As air travelers in the United States remove their shoes, discard their beverages and personal hygiene products, and are herded like cattle through metal detectors, they can rest assured that such stringent impositions, however absurd, signify that the government will spare no measure or expense to ensure public safety, right? Right?!?
Well, yes and no. Yes, if it means preventing your grandmother from smuggling a dangerous bottle of Jean NatÃ© in her carry-on case. No, if it means preventing air traffic controllers from working longer hours or feeling adequately supported by management. Todayâ€™s New York Times provides coverage:
DALLAS, Sept. 13 â€” A drive by the Federal Aviation Administration to cut the number of air traffic controllers nationally by 10 percent below negotiated levels, and even more sharply at places like the busy radar center here, is producing tension, anger and occasional shows of defiance among controllers.
At the radar office that controls planes around Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and at a cluster of other airports where staffing levels are falling fast, unhappiness is usually not visible in the darkened radar centers where they work, except when it is glaringly obvious.
Like the recent day when a controller here went to work in lime green pants and a clashing brown jacket, along with hair dyed blue, to protest a new dress code. Elsewhere, male controllers have rebelled by going to work in dresses.
Most controllers here say they are far more concerned with workplace changes that do not involve wardrobe, including salary caps, lower pay for new hires and stricter control of vacation schedules and sick leave.
The F.A.A. imposed the changes on Sept. 3, three months after it declared an impasse in contract talks. Most of the changes have had little effect on the public. But one in particular may have safety implications, controllers and some outside experts said. That is the ending of contractual protection against being kept working on a radar screen controlling traffic for more than two hours without a break.
The agency has been defensive about staffing rules since a plane crash on Sept. 1 in Lexington, Ky., in a case where the workload of the lone controller on duty violated policy.
Having just one controller on duty â€œdegrades the safety net,â€? said Pat Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, â€œby not having another set of eyes and ears.â€? Mr. Forrey and others make a similar argument about keeping controllers at their work stations in positions that require intense concentration for extended periods.
The president of the union local here, Michael Conely, said that with the number of controllers now scheduled, â€œyou canâ€™t staff all the positions properly.â€™â€™
â€œYou are on position longer, watching more airplanes, and it becomes a tired-eye syndrome,â€? Mr. Conely said. [full text]