Thursday, March 24, 2011

Excellence Without Money: Flying By Night Division

Or, This Is Ground Control to Major Tom, You're Really On Your Own, 'Cause Only One of Us Is There, And He's Not in the Chair Right Now . . . Check Your Landing Gear and May God's Love Be With You . . . .


You've probably heard this scarifying tale of Life in the Age of No Public Employee Left At All, but here are some snippets (via WaPo) of a conversation between a pilot and an air traffic controller not at the airport in which the pilot is about to attempt to land:
“So you’re aware,” the controller said, “the tower is apparently not manned. We’ve made a few phone calls. Two airplanes went in the past 10 to 15 minutes, so you can expect to go into an uncontrolled airport.” 
“Is there a reason it’s not manned?” the American pilot asked. 
“Well, I’m going to take a guess,” the controller replied, “and say that the controller got locked out. I’ve heard of it happening before.” 
“That’s the first time I’ve heard of it,” the pilot said. 
“Fortunately, it’s not very often,” the controller said. “It happened about a year ago. I’m not sure that’s what happened now, but there’s nobody in the tower.”
(You can actually listen to some of that conversation here. Can't say I'd recommend it to readers who spend much time on airplanes, but, on the other hand, it is always fun to hear dudes engage in cool banter in the midst of some deeply effed-up and potentially dangerous situation. It restores your confidence in the whole idea of Remaining Calm.)

The incident occurred shortly after midnight Wednesday at Washington's Don't-You-Dare-Call-It Reagan National Airport. Two planes had to land without assistance because the lone person on duty in the tower between midnight and 6 a.m. failed to respond to repeated efforts to reach him. That individual has been suspended while the incident is under investigation. AP is reporting that the control tower supervisor simply fell asleep. On the job. Of helping to land airplanes. With people on them. In this case, 165 people.

In the wake of the incident, WaPo reports, "Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood ordered a second air-traffic controller to be on duty overnight at the airport. LaHood also instructed the FAA to examine staffing levels at other airports around the country."

Good idea, Ray, good idea! We look forward to hearing the details on those staffing levels. Call us crazy, Ray, but it just seems to us that there ought to be at least two controllers on duty anytime planes are taking off or landing, because, well, sleep happens. And gastro-intestinal disturbances requiring lengthy trips to the bathroom happen. Heart attacks happen. Accidental lock-outs happen. Oopsie-doopsie, man! Sorry I can't help you find your way through that fog or avoid the snowplow in the middle of the runway, but, well, I'm the only one here and I just blew an aneurysm. Sucks for both of us, doesn't it? Hey, could you call 911 for me?

Do us all a favor, Ray. Use this unfortunate incident as a little object lesson for the American people on the importance of investing in silly things like a fully staffed federal work force. Point out that if in fact you succeed in shrinking government down to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub you will see a steep decline in the safety, security, and quality of life. If you want the skies you fly and the food you eat and the water you drink to be safe, you have to be willing to fund a work force committed to serving those public goods.

Think of it this way, Ray: The American people are willing to take off their shoes and subject themselves to a range of other inconveniences and humiliations just to get on an airplane. Don't you think you could convince them that a modest public investment might be worthwhile to assure they stay safe once they are on board? Srsly, Ray, this ain't rocket science. It's political communication 101. Give it a try!

And for you, my beautiful earth-bound darlings, go ahead and space out on the song I put in your pretty little heads at the top of this post. Planet Earth is blue, kind of, and there's something you can do, I'm sure. Peace out.

8 comments:

  1. Can't say I'd recommend it to readers who spend much time on airplanes, but, on the other hand, it is always fun to hear dudes engage in cool banter in the midst of some deeply effed-up and potentially dangerous situation. It restores your confidence in the whole idea of Remaining Calm.

    Hey, if there's one thing we d00ds are masters of, it's calm, cool, and collected complete denial of the genuine horrors of reality.

    And I'm afraid you little laydeez just don't understand how this manly free-market dealio works. Fortunately, I'm here to help you out.

    You see, included in the fares that airplane passengers pay is the cost for providing a particular amount of safety. If the passengers wanted more safety, they would be willing to pay more for it, and the airlines would be charging more for it. In fact, since those planes weren't completely full, it means that they're already charging too much for safety!

    Besides, those commercial planes are just full of parasites anyway, probably a bunch of teachers and firemen and professors and other lazy creeps sucking on the public teat and draining the productive members of society dry. The real wealth producers are in private jets, and they can hire their own air traffic controllers if they want to.

    You're welcome!

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  2. Thank you, CPP, for that most excellent bit of mansplanation. You are right -- It really does take a d00d to understand the fine art of a denial so complete that it leaves the rest of us thinking we are the crazy Chicken Littles losing our minds over a little sky falling down. We are so grateful for the clear light of your d00dly rationality.

    Gotta run. Time for another suck on the public teet.

    Oops, no, wait -- furlough day. Off to the bar then. Peace out!

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  3. Grover Norquist needs to go drown in his own damned bathtub.

    (And you know what gives me special pleasure in saying this? I've actually been in the offices of ATR, incognito in the context of my new role as think tank secretary -- I'm the only person at this propaganda machine with a Ph.D. and the only one NOT paid to "think." Go figure.)

    As always, thanks for the cocktail of snark and wisdom. The cups over here these days are seeming more half empty than half full. Humor helps.

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  4. GlassPen11:55 AM EDT

    I feel a little sorry for the controller...20 years with no lapses, stuck on graveyard shift for 4th straight night, probably so exhausted he couldn't control his eyelids, much less monitor air traffic. It was a serious lapse, though, and if it makes them take a hard look at staffing levels, that's the silver lining.

    Meanwhile, can't help but be amused at the irony of this happening at (please call it) National Airport (or DCA)...given that it was Reagan who busted the air traffic controllers union and started the country on this blame-government kick. (The fact that he not only didn't downsize, but increased the size of fed govt during his tenure so conveniently overlooked.)

    Good post!

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  5. Excellent post, Roxie, especially this: "Call us crazy, Ray, but it just seems to us that there ought to be at least two controllers on duty anytime planes are taking off or landing, because, well, sleep happens."
    No kidding! Who knew they'd be stupid enough NOT to have two controllers on duty? CPP has a point: if our corporate overlords--who according to the NYT we don't resent but are grateful for--had to fly coach or even fly commercial flights, things would change.

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  6. We offer a happy second to your motion to drown the odious Mr. Norquist, recent Ph.D. The moms were seated near him at the Old Ebbitt Grill one time, and Moose was sorely tempted to go after him with a steak knife. It was a rare moment when Goose was the voice of restraint in their relationship. Also, we look forward to the exposé/memoir you will no doubt write about your days in a right-wing "think" tank. We're hoping you make a million bucks on it -- and then publicly demand that your own taxes be raised. Surely THAT would kill Grover Norquist!

    And, GlassPen, we are of course totally with you on the proper name of the airport abbreviated as DCA. We also have some sympathy for the poor controller. At least when we fall asleep on our public job, all we risk missing is an errant semicolon.

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  7. Old Ebbitt Grill

    ZOMFG!!!!!! YUM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete

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