Here’s a thoughtful commentary about our latest U.S. holiday. The author, George Jehn, is a retired airline pilot, former high-level union official at Eastern Airlines, author and whistleblower. He pauses a busy life each Fall and shares his assessment of how we are doing, on issues related to labor and the U.S. economy. His views are framed by his experiences in the aviation industry.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
People do not know the history behind this holiday, such as the deadly use of federal troops to break the 1894 Pullman Strike. People also tend not to know the many parallels between the extensive regulatory capture of FAA (by the airlines and other industry players) and the regulatory capture of the nascent ICC in the 1890s. Click here to view some documents about Richard Olney, and to learn more about how much 2017 is just like 1894.
(click on image to view source, at Clarence Darrow Digital Collection, University of Minnesota)
On a lighter note, here’s a no-holds-barred take by Jimmy Dore, a comedian who has become one of the leading online voices for those who feel our political and economic systems must be reformed. In this video, he dissects a Walmart employee orientation video that is extremely anti-union.
“Not great. My surgery was three hours late, my bed was double-booked so they dragged me out of the OR, and then they sent my appendix to Albuquerque!”
This is where aviation is headed, under the ATC privatization that Trump supports. A few will be enriched; most people will see things worsen. Substantially.
Click here to view the source article, or here to view an archived PDF copy of the article. The article title is harsh but, hey, take the time to see what is in the article and think about your own experiences. This industry is out of control – as is the faux-regulator FAA. The author makes some great points.
In late 2014, George Jehn, a retired Eastern Airlines (and later US Airways) pilot and ALPA union official, published his book, ‘Final Destination: Disaster. What Really Happened to Eastern Airlines’. This book represents an insider’s view of the political and corporate corruption that eventually killed the second largest airline in the free world, in early 1991. George’s thesis is that high U.S. officials wanted/needed to keep the public in the dark about the Eastern Airline history of clandestine service to the CIA; that, after the crash of an Eastern Boeing 727 on 1/1/1985 in Bolivia, U.S. officials needed to ensure the accident would not be properly investigated, as it would expose too much … and so high officials chose instead to simply dissolve the airline. The thesis is amply supported by his facts. The book looks, too, at the role of the CIA and airlines in drug running (remember Oliver North and Iran-Contra, and the explosion of cocaine use in the U.S. three decades ago?). And, it analyzes the failure by NTSB to investigate the crash of EAL flight 980 in the Andes in 1985.
Although events in the 1980’s and early 1990’s triggered the research that went into this book, publication was delayed. George found a literary agent who initially was very keen on publishing, then was scared off. Thankfully, George kept his work and pushed it through to publication two decades later, when the political leaders were no longer as powerful. This goes to show: Whistleblowers often have to settle in for the long haul.
Here’s George’s letter for today, Labor Day 2015:
Labor Day, 2015
To my Friends,
Well, another Labor Day is upon us, and once again American workers from every walk of life and in every occupation, continue to take it on the chin. It makes no difference whether a Democrat or Republican is in charge because no matter which, working men and women are still viewed as the bad guys. Just take a quick look around to confirm this. Obama swore up and down that he is for the “middle class,” yet along with his newly-minted Republican “friends” in both Houses of Congress (at least for this item) passes the trans-Pacific free trade agreement, which is anything but “free.” American workers will pay many times over for this with their additional sweat for less, hard-earned money and jobs. This is no more than the continued “race to the bottom” for the American labor force, whose employers will now claim that they “can’t compete” with workers in the lower paid Pacific Rim countries. In turn, this will translate into cuts in pay and benefits for the American workers or their employers will outsource their jobs. “Job guarantees?” “Retraining assurances?” Pure baloney!
