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Testimony of Mike Fanfalone
Professional Airways Systems
National Civil Aviation Review Commission
Chairman Mineta and Members of the Commission:
Good afternoon. My name is Mike Fanfalone, President of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS) - District No. 6 - NMEBA (AFL-CIO). Thank you for inviting PASS to testify today concerning staffing, training and safety issues that impact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Airspace System (NAS).
Today, PASS provides exclusive representation for over 10,000 Systems Specialists, Flight Inspection Pilots, Aviation Safety Inspectors and Safety Support Staff employed by the FAA. The services that our members perform range from systems maintenance, installation, and certification, to aviation and flight inspection. PASS members are dedicated to supporting and sustaining the safety and the efficiency of the NAS. PASS has a tremendous interest in assisting this Commission on aviation safety issues.
Flight Standards Aviation Safety Inspectors
PASS represents approximately 2,500 Aviation Safety Inspectors and clerical employees of the Flight Standards Service. According to the FAA, "Inspectors have an enormous scope of responsibility that includes the oversight of 7,300 scheduled commercial aircraft; 11,100 charter aircraft; over 184,000 active general aviation aircraft; 4,900 repair stations; over 600 schools for training pilots; 200 maintenance schools; and over 665,000 active pilots." The FAA also reports that Inspectors perform more than 400,000 safety inspections annually.
Without a doubt, Inspectors are a highly dedicated and skilled workforce. Inspectors come to the FAA already having had a career in aviation. They are certificated airmen who have worked for airlines, repair stations, training schools, and commercial operators. Many Inspectors have military as well as civilian training and experience. The critical safety-related duties that these men and women perform on a daily basis have a direct impact on the aviation industry and on the reliability, the efficiency, and most importantly, the safety of the NAS. Clearly, no single issue is more important to our Inspectors than aviation safety.
Flight Standards Staffing
As a result of the ValuJet Flight 592 crash last year, FAA has been scrutinized for failing to provide Inspectors with necessary staffing and proper training. Since that accident, the FAA, working with PASS has reevaluated its safety programs and issued the 90 Day Safety Review. The Review contained six principal recommendations and over 30 supporting recommendations to improve Flight Standards.
Issue six of the FAA 90 Day Safety Review addresses Inspector resources and
recommends that the FAA ensure "Flight Standards resources and training are adequate
to meet safety requirements." The report finds that "Flight Standards staffing
levels do not meet current requirements because: 1) Flight Standards funding has not kept
up with rising personnel costs; 2) staffing standards are incomplete; and 3) the shortfall
in support staff requires Inspectors to undertake non-technical tasks, which, in turn,
prevents them from spending full time doing safety-related work."
According to the FAA's own staffing standards, Flight Standards is still short nearly 200 clerical employees. This has been a trend for quite some time. Rather than conducting safety inspections of our nation's airlines, air operators, aviation schools and maintenance facilities, Inspectors are forced to spend at least 25 percent of their time typing reports and letters, answering telephones, and filing paperwork solely because of the lack of clerical staff.
The continued imbalance of Inspectors to clerical employees is but one of the staffing
problems facing Flight Standards. Another is management's failure to place Inspectors with
the right skills in the right Flight Standards District Offices (FSDOs). We are concerned
that the hiring practices of Flight Standards, done without input from PASS, are
autocratic and flawed. When PASS requested that it have the opportunity to provide input
into the hiring process, PASS was deliberately excluded from any participation.
Consequently, Inspectors in at least 50 percent of the FSDOs with which PASS interfaces
have repeatedly complained that their newly hired Inspectors do not possess the needed
specialties. PASS does not seek to make hiring decisions, only to participate in the
Obviously, the FAA's wasteful and inefficient use of key safety personnel and its
failure to put Inspectors into the field to the maximum extent possible to perform
safety-related functions only exacerbates the burdens placed on existing journeymen
Inspectors. As the Commission examines Flight Standards resources and training, PASS hopes
you will take a close look at Flight Standards management and whether there are enough
Inspectors to adequately perform safety inspections. For example, with the current
Inspector workforce the following occur:
In addition, the Aircraft Evaluation Group, which has certification authority over new aircraft, have less than 50 Inspectors to oversee all certification and evaluation of new and modified aircraft. We urge the Commission to recommend to Congress and the FAA that increases in Inspector staffing levels will lead to increased productivity and safety of the NAS.
