You’ll notice that a lot of small-and-medium up/down towers (that is, combined approach controls and towers) are about 50% rookies, some qualified and some trainees. The other 50% are “eligible” to retire.
Let’s build a medium-size combined tower for the sake of conversation. Call it Praxis Tower. There’s 28 people (not 28 controllers – but the controllers and trainees do add up to 28) working shifts in the Tower and Tracon, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
There are 11 old-timer FPLs from the Class of ’82-’85, and 6 CPCs who checked out in the last two years. 6 people are checked out in the tower. Two people are checked out on Ground, and 3 are training on Ground. You can’t say that’s 28 controllers, there are really 17 controllers and 11 trainees, but some people do count that way. There’s also three supervisors, a chief, a training contractor and a secretary. That’s Praxis Tower.
Sometime in the next three years, call it 2010-2013, the 11 “old school” controllers are going to retire; they’ll be facing mandatory retirement. In 2013 Praxis will have 17 bodies, probably 10 CPCs and the rest trainees. They are going to have a staffing crisis. The staffing crisis will have been designed.
Things will seem bad. Local media will cover the shortage. Union press releases will decry the short-sighted staffing plan. People will work six day weeks and a lot of overtime. There will be some discussion of closing the mids but the local politicians won’t go for it and the Center won’t support it.
Finally, a solution arises: split Praxis Tower into two facilities. They’ve got enough people to staff Praxis Approach, and a contractor will staff the Tower. We will all be amazed at the lousy planning that led to this.
This isn’t going to happen everywhere at the same time. It’s going to happen at random across the county, sort of like the measles. The first medium towers to be split will be in the Midwest, where there’s less union activism than on either coast. The northeast towers will be the very last to go.
The splitting and the contracting won’t always happen simultaneously. In some places, they’ll just split the facility first, and two years later they’ll contract out the tower. In other places, they’ll do both in one move.
The challenge for Contracting out a facility is staffing. Where will the Corporation get qualified, capable people to do the job, and not have to spend a million training them? (sidebar for another topic: How did LockMart get their FSS employees?)
In this case, the Greater Praxis Metro Area is going to have twenty well prepared applicants for those ten jobs in the contract tower – they’re going to hire recently retired controllers. There’s a dozen already retired in the area right now, and there’s another 11 going to join the pool. Figure two move away, one gets diabetes. We’re good.
There’s no Age 56 rule for Corporations. When Praxis Tower goes Contract, there’ll be 20 people in the area capable of coming in and starting on Day One – it’ll be easy to induce 10 of the 20 to come to work for $22/hour. They’ll already have benefits.
The ten old-schoolers who go to work as contractors in the tower won’t want to do it forever; they’re not a sustainable staffing model, but they’ll be good for five years. Which is great because the contractor is only going to keep them for three years (but that’s another post).
Over drinks, the old school contingent will talk about how they’re making retirement money plus contractor money and how good they’ve got it. I suspect they’ll probably never consider that they have taken a union controller’s job as a lower-paid contractor, and taken jobs away from the system that supported them. They’ll be contracting out their old jobs, and helping to bust their old union.
This will be presented as a result of incompetent government planning in the face of a retirement wave we’ve known about for twenty-five years. In fact, it will be exactly the outcome the Industry was working to achieve.
Across the system, in a gradual way, all the Praxis Towers will go from up/down facilities with 28 “controllers” to split facilities with twelve government controllers and ten contractors. The contractor, our Competitor, will gain marketshare in ninety new Contract Towers.