Politics & Media
Dec 22, 2008, 08:55AM

The Silent Union

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has beef—and you should pay attention.

Maybe Pushing Tin a point:

A number of years ago, I had the good fortune of befriending an air traffic controller. Like cops, medical personnel, and others in high risk or stressful jobs, they have a tendency to flock together. One air traffic controller friend soon turned into a small posse and I've been thankful to know them all. They are talented and dedicated, often excelling in other areas, like a lot of "type A" personalities. I've known air traffic controllers to go on to become doctors, lawyers, CPA's, chefs, professional photographers, and much more -- all in addition to their career as a controller -- often doing those other jobs as a "hobby." To say they are a smart bunch is an understatement. Day in and day out, they are responsible for tens or hundreds of thousands of lives and there is no question being an air traffic controller is one of the most stressful jobs in all the land. To get an idea of how many flights are in the air at any given time, check out the NATCA website for real time flight info. I've had the opportunity to visit an air traffic control facility and can tell you that I was truly amazed, impressed, and frankly a little frightened at how many flights are in the air at any given time. It is the most complicated puzzle you could imagine -- with thousands of moving parts, changing conditions -- and real lives at risk. These men and women deserve enormous credit for keeping our skies safe.

So, imagine my horror - as a frequent flier - when they began to complain louder and more frequently about the unpleasant and often dangerous policies put in place during the Bush administration. The problems go back decades, but have been exacerbated and even accelerated under the current administration. The controllers are seeing forced mandatory overtime, decreased pay, less training, fewer vacation/personal days, and a national radar system filled with antiquated equipment. The low morale has caused many experienced controllers to retire as soon as they become eligible. In fact, since 2006, more than 20% of the workforce has quit or retired, largely due to the increasingly unsatisfactory working conditions. Many veteran controllers (hired in 1981 during the Reagan administration) left at their earliest possible retirement dates and attrition rates continue to beat all previous projections.



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