How Secure is the U.S. National Airspace System?

Put differently, what is more dangerous: two sticks of sugarless gum, or a Canadian Cessna 172 rented for personal flying? Evidently, to the authorities we employ to ensure a safe and secure U.S. National Airspace System (NAS), the answer is those two sticks of gum.
Here’s the story…

An image of the human x-ray vault scanner, as found online.

It was the day after Thanksgiving, and this pair of air travelers was stuffed from a very nice vacation — a family visit with a week spent in snowy Vermont. We were heading home. Our itinerary had us departing out of Burlington, first on a short flight to JFK to layover almost five hours, then a long flight back to Portland, Oregon. After goodbye hugs and a short walk, we arrived at Security. As we were doing the shoes-off routine, the agent reminded us all to take everything out of our pockets. I thought I had complied, when he steered me into a booth, which I assumed was some sort of full-body x-ray scanner. There, I had to stand in my socks on two yellow marks, and hold my hands over my head — elbows out, hands in, — sort of a variation of the Burning Man pose.

The test results were mixed: I failed miserably, but the machine sure passed. I forgot that I had stuff in the pockets of my flannel shirt, but the machine detected my cellphone in the left breast pocket. The agent kindly handed me a bowl so I could walk my cellphone back to the entrance of the carry-on x-ray tunnel. Then, when I stepped back into the human x-ray vault, he asked if I had anything else in my pockets. I started to answer ‘no’ but felt something in my right pocket; “Oh, yeah, this packet of Trident, though it is nearly empty.” I was a little surprised when, just a little less kindly then the first time, he handed me another bowl and pointed me back toward the entrance of the carry-on x-ray tunnel. The more focused part of my mind was yelling at me to not crack any jokes — just stay quiet and move along. But, the deeper part of my mind was circling over Nashville, stacking the details I knew about what likely will be this year’s biggest aviation security breach (more about that below). Of course, I complied, but we also snapped a cellphone photo of the x-ray bowl, because it just seemed so damned funny that they needed to x-ray two sticks of Trident in a crushed paper package.

This ‘scan-the-gum’ incident happened on 11/29/13, a Friday afternoon in the middle of the busiest air travel week for the whole year. So, what was it that had me thinking about Nashville? Well, that happened just one month earlier, on 10/29/13, and it happened during a very slow travel period (the overnight hours from Tuesday into Wednesday). Basically, a Cessna with four seats was rented in Windsor, Ontario (across the border from Detroit); the pilot then flew it half way across the U.S. and crashed it … AND NOBODY NOTICED!

Well, eventually somebody noticed. The aircraft had not crashed in the middle of nowhere; no, it had crashed right in the middle of the major airport at Nashville, Tennessee, and then exploded and burned, but it was not until hours later that a pilot taxiing on the Nashville Airport made a radio comment to ATC about the burned debris; or, then again, maybe he commented that he saw what looked like a pilot’s body still in the char. By the end of the day, enough information was gathered to conclude that the flight had entered the U.S. near Detroit, passed through multiple sectors of at least three FAA-staffed enroute centers (first Cleveland, then Indianapolis and finally Memphis), then flew to the very center of the Nashville TRACON airspace (adjacent to Runway 2C, very near the control tower) and crashed. In defense of the controller in the Nashville FAA tower, which is open 24/7, it was very foggy that night, so if he/she heard the explosion, there was an excuse to not see the fire. And, maybe in those early morning hours, the controller was able to imagine they heard no explosion. In any event, not one of a dozen or more FAA controllers on duty — all the way from Detroit to Nashville! — detected this intrusion into the U.S. National Airspace System. In past domestic terrorist incidents, U.S. citizens have crashed similar planes in Florida and Texas. Lucky for us, this Canadian Cessna was carrying only a non-terrorist pilot and was nearly out of fuel when it crashed and burned at Nashville.

Aviation Security Implications

Two years ago, we all were shocked to learn that a controller at Cleveland Center working on the overnight shift had been watching a movie DVD on his laptop computer. His shoe had fallen over onto the floor switch activating his ATC transmitter, and for a few minutes his hot microphone transmitted the sound portion of the action movie he was watching. Up late that night, a ham radio operator (and taxpayer) intercepted the hot microphone transmissions and thought it was some sort of ‘radio interference’; he reasoned that this would be an aviation hazard and he was concerned, so he called FAA’s Regional Duty Officer, hoping to help. link to aiR PDF This happened just days after Hank Krakowski, the head of FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, had submitted his resignation under pressure from a rash of ‘sleeping controller’ incidents (he was replaced by David Grizzle, who served two years then announced his plans to retire). But the interesting details were behind the scenes, within FAA’s damage-control mission internal investigation. Reports and emails produced controller statements that the viewing of movie DVD’s while working overnight air traffic was a common practice, that management was fully aware of this practice, and that it had been going on for decades. link to aiR PDF Even more, a FOIA request (and subsequent FOIA Appeal records) produced FAA statements indicating no disciplinary actions were ever taken for the Cleveland Center DVD hot mic incident.

