Saturday, January 12, 2013
Fareed's Take -- NextGen
I was listening to Fareed Zakaria's show on CNN -- "Global Public Square" -- and of all things to pop up, the FAA's NextGen reared its ugly head. Oh boy. Now, as all my readers know, I think Fareed's show is great and I love to hear his unique view of America -- even if I don't always agree with it. I think he smart and I think his show demonstrates how great TV can be in the right hands.
So how in the world could he use NextGen as an positive example of what America could be doing with its infrastructure? To put it more plainly, while listening to the show on the beach (yes, via podcast) I blurted out, "Fareed! How could you?!"
This is where controllers come in. Actually, this is where any public servant comes in. America has to be mature enough to handle public dissension. There must be a pubic airing of informed views that are contrary to the status quo. If there is not -- if the public servants with the inside knowledge are silent -- the respected opinion leaders like Fareed Zakaria will be fooled along with everyone else.
I realize that the FAA must move forward. I realize that NATCA can't be just an obstacle to progress -- it has to participate in the progress where possible. That doesn't mean NATCA (or you) can't express reservations. Dissent is important. To use an example from this blog, look at Paul Krugman. His policies have not (for the most part) been adopted. But he has left a years-long record of his dissent. A record that can be studied the next time we have a financial crisis. And there will be a next time. Just as there will be another major program dreamed up by the FAA.
NextGen is not the first. It will not be the last. It won't even be the last disaster and/or partial success of the FAA's. It is easy to learn from your successes. It's harder to learn from your failures. But for those in the future willing to learn, there must be a history from which to learn. Fareed Zakaria cannot learn of NextGen's problems by word of mouth. They have to be written down, made prominent and findable.
Now to the specifics Fareed mentioned. I'll let you listen first.
Just take his use of the two words "Faster" and "Safer". NextGen won't make anybody's travel faster. "Getting a short cut to a holding pattern doesn’t really help matters does it ?" It doesn't make it "faster".
How can NextGen make the system "safer"? The U.S. hasn't has a fatal airline accident since 2009. We can split hairs and argue about broad statements but when it comes down to brass tacks, the U.S. aviation system is as safe a system as ever devised by man. "The struggle isn’t so much to improve safety as it is to maintain it."
The fact that Fareed fails to grasp this point in the problem. The conversation within the "global public square" is being dominated by interests trying to sell high-tech gizmos to a blissfully-ignorant Public. Letting airplanes fly closer together does not get them on the runways faster. You can't improve on a zero-fatality statistic. It is your job as a public servant to keep these conversations based in reality. At least that is one way I define serving the Public.
There are enough things in air traffic control and the NAS (National Airspace System) that do need investments in infrastructure that we don't need to make things up. We certainly don't need companies seeking corporate profits at taxpayer's expense to make things up. I loved Fareed's "take" on this subject. I agree with his views. However, picking NextGen as an example of what needs to be done was an error. It diminishes his (otherwise sound) argument. And that my friends, it partly our fault. If we can't speak truth to power, then all will be lost.
“As civil servants, your primary responsibility is to ‘speak truth unto power’”.
January 12, 2013