Flight Standards Training
Just as important as Inspector staffing is training; the two areas go hand-in-hand. For
FY 1998, PASS understands that the FAA has requested $30 million in its operations budget
for additional technical/flight proficiency training. While we are pleased that the agency
is asking for more money for training, we are very concerned that the funds are not
specially targeted for Inspectors. Never before has the need for Inspector training been
so essential. Not earmarking dollars for technical/flight proficiency training has in the
past allowed the FAA to transfer money to other services.
The FAA has established very high standards that potential Inspectors must meet in order to qualify for employment with the agency. FAA Orders stipulate that once Inspectors are hired and attend initial training according to their specialties, they must be exposed to the latest industry aircraft, systems, and technologies. For Operations Inspectors, this means recurrent flight training and regular flight proficiency. For Airworthiness Inspectors, this translates into training on specific aircraft and new technologies used in aviation maintenance.
In recent years, the FAA has failed to meet its own training requirements due to a failure to target sufficient funds for Inspector currency and training. Some training programs benefit Inspectors more than others. There are four types of training programs taught that ensure that Inspectors are current and proficient:
Formal training conducted by the FAA usually occurs in Oklahoma City at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center. The instructors are former field Inspectors who have lost touch because they have been teaching six to ten years without returning to the field for practical experience. In addition, the materials used to teach the Inspectors are often out-dated. In fact, a majority of the classes taught at the Center need to be improved in order to prevent course shortcomings. An example of formal training is the 2 ½ day "New Technologies Air Carriers Aircraft Systems" course that is taught in the field to all Airworthiness Inspectors. During this course the Airworthiness Inspectors are "supposed" to become qualified to inspect three large passenger jets. All of the Inspectors that we have spoken to about this course have stated that it was a waste of time and money because it did not teach the right subject to the right people. They further stated that "the course was thrown together and was just eyewash." Furthermore, the course was broad in scope rather than in-depth. One Inspector said the instructors stated, "Don't blame us we're only teaching what Flight Standards told us to teach. We know it's a waste."
On-the-Job-Training conducted by the FAA appears, on the surface, to be a cost-effective method of training. However, to have an effective on-the-job-training program the Inspectors conducting the training must have a firm understanding of the subject matter and must be proficient in the art of teaching. Unfortunately, it has not been FAA policy to require Inspector instructors to have any formal training in teaching techniques, nor to demonstrate any competency in the subject to be taught. In fact, in one FSDO, new hires were trained by an Inspector with less than two years experience in the FAA and no training background, other than being a flight instructor. Inspectors have been told to teach new hires but have not been given any teaching materials other than FAA and DOT Orders. This approach of allowing every Inspector to "go their own way" has led to the present situation where every Inspector has a unique perspective of what he/she is to be achieving. For years Flight Standards has been criticized for not having one standard. Rather, each office, all 100 of them, put their own spin on the agency policy, enforcement and interpretation of the aviation regulations. Furthermore, on-the-job-training takes qualified Inspectors away from their daily duties of inspecting and performing safety-related tasks.
Industry Conducted Contract Training is the best out of the four training methods. Inspectors believe that industry conducted training is valuable because it keeps them current with the latest technologies and is the most professional training Inspectors receive. For example, the company Flight Safety International teaches Inspectors the latest in flight systems. Unfortunately, Inspectors do not receive enough formal industry conducted contract training.
Operator Conducted Training is developed by the operator for its own flight crew members. It is excellent training. However, it is not appropriate for Inspectors. Operator conducted training is predicated on the premise that attending pilots are currently working the line. Therefore, they have a level of currency that is impossible for an Inspector to maintain. Inspectors fly less than 24 hours per year as compared to air carrier pilots who fly upward of 900 hours per year. This results in Inspectors using the majority of the course regaining basic currency when the class is designed to enhance the flight skills of already current crews. In addition, operator conducted training creates a conflict of interest that is detrimental to aviation safety. In order to get the training free of charge, the FAA has made "deals" with operators in the form of Memorandums of Agreement. Operator conducted training is often traded for a less intensive enforcement program. There is at least one legal interpretation from the FAA's Central Region regarding this issue. (See attached memorandum.) In response to PASS inquiries concerning this agreement, certain modifications were apparently made. However, it is not clear that the inherent problems associated with these arrangements have been corrected. Additionally, Inspectors are trained and flight checked by the very personnel they are charged to oversee. If they fail the training courses their jobs could be are in jeopardy, discouraging Inspectors from speaking out and reporting safety violations by the operator. Also, FAA Personnel Reform has resulted in there being no enforcement agency outside the FAA with jurisdiction to adjudicate whistleblower complaints.