That Cleveland Center incident was an eye-opener for the Public, but this latest Nashville incident is even more disturbing. In 2011, FAA’s top officials acted alarmed and created the appearance that they were ‘taking action’ to fix the problem, but what change has really happened? And, just as importantly, how healthy is the Whistleblower culture within FAA? Is it still the case that FAA Whistleblowers can expect retaliation if they feel compelled to speak up? Really, think about it. There are likely thousands of FAA employees who could share a general (or specific) safety concern relevant to the Nashville incident, but what if they all choose to stay quiet? How can we have any kind of REAL safety culture where employees are afraid to speak up, where doing so brands them as a ‘Whistleblower’ and thus makes them a ripe target for unaccountable retaliation, even firing? Ask Richard Wyeroski, Gabe Bruno, Peter Nesbitt, Anne Whiteman — or dozens of others — who were fired or forced out when they spoke up….

The bottom-line is simple: a Cessna flying from Ontario to Nashville, was fully ignored by dozens of FAA controllers, and this recent incident proves we have no functional airspace security. Our obsession with TSA’s installing expensive scanning machines and extensive screening procedures is all for image, but fails to accomplish the real goal of true security. And, until we truly improve the FAA/TSA culture so that Whistleblowers are valued and even rewarded, this failure will only persist.

The NoPay Game: also used against FAA Whistleblowers

We survived ‘Shutstorm 2013!’

Or, then too, maybe Congress will put us through this again (again!) in a few more months. Gotta love the fact that today, ‘We the People’ have elected U.S. officials who increase their sway (and crisis-related fundraising) by strategically not doing their jobs.

After the first week of the shutdown, much of the mainstream news began to center on articles about the financial turmoil starting to appear at homes of furloughed Federal employees. Not many people these days can casually endure smaller paychecks, let alone absent paychecks, so household spending also began to ‘shut down’. And, the stress went beyond the employees to all members of their families: their children off to college, the elders they care for, their church/social communities, and on and on. Meanwhile, those whose inaction precipitated this mess … they are mostly millionaires anyway, so one doubts they felt any pain during the shutdown weeks.

The Public may not realize, this power to withhold paychecks is not something only Congress can abuse. Nor must it be done broadbrush. It can be done selectively and, in fact, it is routinely used to attack individual Whistleblowers. In any agency where managers are not held accountable for harming Whistleblowers (and, yes, that means essentially ALL Federal agencies) a rogue manager who dislikes or feels threatened by a Whistleblower can make up any garbage he/she wants and play the NoPay Game with that employee.

Create a little hell.

Or a lot.

Here’s an example showing just how big a mess the NoPay Game can create, when used against an FAA Whistleblower. This is just one example, and I have no doubt it pales in comparison to others. In the interest of accountability, names of FAA officials are included. And, so as not to discriminate, union officials are also named. A few key documents are linked; all other documents will be posted/linked on request…

…in my own retaliation case, the FAA manager at the control tower in Concord, CA, Jason Ralph, abruptly locked me out on the morning of February 16, 2007. I had no idea why; he provided no meaningful paperwork, and so I was uncertain as to my pay status week-to-week, and anxiously watching my bank account and the mailbox to try to figure out what was going on.

A couple weeks later, the first lockout paycheck showed he had placed me into a paid administrative leave status. That continued for a few more paychecks, while I remained away from work. It was all weird and troubling. I made many attempts to get an explanation, but all were rebuffed.

Two months after the lockout had commenced, in late April 2007, Jason Ralph sent me an email out of the blue. He advised that I needed to choose between using my sick leave or my vacation leave, and he declared his intention to apply that leave retroactively and into the indefinite future. A crazy, mindless, and obviously illegal proposal, but this is the kind of thing rogue federal managers can do.

Now, at the time, I had been receiving my paychecks. So, in my email reply, I did not select from his two choices; instead, I pointed out that I was away from work on his orders while he was trying to figure out what he was doing. I pointed out that FAA’s Regional Flight Surgeon, Dr. Stephen Goodman, had agreed to declare me ‘medically incapacitated’ based solely on Jason Ralph’s charges, and I added: “…it would not be appropriate for me to be compelled to use my sick leave to cover your arbitrary and hostile management actions.” PDF

A few weeks later, the first paycheck arrived showing me involuntarily using up my accumulated sick leave. By mid-August, I had exhausted all of my accumulated leave balance, and was suddenly seeing no pay. My NoPay status continued through the end of September.

Fortunately, a new District Manager, Andy Richards, had arrived at San Francisco in August and, in early September he telephoned me out of the blue. Andy then assisted* in correcting the pay status, which was restored to paid administrative leave effective the end of August. I saw the first pay restorations in early October. *Andy was helpful this time, but a year later, he did not help. In fact, FAA records show that he was apparently under orders from above to not assist, as he just ignored the process of firing a 22-year employee with a clean work history. Jason Ralph had been promoted to serve as Andy’s assistant, and it was Jason who sent the key emails to push the firing.

For the record, Andy’s boss had been Teri Bristol until early 2008. His new boss became Kathryn Vernon, starting in early 2008. However, both Ms. Vernon and Ms. Bristol relied heavily on Senior Advisor, Barry Davis to conduct all the real work.

