An Exchange of Letters, Proposing Michael Huerta’s Removal

A New York area citizen, enduring years of unmitigated (and even expanding!) aviation noise impacts exacerbated by FAA’s ‘unmitigated capture by industry’, recently sent letters to both DoT Secretary Anthony Foxx and President Barack Obama. Both letters point to the ongoing failures by FAA, as well as a recent DoT-IG report: ‘FAA Reforms Have Not Achieved Expected Cost, Efficiency, and Modernization Outcomes’ (34p, 1/15/2016). Both letters also called for these top officials to “…find someone who is really responsive to citizen complaints coming from Phoenix, Palm Springs, Chicago, Boston, & New York and replace Michael Huerta…” and to “…remove Michael Huerta and replace him with someone who cares for more than just throughput and efficiency.”

Here are copies of the letters, shared with aiREFORM. Highlights were added, and the citizen’s personal info redacted. The first letter, dated January 25, is to Secretary Foxx:20160125.. (redacted) letter to DoT.A.Foxx (1p)

The second letter, dated February 10, elevated the issue to President Obama:201602010.. (redacted) letter to Pres.B.Obama, need to replace FAA.M.Huerta (1p)

Evidently, a pair of letters crossed in the mail. Secretary Foxx’s office staff forwarded the letter to FAA, directing that someone respond to the citizen. A letter with an illegible signature was sent from FAA’s Office of Environment & Energy, dated February 9:

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

The content of the FAA response letter is telling. You will note the text is extraordinarily framed to say nothing and do nothing; ‘bureaucratese’, precisely deployed so as to demoralize the letter recipient. Sadly, these days, people everywhere in our nation get this sort of treatment; this is how FAA (and other agencies) routinely treat the good citizens, those who care and act responsibly to try and solve ongoing problems that FAA refuses to address. Is it any wonder, than, that so many people are so outraged these days, across the whole spectrum, from progressive to conservative?

For a closer analysis of FAA’s response letter, identifying cut-and-paste response elements that are routinely sent to citizens, click here.

Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”

The aviation Whistleblowers. They speak up about maintenance and design failures. They reveal the ATC errors FAA aggressively conceals. They question the practices that cause fatal accidents.

These men and women should be heroes and yet, amazingly, they are more often banished by their employer. They put their jobs – and the welfare of their families – on the line, simply because they choose the road less traveled.

“…I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

– the closing stanza of ‘The Road Not Taken’, a poem by Robert Frost, November 1916

At FAA, and at all agencies, Whistleblowers are being destroyed by vindictive, self-serving rogue managers. The existing Whistleblower protection laws give the larger Public the illusion that there is real support for Whistleblowers, but in fact these laws enable further Whistleblower retaliation. The rogue managers are never held accountable; these laws continue to fail.

This world increasingly needs ‘a few good Whistleblowers’. Support is needed from Congress, and from people who care enough to demand safety, efficiency, and a just system. A change is long overdue. Please join us and advocate for laws that ensure real Whistleblower support.

We Need more ‘Accountability Journalism’ …

…and less of the prevailing ‘Access Journalism’.

An article by Robert Jensen analyzes a book written about how our journalists failed to cover the financial crisis. Mr. Jensen is a professor at the School of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin. He covered the book The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark, as written by Dean Starkman, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and current editor at the Columbia Journalism Review.

There is a lot to think about in this piece, and much of it overlaps with how (and why) FAA continues to fail. Here’s an excerpt, with a few minor changes (highlights, color) by aiREFORM…

…the core mission of journalism is built around the Great Story “that holds power to account and explains complex problems to a mass audience, connects one segment of society to another.” This kind of journalism, he (Starkman) writes, “is also the one reliable, indispensable barometer for the health of the news, the great bullshit detector.”

Holding power to account and detecting bullshit are certainly admirable goals, and Starkman correctly points out that journalists who practice what he calls “access journalism” are unlikely to achieve them. Access journalists, as the label suggests, play the insider game and cultivate access to powerful sources. At best, access journalism can give ordinary people a glimpse of what happens behind closed doors, but on terms set by those who close the doors.