We urge the Commission to recommend to Congress that the FAA completely revamp training programs for Inspectors. A lack of effective training jeopardizes aviation safety and endangers the lives of our Inspector workforce and the flying public. We also urge the Commission to require the FAA to do so in collaboration with PASS.
Certification, Standardization and Evaluation Team (CSET)
The Certification, Standardization and Evaluation Team, commonly referred to as CSET, was a recommendation born from the 90 Day Safety Review. The 90 Day Safety Review report recommended that a dedicated group of subject matter experts be assembled for the express purpose of standardizing the various core Flight Standards processes of certification and evaluation of new entrant air carriers.
CSET was not only to provide standardization in the air carrier certification process but also to develop surveillance and analysis systems to evaluate newly certificated air carriers and assure the flying public the highest degree of safety in air transportation. CSET was conceived to be the fundamental organizational change that would move the FAA toward the "zero accident" goal articulated by former Administrator David Hinson. CSET was designed in the spirit of partnership with its architects being the experienced Inspector workforce. From an organizational standpoint, CSET was bottom-up driven by Inspectors who have substantial knowledge of the industry.
Currently, CSET is struggling. It is hampered by the FAA's own internal bureaucracy. Since CSET is a major departure from the status quo, PASS has expressed a need to ensure that the bargaining unit employees it represents are not negatively affected by its implementation, and that the FAA does not lose sight of the original concept. Various efforts are in progress such as a certification process, the development of air carrier certification, job task analysis, training and some minor surveillance improvement initiatives. CSET is quickly losing PASS's support because the FAA has had our most recent proposal on their desk since late July and has taken no action.
In order to ensure CSET's success, the following is imperative. First, a Memorandum of Understanding needs to be negotiated to define and protect the bargaining unit employees. In order to hire and attract the best and brightest, it was recognized that there must be incentives and protections put in place. The primary stumbling block has been the FAA and its reluctance to work with PASS in a meaningful way. Second, a review of CSET goals and objectives should be reviewed by the original design team, before any other substantial changes or movements occur in CSET. Finally, there must be substantial FAA commitment to implement CSET as it was originally designed.
We urge the Commission to recommend to Congress that the FAA comply with the 90 Day Safety Review to ensure CSET's success.
Unapproved and Substandard Parts
PASS is concerned that the continued use of substandard and suspected unapproved parts (bogus parts) will have a direct adverse impact on the flying public and on our Inspectors. We firmly believe that aviation safety will be seriously jeopardized by the FAA's continued failure to identify and to curtail the uses of bogus parts in our nation's aircraft.
To understand the problem of bogus parts, the Commission must look at the enforcement and reporting procedures that the FAA uses. When a Properly Manufactured Part is determined to be "unsafe" or to have the potential to cause severe personal injury, death or substantial aircraft damage or hull loss, it can be removed from service by the FAA through the Airworthiness Directive (AD) process. The AD process is utilized to address specific unsafe conditions.
On the other hand, when a part is found to be a "Suspected Unapproved Part," it must be investigated, identified and confirmed. If the operator declines to remove the part voluntarily, the FAA has to proceed through its legal system which on average takes two years. This process involves extensive review of records and aircraft inspections and is accomplished on a case-by-case basis, one part and one aircraft at a time. Although the FAA has a central database to record unapproved parts, the data does not accurately reflect the quantity of parts truly involved. Each numbered report is counted as one report despite the fact that it may contain hundreds or thousands of parts.
The FAA's failure to mandate the immediate removal or re-inspection of bogus parts is unacceptable. For example, the FAA has allowed over time the continued use of unapproved critical turbine engine components and other known and unknown unapproved and unairworthy parts in commercial aviation without re-inspection or removal contrary to Federal Aviation Regulations. For over forty years, the FAA has known about the increased use of "bogus parts." The agency's predecessor, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, issued Aviation Safety Releases as early as 1956 pertaining to unapproved parts. Recently, critical rotating engine components such as disks, shafts, hubs and pressure vessel diffuser cases were found to have been overhauled by repair facilities that were FAA certified but were not appropriately rated to perform the work in question. This is an automatic qualifier for "unapproved parts".
Because there are so many "gray areas" in FAA regulations and current internal policies, it is difficult for anyone to determine what is legal and what is not. In fact, there isn't even a prohibition against bringing parts from a totally destroyed aircraft back into use even though there may be no record of their serviceability or history.
