A Gathering Storm?

Did I mention that the FAA, Airline Management, and the TSA are a pack of liars, cheats and thieves, every one? If this doesn’t sound familiar you should watch the movie Airplane!

The Fall and Summer of 1981 were typically hot but dryer than usual throughout Texas. Fewer rainy days with better flying weather should have made our job of flying cancelled checks around the Lone Star Republic much easier.

You may not have heard much about the guys that transport cancelled checks but their business is terribly time sensitive and they take it very, very seriously. 

All I had to do four days a week was fly from Houston to Austin to San Antonio back to Austin back to Houston, wait a while then fly to Victoria, Corpus Christi, and home to Houston before eleven thirty PM. Easy in good weather. The trip could be a booger when the weather was bad but we usually ran it right on time. About 8 hours flight time and a 12 hour duty day.

I was one of the first to notice that Austin had become difficult to fly in and out of. Even in good weather flights were being handled as though the visibility was low. There were delays. New “procedures”, new applications of old rules started being announced.  A new rudeness on the radio  made dealing with our valued industry co-workers at the Air Traffic Control facility more and more difficult.

Just dealing with these guys on a daily basis became a huge pain in the ass.  All over the country controllers were working under “unreasonable stress”. This became evident since they were more and more surly as time went by.  They wanted a raise, more time off, and better retirement.

Then the delay vectors started. Big turns would be assigned for no apparent reason. The only three airplanes in the area might be vectored so the slowest would be in front with the other two flying “S” turns behind him. Separation standards were applied so conservatively that every airplane could have been an Eighth Air Force flight of B-17s and there still wouldn’t have been a traffic conflict. The pilots generally just smoked more and shouted obscenities after each radio call.

When the controllers went out on strike we expected a nightmare. The company wasn’t even sure if we could keep flying since our work was so time critical. It was seen as the beginning of the end for us “little guys”.

The first day of the strike brought good weather to Texas. I took off for Austin with no hassle. On arrival there were no stupid turns, no rudeness, no attitude. Over to San Antonio and back was easier than it had been in more than a year. The entire day was like that. Efficient handling, a professional cheerful attitude, and a comitment to get the job done made our job easier to do than it had been in months.

The controllers were all fired by Ronald Reagan a few days later while he was playing the part of President of The United States of America.

After the big firing things were thrown together pretty well. There were delays, many small facilitys were closed, some had reduced hours of operation. Old procedures from the 1950s were still effective for places with no operating control tower. Overall safety worked out just fine. It would have been easier to be safe if all that hadn’t happened, but with some extra effort on the part of the pilots and remaining controllers it worked out just fine.

I am still impressed with how much easier it was to fly the day the strike started. The controllers had made our jobs dang near impossible. There is something about human nature that always causes people to do a worse job while negotiating to get more money. Seems backwards to me. There aren’t enough Air Traffic Controllers now for a lot of reasons. One of these is that there are so many administrative positions that don’t actually have anything to do with moving airplanes. 

I’m sure the controllers have some good points.  So long as they don’t make my life miserable I should support their efforts to get more of what they want for less than they want to give up. 

A few tough months at work because they are pissy might change my mind on that though. We’ll see how it goes this time.

Happy Landings.

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2 Responses to “A Gathering Storm?”

  1. AH, that might explain why I couldn’t hear the cockpit channel on the 2 legs of the flight home. Bummer, because it was really interesting listening on the outbound flight. Talking, then extended quiet, then flurry on talking at the hand off points, rinse and repeat.

  2. Probably not, the thingy was more than likely just turned off for that channel. You wouldn’t really notice anything unusual as a casual observer. Other than perhaps your flight was cancelled or delayed due to ATC “saturation”.

    Too early to say yet but the rumblings are starting in radio and TV news media.

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