Kathryn Vernon soon promoted to become Northwest Mountain Regional Administrator; Barry Davis soon promoted to become manager of the world’s largest TRACON, in Southern California; and, Teri Bristol promoted to become #2 in all FAA Air Traffic (she is Deputy under David Grizzle). All three of these high officials were deeply involved in the Lewis-FAA case and should be accountable for actions taken; all three have successfully dodged being put on the record. They all refuse to talk about the Lewis-FAA case, and FAA condones their refusal. A gross injustice, initiated by a rogue manager, is thus sustained.
I remained in a paid administrative leave status — paid to stay away from work, involuntarily — until I was eventually fired, on November 6, 2008, 21-months after the lockout had begun.

My ATC medical clearance (which had been improperly retracted in another Whistleblower retaliation, to justify the lockout) was fully restored by Dr. Goodman. I even received a letter from Andy Richards in late April, saying we would discuss my return to work. Glen Rotella (a Labor Relations specialist at FAA’s Western Pacific regional office, AWP) invited me to file a new grievance, so that I could be made whole for the improper NoPay actions imposed from April 2008 through August 2008, and so I filed that grievance on 5/1/08.

Interestingly, FAA emails (obtained years later, via FOIA) show that there was NO PROPOSAL to fire me until just one week after I had filed a grievance. That grievance sought a full restoration of all lost pay, as well as a return to work. The proposal to fire me arrived out of the blue: a FedEx overnighted envelope was stuffed inside my screen door on July 16, 2008 … seventeen months after I was locked out! (and, yes, three months after that 4/17/08 letter from Andy Richards saying we would discuss a return to work)

So, in this particular example, FAA managers are seen to have the authority to just do whatever they want to arbitrarily destroy careers, including playing the NoPay Game. But, that is just the half of it: the larger half of the hell is experienced on the backside, when the damaged employee tries to restore the pay that was arbitrarily withheld. In my case, progress was delayed for years due to sloppy paperwork and outright lies by people like Jason Ralph and Dan Castrellon (who was acting manager at AWP-16, thus Glen Rotella’s boss, during the process of my firing). Eventually, multiple pay audits had to be performed by FAA’s outsourced pay contractor. The first small pay restoration was a block of 72-hours of pay improperly withheld in April 2007, and it was not fully restored until May 2009 … two months after I had been forced to ‘retire’ (manipulated* by MSPB and FAA’s Regional Counsel, Naomi Tsuda and Don Bobertz, to retire at earliest eligibility). The deal was, if I wanted to collect the pension I had earned, I had to ‘voluntarily retire’. *The ‘manipulation’ was easily accomplished, in that all FAA had to do was not produce the evidence. They knew that MSPB would NOT pressure them to produce, so FAA Counsel simply hid everything. All the emails and other requested records that showed the many documented slanders against me (mostly by Jason Ralph, a few also by Dick Fossier, another Labor Relations specialist), as well as clear failures by Dan Castrellon to change course when his subordinate, Ros Marable, pointed out to him that Jason Ralph had provided false information.

They also hid the fact that the final deciding official, FAA manager Marc DePlasco, had written in his ‘Douglas Factors’ analysis (drafted five months AFTER the removal  proposal letter, no less!): “…Mr. Lewis was asked to consider a medical retirement but he refused.” This he wrote nine months AFTER Dr. Goodman had fully restored my ATC medical clearance (which never should have been rescinded in the first place).

In August 2008, Andy Richards lied when he emailed me, claiming he did not have a key email declaring I had already been admonished (thus a fresh new firing proposal was a second disciplinary action where discipline had already happened). This key document was hidden by Counsel; in fact, Naomi Tsuda told MSPB outright that I had not been previously admonished, which was a flat-out lie.

I obtained these copies — and evidence of all the improper concealment during MSPB Discovery — years later, through a series of FOIA requests. (if you are curious, here is a deeper analysis of those concealed records: aiR-Link)
As for the other (and far larger) pay restoration, the process dragged out for three more years.

The very grievance that triggered my firing, which I had filed on 5/1/08, eventually went to a grievance arbitration scheduled for mid-February 2012. I had worked intensively producing records and communicating the need to fully arbitrate, and shared this with a long string of NATCA officials (the union): Mike Hull, Ham Ghaffari, Kevin Sills, Mark Wilson, Anna Jancewicz, Barry Krasner, Jay Barrett, and David Caldwell. But then, at the last minute, NATCA’s arbitration team (Jay Barrett and Mark Wilson) accepted FAA’s settlement offer that paid me at 40-cents on the dollar; what should have been nearly $50K was instead under $20K.

Even more importantly, though, the NATCA decision denied me the opportunity to have a hearing. I had made it VERY clear to all NATCA officials that the hearing was far more important than any cash payout, PDF that the hearing was my one opportunity to put these managers (as well as a few involved union officials, including Ham Ghaffari, David Caldwell, Bill Marks and James Swanson) under oath to create a record. In other words, the arbitration was my final opportunity to use the grievance system as we are all supposed to use it — to assure we are afforded real Due Process, which I had clearly been denied.

