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Long time FAA controller career created network within the ATC system

Devised the tactics to keep the ATC system working during PATCO

Greatest achievement = FAMILY

Rest in Peace

Raymond John Van Vuren, Jr., age 86, passed away on January 19, 2019 with his children by his side—his wife of  65 years, Winona; son, William; daughter, Linda; grandchildren, Dina, Andrew, Sarah, and Gianna; and great grandchildren, Aidan, Nora, Owen, and Charlotte.  He grew up in Michigan and was drawn to flight by his Dad who was a pilot, too. He graduated from Michigan State University, whose campus in East Lansing kept him close to his high school sweetheart, Winona. Van had a full life and even after his retirement, worked in aviation. His team designed the tactics that kept the system running in 1981

Ray had a full and historic career in the FAA, but friends suspect that he regarded the family gathered around him to be the greatest accomplishment of his life. A good man, a humble fellow, a face frequently with a wry smile and one who could tell a good joke- he will be missed.

Ray learned the skills of an air traffic controller during the Korean War. Though he qualified as an airman, he was trained to direct pilots. He left the Air Force and joined the FAA.

It is not unusual for a controller to work up the ladder of airspace complexity, but Van’s comprehension of the profession moved him into management. He worked in several facilities and in management; so, he developed a network of contacts within the FAA ATC system. Van was the consummate federal air traffic controller.


The ‘70s were a period of labor difficulties. Employees in Centers, TRACONs and Towers asserted that they were underpaid, overworked and stressed out. PATCO, its leader Robert Poli and its outside counsel, F. Lee Bailey sought to redress those grievances, negotiating unsuccessfully with the Carter and Reagan Administrations. In 1981, they initiated a strike based on the premise that the system would fail when 13,000 members would leave the facilities.


History accounts give great credit to President Reagan for responding vigorously and eventually the union, crippled by civil and criminal actions, collapsed. The union’s strategy was that the absence of so many ATCers would have compelled the FAA to shut down the system and then the airlines would demand that the President grant PATCO its demands.

No doubt the system shuddered, but it continued to function albeit at a reduced percentage of capacity. PATCO could not convince the AFL-CIO to declare a sympathy national job action. the airlines, recovering from the deregulation route expansion, were not entirely opposed to a lower capacity. Those and other factors were miscalculated by the Poli/Bailey brain trust.

Those external factors were not as significant as the work done by Ray as the Director of Air Traffic Control. He and his team of senior managers quietly planned to deal with the threatened strike.

First, they decided that the most equitable way to reduce flights was to determine what the staffing was at each facilities, then announce to the airlines that they should cut THEIR operations allowed by the manpower percentages. The previous plan was to terminate all short haul flights under the rational that passengers could drive those distance. The wise public policy would have killed the regional air line industry. The new approach let the airlines to adjust their schedules based on their considerations.


The second critical tactic was to add to the ATC personnel by requalifying the supervisory, managerial, regional and headquarter personnel back on their old positions. These seasoned professionals returned to the scopes in August. As the strikers walked out, the managers walked in. Not a huge number, but some added talent where needed.

 ARTCCSome of those reinstated were close to the men and women who were going to leave. They did not completely disagree with the workers, but many had worked with and/or known Ray. His network created during his years outside of Washington reached far and wide.

Having sat in the four times a day teleconferences in which the numbers at all of the major facilities were mustered, the Van network could be heard. As a voice in the XYZ Tower of ZFAa called in, the Director of ATC Services would acknowledge the individual by name. His investment in the people of the ATC system earned considerable loyalty. The men and women, who showed up during those months, allowed the Nation’s aviation system and the economy to continue.

Another obscured aspect of the PATCO strike was the recovery. Thousands of replacement controllers had to be recruited and Ray was instrumental in those efforts. He also was greatly aided by the leadership of Ben Demps who trained those new hires through the OKC training Center.


As the system regrew, Ray helped design a completely integrated ATC system. Administrator Helms, Associate Administrator Albrecht and Van helped draw the initial plans for what today has evolved to NextGen.


While this history is an important part of Ray’s legacy, he is probably more proud of this collage of what he contributed:


Dick Marakovits adds some thoughts about Ray

“When “Van” arrived in the Eastern Region he established what was termed the “Program Management Staff” – which was  responsible for all budget and financial matters as well as recruitment, training and staffing of Eastern Region air traffic facilities. It was the first such capability as other regional air traffic offices spread those functions throughout other Branch offices.  The salient benefit of the Program Management Staff functionality – beyond control and tracking of those vital activities – was the promotion of a sort of symbiosis with other key Regional entities to include the Budget Office, Human Resources, Logistics, what was then termed Airway Facilities (Tech. Ops) and…..Labor Relations. It was a truly visionary endeavor by Ray and this sort of team-approach to managing would serve him – and others – so vey well when the 1981 PATCO labor action was thrust upon us……all of us.
Ray introduced the Program Management Staff type of activity to Washington Headquarters when he arrived there and they embraced this type of renaissance in the management of critical programs and functions. And the absolute truth is this new-world-order “team-work” likely made recovery from the PATCO strike happen. Air Traffic so needed budget, personnel and labor-management-relations connections and those offices needed a working sense of their very critical role in keeping the system “afloat” while also constructing a comprehensive “rebuilding” of what would be a new, revitalized air traffic control system.
Van likely did not expect to face such a profound disruption to air traffic control – the strike – yet his thoughtful, compelling  vision for a better way to manage was the true “secret weapon” to make recovery a reality. He knew it, we knew it and was one of the quiet memories that he would reflect on with great pride as things stabilized and moved forward.
I could go on and on with tons of stories about Ray as he was just a wonderful, wonderful man……..and leader. He came to AEA when folks were very much set in their ways and Branch Managers had all been there for a while. His passion to visit facilities – large and small – kept him focused on mission and helped him better understand the human resource and technical issues that defined life in the domain of air traffic control. I was with on many of those journeys and one could say that Flight Service modernization was fueled by his focus on the many inefficiencies that he observed so many, many times.






























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  1. Armand. “ Pete” Palmerine | January 28, 2019 at 3:17 pm |

    I was a manager at Pittsburgh FFS when the ‘81 controller strike occurred. I worked with Ray on a special committee of field managers in Washington. We developed the “ Reservation” system which helped ease the burden of air traffic. Also, I made him laugh so hard that his face would turn “ beet” red. Ray, you will be missed.

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