Starkman makes the case for the necessity of “accountability journalism” in the muckraking mode that is confrontational and accusatory, and that “provokes the enmity of the rich and powerful as a matter of course.” The access and accountability schools, he writes, “represent radically [emphasis added] different understandings of what journalism is [emphasis in the text] and whom it should serve.”

The book’s thesis, simply put, is that the news media’s poor performance during the financial crisis can be explained by the prominence of Access Journalism and the lack of hard-hitting Accountability Journalism. Here’s Starkman’s summary of these two styles:

Access Reporting tends to talk to elites. Accountability Reporting tends to talk to dissidents.
Access writes about specialized topics for a niche audience. Accountability writes about general topics for a mass audience.
Access tends to transmit
orthodox views.
Accountability tends to transmit heterodox views.
Access reporting is functional. Accountability Reporting is moralistic.
In business news, Access Reporting focuses on investor interests. In business news, Accountability Reporting focuses on the public interest.

The aiREPORT: [2013Q3, week-10]

aiREPORT is a weekly collection of notes and links to news items relevant to aviation impacts and FAA reform. It is provided as a research tool…

Third Quarter, Week #10: September 1 — September 7, 2013

summary:

Top AvNews story: A Judge has rejected airline arguments that the testimony of FAA Whistleblower Christopher Monteleon and the Report compiled by consultant (and former FAA official) Nick Sabatini are irrelevant in trials related to the Colgan 3407 crash in Buffalo. Attorneys representing families of the deceased will have access to these resources. … Also, many more news releases appeared, with elected officials grandstanding about the FAA/AIP money coming home for their constituents. And, lots of what appears to be early maneuvering, to get Congress to exempt FAA from a repeat of last Spring’s sequester debacle…

QUICKlooks:

  • 9/3/13: Helicopter Association International president Matt Zuccaro said HAI is evaluating its legal and political options in the wake of a federal court decision upholding the authority of the FAA to mandate the “North Shore Route” for helicopters transiting New York’s Long Island. [link]
  • 9/4/13: FAA has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to make it legal for some pilots to fly down to 100′ above the touchdown zone elevation without seeing the airport, before they must execute a missed approach. The current is 200′ (generally). The new standard would apply to crews using enhanced forward vision systems (EFVS) using a real-time image of the flight environment while flying on straight-in precision approaches. [link]

Airports in the News:

  • Cedar Rapids, IA (The Eastern Iowa Airport [KCID]): FAA has announced a $5.2M AIP award for construction of a new taxiway. The new ‘Taxiway Echo’ will parallel the north end of crosswind Runway 13/31, along the east side, and will replace a portion of current Taxiway Delta. The airport averages 153 operations/day (four takeoffs per hour of ATC service), with roughly 30 daily commercial passenger departures. Airport operations have declined 33% since the peak in 1999. News articles from earlier this year expressed concern the project would be delayed by the FAA budget sequester.
  • Telluride, CO (Telluride Regional Airport [KTEX]): A new ATC aircraft tracking system has been activated, which will allow controllers at the center in Longmont to ‘see’ flights below 12,000′, all the way to the ground. The system uses ground-based and satellite-based technologies, and should substantially reduce delays during heavy traffic periods in the ski seasons ahead. [link]
  • Butler, PA (Butler County Airport, Scholter Field [KBTP]): $1M in FAA and state funds will be used to acquire 4 acres and widen the taxiway. This airport is home for roughly 100 GA aircraft, has no control tower, and averages 200 operations per day. Nearby airports include Pittsburgh (KPIT), Alleghany (KAGC), Beaver (KBVI) and Zelienople (KPJC), and are all substantially underutilized. [link]
  • Louisville, MS (Louisville Winston County Airport [KLMS]): FAA will pay 90% of the $734K needed for construction of a new terminal building. This airport has twelve based aircraft and averages 21 operations per day. It is midway between Tupelo and Meridian, both of which have control towers at very slow airports (averaging 150 ops/day). [link]
  • Fort Meyers, FL (Southwest Florida International Airport [KRSW]): A coooerative effort aimed at reducing residential noise impacts began on 8/1/13. The preferred runway for the hours of 10PM to 6AM changed from Runway 6 to Runway 24. The tower closes at 10PM. [link]

Links to Articles:

