All This Air Traffic Controller “Outrage” Is Misdirected Bullshit

I’m sick and tired of officials and pundits expressing “outrage” at the Washington National controller’s falling asleep for half an hour on the midnight shift.  Here’s why.

  • Staying up all night is unnatural.  When people do it — along with trying to have a life among people with normal human schedules — they occasionally doze off.  I did it during all-nighters in college, and I did it as a cop.  If you’ve ever worked midnights and not done it yourself, you’re either a speed freak (I include loads of caffeine) or a liar. Does anyone really think that a career professional purposely fell asleep while charged with one of the most critical responsibilities in the working world?  Does anyone really think he chose to destroy his career (he was a supervisor) by doing so when he knew flights were due in?  Does anyone really think he intended to take a nap?  Gimme a break!
  • The real issue is obvious.  There should have been two controllers on duty.  This was an administrative problem that was dealt with incompetently by the people who set the policies for controller scheduling — the higher-ups at the FAA and their bosses at NTSB.  Of course those people are outraged.  How else are they going to deflect the blame to the poor controller and his immediate bosses?  We can hardly expect them to be honest and say, “Oh, my bad.  Dumb policy.  My fault.  Oops!”  First off, it would be political suicide; secondly, stepping up and taking responsibility trying to blame others for your own screw-ups is the American way.

If they really need someone to blame, there’s always Ronald Reagan.  His union-busting and firing of 20,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) back in the 1980’s insured that a new crop of quickly-hired replacements would all be retiring at about the same time.  The 20-year guys are already gone, and the ones who survived (yes, survived) to 30 years are going now.

And guess what?  We’re having trouble replacing them.  The huge pool of ex-military controllers has been reduced by the longest war in American history and by the replacement of many of them with civilian contractors.  Folks just aren’t lining up for jobs in one of the world’s most stressful professions — especially now that the bennies of a government job ain’t what they used to be, and are getting worse.  Go figure.

So, if you want to be outraged, be outraged at the hypocritical politicos who know quite well what the problem was/is, and who are desperately pushing the shit downhill.  They deserve it — not some poor schmuck who did what humans do when they’re deprived of quality rest and sleep.  He needs support, not censure.  A suspension — maybe — but not to be the target of unmitigated buck-passing.  If it weren’t for the dedicated professionals of ATC, US commerce would come to a screeching halt.  If it weren’t for Ronald Reagan and his spiritual heirs, we wouldn’t have this problem to begin with.

At least that’s how this broken-down old airplane driver sees it.  And those who haven’t worked “up close and personal” with some of the best people in aviation should maybe think twice before broadcasting their opinions and censure.  Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but it’s too bad so many of them are based on essential ignorance.

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