PASS has found that at times the FAA fails to support its own written policies through its actions. In fact, the FAA sends its Inspectors conflicting messages. On one hand, FAA Order 8120.10 charges Inspectors with certain responsibilities and with following FAA regulations regarding unapproved parts. The Order dictates identification criteria, reporting and classification requirements, investigation responsibilities and enforcement guidelines. On the other hand, upper level FAA management attempts to delay the process, to mitigate findings, and to impeach its own Inspectors who conduct investigations on bogus parts.
PASS even believes there have been attempts to cover up such investigations. For example, the FAA has ignored repeated concerns aired to them by PASS bargaining unit employees, who have been intimately involved in the investigation, re-inspection and oversight of unapproved parts. This has caused them to file safety complaints over critical engine components that were stated to have been overhauled by at least three FAA approved Limited Rated, Specialized Service repair facilities. However, the parts were found to exhibit conditions that would characterize the components as unairworthy and unapproved. A considerable number of these parts were determined to be in scrap condition with no further continued serviceable use permitted. Even after making formal complaints to the FAA, these parts continue to be in service today.
Clearly, the use of unapproved parts is widespread and dangerous. PASS is deeply concerned that the FAA is not doing enough to address and remedy the problem. PASS strongly supports The Foreign Aircraft Repair Station Safety Act of 1997 (HR 145/ S 1089), which would require the FAA to revoke the certification of any repair station that knowingly uses substandard or bogus parts. It is a start to containing the use and rapid growth of unapproved and substandard parts.
Merit Systems Protection Board and Whistleblower Protection
Prior to the implementation of PL 104-50, FAA employees who were the subject of serious disciplinary or adverse actions were able to contest those actions through either the negotiated PASS/FAA contractual grievance procedures or by filing a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), but not both. The choice of forums was viewed as beneficial by many employees because when appealing to the MSPB, the employee controlled the case, and the employee was guaranteed a hearing before an impartial decision-maker. PASS did not get involved in MSPB proceedings.
Under PL 104-50 (Sec. 350 (b)), the provisions of Title 5 are no longer applicable to the FAA unless specifically provided. Thus, Title 5, Section 1204, describing the powers and functions of the MSBP to hear employee appeals; and Title 5, Section 7701, providing for an employee's right to appeal certain actions to the MSPB are no longer applicable because PL 104-50 did not specifically make those sections applicable to the FAA. The FAA has taken the position that a bargaining unit employee's appeal rights are limited to the negotiated grievance procedure.
Although all employees are disadvantaged by this situation, it is particularly undesirable to many Inspectors. The business of safety requires Inspectors to make many judgment calls. Inspectors who are apprehensive about their own careers or well-being will be less likely to make hard decisions. Carriers have significant leverage with upper level FAA management; ValuJet is a shining example.
Another apparently unintended consequence of PL 104-50's broad preemption of Title 5 pertains to whistleblower protections. Title 5, Section 2302 (b)(8), which was specifically retained in PL 104-50 (see Sec. 350 (b)(1)), states that an agency is prohibited from taking a personnel action against an employee for engaging in "whistleblower" activities. However, as noted above, Title 5, Secs. 1204 and 7701, dealing with the jurisdiction and powers of the MSPB, are no longer applicable to the FAA.
Also, Title 5, Section 1221, which states that an employee can seek corrective action from the MSPB in a whistleblower case, was not retained in PL 104-50. Thus, even though employees still have whistleblower protection under the law, the jurisdiction of the MSPB to hear whistleblower cases from the FAA has been removed. The FAA has informed PASS that employees with complaints about retaliation for whistleblowing activity should file a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel within the Department of Transportation.
PASS feels that FAA employees have been deprived of an important safeguard which is available to all other federal employees - the MSPB. Again, without assurances of MSPB protections, Inspectors will be wary to speak out and to report safety violations.
Aviation System Standards
PASS also represents employees of Aviation System Standards (AVN), which are responsible for the design, development and flight inspection services for ground and space based navigation systems, at more than 3,000 instrument airports in the United States and numerous airports in 46 foreign countries. This includes more than 12,000 instrument departure and landing procedures used by civil and Department of Defense aircraft throughout the world.
AVN's primary mission is to ensure the integrity of the instrument procedures and airways that make up the NAS. From lift-off to landing, each time the U.S. public flies a commercial airline, AVN employees have ensured the flyability and safety of the procedure. Whenever a general aviation pilot can not fly visually or when an air traffic controller issues a vector to an aircraft, AVN employees have verified terrain and obstacle clearance. The instrument approaches developed by AVN insure aviation safety. In addition, AVN provides services to international, military, federal, state, local and private entities. AVN is a member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and is recognized internationally as the leading authority on flight procedures' development and flight inspection.
