Archive for the “Aviation/ATC” Category

About 15 years ago, I knew a NATCAvist named Billy Bob. If you have to know his last name to remember him, you just didn’t know Billy Bob. Those were the days when NATCAvists contacted each other via pager (remember gang pages?), telephone, fax and snail mail. Cell phones weren’t widely prevalent yet; we were just coming out of the thankfully-short bag/car phone era. It wasn’t unusual for us to leave a page saying “I’m working tonight, can I call you about midnight your time?” And the other to leave a page responding, “Whatever works for you, bro.”

I needed info from Billy Bob for one thing or another and we hit it off immediately and became fast friends. I probably didn’t see him in person more than a handful of times before his death, but we sure burned up telephone minutes. We’d talk about NATCA, complain about the FAA, discuss our lives and sometimes talk about nothing much at all. Billy Bob was one of those people who could surprise a belly laugh out of me fairly frequently.

I know my husband would’ve liked him and my kids would’ve liked to have an Uncle Billy Bob and stomp around in his cowboy boots. They never got the chance to meet him; he died far too young. Part of me is ashamed to say I don’t remember a lot of specifics of most of our long-distance conversations, but whenever I think of him, I smile. Looking back, I’d say Billy Bob was a junkyard dog: fiercely protective and loyal to those he cared about and mean as the dickens to those he felt threatened them. Maybe I could’ve come up with a gentler comparison, but I imagine he’s in his version of heaven right now, drink in hand, kicked back, laughingly shaking his head, saying “yeah, that fits, sister.”

I started thinking a lot about him because of these posts (one, two, three) by Praxis Foundation. I don’t know who Praxis is, but I’ve added him or her to my RSS feeds and I’m looking forward to reading more. You see, there is one conversation with Billy Bob that I do remember quite clearly. So I started thinking about writing this. Then I saw today’s post at Praxis and knew I needed to get this out, if only for me.

I think there were some people who underestimated the sharp mind behind the name and southern drawl that was Billy Bob. During that long ago late night conversation with Billy Bob, we were discussing fiberoptics. He told me, “Mark my words, Vivian. The FAA’s setting themselves up to remote terminal radars and towers. They’re going to reduce the number of TRACONs to a number closer to what we have for centers and they’re going to want us to control all the tower traffic that they haven’t contracted out from some huge complex in Kansas or something.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation because at the time, working traffic at Boston Tower, the thought of NOT seeing my traffic terrified me (still does). Even if every vehicle and plane were outfitted with special transmitters or transponders, if I were in Kansas, how would I see that DC-9’s compressor stall and flames shooting out an engine, or that hot brake on that B727, or that snowy owl hanging out to the left of the runway, or that flock of seagulls flying down the final, or the dog, deer or coyote crossing the runway in front of a departiing aircraft…and so on. And you know, I’ve seen nothing in the years since we had that conversation that proves Billy Bob wrong and way too much that proves he was right on with his predictions.

Billy Bob had his faults, like everyone else, but he was my friend. He worked hard and he played even harder. I sometimes wonder if he knew subconsciously he wasn’t going to live a long life and wanted to pack in his living early. Billy Bob, I really miss you, man.

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I know I haven’t written in awhile and I really don’t have much time now, but I couldn’t let this one pass me by.   In February, 2008, I wrote a post about the FAA and their plans to install tower simulators to reduce controller training time.  Almost 2 years ago.

Today I see this article.  First, it’s incorrect when it states the average air traffic controller makes $150,000.  There’s a bid that closes tomorrow at Pittsburgh Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) for a Support Manager.  Low end of that pay is $143,000.  It’s a MSS-3 position, which is THREE levels above the “average” controller.  Pittsburgh ATCT is an ATC-10.  Highest level is an ATC-12; lowest is an ATC-5.  You do the math.

The article states, “There are thirteen simulators in place currently.  Nine more will be activated in the next six months, but it comes with a big price tag: between $600,000 and $700,000 each.”  So 24 simulators by the end of June, 2010.  In February, 2008, Mr. Trinka of the FAA said, “An additional 24 simulators are being installed over the next 18 months at busy Class B towers including New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Washington Reagan National, Dallas Fort-Worth, and Atlanta.”

I’ll help with this math.  20 months ago, the FAA claimed they were going to have 24 simulators installed by what should’ve been 2 months ago.  Now they’re claiming that the original 24 simulators will now be installed 8 months later than originally planned.  We’re only talking 24 installations and they’re projecting to be 30% later that what they planned.  So, the first article pretty much has the FAA on a schedule of installing .91 simulators a month.  The actual completed work averaged about .41 of a simulator installed per month (remember, they already had 4 installed in February, 2008).  And now they’re saying they’re going to install almost 2 simulators per month to meet their new timeline.  Anyone else a bit skeptical that they’ll meet that deadline?

NextGen looks like it’ll be a long time coming, people, especially if they don’t start including NATCA on the front end.

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Sorry I haven’t been able to post anything new lately.  Life’s been crazy here.

