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Sat, Apr 26, 2008

NATCA Calls FAA's View On Inspecting Equipment 'Hypocrisy'

Says Agency Holding Self, Airlines To Different Standards

Following up on an Associated Press report this week -- which noted the FAA has shifted from precise monitoring of equipment used for air traffic control purposes, to a trend-based methodology -- the National Air Traffic Controllers Association slammed the agency for what the union terms its "hypocrisy."

As ANN reported Friday, proponents of that shift note newer, more advanced equipment breaks down less often... and evaluating overall performance give FAA personnel additional time to focus on identified problems. But NATCA notes the FAA's attitude is still suspect, especially at a time when hundreds of thousands of air travelers have been inconvenienced by mass flight cancellations due to the agency's reaction --- many say overreaction -- to news of lapsed safety inspection procedures at the nation's airlines.

NATCA states the FAA has relaxed its own requirements for verifying the operation of equipment, such as radar and instrument landing systems, by removing the time element. In the FAA’s own words in its imposed policy notice, N 6000.216, dated 12/07/07: "The event-based certification policy eliminates the periodic requirement for systems. ... This notice exempts maintenance personnel from performing system or subsystem certification as required by the periodic certification interval published in each of the maintenance technical handbooks … with Certification Requirements, published in this notice."

If that sounds eerily similar to the justification critics say FAA inspectors used in allowing Southwest Airlines to skip past required fuselage inspections... you're not the only one.

"The engineers of the agency have continued to warn management officials that removing the time element between checking the equipment will compromise the safety of the National Airspace System," said Larry Ihlen, a senior engineer, 30-year veteran FAA employee and NATCA Alaska local engineers president. "It is amazing that the agency has descended to the level of arrogance of ignoring the professional opinions of its own subject matter experts while telling the flying public that it is making the airlines adhere to the timelines of air worthiness directives.

"The approach the FAA is taking with its own systems is like saying that you will drive your car across the country without ever checking the oil; it worked yesterday, so it will work tomorrow, unless it quits," Ihlen added. "Unfortunately, when the agency’s equipments quit, the loss of life is a very real possibility!"

Ihlen has reason to take such attitudes personally. The FAA currently has tentative plans to relocate 85 percent of all engineers from Alaska to another part of the country, claiming increased efficiency. Over the past two years, the FAA has allowed the engineering workforce in Alaska to be cut in half, according to NATCA, while it works to consolidate engineers to locations in Atlanta, Dallas and Seattle.

"In the history of the FAA," Ihlen said, "either a change has been made to the organization or a change has been made to the operation of the NAS. This is the first time that both changes are being attempted at the same time. If the American public truly understood how the FAA is playing the game of find the pea under the shell, they would be outraged.

"The only stop to this hemorrhage of expertise and compromising of safety will be immediate and direct Congressional action."

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.natca.org

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