Should AIRR debate include concerns about human factors of FAA and ATCC?

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The debate about the privatization/corporatization of the FAA‘s ATO organization and its separation from the FAA has addressed a wide range of topics—governance, user fees and their establishment, representation on the Air Traffic Control Corporation (the federally chartered corporation), union rights and benefits, increased litigation before the US Courts of Appeals, etc.

airr act faa

The below testimony of Richard H. Anderson, CEO of DELTA AIR LINES, touches on a subject which deserves greater thought and discussion:

Privatization Will Compromise The FAA’s Safety Jurisdiction

At present, the FAA effectively balances safety and efficiency without compromising either objective, because the Air Traffic Organization and the Office of Aviation Safety are part of the same organization. They work hand in glove to use airspace as efficiently as possible while keeping it safe. That collaboration benefits from the offices being part of the same agency, sharing management and facilities.

airr act faa

Mr. Anderson, whose company has successfully dealt with some major organizational dynamics in the last few years, implicitly is asking how the people of the post AIRR FAA and ATCC will relate. While they have worked together well for years (some may debate this hypothesis, but accept the past as a baseline for comparison), will this major institutional change impact their future effectiveness?

faa atcc privatization

Internal and inter-organizational depend on normal human interaction. It is fair to forecast that the history of the ATO and old FAA cooperation will continue initially. But human beings notice and react to the incidents of office.

  • For example, the office of Person A, being large, spacious, nicely decorated and with a nice view tends to create some deference among A’s visitors.
  • Many human beings, consciously or subconsciously, are competitive. If a co-worker, our Person A, and her/his functional equivalent, Person B, draw comparable salaries, they are more likely to have a symbiotic relationship. If Person A gets a major increase in salary, Person B may exhibit some envy and their past effectiveness may not remain as high.
  • Eye-to-eye communication, particularly in an age of emails which carry no voice inflexion and no facial expression, contribute to greater understanding and cooperation. Even the random encounters at the lunch room, professional training or the softball team, add to the richness of interpersonal fabric. Segregating ATCC form FAA may reduce those contact points from which trust and confidence grow.
  • Common goals have a tendency to facilitate team behavior. If all are following the same standard at the front of the parade, they are more likely to end up at the same destination at the same time. Even minor deltas in the written strategy create cracks in the unity of effort. ATCC and the post AIRR FAA will share “safety” and “efficiency” in their mission statements, the next level of their articulation is likely to vary between the two. ATCC’s Board of Directors will include some measure of cost reduction of its resources. The FAA’s measure would not likely examine the expenses imposed on ATCC’s operations by some rule.

These are real, practical questions raised by Delta’s CEO testimony. If the answers are negative, the “world’s safest ATC” may deteriorate if AIRR is enacted as written. A technical analysis by Human Resource experts may determine that the transition will not have substantial impact on past collaboration. It may also be that the separation could create insurmountable problems. As a third option, the HR report may pose possible practical solutions

  • keeping the ATCC offices close to FAA buildings and annual budgets for team-building,
  • may point to a requirement of comparable compensation, which could minimize the separation anxiety/envy and also improve the retention/recruitment of the future FAA staffè SAFETY,
  • requiring that the respective Goals and Objectives of the FAA and ATCC are fully integrated in all significant measure and/or
  • other concepts which will assure that cooperation is maximized.

None of the above should be read as an endorsement of HR 4441; safety is our focus. Politics, rate-making and finances are not high on our list of competencies. We do have insights into how the FAA has worked and the issues raised above appear realistic and relevant to the debate of the merits of AIRR.

 

ARTICLE: Delta submits testimony on AIRR Act and Air Traffic Control privatization provision
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