So, when NATCA arbitrarily caved in at the last minute, they killed that critical opportunity. That this was an arbitrary (and damaging) decision by NATCA is shown by the larger record of FAA-NATCA arbitrations: as presented in this webpage aiR-Link showing all FAA-NATCA arbitrations at AWP for a relevant 18-month time period, NATCA has routinely taken many marginal cases through full arbitration, including minor cases such as single-day suspensions, and clearly unwinnable cases.

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So, what can we gain from all of this? Well, it may help to recognize that we as citizens are learning right now, about how broken our Congress can be, and the problems that flow out of that dysfunction. But, we also have an opportunity here, to become a bit more familiar with how badly Whistleblowers are maltreated.

The latest rounds are behind us now (for a short while), but we all found it troubling as we heard the news and then began to learn how Shutstorm 2013! caused so many problems for so many people, but imagine having to endure this hell all alone.  A Whistleblower — the woman who speaks up about a safety issue, or the guy who refuses to stay quiet about a fraud — gets singled out by her/his boss, a corrupt official who is arbitrarily acting to destroy careers (and thus families). And the agencies condone this corrupt and damaging behavior!

Imagine the hell of today’s Shutstorm 2013! mess, then imagine it against you and you alone. That is the intensity of what we Whistleblowers endure. That is the reason we must have real and effective laws that protect Whistleblowers. And, that is why we must repair MSPB and OSC and other entities that are failing to do their protective duties.

We need to shut down the NoPay Game, permanently.

New aiREFORM page about Office of Special Counsel

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) was formed in 1978, with passage of the Civil Service Reform Act. OSC has been disappointing federal Whistleblowers ever since, at FAA and at other agencies.

Many good FAA employees have spoken up about safety, fraud, waste and other failures, and some of them have felt the need to turn to OSC for help. There have been some success stories, but these are few and far between. In fact, most FAA Whistleblowers who have asked for OSC’s help have only seen their energy diverted and their morale further destroyed. And, many have lost their jobs while OSC fumbles around for lack of funds to do what Congress intended OSC to do.

True reform at FAA will require effective handling of Whistleblower contributions. This is not happening within today’s FAA (Clay Foushee’s Audit & Evaluation office appears to be just window dressing), so any reform will require a more effective OSC.

A new aiREFORM page has been produced. It provides FAQ’s and links, on the following topics:

  • What is the history and purpose of OSC?
  • Who are the key people within OSC?
  • What is a disclosure, and how do I file it?
  • Can the Public see the record on Disclosures?
  • What is OSC’s process for FAA WB disclosures?
  • How might OSC improve their transparency & performance?
OSC: FAQ’s & links …a link to the page at aiREFORM…


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


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…


  • 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…

ATO’s COO David Grizzle Announces he plans to Leave in December

This is a MULTI-PAGE post — click on the page numbers at the bottom of each page

Part One: The Announcement

Dave Grizzle pic, speaking at podium
The number one person in charge of air traffic control at FAA is the COO, Mr. David Grizzle. Within FAA he is also known as ATO-1.

On Tuesday, August 13th, it was announced that Mr. Grizzle will be retiring his position in December, and returning to work in the private sector. Here is the email announcement by his boss, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta: (highlights added)

From: Michael Huerta
Sent: 08/13/2013 10:24 AM EDT

Subject: Personnel Announcement

Dear Colleagues –

I wanted to let you know that David Grizzle has announced he will leave his position as Chief Operating Officer of the Air Traffic Organization this December. This is a loss not only for the ATO but for the agency as a whole. David’s bold and innovative leadership style has helped lead the ATO through a number of very challenging situations. His deep commitment to changing our agency’s culture and fostering collaboration has created real change here at the FAA – change that will last for years to come.

David has served the FAA and this Administration in a number of capacities. Before he took on the role of COO he was our Chief Counsel and also wore the Acting Deputy Administrator hat for a time.

We are grateful for David’s service and wish him the best as he returns to the private sector next year. He will also finally have more time with his family and his farm down in Virginia which I know he loves and has missed over the last several years. On a personal note, I will miss working with David on a daily basis. I have come to rely on his counsel and I truly value his unique approach to issues.

Over the next several months we will be working to find David’s successor and as we do, I know the ATO’s strong team will continue to operate our nation’s airspace system safely and efficiently.

Please join me in thanking David for his service and commitment to our shared safety mission.

…and here is a copy of the News Release by NATCA: (highlights added)

NATCA Statement on News That FAA ATO COO David Grizzle Will Leave Position
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Contact: Doug Church, 301-346-8245

WASHINGTON – NATCA President Paul Rinaldi released the following statement, responding to the announcement today that David Grizzle will leave his position as Chief Operating Officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization this December.

“Throughout David Grizzle’s tenure at the ATO, we worked together to strengthen the NATCA-FAA collaborative relationship. That has resulted in many successes, from modernization to labor relations, which have helped continue to make our National Airspace System the world’s safest and most efficient. Our relationship has also established a model in the federal government for labor-management partnership, and improved the workplaces where the safety professionals that NATCA represents can do the jobs they love while having their input and expertise valued in a shared NATCA-FAA mission of ensuring aviation safety.

