Embarrassing the FAA

On December 17th 2009, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released to the public the docket on their investigation into Northwest Flight 188, the plane that on October 21st inexplicably failed to talk to air traffic controllers for over an hour and then overflew its destination airport (Minneapolis) before realizing their mistake.

This incident made national headlines, in part because of the FAA’s delaying in notifying the military (through the Domestic Events Network or DEN), that in turn failed to get fighter jets airborne to intercept the wayward flight.

“Air traffic controllers” were faulted in the press for failing to follow procedure.  However, as I noted in an earlier blog, it was actually FAA managers that chose to …

Read more

The FAA Higher Skill Set

One of the things that’s so frustrating about working as an air traffic controller for the FAA is the organization we work for.

The job itself can be very satisfying:  that is if you like the job and you’re any good at it.  Air traffic control can be demanding and includes a lot of responsibility as well as work autonomy; controllers work independently with only general supervision almost exclusively.

But a lot of those who don’t like doing air traffic control or weren’t good at it apply to become FAA managers.  It’s the Peter Principle at work.  And therein lies a large part of what ails the FAA.

There aren’t a lot of prerequisite skills in order to qualify to …

Read more

The FAA Higher Skill Set At Work

Everyone makes mistakes.  But it’s intolerable to see a situation where FAA managers don’t “practice what they preach” or worse yet believe they are above the standards they set for everyone else.  After all these are the people that are supposed to be leading the organization.  In the case of Northwest 188 they certainly didn’t lead by example.

The situation with Northwest 188 not being in contact with air traffic control snowballed in large part because of the failure of a few FAA managers to follow procedures.


Keep in mind these are the same FAA managers who mandate procedures and checklists for air traffic controllers.  These are the same managers who mandate that all verbal air traffic exchanges, as well …

Read more

A Hail Mary

The pilots of the Northwest flight that weren’t paying attention and overflew their destination on October 21st are now claiming that the air traffic controllers are ultimately at fault for the incident because they:

“…did not comply with the requirements of the air traffic control manual and other relevant orders, rules, procedures, policies and practices with respect to Northwest Flight 188, nor coordinate effectively with Northwest dispatch, and such failure was a causal or contributing factor in the incident”

This claim was made in an appeal to the FAA, who revoked their licenses (pilot certificates) as a result of the incident.

The pilots are clearly grasping at straws in this appeal and who can blame them?  Without flight …

Read more

Let’s Be Clear, Shall We?

Recently the incident on October 21st where the Northwest Flight 188 overflew its destination airport (Minneapolis) while its flight crew were apparently using their laptop computers was in the news again.

Shortly after the incident the FAA was faulted for failing to notify the military in a timely manner about the problem with the flight so military fighter jets never got airborne to intercept the plane.  (My emphasis)

In a statement to The Wall Street Journal Wednesday evening, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said air-traffic controllers “should have notified [the military] more quickly that the plane was not responding.” Local controllers apparently became so focused on trying to re-establish contact that they failed to alert higher-level FAA managers about the problem

Read more

Another Glimpse into the FAA “Safety Culture”

I just had another long talk with my FAA supervisor that once again highlighted how little the FAA is committed to safety and improving the air traffic system.

We started talking about some relatively new procedures that have resulted in a lot of confusion and resulting operational errors and deviations (air traffic system errors).  An operational error is when two or more airplanes get too close, and a deviation is when an aircraft enters another controller’s protected airspace illegally.

The air traffic system has a lot of potential for human error (it’s a fact that there are human beings in the system making critical decisions and human beings make mistakes).  However, the redundancy built into the system (usually) is intended …

Read more

Botched and Botched Again

Last Wednesday evening a Northwest Airbus 320 jet airliner from San Diego to Minneapolis (Flight NWA188) went for over an hour without talking to air traffic controllers (NORDO) and subsequently overflew its destination by 150 miles before its pilots became aware.

(This is the second big newsworthy incident for Northwest airlines: in 1990 a Northwest crew flew a B727 jet carrying 91 passengers from Fargo to Minneapolis while intoxicated.)

Initial reports said that the flight was out of radio contact for over 75 minutes, but the FAA letters revoking both pilots’ licenses said that they had been out of contact for 91 minutes.

For a few days immediately afterwards it was a mystery as to what the …

Read more

FAA Software Testing and its New Safety Culture

The most frustrating thing about working for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as an air traffic controller is dealing with the organization itself and its nonsensical attitude and policies.

We just had another team meeting at work.  Team meetings are held occasionally by the supervisor with his working crews theoretically to discuss items of import but they usually tend to digress into rant sessions from frustrated air traffic controllers (whose concerns are routinely ignored).

FAA management is forcing controllers to watch their “Leading Edge” series of videos (which controllers view as wasted propaganda), wherein FAA managers talk about how great the latest “new” FAA programs are and how they’re going to change the organization for the better.

The only problem …

Read more

FAA: A New Beginning?

For the first time in three years Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic controllers will have a real ratified contract on October 1st.

Since Labor Day of 2006 controllers have been working under imposed work rules that FAA management took every opportunity to call a “contract”.

This is also the same FAA who decided to start referring to the airlines it’s supposed to regulate and oversee as “customers.”  Ever heard the expression “the customer is always right”?  FAA management decided this was true for a while to the detriment of safety in the system, and recently reversed course due to outside pressures after some very public disclosures of safety violations from whistleblowers within the FAA.

Now that the controllers …

Read more

Arbitrator’s Decision

Air traffic controllers for the Federal Aviation Administration have been working under imposed work rules since Labor Day of 2006 after failing to come to a contract agreement.

This year the Obama Administration forced the FAA and the air traffic controllers’ union, NATCA, back to the bargaining table to resolve the dispute.  The contract articles they were unable to agree upon were eventually sent to a panel of arbitrators, who made their decision regarding those items.

(This isn’t really new news, and some other websites have already discussed these issues, but I figured I’d add my two cents as well…)

Here is the introduction from that decision in August of 2009 (including my highlighted sections):


Read more