9-6-2013FAA Cuts the Red Tape to Let UAS Work Yosemite Wildfire
An FAA News Release putting a positive spin on their working with the Department of Defense and the California National Guard to quickly approve use of a drone to aid in monitoring the fires at Yosemite National Park.
9-4-2013It’s a bird; it’s a plane; no, it’s another annoying helicopter
Some good background information on the long history of helicopter noise impact (and safety concerns) related to helicopters in the Hudson River area. Discusses an 8/27/13 symposium held at Teterboro Airport, attended by Senator Menendez, Congressman Sires, and many other local officials. Some say it the problem is beyond tourist helicopters, which supposedly cease at 7PM. The problem is said to be later traffic using the Paulus Hook Heliport and the repair facility at Kearny. A quote: “The quality of life of our residents has suffered due to the constant noise being generated by these aircraft, and we are all concerned about the frequency and dangerously low altitudes at which these helicopters are flying over our neighborhoods.”
9-3-2013Judge grants access to internal review, FAA inspector in advance of trial in 2009 plane crash
Fifty people died when Colgan Flight 3407 (flying as Continental Connection) crashed into a house in Buffalo in 2009. The accident investigation unveiled very troubling details about pilot pay, pilot fatigue, FAA blocking of Whistleblower concerns, etc. The airlines used a bankruptcy to delay the release of critical records. OF 40 filed lawsuits, all but eight have been settled through mediation. A trial is set to start on 3/4/14. Shortly after the crash, Colgan hired Nick Sabatini (FAA’s Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, who had just retired on 1/3/09) to look at their operations and draft a confidential report. The airlines did not want to share the report, and claimed the report was irrelevant because the work culture at Colgan had changed. U.S. District Judge William Skretny disagreed;  he said the report was potentially relevant because it was unlikely that the culture at Colgan had significantly changed in the weeks after the crash. Additionally, the Judge approved testimony by FAA inspector Christopher Monteleon, a Whistleblower who had warned of Colgan problems prior to the crash. Judge Skretny agreed with attorneys for the passengers’ families, who said Monteleon may have information that is either new or fills gaps in other witnesses’ testimony.
9-2-2013Alabama and Tennessee team for effort to land 1 of 6 FAA drone test sites
FAA holds the authority to decide which six locations will be designated for drone development, research. (Perhaps this authority should be reassigned, for drone activities below a low altitude such as 1,000′ and at least five miles from airports, so that FAA is no longer in the loop?)
9-2-2013FAA deferring ERAM functionality as money runs out
The program, En Route Automation Modernization, replaces the 4 decades old high altitude radar tracking system known as Host; currently, ERAM is operational either full- or part-time at 16 of 20 air route traffic control centers. FAA officials told  auditors that sequestration will significantly impact ERAM implementation, although the report doesn’t say if they anticipate missing the 2014 deadline.
9-1-2013AIN Blog: Torqued: What If Aviation CEOs Were Held Accountable for Employee Safety Violations?
John Goglia (former NTSB member) with yet another interesting blog. This time, he discusses a recent court action that held former New Jersey Governor and Senator Jon Corzine accountable for the malfeasances of a subordinate employee that resulted in massive financial losses for investors. Goglia then suggests: why not extend accountability for aviation blunders up to the levels of management, especially when management creates the culture and pressure that often precipitates errors, accidents, and other system failures?
9-1-2013FAA’s 2014 Budget Remains Unresolved
An AIN article by Paul Lowe, noting that Congress went on their summer break with no evident progress toward resolving the sequester threat. Looks like another round of primetime sequester reactions coming soon…
9-1-2013Industry Lobby Groups Prepared To Take On FAA
A review of the growing distrust of FAA officials, as expressed a month ago at Oshkosh. The opening paragraph: “The alphabets are angry. Reflecting the growing frustration of their members, presidents of the trade associations tasked with representing general aviation interests showed up at this year’s EAA AirVenture with both barrels loaded full of criticism for the FAA and for the congressional oversight of the agency. The rhetoric was a marked shift from the traditional message of cooperation with the FAA. Other than controllers and their supervisors, top FAAofficials, including agency Administrator Michael Huerta, were conspicuously absent from this year’s AirVenture, allegedly because of federal budget sequestration. It was the first time an FAA Administrator has skipped the event in many years.”

The aiReport …a link to the full report…