The FAA Threatens To Ground Your Flight

Suppose you have a leadership position in your organization. Further suppose that the division you lead is using antiquated technology from the 1960s. And finally, suppose that you have been leading this division for 5 years and have repeatedly failed to upgrade the technology. Your failures are contributing to major problems that affect millions. And now is the time for you to leave your post.

While you or I might leave quietly and then engage in some serious reflection, others might try the opposite exit strategy—depart making a lot of noise in an absurd attempt to convince others that the effects of their failed leadership is the cause of the problems that affect millions.

This week, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Marion Blakey said that skies are overcrowded and that airlines need to shrink their schedules. If they don’t voluntarily shrink their schedules, she threatened government action to force them to do so. All of this was said on the eve of her leaving her post that she has held since 2002.

There is much that Blakey’s speech didn’t bother to say. Most importantly, she failed to mention that the root cause of the overcrowding was the air traffic control system that the FAA operates. This system is radar-based, goes back to the 1960s, and was not designed to handle today’s traffic flow in our skies. To ensure safety, the system requires air traffic controllers to either read blips on radar screens or visually follow aircraft. It is a system that is subject to both human-error and the limits of the antiquated technology.

The FAA has plans to replace radar-based traffic control with a satellite-based global positioning system. This new system will allow more airplanes to fly and greatly reduce delays. Incredibly, the first part of the system is already seven years behind schedule.

FAA’s Blakey is taking advantage of the public’s widespread ignorance of her agency’s failures. It is easy for the public to get incensed at their airline when flights are delayed. Flight delays are just the effect—the cause is the irresponsible and dangerous failure of the FAA to use modern technology to insure airline safety and to handle growing demand for airspace.

Many of you are familiar with the fast-growing grocery store chain, Trader Joe’s. The chain is very popular; many drive long distances to shop there. When the first Trader Joe’s opened up in my area, it was persistently crowded. Trader Joe’s responded like most businesses do to increased popularity; they expanded. Last year Trader Joe’s opened up a second store in my area and they are now building a third.

Suppose the CEO of Trader Joe’s, instead of opening new stores, blamed customers for shopping too often at his stores. He might then threaten to reduce store hours if customers didn’t voluntarily cut back their shopping at his stores. Of course this is an absurd scenario. This is not the way a normal business responds.

The normal laws of business and customer service do not apply if you are a government agency or if you have a monopoly on the service that you provide. After all, if you have captive customers who must select your service no matter how poor it is, you too might engage in blame filled excuses for your poor performance.


5 Responses to The FAA Threatens To Ground Your Flight

  1. […] September 13, 2007 ATDD Posted by wchaney under Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) , Emerging Library , AME CHurch , COGIC , AME Zion Church , Church Revitalization , Discples , United Methodist Church , Emerging Church , Leadership , Church growth , Methodism , Urban Ministry , Christian Leadership , Worship  Suppose you have a leadership position in your organization. Further suppose that the division you lead is using antiquated technology from the 1960s. And finally, suppose that you have been leading this division for 5 years and have repeatedly failed to upgrade the technology. Your failures are contributing to major problems that affect millions. And now is the time for you to leave your post. READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE BY  BARRY BROWNSTEIN […]

  2. faahope says:

    Let me gets this straight. It is CONGRESS who made the FAA cut back and it is Marion Blakey who obliged to do so. Now they are threatening the airlines to rearrange their schedules or “the government might enforce flight limits.”

    It didn’t mean anything to congress when the air traffic controllers told them 5 years ago, they were going to run into a problem of shortage of controllers, and that it would bring on massive delays. Congress doesn’t even care if a controller gets mistreated.

    But the first time they are on a plane and have to be delayed they want to magically snap their fingers and have the problem solved.

    I have a message for congress first say thank you to Congressman John Mica he was great, all those years in getting things cut back, privatized, consolidated, and making these delays possible and endangering lives. Say thank you to Marion Blakey for the support she gave on mistreating professionals and causing delays.

    Congress I have another message. You and Marion created this mess but the air traffic controllers are professionals and will not take any chances. They still believe in their motto “SAFETY FIRST”

  3. Controlling today’s air traffic with an antiquated system makes the job of an air traffic controller incredibly difficult and stressful. I hope they get relief soon.

  4. I understand your meaning of this article and basically it is correct, somewhat. However, as a retired Air Traffic Controller of 33 yrs., I have to disagree with the technical aspect of your story.
    When becoming a rookie ATC in 1972, the same problems and complaints existed then as they do today. The FAA, although one of the better agencies of our government, were always a day late and a dollar short. It was then as it is today a $$$ issue. Their motto was lets rely on the expertise of our Air Traffic Controllers, make them make do with what is available and we will (FAA) do as little as possible to fix the problems with the system.
    In 1975-76, the FAA installed a new ATC system that greatly improved safety and working conditions at all major Air Traffic Control EnRoute Facilities and major Airports. It eleviated the old “Broad Band System” where you would see a blip on the radar and you would manually follow those blips by pushing a small piece of plastic (name tag) identifying the Air Line name, altitude and destination. With the new narrow band system, the so-called blips were identified by computer and all the information was readily available, allowing the controller to concentrate with the separation of aircraft and not all the housework that had to be done previously.
    However, in 1979, the increase in air traffic increased at a rate that the comoouter system would overload and eventually shut down. You can imagine the feeling of controlling perhaps as many as 40 aircraft in your sector and then all of a sudden looking at a blank screen. These aircraft are flying at hundreds of mph in all directions, sometimes directly at each other, or climbing and decending thru other aircrafts altitudes. What does one do, beside pray? You have to revert back to controlling the air traffic as they did in the stone age, which is hard to revert back to once you have been using the radar system.
    During this time period, the Union, PATCO put its foot down and made the FAA make some serious changes. They accused the FAA of being an unsafe entity and the flying public was furious. Once again dragging their feet, PATCO decided to go on strike in 1981 for the sake of the public and air safety. The REAGAN administration with its power over the press, made it appear that the controllers were stingy and we all wanted a $10K a yr. raise or some nonsense like that. It was never about the controllers, but then hey!, American’s arent noted for being the sharpest knives in the drawers.
    After the firing of nearly 14K controllers, the FAA went ahead and made all the changes that were requested by the stiking contollers. In fact, they went above and beyond the call of duty so as not to piss off those that didnt go on strike and the new hires. The could not afford another protest and bad publicity.
    To make a longer story shorter, it didnt take the FAA long to fall back into its old ways.
    The problems that plagued the Air Traffic Control System are back into play with no significant solution in the near future. Its true that the amount of traffic is increasing and the system can not keep up with the situation. Implementing the new GPS radar sytem will not solve any of the current problems. The amount of traffic will not allow aircaft to fly in a more direct route between destinations. We had direct flights back in the day before the strike, but afterwards, the new controllers could not handle that aspect and it was barred. Aircraft had to fly on the route depicted on their flight plan.
    All those that were hired to replace the strikers are now retiring themselves. Hiring during all those years was inadequate and training was poor. It has a snowball effect. The inept training the inept.
    We are in a state of emergency as far as the FAA ATC System in concerned. The only solution as realized by the FAA is to cut down on the traffic. This is the only good decision by the FAA in the last 25 years.

  5. Dean,

    Thank you for sharing your insights gained from long years of experience.

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