Recall if you will the 1978 United States airline deregulation act, under which all of this started. It contained similar false “promises” and “guarantees,” yet not one single airline pilot was ever protected or went to another airline after their carrier went out of business, with their pay and/or seniority intact, as the language of this legislation stated would happen. And right now, the current New York State governor, Andrew Cuomo, another alleged Democrat, sets his sights on attacking public school teachers throughout the state and their union for their alleged “teaching deficiencies,” in some NY public schools—items although beyond their control, they are nonetheless being blamed for.
Today’s definition of Labor Day amounts to no more than a sordid joke on American workers, except it is anything but a joke. It has turned into just another national holiday where the politicians pander to the workers who put them into office, as large retailers offer goods at alleged sale prices and further line their pockets, while their employees are paid minimum wages and Mom and Pop stores are simultaneously put out of business.
Fairly paid and the skilled American work force is what created the American middle class and once made this country great. Without them..? Well, I’ll leave it up to you to fill in the blanks for the rest of that sentence, but I think we can all see what transpires around us on a daily basis.
On a much more personal note, since 1978 not one Labor Day ever went by without calling and speaking with my former elected pilot union colleague, close friend and staunch pilot/labor advocate, former Eastern Captain, Skip Copeland. That won’t happen this year because unfortunately Skip passed away late last year after tirelessly fighting for the Eastern pilots for many years. He is sorely missed. May he rest in peace. He earned it.
Perhaps, just maybe, our once-great Republic can one day rekindle all that it once stood for—but don’t hold your breath. On this Labor Day, 2015, the ones I truly feel sorry for are our children and grandchildren who will most likely never know the opportunities the real America once held for all working men and women.
George’s book was published by Changing Lives Press. I bought a copy and read it this summer, and it was a fascinating read. Parts were eerily reminiscent of my own story, blowing the whistle on FAA/ATC safety failures, though George’s story goes all the way to the White House (while my story only rose to high officials at FAA and NATCA). And, it really illuminates the greed-driven politics that have not only undermined aviation, but also are altering the economy we leave for our children.
UPDATE, 4/8/2016: — Robert DeFranco’s Dragon River has optioned the rights to George Jehn’s memoir, ‘Final Destination: Disaster — What Really Happened to Eastern Airlines.’
The news this year has been abuzz with Aviation Noise articles, and it does not appear to be slowing down.
Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Judith LaBuda heard closing arguments in a Boulder, CO trial, where impacted residents are seeking relief from the noise of Mile-Hi Skydiving Center, operating out of Longmont’s Vance Brand Airport [KLMO].
On the East Coast and the West Coast (in East Hampton, NY, and in Santa Monica, CA), citizens have ‘Just Said No’ to FAA grants for decades to get out from under ‘grant obligations’ and try to regain local control of their airports. They are now working diligently to finish their trek, to ensure local officials will not cave to late pressures from FAA and the industry. For once, they hope to see their local officials act to manage aviation noise and preserve ‘quality of life’. At East Hampton [KHTO], residents want relief from noisy commuter helicopters. At Santa Monica [KSMO], the biggest noise offender is also commercial, in the form of charter jets using a too-short runway, and also spraying soot and jet blast onto neighboring homes.
And, of course, there are the ongoing (and growing!) NextGen debacles impacting hundreds of thousands of sleep-deprived residents. Phoenix, Chicago, and New York have generated lots of big stories; Charlotte, Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston, Palo Alto, … the list will grow on. At each impacted community, millions of taxpayer dollars are used by FAA to attractively (and fraudulently) ‘green-wrap’ the debacle, and always stated as ‘in collaboration with industry stakeholders’. And, in case you missed it, FAA even wished everyone a Happy Earth Day!
Lots of news, but very little progress. Such is the politics of FAA and aviation noise.
Censorship in Colorado
As an example of how intensely political aviation noise is becoming, a conservative-leaning paper in Longmont recently censored out a reader comment. The paper, TimesCall.com, has generally been doing an excellent job of covering the citizens’ lawsuit against aviation operator Mile-Hi Skydiving. And their articles provide a ripe forum for people to express their views. As has come to be the standard in today’s online forums, the views are hugely polarized and sometimes downright rude and uncivil.