Anyway, I attended NATCA in Washington (NiW) last month.  It was the first one I’ve attended in all these years.  I was glad I went.  I was a little disappointed at some of the internal politicking that was taking place during business hours, but overall it was a great event.  I’d highly recommend it to other NATCA brothers and sisters.

Pics can be found here.

P.S.  If you get a chance to eat at the District Chophouse or Bobby Van’s, do so.  Great food at both places!

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It’s that time again for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association elections.   If there’s someone you wish to nominate for President, Executive Vice President or your respective Regional Vice President, do it today.  The nomination period ends on Wednesday.  The election rules can be found here.

Paul Cox has started a website in an effort to have a central clearinghouse, so to speak, to make it easier for people to find information on each of the candidates.  Hopefully, all the candidates will participate.

I’ve personally been disappointed by the low participation on Rick Foster’s NATCA Elections Forum.  If you’re a NATCA member, please sign up and ask the questions you’d like the prospective candidates to answer.  It’s not only your right, but also your responsibility as a dues-paying member to make an informed decision as to which individuals will lead our union for the next three years.  This is important, especially for those who have been hired in the last three years – you’re the new foundation of the union for the next 20 years or so and you should be trying to find a candidate who will fashion that bedrock in a manner that will benefit the collective you in the long-term.  If you’re a candidate, sign up and answer those questions for all to see.

I don’t endorse candidates because I believe every individual should take the time to get informed about the issues and choose a candidate that most meets their own criteria.  I’m not voting for someone just because I recognize the names of the endorsers and/or know a couple of them personally, nor would I expect someone to cast their vote in favor of my “chosen” candidate(s), just because my name is there.

When making my decision, I also try to look at the total makeup of the National Executive Board.  I factor in the experience of all, hoping that the mix isn’t too weighted toward one skills set or another (mostly legislative, mostly LR, etc.)  In my opinion, if you don’t make an informed choice, or don’t vote at all, you shouldn’t spend this next term complaining about the outcome.  That’s my two cents on the subject.  :-)

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Well, what a week.  Most of us have returned home after a long week of hot, humid weather.  Some of our brothers and sisters from the Houston area have probably still not been able to return to their homes due to Hurricane Ike.  If you guys need any help, give us a shout; you know NATCA will be there.

We worked hard, we argued, we compromised, some “won” on issues and “lost” on others, and we partied just as hard!  I hadn’t been to a NATCA convention since Seattle in 1998 and this was the first time I didn’t have to suffer through a division of the house.  I don’t agree with all the decisions that were made, but that’s the way it works sometimes.  I’m still digesting some of what occurred.

Some pictures can be found here.  Anyone that wants to add links to their own pictures, just let me know.

The Convention Committee did a great job as did the Communications Committee (or I guess they’re now the Information Technology Committee).  We suffered a huge scare when one of our sisters had a serious adverse reaction to some prescription medications and all breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief when we discovered that she was going to be okay.  I got to catch up with people I haven’t seen in years, put faces to names I’ve corresponded with via email and telephone and meet some of the newer generation who will be carrying the torch after we retire.

I’m literally speechless – going through a bout of laryngitis.  While I can still type, I think I’m going to keep the majority of my thoughts and opinions about the convention and its results to myself, at least for a little bit.  Nothing profound coming out of this keyboard today.

One important thing, though, I think needs to be said.  Our energies need to stay focused on the upcoming Presidential election, not internal issues.  Let’s wait until after November 4th before we make snap judgments and say things we may regret later on.  The Presidential election is of extreme importance this year, not only for NATCA, but for the entire country.

The bottom line is I had a great time with my NATCA family, but I’m happy to be home again with my husband and kids. Oh, and I got to hear Barry K. say he was “less than correct” twice (too bad it was during executive session).  That alone made it worth the trip!

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Last week was a week of contrasts for me. I spent the early part of the week in Chicago at one of NATCA‘s pre-convention meetings. (Watch out Miami, we’re descending on your town in September!) We stayed at the Palmer House Hilton. It’s been a long time since I’ve stayed anywhere that exuded opulence. Lots of brass and glass. I loved the glassware – tall (like 3 foot) vases that have the look of Murano, tiny chandelier track lighting, hefty earthernware mugs for that morning shot of coffee. Not somewhere I’d feel comfortable at all with the twins along at their age.

Morning breakfasts in the restaurant overhearing conversations in other languages, not just French or Italian or German, but also the language of big business and insurance. Long days full of briefings and information, followed by long nights of conversation and, yes, alcohol. I don’t get the chance to act like a semi-irresponsible adult very often nowadays. I enjoyed it immensely. Okay, maybe not so much come those early morning meetings, but it was worth it.

I was able to take a shower with no one opening the door, sleep uninterrupted through the night or getting pushed out of my own bed, finish my own beverages without someone spilling it on me and use my laptop without someone trying to Google “Little Einsteins.” Absolutely luxurious!

On the weekend, one of John’s best friends hosted a gathering at the Austin Lake Campground. Very family-oriented place. We spent hours traipsing after the kids at the great play areas they have set up, in the lake hoping our son wouldn’t take the extra step to drown, and on the beach trying to keep our daughter from throwing sand on anyone and everyone that happened to cross her path. And two over-tired 3-year-olds crawled into our bed that night which pretty much required me to sleep in a shape like a pretzel. Absolutely exhausting!

