Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dude, Where's My Plane? FAA Recruiting High Schoolers To Be Air-Traffic Controllers

Full disclosure of motive: I couldn't pass up yet another opportunity to bash America's all-time most overrated president, Ronald Reagan, when I ran across this item. In 1981, The Great Prevaricator mass-fired over 11,000 members of PATCO, the air-traffic controllers union, for staging an illegal strike. He also ordered a lifelong ban on rehiring, eased 12 years later by President Clinton.

Reagan seemed mainly concerned with how tough he looked, rather than with the safety of U.S. air travelers. Now, 27 years later, the system hasn't fully recovered -- there are still fewer controllers despite the increase in air traffic -- and the scabs hired to replace the strikers are reaching retirement age. As they leave, the Federal Aviation Administration is desperate for warm bodies, even trolling high schools to recruit fresh grads into training programs.

Hold the phone. Readers, do you remember yourselves fresh out of high school? Hell, I graduated fifth in my high school class, but I was a mess during my freshman year in college. I had little self-discipline and was only beginning to develop a sense of responsibility. I would sleep in and cut some of those "101" classes, read the textbook and show up for the tests, and wonder why I got a B instead of an A. I dressed like a bum and then wondered why many people seemed to think I was one. I chain-smoked in public places. I missed deadlines for the student newspaper. It's amazing my G.P.A. never fell below 2.95. (I started making the dean's list when I was a junior and had grown up a bit.)

Again, I'm an example of someone who graduated from high school with honors. What about that student who made a C-plus in metal shop? You want this person controlling air traffic?

Here's the full article from that bastion of American newspaper journalism, the New York Post. I get the impression the Post has been trolling the high schools for cheap recruits as well. The difference is, you don't end up in a body bag after reading tabloid journalism. It's a much slower death, and only from the neck up.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from the Post exclusive:

The FAA has offered an unprecedented $100,000 bonus to air-traffic controllers throughout the country to lure them to the New York area's five understaffed radar centers - and has even begun trolling local high schools to recruit for the jobs.

The FAA began its recruitment efforts in high schools and through online ads on MySpace and Craigslist because of a severe staffing shortage and lack of experience among workers at its air-control towers.

One recent hire is a 20-year-old who is now reading the scopes for the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) center in Westbury, LI, officials said.

By 2011, 59 percent of all controllers will have less than five years on the job.

The recently hired 20-year-old man has a bachelor's degree in air-traffic control, but other new hires can come straight out of 12th grade. They go through three months of training before becoming "controllers in training" and eventually full-fledged staffers.

Let us once more ponder the Reagan legacy: Richer rich and poorer poor, deregulation of everything including lending banks, environmental horrors, and now frighteningly close calls at airports across the nation.

Here's a suggestion for President (I hope) Obama: Find every surviving member of the PATCO strike Class of '81 and offer them their jobs back, with big bonuses and raises. Then have the FAA let the high schoolers grow up some before putting countless lives in their hands.

Crossposted at Manifesto Joe.