Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sequestration Ha!

I was going to write something about the furloughs and why they would cause the delays that they do, but I think everyone has heard enough. Now that they are over, it may not matter, but then again, how are they going to end...

So in a contract position, a fraction of the workforce was forced to reduce their work by 10%. Everyone is supposed be treated equal, so how can this be, not everyone had their work cut by 10%? How are they going to make it fair? The whole mess will take over a month to resolve, unless there is an emergency order, causing the folks who got the time off to be paid for the time they took off anyway (such a deal!).

I don't know if the whole deal was worked out yet. Sure congress got beat up, and something happened, but has the President signed off on it (does he need to, I am thinking he will eventually). The whole deal is a rob Peter to pay Paul anyway. No one authorized the FAA to spend what they used to spend, just that they can use some other money to pay the controllers. That money is still ready to be used for the projects it was originally intended to be used for, and someone else will be screaming if they don't get theirs.

Why do to furloughs cause delays? In a air traffic control center, there are various geographical regions that are covered, broken into sectors. Not all controllers are certified to work all sectors. The midnight shift will combine multiple sectors and work them together, where during the day, a single controller or team (RADAR (R) and Data (D) side) will work a single sector. If you don't have enough staffing, the number of controllers certified to work the sectors will be reduced.

One day the guy certified to work sectors 1,2 and 3 will have the day off, and the next day the guy certified to work sectors 2,4,6,8 will have the day off. Scheduling becomes a challenge. Then throw in vacations, and sick days, and some days you may only have one guy on a shift qualified to work sector 5 or something. For one guy to handle the sector, then only maybe 12 aircraft can be in the sector at a time. Maybe it is a gateway sector, and he is doing his best but that means that sectors 6 and 4 have to hold or slow down aircraft. Slowing aircraft has a ripple effect, and sectors 3 and 7 have to manage the aircraft coming into sectors 6 and 4 smartly (and so on).

Equipment went from same day repair to next day repair. It wasn't just the controllers on furlough, but tech support as well. If the only person who normally would be on staff certified to repair some piece of equipment was off that day, the equipment was out of commission. Maybe it was not terribly critical, but caused more inconvenience to the controller, they will have to slow even more.

So traffic backs up all day, and the airlines are taking delays. (travelers still bought tickets, and they want to get where they are going). There ends up being higher volumes of traffic at some airports until well into the midnight shift. The midnight shift that is short staffed with overlapping sectors. All the FAA can do is ask some of the night shift controllers to stay late (and pay them overtime) since the sectors will be impossibly full until even later. So everyone is taking a 10% paycut, but to make that work, the FAA has to pay overtime to some of the staff. 

Since the first week required one third to half the staff to take a day off, how is it that the other folks are going to balance that out? Again, with vacation and sick days, to make it fair, it'll probably take a month for everyone to have the same hours. I know it says that they will "fix" it by Monday, but how can that be? There were controllers who decided the whole government employment situation is silly, and took their retirement, or just quit once they got threatened with the furlough.

It kind of begs the question, who is in charge? Congress tells the FAA to cut spending, and the FAA says we can cut this or that expense, and congress says no, not that one. Why have any administrators if congress is just going to override their decisions. Tower closures were overridden. For many years the FAA has been trying to consolidate TRACONs and such to save money, but it seems someone in congress forces the FAA to not do it. Congress talks the big talk, cut, cut, cut, but when they do, they say "not that way".

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