“NextGen is happening now and that’s a credit to the progress made by NATCA and the FAA in working with David. We’ve also grown our safety reporting systems, including the Air Traffic Safety Action Program, to move toward a true safety culture at the FAA. We thank David for his contributions.”

There is more to the story. Much more.

First, there is an interesting person at the heart of this story. And, second, this person has an opportunity to greatly serve aviation AND the larger Public, by responsibly acting with resolve and intention … during his final months as ATO-1.

MULTI-PAGE: …Part Two begins on the next page (click below)…

How I Learned to not like Airshows

Part I: the accident

It was a very hot day in 1997. I was an air traffic controller stationed at Jeffco Airport, named for ‘Jefferson County’, in the area just west of Denver. We were a small group at a growing airport; just a manager and eight or so controllers. And this weekend was our big airshow.

Estimates were that more than a hundred thousand spectators were standing, sitting, and sizzling on the airport grounds. Cars everywhere; a sea of people. The temperature exceeded 100. The sky was clear, with a searing sun. We were lucky; as air traffic controllers, we sat/stood in the air conditioned tower cab, and did not have to do anything but enjoy the show. Managing the different acts was not our job: that chore went to the air boss, out on the field.

At that time, the Jeffco Tower was on the north side of the airport, and we looked south across the parallel east-west runways. The runways were built on a generally treeless, high piece of ground, stretching to the east below a nuclear processing superfund site called Rocky Flats. Off to the west, standing in tall grandeur behind Rocky Flats, was the Front Range and the Flatirons rock formation near Boulder. That view was always a pleasure. To the south of the parallel runways was a small canyon, also running east-west. We could not see the canyon, but we knew where it was by the few trees along its edge and a visible building just beyond.

We watched the Airshow acts. We had a small crowd in the tower, because it was a rare opportunity to invite family and a few friends. During the show, some performers had been offsetting into the canyon. They were screaming in from the east, would slip left and downward to disappear, then suddenly pop up out of nowhere. I am sure it scared a few spectators (ah, hell, it scared me the first time), then gave them a quick thrill. If part of the intent of an airshow is to pump adrenaline, this maneuver was working well.

One of the acts was a retired United Airlines pilot flying his F86 Sabre.  He, too, came screaming in and did a low pass over the runway. He then began a large loop, turning ever more vertical, inverting at the top, turning downward toward the earth, and continuing a huge circle that, in theory, and without other factors, would bring him right back to another highspeed low pass. Three-quarters of the way into this loop, he was a mile or two east of the airport, pointing straight toward the earth, and needing the turn radius to allow him to level off before he ran out of air.

Now, to us in the tower, and to the hundred thousand below, it just looked like an airshow act. So, when the F86 sidestepped out of sight into the canyon, it was just like what others had done earlier, though they were all smaller and slower aircraft. So, for maybe two seconds (which seemed like two minutes), we all just knew he would suddenly ‘pop’ up out of the canyon. Not this time.
Our next image was an enormous cloud of orange, black and white.
photos (at Flickr)

video (read the comments, too)

Part II: the aftermath

That was Sunday. The Airshow came to an abrupt close. The crowds picked up their coolers and folding chairs and proceeded toward the various exit gates. Many of the gates were near the control tower, so we had a new view from our air conditioned perch: heads tipping up and down, some staying up, with long, shocked looks. These people really trust that we, as FAA air traffic controllers, do our damnedest to ensure flying is safe, and to erase unnecessary flight risks. Some of these people did not really know if we had controlled that F86 into his fiery crash; some probably thought we did. Very few of these people knew, as I had learned a few years earlier at Troutdale (more about that below), that there is an ugly habit within FAA, that sweeps safety failures under the rug.

So, we watched from the tower as all the people walked away. Once the airfield was cleared of spectators, we then spent a couple hours launching small planes. There were many pilots, who had flown in for the show, and they all needed to get home, many to hug their families after seeing such a horrible tragedy. We were a cold, sober, and suddenly very professional bunch, keeping those departures away from the crash-site and getting done with our own work, so we could go home, too. I went home to a room I was renting from a wonderful retired couple, on the west edge of Boulder. I spoke with them briefly, clinically, like a controller. My wife, and my two young children, were a thousand miles away, at our home in Oregon.

It was a few days later that I got a phone call from some controller on the East Coast. It was her job to assist in a stress debriefing. Via phone. She was supposed to help mend the psychological damages, help make sure we can talk and process and move on. I talked. I sort of processed. And I think, yeah, I moved on. But what I moved on to was a realization that there is something wrong with my employer, the FAA. At that time, in my heart, I could feel that something about FAA was broken. We were failing. We not only could do better, we had to do better.

