We live in a post-911 world. The Military-Industrial Complex has become the HomeLand-Security-Military-Industrial-Complex. A big part of that change are the HSMIC Vendors, the same people who want to privatize ATC. There’s an huge industry that has benefited from 9-11, that wants to continue growing, and NATCA has just supported moving FAA controllers into that private industry of profiteers.
In any discussion, there’s a lot of things a person can focus on. There’s the hedgehog-fox phenomenon, where one sees just one thing and the other sees everything. For this post, I’d like to focus on “first principles“, and play Hedgehog 9-11.
Recognizing that in spite of the 1970 Corson Report (the first Green Book), the 1982 Jones Report, and the short-lived 1989 Operational Position Standards (OPS) project, there’s so very much that’s just not written down anywhere, tacit cultural knowledge – let’s look for First Principles in what is written down. (sidebar: if you don’t know about those reports, you’re not paying sufficient attention to your career field)
2-1-1. ATC SERVICE
The primary purpose of the ATC system is
- 1to prevent a collision between aircraft operating in the system
- 2 and to organize and expedite the flow of traffic,
- 3 and to provide support for National Security and Homeland Defense.
In addition to its primary function, the ATC system has the capability to provide (with certain limitations) additional services.
2-1-2. DUTY PRIORITY
a. Give first priority to separating aircraft and issuing safety alerts as required in this order. Good judgment shall be used in prioritizing all other provisions of this order based on the requirements of the situation at hand.
So, one of the three primary purposes of the ATC system is to support National Security and Homeland Defense. (sounds like an inherently governmental function to me). Let’s talk about 9-11 if, in 2001, we were working within a privatized ATC system as NATCA has endorsed.
There’s about 32 necktie-wearing people who modestly claim that they were responsible for grounding all the planes after they started crashing into buildings. I’m not sure that any of them are telling the truth, but there was a significant decision made starting in the New York area and rapidly spreading across the country. It’s the sort of nimble, dynamic response that everybody wants Organizations to be able to make.
Question One. Do you think that all the planes on 9-11 would be grounded as quickly in an airline-managed system? I don’t think so.
Let’s indulge in one more bit of 9-11 what-if. Do you know that after the crashes, the people at New York Center knew they’d just participated in history on the order of Pearl Harbor. The Manager asked the Union Rep, we need to interview the controllers, and record all their recollections because once they leave the building their memories and focus will deteriorate.
The Union Rep said, No way you’re going to have a wide-ranging interview and make an audio recording of it, outside of normal channels. The Manager said: I guarantee it’ll never leave the building unless we both agree on it. They shook hands, the interviews were conducted, the sessions were audio-recorded.
Could you imagine having audio tapes of the play-by-play of the attack on Pearl Harbor? That’s what they had. Months later, word of the recordings got to DC, and Congress and various potentates demanded the recordings, and it was political and not operational. The Manager and the Rep discussed it. They did not agree to send the tapes out of the building.
The Manager smashed the cassette tapes. He cut up the magnetic tapes into very short segments, and mixed them all up. The remains were driven around to a few different dumpsters, and they waited until the dumpsters were emptied and the snippets of magnetic tape were buried in landfills to tell any Officials what they’d done. The Manager and the Rep kept the integrity of their agreement. You can read about it in the NY Times. I’m not saying the process was pretty or simple, but it worked.
Question 2: Do you think it would have played this way in an airline/corporate ATC system? I don’t think so.
And so, in a space-and-time where so much is defined by 9-11, let me ask: Would the ATC system endorsed by NATCA have done as well on 9-11 as the ATC system we have today?
More to come.