Congress fixes "sequester" air traffic control disaster just in time for their own flights home

The Congressional deadlock known as the sequester has been tough on America, especially on travellers, as air traffic controllers found themselves with mandatory 10% paycuts (attained through one-day-in-ten furloughs) and the delays on good-weather days at major airports like JFK shot up to snowpocalypse-like 2-3 hour slogs. But don't worry, Congress is on it! They've fixed things for the air traffic controllers -- and just in time! After all, Congress is recessing, and the Congresscritters themselves will all have to fly home.

Unlucky for them -- and the rest of America -- many of the most experienced air traffic controllers who'd been delaying retirement threw up their hands at this situation and left their jobs permanently, leaving a talent gap in one of America's most vital and esoteric industries.

On Thursday night and Friday afternoon, however, the Senate and House were literally moved to action by jet fumes: Congress rushed legislation to patch funding for air traffic controllers furloughed by the automatic budget cuts known as the “sequester” just before jetting home for a week in their states.

The Senate passed the bill without a vote Thursday night. House lawmakers approved the legislation, 361-41, before scampering out of town Friday.

The legislation stopped FAA staff reductions that left planes idling on runways across the country and canceled some flights altogether.

Before members rush for airports, Congress ends sequester flight delays [David Grant/Christian Science Monitor]

(Image: AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL, CONTROL TOWER (INTERIOR), a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from publicresourceorg's photostream)


  1. If anything it shows you how politicians are biased by the immediate and mundane aspects of their existence. They aren’t just bodiless ideologues, they are real people who are worried about how they’re going to fly home… more so then they are worried about other peoples children going to kindergarten. 

    1. It’s not just that – the sequestration hit air traffic controllers just this past week, and not only has everybody who flies frequently been yelling at Congress, but the airline industry have been yelling at them about how much money this travel disruption is going to cost them.

      As far as air traffic controllers retiring goes, a lot of them got hired back in the early 80s when Ronald Reagan did his union-busting attack on the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, so they’ve seen this kind of abuse before.

    2. Its stem cell research under the Reagan’s; you just have to hope that your political masters have the same problems as you. Maybe people should look into their representatives’ domestic situations when voting and chose the candidate that best fits their own life.

  2. They, ahem, fixed it going out.

    Maybe they’ll be fixed coming back.

    I mean, why show up for work anymore?

    They’ve pretty much all got Skype™.

    1.  Air traffic control from home?

      “So, Air Traffic Controller; you claim that the Dulles Airport Disaster of 2014 was caused by your cat, Snookums, sitting on your keyboard?”

  3. The fuck do they get to go on vacation? Anywhere else in the government there’s a crisis, government employees have to stay late and fix the damn problem. With or without overtime or bonuses, or even a hot dinner.

      1. Well that’s kind of the point. They have enough days off, they should give up a few and do some work.

        1. Reminds me of the old Michael Moore line about praying that rich people be afflicted with the hardships and diseases of poverty, coz that’s the only thing that’ll concenrate their narrow, selfish minds on fixing the problem.

          You know, if the College of Cardinal don’t manage to do their job (elect a Pope) within the first month of Conclave the Vatican staff stop delivering food to their gloriously decorated pen. There is much the new world can learn from this time-hallowed wisdom.

      2.  Imagine how much more damage they could do if they worked the other 239 days of the year.

        1. Imagine how much good they could do if they worked more & weren’t just corporate lobby shills? I think that congress is a great idea, we just, you know, need some electoral & finance reforms.

    1. That’s a misconception.  When members of Congress go home, most of them keep working hard.  They normally have an office back home, where they can meet with donors constituents.

      I’m sure some of them take 200 vacation days a year – but not many. That’s a ticket to losing the next election.

      1. Besides, most of the time that Congress IS working, it’s up to no good, and over in the Senate the Republicans are too lazy to stand up and speak when they’re filibustering everything the Democrats want to do.  Some Democrats complained when Bush was always on vacation down at his ranch, but any day he was cutting down brush or driving around admiring his cattle was a day he wasn’t causing new trouble.

        1. Years ago I read a clever aphorism about how making government more efficient is the worst thing that can happen.  I wish I remembered where I saw that.

      2.  Yeah, they basically spend all their free time fundraising and meeting special interests, which is why we need publicly financed elections and to practically ban lobbying.