So there I was, talking on the phone to a stranger, in a stress de-brief about this accident. And I shared something with her. How was I feeling? Well, all I wanted to do, the day I saw that happen, was go home and hug my young children. But I couldn’t. In March 1989, when I was working at Troutdale, I had been a whistleblower – I spoke up about a practice that caused a near-midair collision. I then endured immediate retaliation, which I survived. But then, in early 1996, the FAA management at Portland achieved retaliation by reassigning me to work in Colorado. My young family remained near Portland, to stay close to extended family. On the day that F86 crashed, I went home to a room in Boulder; I was a thousand miles from the healing and growth that comes from a loving family hug.

That was the part of my talking that brought out some tears. Big guy like me, crying on the phone to a stranger. Must have had her wondering what to do next.

Then, there was the other part. The angry, critical part. I asked her: do we know, were there routines in this Airshow, acts we all dumbly watched, that were known to be too risky, and thus prohibited, at least on paper? Were these risky routines denied on paper but allowed anyway? (remember, this was Day Two, so all of these maneuvers had passed muster the day before) Were those sidesteps into the canyon by ANYONE an approved and safe procedure, per the FAA personnel who signed off on the airshow plan? Was it approved for an F86 to do that loop, starting essentially at ground level (vs. the obviously safer higher base of say 500’ or 1,000’)?

I told her, I had seen before how FAA would sweep safety failures under the rug. I shared with her some of the details about that Troutdale near-midair that I spoke up about, and how it had brought on such hurtful retaliation. I told her, it is just wrong, it feels like we are so hollow – we always speak of safety, but we hide our failures; and those who do speak up, we get rid of them.

And, I told her about that last burning image from the F86 crash. No — not the towering fireball, but the REAL last image: the hundreds of shocked people, walking by in a crowd, looking upward at the tower as they walked by. It was on their faces. They depend on us.

On this day, at this airshow, in my heart: we failed.


Call it a flashback. I dunno. I saw this picture, from today’s Dayton crash, bit my lip thinking about a wing-walker and a pilot lost in that tragedy, and I just had to share this story from 1997.

Another Airshow Tragedy: Dayton, June 22, 2013



If you were a Federal Whistleblower, it might look like this…

With the recent news story about NSA spying on ’email metadata’, we are made all the more aware that we do not know (and may not trust) if our government is looking into our emails, too. We also realize, we need to understand the hazards faced by Whistleblowers, and why they cannot just report a problem into their organization — or to the other government entities (like OSC and MSPB) intended to support Whistleblowers….
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Suppose you are a Federal employee, working for Agency-X, and for years you have seen a routine practice that exposes the public to unnecessary risk; a problem that likely will eventually cause someone to be killed in an accident.

The legal process for a typical Whistleblower:

In a normal scenario, a Whistleblower speaks up about a problem, then endures retaliation, then files a complaint ‘hoping’ to be made whole after the retaliation.
For Federal employees, adjudication of that complaint is done by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and/or the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). These are both quasi-judicial entities, crafted by Congress in the 1970’s, with rigid and legalistic procedures.
A typical Whistleblower has zero legal knowledge, but does his/her best to correctly submit the paperwork and navigate the process at OSC and/or MSPB. The typical Whistleblower, inclined to be idealistic (or some might say naive), goes into this process with no awareness that both OSC and MSPB have horrible histories, in which they drag out the process and drain the Whistleblower’s energy and spirit, almost always siding with the agency.

You say to your coworkers, ‘hey, we need to change this’; some of them quietly agree but take no action, and some of them start to distance themselves from you. You elevate the concern to your manager, and they simply blow it off. You elevate it to a higher manager or an office at the Agency-X national headquarters, maybe even a hotline intended to intake such concerns. The next thing you know, your loyalty and performance are being questioned, and YOU are being subjected to regular scrutiny, minor discipline, and other disparate actions.

You think, ‘wow, this is weird, I have served fifteen years here, been well recognized, done a lot of good things, and yet now I am a ‘problem’ because I try to help us all do better … weird’. The discipline escalates, maybe you even get fired. When you receive your first letter formally declaring an ‘adverse action’ (they decided to fire you or suspend you for more than 14-days), the boilerplate at the end of the letter informs you of your right to file an appeal at MSPB. Of course, you know nothing about MSPB, but on the other hand, you are thrilled at the opportunity to have your case objectively reviewed away from the corruption you are increasingly seeing within Agency-X. You file the MSPB Appeal papers and proceed toward an eventual hearing before an Administrative Judge (AJ).

A point needs to be emphasized: you are a Federal Whistleblower, but you have no legal training. So, even the paperwork (a.k.a., ‘pleadings’) format used at MSPB is quite daunting to you. On the other hand, you are now engaged in an adversarial relationship before MSPB. Your adversary is a trained attorney, serving within the Agency-X legal office. Most likely, your adversary handles MSPB cases all the time, and even knows the AJ well enough that they would say ‘hi’ to each other in a grocery line. You, on the other hand, are just a hard-working, concerned Federal employee who blew the whistle and is trying to be made whole for the improper retaliation done to you by a rogue Agency-X manager. You are climbing a steep learning-curve, slowly acquiring an understanding of how the legal process works. You engage in ‘Discovery’, seeking to compel Agency-X to produce emails and other records you know exist, and which will prove to the AJ that you were indeed retaliated against.

