has been NATCA’s friend. Ray LaHood and Michael Huerta are not. Barack Obama might reluctantly turn on NATCA one day. If it happens -- or if President Obama isn’t reelected -- Ray LaHood and Michael Huerta won’t be reluctant. Secretary LaHood is a Republican. Acting Administrator Huerta is an FAA manager. Their stripes have not changed.

Okay, another thing bothered me. Acting Administrator Huerta took a lot of credit for doing what the FAA was, in reality, forced to do. Like more time between shifts for controllers and more rest for flight crews. If the public pressure hadn’t been so bad, the FAA would still be resistant to those changes. But that is standard operating procedure for the FAA. Groundhog Day.

So, this is where I find myself these days. I see more of the “bigger picture” because I no longer have a day-to-day view of the details. I look and sound like an old guy to the controllers that do have a day-to-day view of the details. And I remember what that view looked like to young controllers.

“That guy never even worked with narrow band radar. He doesn’t have a clue about what it’s like now.”

Groundhog Day.

Don Brown
Groundhog Day
February 2, 2012


atcmp said...

Don, my brother, sorry I missed you at CFS but my back problems resurfaced and I was forced to cancel.

What is ironic is I am still working and yet after over 25 years I don't feel that much differently than you, someone who has already retired.

In many ways because of the gap of missing controllers, that were never hired between the late 1990s and the mid 2000s, I find myself having difficulties sometimes relating to the latest hires, that are so much younger than myself.

Your comments are spot on though and only further reinforces the same thing among pilots as todays replacement controller workforce!

Unknown said...

Right on Don. I just had my first WE meeting. The stupe brought up many times how "this survey came out just after the white book, so the results are not current". I stated what you said several times.

She especially was stunned to hear that I was telling people that the FAA was a crappy place to work, and do not do it, the FAA as we know it will not allow you to retire.

See you next year in Vegas!!!