  4. A large problem is that air traffic controllers are not a highly interchangeable workforce.

    BAK (Columbus, Indiana) has an ATCT.   Not that it’s needed.  It’s a FAA part 139 airport (basically commercial flights of 30 or more people regularly scheduled) but you know what – the commercial pilots would be upset there is no tower for their four flights a day, but they’d get over it and the FBO is more than capable of advising that level of traffic.

    Point being BAK (and many many other ATCT workers can be laid off, permanently, and the state of American Air Traffic will not suffer one iota.  But that actually won’t help our current situation.

    Almost none of these individuals with jobs fit for the chopping block could work at JFK or SFO or even CMH if they wanted to.  They don’t have the training and (most) don’t have the skills.

    1.  You’re an idiot. I work at one of these towers, and they are categorically, intrinsically more dangerous than any place I’ve worked — to include PSAB and Holloman AFB — regardless that they have a fraction of the traffic.

      The reason? Lack of training and discipline of the pilots — not the corporate fliers, but the *occasional* GA pilot, and it only takes *one* (or, God forbid, *two*) to ruin the broth, Brother…

      That has been the real shot between the eyes about this whole deal: Huerta and LaHood are as ignorant as you when it comes to what actually goes down at ATCTs. You’re right: For the majority of time I’m on duty, nothing very much is going on, certainly not enough to justify my pay. But… there is *rarely* a week that goes by when I don’t ‘re-earn’ a whole year’s pay by unraveling cats-with-crocheted-tails that would have resulted in *deaths*, not just “loss of efficiency”…

      Because the fact is pilots *cannot* work themselves out of every situation using just TCAS and CTAF (if y’all don’t know what those are, look ’em up) as Huerta has suggested. Some of my customers don’t have good radio technique and I had one just the other day who had no earthly clue what a “transponder” was, what the term “IDENT” meant, or what “Mode C” was. His transponder was on, with no operating Mode C, so there goes the notion of TCAS. He was effectively invisible to other aircraft. When I asked him to IDENT, he responded that he was a PA28R. I then queried whether he had a working transponder and if so could he utilize the IDENT feature. He replied “I’m a slant U” (transponder-equipped with Mode C), but still had no idea what IDENT was, neither how to turn on Mode C.  In addition, he was fully 20 miles further away from where he reported himself in relation to the airport, so there goes CTAF. I finally ‘found’ him on radar, as previously mentioned, squawking VFR but no altitude data, and fit him into my traffic pattern which featured 6 aircraft going to 3 different runways, a mix of 3 small CAT I GA (~100KTS, 4500′ runway), small-plus CAT III bizjet (~150KTS, 6000′ runway) and 2 hi-speed, large CAT III test aircraft (penetrating at 220+ knots until 2 mi final, sequential front- and back-course approaches to 7000′ runway, simultaneous opposite direction ops, wake turbulence factor for the closed traffic CAT I’s)…

      The larger airports (and military) have rigid runway-in-use programs, pilot certification, and equipment requirements that must be met before pilots can participate. ATCTs don’t. That’s what makes us attractive and *necessary* for manufacturer test pilots, who have to qualify an airframe/avionics before it sells by doing multiple *opposite direction* front- and back-course ILS approaches, along with all the GPS/RNAV approaches we have.

      …And we have one of the few remaining NDBs in the USA, and the USAF in particular are forced to fly these approaches a high percentage of the time in SW Asia, and Eastern Europe…
      (NB: Sec’y of Commerce Ron Brown and 34 others were killed on a plane doing an NDB below mins in mountainous terrain, in Croatia in 1996.)

      All those military, test and bizjet users — and the 1000+ jobs at the regional shipping center they headquarter — will be gone, “like tears in the rain”, the very second the ATCT closes. But, of course, *you* already knew all of this, similar to how Huerta knew all of this without actually doing any impact studies, because the pair of you are godlike and omnipotent, in a very mollusk-like way. And if somebody doesn’t believe how omniscient Huerta is, all they have to do is ask him: He unilaterally took furlough/closure actions without any data analysis whatsoever…Because, one presumes, he just *knew* it would still be safe, even without any supporting empirical evidence.