What has become an increasing concern for PASS are the staffing levels and training of pilots, aircrew technicians, aircraft maintenance technicians and procedure development specialists. Never has the expertise of these people been more important and critical to the NAS. However, cuts in personnel and training funds come at a time when the NAS is experiencing an abundance of technology changes. The aviation community is clamoring for AVN to apply these new technologies including a minimum of 500 new Global Positioning System (GPS) procedures annually. This creates an ever increasing demand on an already understaffed workforce. The workload doesn't stop there. The new procedures add to an overloaded maintenance program of existing procedures. Each procedure is required to be reviewed bi-annually to validate compliance with applicable criteria. Additionally, the more precise approaches must be flight checked as frequently as every six months.
Training on new guidance (criteria) used to design and flight inspect these procedures is not available because there are little if any funds. This leads to extra time being used by each employee to train themselves and the non-standardization of application. AVN flight inspection crews face the safety challenge of flying as many as 12 weeks without time off. Due to this demanding schedule, crews must complete flight inspection reports on their own time. In addition, international flight inspection requires the aircrew to fly to and from the destination on their own time.
Increases in staffing for critical positions is needed to support the demand for a safe and certified instrument flight environment by all user groups. Critical positions within AVN's program are identified as Airline Transport Pilots Certificated (ATP) pilots, certified Procedures Development Specialists and Airborne Electronics Technicians, all directly supporting the AVN mission to develop, flight inspect, and certify aviation safety. These employees are committed to providing quality, integrity, and customer satisfaction to ensure the safety and responsiveness the flying public is entitled to.
PASS has studied the Commission's Draft Report of September 10, 1997, and believes that the AVN organization would be a prime candidate for piloting the suggested Performance Based Organization (PBO) initiative. Provided the development and the implementation of moving AVN to a PBO were done in complete partnership, PASS would welcome the opportunity to participate.
Airway Facilities Systems Specialists
Airway Facilities (AF) Systems Specialists, also know as Technicians, form the backbone of the FAA's air traffic control system. Their primary duties are the maintenance, repair, certification and operation of the system. In fact, Systems Specialists are the only people authorized to certify the operation and safety of facilities and to return the systems to service.
Despite the increasing demands on the system and on the Specialists, staffing levels within the AF workforce have fallen disastrously low. In 1981, 11,600 Specialists were responsible for maintaining 19,000 FAA facilities and equipment (F&E). As of September 1996, the entire field maintenance workforce (including supervisors, managers, Specialists, and support personnel) totaled 8,209 and they are now expected to maintain more than 40,000 FAA facilities and equipment.
The FAA's staffing standards indicate that an AF workforce of 11,815 Specialists, logistical and support staff personnel, supervisors and managers are needed for the current fiscal year. However, an analysis of AF staffing levels indicates, on average, that each of the nine FAA regions encountered a 13.2 percent decline in staffing between FY 1992 and FY 1996. Currently, the FAA is only staffing at 65 percent of their own staffing standard.
At the request of the Gore Commission, PASS calculated the number of FAA employees directly engaged in systems maintenance, as opposed to those who support systems maintenance. As of December 1996, only 5,888 Airway Facilities employees provided hands-on maintenance of the entire NAS. (See Appendix A for a more in-depth staffing analysis.)
A very different picture is painted when "systems maintenance" staffing is distributed by operational structure. What this shows is that the number of systems maintenance employees assigned to hands-on maintenance jobs is approximately 63 percent of the total systems maintenance workforce. While there is a need for managerial and supervisory direction in AF, as well as planning, engineering, and administration, 37 percent of the workforce in overhead is excessive. It is no wonder that AF overtime usage in FY 1996 increased by fifteen percent for the systems maintenance workforce.
In a 1995 cost-benefit analysis for the NAS Infrastructure Management System (NIMS), the FAA acknowledged that "service and system management efficiencies will not make up for the shortfall in available AF personnel during the period 1997 through 2001. (Note: The shortfall in service and system management effectiveness will result in a reduction of overall AF facility and service operational availability.)" This shortfall is already evidenced by the FAA's Communications, Navigation & Surveillance Directorate (AND), which conducted a ten month study in 1995, analyzing all the outages at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The report concluded that the staffing standard at LAX was correct. However, the Specialists staffing level at LAX is only 65 percent of the standard. The study used mathematical models to further calculate the impact of staff increases and shortages on parameters such as the number of facilities awaiting repair and equipment availability.