So, here’s a short overview of what happened at TimesCall.com. A person using the tag ‘JustSayinEP’ (Estes Park?) had made a comment which was promptly deleted by the website administrator. But, before the deletion, another person using the tag ‘Querty123’ responded, questioning if ‘JustSayinEP’ was threatening to use a rocket launcher to shoot down the main offending Mile-Hi Skydiving airplane, the loud white/purple Twin Otter. ‘JustSayinEP’ then promptly replied, and within his reply noted the content TimesCall.com had censored. To their credit, TimesCall.com did not censor this follow-up. Thus, we are all able to plausibly reconstruct their justification for the censorship. Here’s a screen-capture showing the comment thread (orange-box added by aiReform.com):
(click on image to read original article and reader comments at TimesCall.com)
The censored comment included lyrics from Bruce Cockburn’s 1984 song about oppression in Guatemala, ‘If I had a Rocket Launcher’. The opening stanza of the song lyrics includes, “Here comes the helicopter, second time today, everybody scatters and hopes it goes away, how many kids they’ve murdered only God can say….” The second stanza includes, “I don’t believe in guarded borders and I don’t believe in hate, I don’t believe in generals or their stinking torture states….” See the full lyrics here; the song is short and simple, and the lyrics webpage has lots more information about how the song came to be written.
Here are two embedded YouTube videos. Take your pick (or, better, listen to both). The first is the video at the link posted by ‘JustSayinEP’, which has video images showing the human face in Guatemala; the second video is an acoustic version, on a stage in Canada, that many find more artistically impressive:
Both videos present a great song. This song is NOT intended to stir up violence. It is clearly intended to stir up PEOPLE, to get us to CARE ENOUGH to take non-violent action, to right an obvious wrong. As Bruce Cockburn explained about his new song, in a late 1984 interview, “this is not a call to arms. This is, this is a cry….”
A cry. In 1984, and again in 2015.
Which is why it seems surprising that TimesCall.com would see fit to censor it.
The Politics Go Back to Ronald Reagan
The deeper story gets into politics, and reveals some of the oppressive dark-side of aviation. Mr. Cockburn wrote this song more than thirty years ago, early in the Reagan Administration. Two of the biggest presidential moves on aviation were done by President Reagan in 1981. In August, he fired most of the FAA air traffic controllers, for their strike, an action that still resonates with labor today. Earlier in the year he had persuaded Congress to support his proposal to shut down the Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) at EPA, an action hugely relevant to the NextGen implementation debacles.
That was Reagan’s first year, 1981. In early 1982, in Central America, General José Efraín Ríos Montt staged a military coup and became President of Guatemala. He had distant support from a few other nations, including the Reagan administration, and he used aviation as perhaps his most powerful tool of oppression. Bruce Cockburn visited the Guatemalan refuge camps in the Mexican state of Chiapas, during the Montt dictatorship. He saw the way helicopters routinely ignored national borders to fly menacingly over and sometimes fire into refugee camps. An avowed pacifist, he was outraged by the inhumane oppression he saw, so he wrote this song. And, thankfully for the Guatemalan people, the presidency of General Montt was short-lived; it ended in August 1983.
Mr. Cockburn’s song does a fantastic job of illustrating the simple fact that people who are oppressed need relief from their oppression. No matter how peaceful people are, if a state of oppression is sustained, it is only right to stand firm and resist. The individual standing against oppression was once at the heart of our national identity. If the oppressor denies the oppressed effective recourse, in due time some may feel compelled toward violent action to retake their freedom. We took up arms against the British, and that crystallized our national identity. We all want to avoid violence, which is why we want to believe we have an open press and deliberative Courts, the essential nonviolent venues for maintaining civility. But history has shown, if the press and the Courts fail, peace too will soon fail. Thus, we MUSThave a strong press and reliable Courts, openly covering the NextGen noise debacles, and justly deciding cases like the one in Boulder.