So how does Attorney-Client Privilege impact a Whistleblower?

A closer look at Attorney-Client Privilege

Most of us have no idea what the term “Attorney-Client Privilege” means, until we are rudely informed in a legal decision. In the case of Federal Whistleblowers, this decision tends to be painful, as it often coincides with the dismissal of our appeal. That is, when we spoke up about a problem and thus threatened our employing agency, they retaliated, and now our efforts at justice are blocked.
When legal disputes develop, they proceed toward a court where (hopefully) a full and fair judgment will be made. That judgment will happen after both sides of the dispute are presented. Most people retain the services of an attorney to present their side, though some people proceed ‘pro se’, representing the case on their own.
We all have a basic right to not self-incriminate. When we retain an attorney, that attorney becomes an extension of our basic right; i.e., anything and everything we share with our counsel is to be protected from disclosure. The theory is not just about protecting the client’s basic rights, but also about encouraging the client to be fully open with his/her attorney. Nobody disputes that maximizing candor and transparency will provide the highest probability for an optimally fair decision by a court.

There are a few images burned into your mind from this whole difficult experience. One is the sweaty, shaking discomfort on the face of the Agency-X manager when he/she issued you the disciplinary letter, and directed you to sign it. It was quite evident that the letter was ordered from above, maybe much higher, by an unidentified bureaucrat. You engage in Discovery to reveal the real decision-maker, to establish what ‘facts’ they were operating from. And, you run into a problem. The Agency-X attorney is claiming ‘Attorney-Client Privilege’, and MSPB is accepting that stance, thus blocking your Discovery request.

It turns out, some of the critical emails that led to your discipline were eventually shared with the legal office at Agency-X. This was not done in a conventional way, to protect a client in a legal matter; no, this was done as a form of evidence ‘laundering’. MSPB is good with accepting this as establishing an attorney-client relationship; therefore, that evidence is now ‘privileged’ and will not be provided to Discovery. You are screwed, because you cannot provide the smoking-gun evidence MSPB needs to see to tell Agency-X to undo your discipline and clean up their act.

It gets worse: there are other ‘Privileges’

The ‘privilege’ to conceal information applies not just to discussions between an attorney and a client; it also applies to the work done by the attorney, and the deliberation between officials that leads to a decision, such as your firing.

The ‘Attorney Work-Product Privilege’ seems reasonable; it ensures an attorney will not be forced to divulge his/her strategies and other works created while serving a client.

The ‘Deliberative Process Privilege’, on the other hand, is commonly abused by agencies to deny FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. It is little more than a tool to dodge accountability. The rationale used by an agency such as FAA, when they deny records citing deliberative process privilege, is that they do not want to “…discourage candid discussions within the agency and thereby undermine the agency’s ability to perform its functions….”

What this translates to is this: the public is not allowed to see what happened within a meeting, if the agency simply declares it was ‘pre-decisional’. And, naturally, EVERYTHING becomes labeled ‘pre-decisional’.

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The full consequence of these ‘privileges’ is this: Federal agencies are allowed to hide key records, virtually guaranteeing that the damaged Federal Whistleblower will be unable to prove the retaliation. MSPB and OSC have been remarkably non-aggressive in pressing agencies to produce these records, and agency managers have long known they will not be held accountable.

Is it any wonder, than, that Whistleblower cases continue to happen, and that so many people are afraid to speak up?

The time for reform is long past due.

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An Example of Attorney-Client Privilege abuse in a recent MSPB decision

An MSPB AJ in Denver heard a case about a U.S. Department of Agriculture manager, who had filed an MSPB Appeal charging he was retaliated against after blowing the whistle. The AJ essentially sided with the Appellant (Shibuya). USDA wanted a different outcome, so they filed a PFR (Petition for Review) at MSPB. The PFR was accepted by MSPB (many are rejected) and then reviewed by the three current Board members: Susan Tsui Grundmann, Anne Wagner, and Mark Robbins. Upon review, the full MSPB found the AJ had erred. Their 6/14/13 decision, Shibuya v. USDA, vacated the AJ’s decision, and the case was remanded to the Denver Field Office for further adjudication.

Here is an excerpt from the 6/14/13 decision, where MSPB offers their assessment of how attorney-client privilege was abused. [Appellant is the USDA Manager; Mr. Wiley is his private attorney]:

“…Regarding purpose of the arrangement, the record contains an email dated September 6, 2008, in which Mr. Wiley stated that “[s]ince we have this standing contract, you might as well take advantage of my lawyer-ness.” He informed the appellant that he would only make comments that were “absolutely necessary,” that his review “shouldn’t cost more than a couple of tenths of an hour,” and that charging the agency for his review would “remove any doubt that this is an official lawyer-client relationship . . . . That’s a cheap easy procedure to keep a critical document away from the dark side.” IAF-0390, Tab 5, Subtab 4h at 1. Mr. Wiley further advised the appellant that case analyses should be emailed to him so that the documents could be issued with an attorney-client privilege statement. Id. We find that the weight of the record evidence supports the agency’s position that the purpose of Mr. Wiley’s review was to prevent the disclosure of case analyses drafted by agency employees in future third-party proceedings by creating the appearance that the case analyses were privileged documents.

