Merry Christmas

All the best wishes to all for a Merry Christmas! Just don't end up like this guy . . . .



Photo Finished

Captain Careless and First Officer Fumbler forgot that roaming charges always apply when receiving service outside their primary provider's area. They also forgot the airline's "No cameras in the cockpit" policy.

Sincere thanks to all my fellow Vets (and those still in active service) out there on this special day. Be proud folks.


© NLA Factor, 2016


Keep Your Penny

Sometimes a simple old song becomes an express lane, taking me back to my most distant memories. Sometimes it's just a small sound, a scent or maybe even the cent I recently found among some change in my pocket. They can trigger thoughts of what once was. Such thoughts usually come back to me in pieces; like fractions of a dollar or fragments of a decades old nightmare. That damned penny though. Suddenly everything came back to me again, with absolute clarity.

It was Monday, August 3rd, 1981. I was awake and drinking coffee behind my house at 4:00 AM. The air was comfortably cool and the sky was about as clear as I'd ever seen it for a normally hazy August morning. It was the kind of morning when I'd usually be anxious to meet my carpool buddies and head into Big Time to greet the incoming lines of arriving flights or watch the departures line up at the runways. Not this morning though. I was anxious alright but it was an uneasy kind of anxious rather than eagerness. I watched a large jet descending in the direction of Big Time Airport, probably a freighter, and wondered who was working in the TRACON.

My coffee was cold because I had made it more than an hour earlier. I went back inside to start another pot. Thinking maybe I might have missed the phone ringing, I checked for messages. Nothing. It was nearly 5:00 now and still no word. Finally, at about 6:15, the phone rang. It was the mid-shift Supervisor. The strike was on. He said he thought there were enough controllers coming in to meet the reduced morning demand but said I should be there at 11:00. Heartburn. At first; I thought it was the coffee.

So; PATCO pulled it off and got all those controllers to walk out. I got to thinking about the ones on my team who were probably now on the picket lines. They were good friends and great controllers; most of them with families at home. I wasn't so sure at that time but they were also soon to be unemployed. It was time to shower and get ready for an entirely different world at work. The world I knew all the way up to my most recent shift was gone and would never return.

Ever been offered a penny for your thoughts? I know I have; probably several times during this lifetime of mine. So many people made these and other promises they were truly unable to keep (I've made a few myself). Foolishly, I sometimes bought them anyway and even let 'em keep the change. There was, however, one particular promise made that I could neither buy or sell because the cost was way too high. Lots of folks bought it anyway.

Today I have thoughts like; who would test the limits of their car's airbags by driving into a bridge abutment? Or who would test the limits of their employer by participating in an illegal job action? The answer to that question might be; people who believed they'd been short changed.

The year was 1981; a mere 35 years back. To me though, thirty-five years was a lifetime ago as I was just about 35 years old at the time. The promise was; if we all went out on strike (which obviously was not going to happen), the Federal Government couldn't possibly fire us. The union's demands would grudgingly be met and everyone would return to work in triumph. Sweetened by the illusion of a controller's indispensability, the deal was tempting. Unfortunately, too many controllers, previously known for their sound judgment, took it. That never made any sense to me. These were people who's professional judgment was nearly always keen and correct; guiding tens of thousands of lives safely across the skies. Yet, when it came to another judgment call, affecting a relatively small but intensely personal circle of family and friends, they failed terribly.

Of an aviation system without controllers, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) Union President Bob Poli was quoted in the news media as saying; "The skies will be silent." If he really believed that and the rest of PATCO's propaganda; I'd have to say he was a bigger fool than I thought. Poli was simply a hustler, peddling another "get rich quick" scheme to a group of people who were hungry to swallow the union's horribly flawed rationale. He was a confidence man who managed to win the confidence of too many good and trusting people.

The union had its battle plan . . . but so did the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration. Theirs was obviously more shrewd and sensible. To this day, one of my biggest regrets was that FAA Management, at least at my facility, never shared some significant parts of that plan with the pre-strike workforce. It might have made a difference in the outcome. We who were committed to staying on the job were left to recite a weak and hard to believe argument against the strike. "Don't believe PATCO. You really WILL be fired. The FAA can't lose." I wasn't so sure I believed it myself.

Had they known there would be military controllers and furloughed airline pilots sent into the facilities to help us, more controllers might have stayed on. Had they known the airlines were prepared to make temporary scheduling cutbacks and that general aviation activity would be severely restricted, more controllers might have stayed on. Had they not grossly underestimated their adversaries (Ronald Reagan, Drew Lewis, et al.) or wildly overestimated the level of support they'd receive from other labor unions and the public, more controllers might have stayed on.

They should also have figured out that the FAA had little to lose in a strike. This wasn't like the steel industry or auto manufacturing, where a strike could cost the company millions of dollars in lost production and/or sales. The FAA would simply terminate a large number of highly paid controllers and hire fresh ones at a fraction of the cost. Sure, there'd be years of training ahead and lots of overtime paid to those of us who stayed on. Still; I suspect PATCO's job action saved Uncle Sam some money. The real costs, in cash and convenience, would be borne by the aviation industry, those businesses who relied on it and the flying public.

Fear was the currency that bought many controller's decision to support a strike. The more militant union members promised serious consequences for those who stayed on the job. PATCO's faithful would be waiting and watching at our employee parking lot on that August morning. Lists would be made and there would be trouble for those who were seen coming to work. Again though, the FAA was one move ahead of the union.

Even 35 years ago, Big Time Airport was a huge place with thousands of public parking spaces. Our Management made arrangements with the Airport Authority that, in the event of a strike, we could use the vast system of pay-parking garages, free of charge, for a couple of weeks. PATCO's plans to picket at our parking lot on August 3rd would have little effect. Some of us parked there anyway. This resulted in nothing more than the loud exchange of expletives, plus a report to the folks we were relieving about who was picketing and what to expect out there.

 All the things they didn't know, coupled with the fact that our facility Management and a significant number of controllers were fed up with the pre-strike drama, lead to a perfect storm that would tear PATCO apart, along with the lives of so many good people. Sadly, most of us who stayed on had actually hoped the strike would happen. The threats, intimidation, hatred and hubris would finally stop - at least for a while.

I suppose its a good thing this all took place 35 years ago rather than in today's world. These days, warning the Federal Government of plans to shut down the U. S. air transportation system might be seen as a terrorist threat rather than a relatively simple labor/management dispute. Sure; PATCO was ultimately decertified as a union and a lot of people lost their jobs but at least no one was charged with insurrection.

The controllers I grew into my profession with were close knit, professional coequals and I miss many of them. The August 3rd strike and Bob Poli's worthless promises are now a full lifetime behind me. And what of the controller's union we all knew back then? If there was a point of origin for all the high stakes lying, bad decisions, blind faith and ill conceived actions that ruined so many lives; it might look like this . . .

These are my thoughts. Keep your penny. 

© NLA Factor, 2016