In the big picture, if we truly want a happy and peaceful world, we have to start with preserving basic quality of life, which includes vigorously guarding against oppression.
Noise is oppression.
Noise is oppression. Not as horrific and potentially lethal as an armed helicopter, but still oppressive. And bureaucratic inaction, as FAA consistently shows, doesn’t just frustrate the noise-oppressed; it also scuttles their chance for relief from other venues, such as when Courts reflexively defer to FAA, ON THE ASSUMPTION THAT FAA IS DOING ITS LEGISLATED DUTY. Which, by the way, FAA is NOT.
For reasons unknown, FAA has completely abandoned their federal responsibility to manage aviation noise. Some would conclude it is easily explained, if you simply understand that FAA today is a captured regulatory agency, existing solely to serve the industry.
In essence, the only difference between an aviation lobbyist and an FAA official in Washington is that the latter is still making small contributions into their federal retirement pension. So, as it stands today, if the airlines want political cover to add a few more million in annual profits by making early turns to climb out over Phoenix and Flushing, FAA provides that cover. Complaining citizens are just beaten down and ignored.
Today’s Noise Politics: On a Collision Course?
Today, NextGen noise is Oppression, and FAA is the intransigent Oppressor. Near NextGen airports, where new procedures are being implemented without needed environmental reviews and citizen input, ‘We the People’ are now ‘We the Oppressed’.
FAA’s ongoing refusal to resolve pilot fatigue risks,
the apparent lower quality assurance standards at commuter/feeder airlines,
common long-distance commutes by underpaid pilots,
and the deceptive sales of tickets by major carriers, but for flights flown by commuter/feeder airline subcontractors.
Both accidents were fatigue-related, but in a decision that reveals how NTSB can be pressured to help FAA accommodate the financial interests of the airlines, the actual reports were drafted to direct attention at other, non-fatigue issues. This finally caused a minor rebellion by two NTSB members in 2011, when the Teterboro [KTEB] crash report was finalized. Both Chair Deborah Hersman and member Mark Rosekind submitted dissenting opinions. “Despite substantial indications of fatigue effects,” Rosekind wrote in his dissenting brief on the Teterboro crash, “the present accident report fails to acknowledge fatigue’s role in the accident. Based on the factors identified, fatigue was a likely contributory cause.”
In the years since, some minor rule changes have been implemented, but they exclude the sector of pilots most susceptible to fatigue issues: cargo pilots, who commonly work overnight shifts. One such example was the UPS Flight 1354 crash at Birmingham, AL on 8/14/13, which killed two.
So, that’s some of the background. Here are three short excerpts from an article well worth studying, about an aviation risk FAA still needs to address…
EXCERPT — “In the last decade alone researchers have made tremendous strides in sleep research, noting in studies, for example, that getting even 30 minutes less rest in a single night can impair performance and memory the next day, and that the effects of sleep loss are cumulative, meaning that the sleep we get is like money we deposit in the bank. If we continually draw down our “sleep accounts” for several nights, the effects can be cumulative — and lethal.”
EXCERPT — “GA pilots who fly for transportation are at high risk of flying while fatigued. The same factors that go into becoming a pilot/owner of a high-performance airplane, an attractive income and high-achieving attitude, are often associated with a lifestyle that lends itself to fatigue. Typical GA pilots have crazy work schedules, many family commitments, and hobbies about which they’re passionate but which further impact their schedule. The lifestyle of high-achieving individuals puts them at constant risk of flying while fatigued.”
EXCERPT — “The NTSB put pilot fatigue on its “Most Wanted” list of safety improvements and kept it there for 22 straight years, but it wasn’t until the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in Buffalo, New York, in February 2009, in which 50 people died, that the FAA rewrote airline pilot rest and duty-time rules.”