But, I noticed some striking similarities between my time at the Palmer House and Austin Lake. The staff at both places was incredibly friendly and helpful. Beyond-the-norm friendly and helpful. I’d recommend both places in a heartbeat.

Another similarity is that I was able to have a lot of fun in between all the work. Fun with my NATCA brothers and sisters when the day’s work was done and fun with my family and friends, even while wondering if I was going to need a chiropractor at the end of the weekend.

Remember to have fun, everyone, and to laugh and play. And please remind me of the same when I start getting wrapped up in all the responsibilities on my plate and start to forget.

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Sadly, Todd W. also recently took down his blog, Vanity Fair Musings. For all you conspiracy theorists, it sounds like he was just tired and ready to move on for a bit. Hope he’ll be back, even if it’s just every once in awhile. Don Brown wrote about it here.

For all of you who have been searching for The Main Bang in the last couple weeks (thanks for the blog hits, too!), I’m happy to announce John is back.

Hope to find some time to write some more this week. We’ll see.

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Our friend, John Carr, has taken down his blog, The Main Bang. John is the immediate past President of NATCA; he held the position for six years. Johnny the Bull retired from air traffic control last year. On a personal note, John and his wife have multiples as well – a beautiful set of triplets – as well as a beautiful singleton.

There has been a lot of speculation as to why John has made this decision, but my take from his last post was that it is for personal reasons. I was going to leave his link on the blogroll and leave it inactive for now, but I haven’t figured out how to do it. I don’t doubt he’ll be back to blog on the failings of the FAA or whatever else catches his fancy. The question that remains is when.

I’m not the first one to blog on his recent decision. Don Brown over at Get the Flick, Blue Eyed Buddhist over at The FAA Follies, and Todd over at Vanity Fair Musings all beat me to it. There will probably be more to follow. John’s writing had a lot of followers, not just those of us in air traffic control clicked on his site.

In the meantime, I’m going to leave the RSS feed for the Bang on my favorites toolbar. Who knows, maybe one day – sooner rather than later – the feed will load again with some biting, satirical bit of alliteration from my friend. One can only hope.

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Take a look here at the FAA bid for air traffic controllers at Miami Tower (MIA) which closes at the end of the month. It’s listed as an ATC-12 bid, but what they fail to mention is that you won’t be working at an ATC-12 facility. Bid closes June 30, 2008. Even assuming the Agency can finish their paperwork for selecting individuals in record time, not one facility is going to let a CPC go before the end of the summer, probably closer to mid-September (if this year at all with the staffing the way it is nationwide). At my facility, we’ve been waiting for a transfer for over a year simply because the releasing facility is too short-staffed to let him go.

The FAA notified NATCA via letter on March 31, 2008 that MIA is scheduled to have the tower and TRACON functions split in January, 2009, as is Philadelphia (PHL), Memphis (MEM) and Orlando (MCO). There’s no way it’ll still be an ATC-12 facility, regardless whether you stay with the tower or the TRACON. Which means, according to the Agency’s imposed work rules, you can expect your pay reduced within two years – 4% per grade.

I’m not even going to try to go into the short-sightedness of the Agency to decombine facilities at this time. That’s a subject for another blog.

Even if I were interested in moving to MIA (which I’m not), I wouldn’t go under these conditions.

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Yesterday afternoon we went to the Wings Over Pittsburgh Airshow with the kids. It was a good time. Although I do plan on asking my physical therapist on Monday why walking made my shoulder ache so badly by the end of the day. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some photos on our main site soon. (Edit:  Photos are up here.)

Sean Tucker is always great to watch. He’s one fantastic aerobatic pilot and if you ever get a chance to watch him perform in person, do so.

No Blue Angels in their F/A-18 Hornets (they’re in Louisiana) or Thunderbirds (they’re in Texas) in their F-16C Fighting Falcons this year; instead, the Canadian Snowbirds in their CT-114 Tutor Jets performed. The word for their performance – pretty. John’s initial reaction to the beginning of their performance was “Well, they’re not the Blue Angels.” True.

The formations and routines the Snowbirds showed us take skill and have their own inherent dangers. Especially one where two of the aircraft performed a low pass down the length of the runway, with one inverted over the other, but the crowd didn’t seem to be impressed. Yet, when they performed the Maple Split, which was probably the least inherently dangerous of all the maneuvers we saw, the crowd oohed and aahed and spontaneously clapped.

But it occurred to me as I watched them, it was actually a parallel of the differences in the countries themselves which manifests itself in the performances and the crowd’s reactions. The Snowbirds give the appearance of slow, controlled, technical, deliberate flight. Whereas the Blue Angels give the appearance of fast, flash, almost out of control and seem to work the “wow” factor. Slow, steady and deliberate versus fast, furious and in your face.

Then, again, I could be overthinking it all. :-)

Happy Mother’s Day to all.

 

 

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