      And I double-dog dare *any* controller from *any* of the airports/TRACONS/ARTCCs you named to come and work one of my rushes. You practically have to be psychic (observant + perceptive + analytical = ‘psychic’) — knowing what is going to mess up, and in what way, *before* it happens — to even minimally do my job. I, OTOH, could easily perform their over-programmatic LC. GC would be the tough/chaotic/dangerous part; FD/the various assist positions would be the most hectic, in terms of message traffic volume: if the Devil is in Details, then his attorney has offices in adjoining Coordination. …By the time it gets to LC, it’s virtually all “Cleared to land/Cleared for takeoff”, a dawdle.

      I do all of those jobs *simultaneously*, combined at one position — and augment ASOS for significant/non-representative weather phenomena, which goes out to controllers and pilots nationwide via the NWS —  for about half the cost to the American taxpayer of only *one* of the 3 ‘actual controllers’ it would take to do what I do, at an FAA facility… I come to work and sign on position; then I sign off position when I leave 8 hours later. I take bathroom breaks based on radar and ramp activity…same with eating. FAA controllers work 30 minutes on, an hour (or more) off; that’s the kind of redundancy they have (and undoubtedly need)…

      Did I ‘jack up’ my customer who had no idea what equipment was on board his plane, how to operate it, or where he actually was in relation to the airport? I did not. It is *my job* to assist pilots in every way I can and to ensure the safety of all users in the system. The FAA — and some catastrophically undereducated pilots — seem to have forgotten what their Job #1 is (see previous sentence), and are making egotistical bets that somebody else will have to pay with their lives. However, in my airspace all God’s children are safe as houses, regardless the arguable worth of their character, or the dubious validity of their opinions.

  5. Nice to see another anti-government post cherry picking the the timeline as coincidentally self-serving. The FAA said that the employee schedules couldn’t be modified for a few weeks. So NO benefit to congressmen flying this weekend, regardless of how you want to spin it. 

      1. Their failure to come to agreement with each other isn’t from lack of working.  It’s a conflict over values, and a preference for pandering to their base rather than compromising.

    1. This is clearly something that effects the more privliged donating class of citizens than the average citizen.  Cherry picking this as a priority is elitist.

      1. Not too many 1%ers will be devastated by cuts to Head Start or Meals on Wheels.  But you’d better not make them wait!

    2. I like this part of your post:

      So NO benefit to congressmen flying this weekend

      Any inconvenience that their own actions cause them is at least a little droplet of consequence splashing on their stone-like brains, even if just on the surface with no penetration.

  6. Because Congress members vote purely based on self-interest, I suggest you vote for poor candidates without health insurance who have lost a family member to gun violence.  Until then, poor uninsured people and those who have lost family members to gun violence will not get any help.  Funny how Gabby Giffords’ “friends” in Congress told her to shove it after she got shot in the head.  Our Congress is just full of wonderful citizens.

    1. But come election time, most of these assholes get re-elected.
      Alexis de Toqueville comes to mind:  “In a democracy, the people get the government that they deserve”.

      1. In reality, it may only be 50.1% of the people who get the government that they deserve.

        1. Point taken, but as a person who stood guard at ballot boxes in Mexico back in the volatile eighties, when thugs could have shown up and things could have gotten violent, I’ve had many arguments with many people who don’t bother to vote today, when their vote really counts because ballot boxes aren’t stolen and stuffed anymore.

          The apathetic ones are a lost cause, but I tell disillusioned citizens to at least show up at the polls and punch all the candidates in the ballot, as a registered show of protest, instead of being invisible and silent.

      2. “So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
        “It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
        “You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
        “Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
        “But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
        “Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”

  7. Poor people don’t fly much, middle class and up do. That’s why people care about this more than all the other important things getting slashed. People with some money inconvenienced? “This will not stand!”

    1. The airline industry is going to lose far more money from furloughing air traffic controllers than the Federal budget will save, and that means lost jobs.  It’s also likely that the Federal budget will lose more money in tax revenue from the airlines and their employees than they’ll save in reduced ATC salaries, which makes this locally stupid as well as globally stupid and destructive.

      1. On some level it may be deliberate long term political scheming rather than short term stupidity.  The Republican strategy has been to derail as much of normal government functioning as possible,  but to try to spin it as dysfunction caused by Obama and Pelosi.  

  8. Here’s a little musical humor in honor of Congress’s speedy action last week to alleviate any inconveninece for wealthy business travelers (and for themselves as they race home for recess).  I guess the pain of sequester cuts was only meant for Head Start kids, homeless people, Medicare cancer patients, national park workers, etc., etc., etc. . . . 

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