Jul 19, 2006 7:35:45 AM
The air traffic system suffered through several complete failures yesterday. The first came when the Los Angeles Center, located in the high desert community of Palmdale, California, lost all commercial and generator power. The Center’s phones, computers, radar and radios went completely kaput, leaving controllers scrambling for their cell phones (which the FAA has prohibited in the control room) to pry apart the maze of aircraft rocketing through the Southern California sky.
The second complete failure came when FAA spokesmodel Allen Kenitzer told the media, “Safety is never compromised.” That earns Mr. Kenitzer our “Bagdad Bob Buffoon Of The Month” award, for statements so outlandish they actually transcend the seriousness of the subject and become quite comedic. The next thing you know Allen will be telling you that the infidels have not taken the airport and that Saddam is in complete control.
OF COURSE SAFETY WAS COMPROMISED!!! Does Allen think the traveling public is stupid?
When air traffic controllers lose all power, it is EXACTLY like when you lose all power at home or at work. At home you can’t watch TV, listen to the radio, make a phone call or turn a light on. You fumble around looking for a candle, checking the neighbor’s porch lights to see if they’re out, and sit in discomfort, unable to do anything. If you are on oxygen or other medically assistive devices you are in serious trouble, and you need immediate critical intervention. You use the cell phone to try and figure your life out, and the interminable minutes drag by like hours as your refrigerator warms and your meat begins to thaw. When you lose power at work, you have no way to type, talk, process data or proceed with business transactions or anything remotely resembling your function. You sit in wonder, staring at “pens” and “paper” like they are some rudimentary implements from the Flintstones era. What? No Internet? No email? No Word? No vending machines? Write a letter or memo? You quickly figure out your best usefulness is probably outside, on break with everybody else.
An air traffic controller’s function is to keep airplanes from hitting each other at high speeds, raining debris down on an unsuspecting pedestrian population. They do this with “radar,” “radios,” and other “equipment.” When the power goes out…they are completely cut off from their charges, completely left to their own elementary and primitive devices. The VERY, VERY FIRST THING that is compromised is SAFETY.
This outage lasted over an hour. The uninterruptable power system of course was interrupted, and the backup generator of course failed. Remember…this isn’t Microsoft we’re talking about here, this is the tombstone agency known as FAA. Think about a power outage at your home lasting for over an hour. Now imagine that your family is hurtling through space at eight miles a minute, eight miles above the earth, aimed at other moving and stationary objects, and the only person who can save them is you. If only you had electricity, or a reliable backup. There. That’s what it feels like.
“Safety was never compromised.” Riiiiiiiiiight.
Another complete failure which occurred was a complete failure of organizational leadership, a rolling power failure of sorts that has been on the grid for so long that people have become used to the diminished wattage. When the power outage happened, where was the FAA? Well, the Administrator was on a taxpayer-funded junket to London, so she wasn’t much help. The ATO was invisible as usual, although they will have some smarmy comments about their failure in the daily “FAA Today” publication (check this edition out for an example.) The Enroute Terminal Western Service Area Plaza Slant Bravo, or whatever their nom-de-guerre is this month, was likewise missing in action, although Camera-Ready-Kenitzer was quick with the quip. John Clancy was probably packing boxes for his move to Seattle. The rest of the vaunted “leadership team” was nowhere to be found, perhaps busy with their travel agents firming up plans for the big management cheerleading camp and cocktail hour in St. Louis.
This recipe for disaster was was almost complete, but it lacked one essential ingredient: controllers who can’t. And if there’s one thing you get when you get us, it’s this: You get controllers who can. Men and women in LA and the surrounding area facilities worked to ground, divert and otherwise safely separate aircraft from the Rockies westward, from San Diego to Seattle. Controllers all over the country (many even wearing jeans and tennis shoes!) worked furiously against nature and the clock to insure the safety of TENS of THOUSANDS of people. They used their wits, their guile, and yes, their management-prohibited cell phones. My profound thanks and gratitude to them for their service to their country during this trying time.
The “safety was never compromised” crowd should sit down and shut up. If radar and radios are not necessary to insure safety—shut 'em off permanently, and let’s save a ton on the utility bill. If outages are insignificant or inconsequential, let’s get rid of all this burdensome equipment and revert to the safe haven of manual air traffic control. If the answer is always going to be “safety was never compromised,” then don’t even bother meeting with the media. If your dishonest fabrications are going to repeat themselves over and over like a Gregorian chant, don’t waste everybody’s time. With fraudulent misrepresentations like that, you can just mail them in every time there’s a critical safety-related outage.
From London, if necessary.