Tuesday, March 05, 2013

More Sequester Fallout

So AOPA has been concerned about the future of GA for some time, but it seems they didn't see this one coming. For those still doubting the effects sequestration will have on general aviation, here is a link to an Airports Council International/North America briefing on the latest details on the FAA's planned closure of 173 "contract towers" (aka Non-Federal Control Tower or NFCT).

Walt Cochran, ATO's Vice President of Terminal Operations stated the FAA was "unable to consider local community impacts" and the only criteria would be how the "national interest" would be affected. "National interest" was not defined. Affected non-federal control towers are free to seek local or state funding to keep their facilities open.

The FAA is still considering closure of the remaining 49 towers, but since these are federally operated, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association will need to be involved in the negotiations.

At my home airport, KOAK, the North Field tower may be closed due to reduced staffing levels. Such a closure could limit or completely preclude touch-and-goes/pattern work, practice instrument approaches, and could even impact noise abatement procedures.

So let's review: Safety will suffer as Class D airports become non-tower airports, a flurry of NOTAMs will have to be issued, many pilots will not read said NOTAMs, and flight training operations will be adversely affected. Pilots who are planning to do check rides will be affected as will professional instructors trying to earn a living.

If this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, this would be a good time to let your federal, elected representatives know how you feel.


Andrew Skretvedt said...

Disgusting, this sequester nonsense. This year, assuming the sequester remains law for the full year, the Feds will still spend $15Bln more than they did last year. They mean to tell me they simply can't do what they did last year, without needing at least $100Bln more? Hogwash. The specific reductions of services, etc. that are getting play in the media are nothing more than political pain points, deliberately pushed to get taxpaying voters to call their reps and ask them to cry "uncle." It's sick as it gets. We're not governed, we're ruled, and now we're being extorted. So...

If controller availability problems start to get serious, I propose some of the enterprising furloughed controllers (esp. at smaller Class-D fields) get together and offer a temporary voluntary control service to pilots. Same great, people, same quality service (done to the same standard, except notice of disclaimer of liability, where prudent) paid by various arrangements organized by said entreprenurial otherwise laid-off controllers (donations, small fee request to FBO's flying users, airport authority agreement, solicitation of commercial operators at the field, etc., all-of-above).

Meet with pilot users and other past ATC stakeholders to collaborate and get input in developing a way around the FedBlock.

Stop waiting for the government's permission to do what is only prudent and rational. You may end out in a situation soon with qualified controllers willing to operate, and no government structure to operate within. _So make one._ That's the American way. Create a local, private duplicate of whatever operational structures are necessary to go forward confidently and safely, as the FAA-run versions of said structures are suspended due to financial constraints.

Courageous operators, if the sequester really does get that bad, could find themselves at the vanguard of a much needed revolution in how we think about and control our flying operations.

The less government involvement, and the more clearly the picture that restart of gov't services would not be soon on the horizon, the faster a private revolution would start to bring material benefits beyond the old government structures.

As a kickstart to thinking for anybody feeling that the notion of privately regulated aviation standards/service would make their blood run cold, consider the aviation insurers. If you simply began with a requirement for documenting proof of insurance to interested parties, the insurance companies in short order would standardize on certain practices designed to limit their risk, while still providing affordable insurance products they have a good chance of selling. You just won't be able to operate easily or at all unless you satisfy your insurer to qualify for the policy. Risk rational users would insist on verifying proper insurance coverage or specify remedies in their service contracts.

We'd get where we need to be, physically and economically, faster than you might think. Not to say their might be a few bumps along the way, but private enterprise is always best and pushing the envelope to find out where it tears, then making a better one so it doesn't do that anymore.

Less stringently regulated industries are far more advanced and a great deal less expensive, relatively speaking, compared to aviation. The same electronic hardware in modern avionics has been in consumer goods and automotive goods for years longer, and is generally one or two orders of magnitude cheaper than aviation-destined hardware of similar raw capability.

John Ewing said...


Interesting proposal, but less government involvement assumes that private bureaucracy is more efficient that public bureaucracy. I don't think there's much evidence that this is a correct assumption.

You mention that voters needing to contact their elected representatives is "as sick as it gets." Voter/citizen involvement and activism is the basis of our representative democracy.

The idea of decentralized and/or private control of civil services, while attractively simple, does not seem workable to me. We'd just be replacing one bureaucracy with another and if the new bureaucracy is not made up of elected officials, well ...

The main reason the federal government is dysfunctional is a few idealist/fundamentalists are stopping any and all progress. This, along with moneyed interests controlling the public debate, is something our founding fathers didn't foresee.

If US citizens can find their collective voice, perhaps this sort of behavior can be stopped. But that takes courage and dedication, something that seems to be in short supply.