The report indicates that increasing the number of fully trained Specialists would decrease the outage duration from 1.60 to .63 hours per added Specialists up to an optimum staffing of 45. This would represent about 95 percent of the staffing standard. In the interest of system availability and capacity, this would be much more realistic of what's truly needed. LAX, like so many other major airports, requires dual runway capabilities during peak hours to keep up with air traffic demands. This is only possible if all of the facilities and equipment are operationally certified.
Commonly, Specialists are expected to restore facilities, equipment or services that they have not specifically been trained for. Rather, they have a basic knowledge of the operation and can flip a switch, check a monitor or run diagnostics. A trained, certified Specialist must return the system to service. However, shift coverage for the various disciplines has been severely affected by reduce staffing. Quite typically Radar Specialists provide 7-day, 24-hours coverage and are expected to repair or restore such things as communications or environmental services for which they have little or no experience or training and no certification responsibility. A Specialist with the skills and credentials is then called in to perform the necessary certification procedures, therefore delaying the restoration.
As a result of staffing shortages, morale is at an all time low; overtime has increased; more outages are occurring; restoration times have grown; open watches are commonplace; and contractor maintenance costs have skyrocketed. In addition, over 35 percent of the workforce is eligible to retire.
If just one-fourth of the overhead in AF (defined as support, managerial, or supervisory support not directly engaged in NAS maintenance) was converted to the true maintenance workforce, it would mean some 850 more employees who are already on the rolls would be available to help maintain the NAS. This would allow on-board Specialists to receive necessary training on either existing NAS systems or those scheduled to be deployed.
In 1994 the FAA completed a National AF Realignment Plan. This plan was the result of a three year joint strategic planning effort and was intended to increase employee-to-supervisor ratios to 15:1, reduce the overall staffing, increase productivity, and reduce the field-level layers of management from 5 to 3. The net result of this realignment would have been to place some 1,100 supervisory personnel into hands-on, safety related positions. Also, as part of the realignment, AF was to accomplish a nationwide Business Process Engineering (BPE) effort to streamline the work processes which would have enabled more employees to work efficiently with fewer supervisors. Two events occurred in 1995 which prevented any efficiency or productivity gains. First and foremost, AF failed to properly fund or support the BPE effort and, therefore, work processes were never streamlined. This was key because the buyout legislation of 1995 resulted in over 600 AF supervisors and managers being paid for leaving the agency. Because of this, the 1,100 supervisors were not returned to the workforce. This is just one example of how the FAA continues to misuse its resources.
With the staffing at 65 percent of the standard and between 30-40 percent in overhead, it is no wonder that Specialists cannot be relieved of systems maintenance duties to either provide training for others or to be trained themselves.
As the AF workload increases and staffing levels decrease, it has become more difficult to release the existing workforce for training on new systems. There simply are not enough remaining Specialists at their duty station to absorb the increased workload.
The FAA needs to cut into its overhead and properly utilize the Specialists currently on-board. In this way, the FAA will be able to afford to release people for training - whether on-site or at the FAA Academy. For example, the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) has 6 Maintenance Control Center (MCC) Specialists who need to take 6 Computer-Based Instruction (CBI) courses which are prerequisites for the NAS Management course taught at the Oklahoma City Academy. The CBI courses, which take less than 3 weeks to complete, have to be completed prior to attending the academy. The ARTCC had one training quota for the January 1998 Academy class. On September 15, 1997, the ARTCC turned in the quota because none of the 6 MCC Specialists could be released from their watch duty to drive to the Systems Management Office (SMO), approximately 5 miles away, to take the CBI prerequisite courses at any time prior to January. The Miami ARTCC has no CBI terminal on-site because management decided 2 years ago that it would be more beneficial for employees to go to the SMO for CBI training so that the Specialist would not be interrupted by operational situations.
PASS must emphasize again that there are now only 5,888 Specialists maintaining over 40,000 FAA facilities and equipment and few new hires in the training pipeline. Therefore, the quality, the efficiency, and the safety of the current air traffic control system will be gravely jeopardized without properly trained Specialists. Further, the modernization of the NAS and the deployment of new systems will be delayed. PASS requests that the Commission recommend that the FAA hire new Specialists, cut overhead by moving supervisors and managers back into the field and to utilize resources properly, allowing Specialists to give and receive more training.
Unfortunately, staffing shortages and training deficits have forced the FAA to use contract maintenance which has proven to be a more expensive and a dangerously inefficient alternative to FAA maintenance. Both the FAA and the General Accounting Office have estimated that the agency would save approximately $45,000 per staff year if it utilized its in-house staff rather than contractors. Not only is contracting out more expensive to the agency, it is also counterproductive to the agency's mission. In fact, in testimony last year before Congress, the GAO concluded that one of the prime factors hindering the FAA's ability to bring new ATC systems on-line is its "inadequate oversight of contractor performance." When contractors are on-site their work should be overseen by experienced, fully trained AF Specialists. More often than not, however, the inadequate on-board staffing prevents this from occurring. Rather, the more junior, less experienced, and less than fully trained Specialists are the only ones who can be released.
In addition, the House report (H.Rept. 105-188) accompanying the FY 1998 Department of Transportation appropriations bill contains language regarding contractor maintenance and states, "the FAA could be more efficient with its scarce resources if in-house maintenance personnel were utilized to a greater percent, relative to contractor maintenance." Using contractor maintenance, rather than in-house staff, is irresponsible with irreparable consequences and is tantamount to carelessness.
For example, in April controllers in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Falcon Field towers were left without any radar information for sixteen minutes because of a contractor's carelessness. The contractor had no idea what was happening as controllers in the tower lost all critical ARTS radar information. Fortunately, there was a qualified Specialist on site to restore the system.
The NAS is a complex system which includes thousands of different smaller systems, many of which interface with one another. When contractors come into a FAA facility to install, maintain or modify a piece of the NAS, they often do not understand the effect they can have on the intricacies of the whole system and on the safety of the flying public.
A prime example that affected this area happened on June 11, 1997. Air traffic operations at Washington's National Airport were severely impacted by an outage which lasted 7 hours and 40 minutes. Nearly 70 aircraft delays were reported. Due to an installation wiring error on the part of the contractor, all ICSS positions (communications equipment) were wired to one system fuse, placing an excessive load on this fuse. The overloaded fuse blew, leaving air traffic controllers scrambling.
When notified of the outage, the contractor's representatives initially did not plan to arrive at National until the evening to fix the problem, despite the fact that air traffic controllers were having to use back-up transceivers to control traffic. (The outage occurred at approximately 8:30 a.m.; the contractor's technician finally arrived on site at 12:30 p.m.) AF Specialists were responsible for locating the error - a manufacturing wiring discrepancy - and for remapping the system. They believe that all ICSS systems should be checked for proper load distribution. Having FAA Specialists who know the overall system to do the work initially would avoid these kinds of problems and would maintain the overall integrity of the NAS.
Because our Specialists work with the NAS equipment everyday and are the only people who can certify the systems, they understand the need to exhibit caution and to communicate with others before performing any maintenance on a system. They have a proven track record, while private contractors often have failed to measure up to the same high standards.
For instance, in Duluth, Minnesota, another contractor was given the contract to replace the ASR-6 radar with the ASR-8 radar. Commissioning started April 18, 1996, and was to last six days. However, because of contractor incompetence, the ASR-8 was not installed until March 6, 1997, after Duluth had been without radar for 11 months, and only then because it was installed by our AF Specialists.
An example of the quality and the satisfaction that FAA Specialists provide to users of the NAS is evidenced in the attached letter to the FAA dated April 30, 1997. Mr. George Larson, Airport Director of the Jackson Hole, Wyoming Airport Board, writes:
"The Jackson Hole AWOS has been maintained by FAA Technicians for a considerable amount of time. It is evident that the maintenance performed by your people is far, far superior to the services performed by the previous contract with Qualmetrics.
Since AWOS is not the most reliable weather system available, it is extremely important to our Airport, commercial air carriers serving this airport, and all general aviation pilots that we can promptly and expertly repair our AWOS when necessary. Your Technicians always provide us with that assurance, unlike the previous outside contract effort."
There are also rules that Congress has imposed on our workforce, such as strike prohibitions, that are not imposed on contractors. These rules are in place to ensure the safety of the air traffic control system and the flying public. Contractors cannot guarantee immediate restoration of FAA systems. They are unwilling to respond to the two hour restoration times which the FAA mandates and which are the maximum allowable for the FAA's critical systems.
For example, on May 17, 1997, there was a major outage at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic control Center (ARTCC) caused by a complete failure of contractor's equipment. A large part of the ARTCC's communications and radar systems were shut down after the power went out and the backup system failed. More than 180 aircraft were in the skies over Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia. These aircraft had minimum contact with the controllers at the ARTCC.
Because the contractor has a two-hour call back procedure built into its contract with the FAA, there was no contractor at the ARTCC to respond to the outage. Facility services were in fact returned by an AF Specialist who switched from the failed system to commercial power. However, not having been trained on the contractor's system, this Specialist had to receive instructions from the contractor's monitoring facility via telephone. It then took the contractor 22 hours to replace the failed system and to return to normal operations. If in-house staff had been trained on the system, the outage would not have lasted as long and NAS users would not have to wait for a contractor to correct the problem saving precious money and time. Customer response - to the controllers and, in effect, to the airlines and the flying public - is nearly immediate with FAA Specialists.
Tragically, it has become common knowledge at FAA facilities that contractors will always place their company's needs before the FAA's safety mission.
On May 20, 1997, the Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center's (ARTCC) Voice Switching Control System (VSCS) failed because a contractor entered an incorrect computer command which put all positions in a maintenance mode. This caused the loss of all land line communications and frequencies. All air-to-ground and ground-to ground communications capability was lost for a period of approximately three minutes. Air Traffic reported that 58 delays were attributable to this event.
The contractor was not able to restore all operations on the VSCS until more than 24 hours later. This happened because a software patch that the contractor was supposed to install prior to commissioning in January 1997 was not installed until after the outage.
Given that the FAA itself admits that "the overall cost versus benefit of this activity [contracting out] cannot be determined, and that the performance of contract technicians is not being adequately monitored," it is impossible to explain why the FAA would want to hire contractors instead of hiring and training permanent Specialists. These tasks should not be delegated to private contractors for the same reason that the government would not hire private contractors to inspect drugs for public safety, to inspect buildings for code compliance, or to safeguard the environment.
The FAA must abandon its misguided faith in contractors and instead must immediately and aggressively hire and train more in-house Specialists. Until contractors can guarantee immediate restoration and quality service - which PASS maintains will never and can never happen - the FAA must return all maintenance to its own personnel. The idea of having anyone outside of FAA employees conducting installation, repair, modification, or operation of systems impacting live air traffic is unacceptable. The maintenance and operation of NAS systems that are used to separate traffic or to maintain safety are inherent governmental functions, whether the FAA owns the systems or not.
PASS and its members are dedicated to promoting air safety. As the exclusive bargaining unit representative for Airway Facilities, Flight Standards and Aviation Systems Standards employees, PASS is uniquely positioned to serve as a meaningful partner in making the FAA more productive and responsive to technological changes and in making the NAS the safest in the world.
In short, the FAA needs to better utilize its resources, increase its technical workforce, reduce its reliance on contractors, train its employees, and commit to working with PASS as a business partner rather than an adversary to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Otherwise, the quality, the efficiency and the safety of the air traffic control system will be seriously compromised. PASS respectfully requests that the Commission consider including PASS's recommendations in its report to Congress.
At the request of Vice President Gore's Aviation Safety and Security
Commission, PASS calculated the number of FAA employees directly engaged in systems
maintenance, as opposed to those who support systems maintenance. While we
attempted to get in-depth data from the FAA, we were informed that the AF organization
does not track the information as requested. In fact, Airway Facilities management was
only able to provide us with the following very limited breakdown of staffing numbers:
|Field Maintenance||FY 1996|
|Employees in the Systems Management Offices (SMO), and Atlantic City and Oklahoma City Center. They provide maintenance and certification of facilities, engineering, program and administrative support, management, and supervision:||
|Planning and Technical Support|
|Employees located in Regional Offices, Centers, and FAA Headquarters. These employees manage national programs by providing engineering and program analysis, resource management, and administrative support:||
|Total Operations (Systems Maintenance) Staffing:||9,299|
The true distribution of systems maintenance staffing, however, differentiates the
number of supervisors and managers, the number of employees in support positions, and the
number of employees directly engaged in maintenance of the NAS. PASS obtained the
following data by contacting FAA field and regional offices directly:
|FAA Headquarters||FY 1996|
|Including Atlantic City and Oklahoma City Centers:||885|
|This includes regional offices only, without Headquarters elements:||841|
|Includes the technical, program, and administrative support for the Systems Support Centers (SSCs), as well as the first-line supervisors of the field maintenance employees:||
|AF Employees Providing Hands-On Maintenance of the NAS:||5,888|
|Total Operations (Systems Maintenance) Staffing:||9,299|