The MSPB then weighed in on whether this arrangement was appropriate:

…we find that it contravenes the agency’s obligation during litigation to disclose non-privileged, discoverable information when requested by the other party, and not to fabricate a privilege in order to prevent the discovery of information. See generally Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) and (b)(5)(B). FRCP, Rule #26 Attorney-client privilege exists for the sake of the attorney-client relationship—not the other way around. See Fisher v. United States, 425 U.S. 391 (1976) (the purpose of attorney-client privilege is to encourage clients to make full disclosure to their attorneys, and it only applies where necessary to achieve that purpose). We find that this scheme was an abuse of the privilege and that the agency was right to be concerned by it. The Board takes the integrity of its discovery process seriously. We do not condone the specious “attorney-client relationship” that the appellant and Mr. Wiley cooked up in order to play some procedural game with our administrative judges….
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Metadata Mining is Mega Awful – ADDED 6/20/13: a post by Jim Hightower.


Touching a Raw Nerve: EAA agrees to pay $447K to FAA for AirVenture

Skywriting at Oshkosh, AirVenture 2008


The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) has been hosting an annual Fly-In/Convention since EAA was founded in 1953. In sixty years, this has grown into a huge GA event, and has been held at Oshkosh since 1970. It has indisputably become “The World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration.” For thousands of GA enthusiasts, it is a destination, an airshow, a family reunion, a party, an informational swap-meet, and a commercial bazaar. It is a very big deal. EAA claims the event attracts roughly 10,000 aircraft and a half million aviation enthusiasts (and family) each year.

The Sequester Threat (again!)

This year, related to Congress’ cost-reduction sequester, FAA announced EAA would have to pay $500K for ATC services. Needless to say, this caused a stir. And, that stir provided FAA with a three-week PR campaign which helped further FAA’s power to withstand the sequester. It finally came to a happy conclusion when a ‘settlement’ was announced on 6/13/13. EAA agreed to pay $447K; FAA agreed to provide their controllers, and to minimize their participation in the ‘Persona Non-Grata’ vendor booth. (…well, actually, FAA as much as promised that, because of the sequester, they will not be able to have much participation in the AirVenture dunktank vendor booth  this year…)

Depending on what you read, FAA sends 64-80 controllers to AirVenture each year, selected by FAA management at the Central Service Area. These are all full-time FAA  controllers/supervisors, so the selected employees would be paid anyway, if they were not temporarily reassigned to AirVenture. Thus, the $500K FAA demanded from EAA was not for controller salaries, but for the added expenses related to working at AirVenture, such as lodging, per diem, and overtime.

The sequester continues, so next year we can expect a repeat. On the other hand, this was the delicate year, because FAA threw the wrench at EAA so late, just two months before the big event. Next year, EAA will anticipate covering these costs, and budget accordingly. Or, they will throw their efforts at getting Congress to fix this problem.

A Chronology…

Some online research produced the following details, which illuminate how the AirVenture charge came to be, and the repercussions it is having on GA and FAA:

  • On 5/13/13, FAA officials informed EAA officials that they intended to collect $479K as fees to cover expenses for the provision of ATC services at AirVenture.
  • On 5/20/13, FAA Administrator Huerta spoke at a NATCA Legislative Conference. Much of his speech focused on stroking NATCA and expressing concerns about the need to prepare for the next round of sequester battles. His speech included this:
    “Although the furloughs have been cancelled, the sequester continues … and we still have to cut $637 million.  Yes, we were able to transfer $253 million from a source previously off limits, the airport grant program.  But we still have to cut $384 million from other areas by September 30.  This means we have to maintain cuts in areas like staffing, hiring, awards, contracts, training, and travel.”
  • On 5/22/13, AOPA posted an article about FAA’s proposal to charge EAA the $500K. AOPA President Craig Fuller noted that FAA traditionally covers the cost of deploying their controllers to Oshkosh, and this latest news was ‘extremely troubling’. (ANN) also posted on 5/22/13, with excerpts from EAA published statements.
  • There was some precedent. The winter GA Fly-in/bash in Florida, Sun ‘n Fun, was slapped with a surprise bill from FAA, seeking to collect $285K in extra costs for ATC. But, that surprise bill was issued in April, when FAA (and NATCA and the rest of the Av-Gov Complex) were ramping up the campaign to push back against the sequester … even if it meant holding the airspace system hostage).
  • On 6/6/13, a group of 28 Senators signed a letter and sent it to FAA Administrator Huerta. The letter expressed concerns about the late imposition of these fees, which had never been demanded in the sixty years of this annual event. It included: “The FAA was the only federal agency to be given flexibility in addressing the impacts of sequestration. As such, for the FAA to demand additional payments for items that have been budgeted for in previous years is completely unacceptable.” The letter also asked FAA to provide a response no later than 6/13/13. [6/21/13: when this NOTE was posted, aiR was awaiting a call back from the office of Senator Baldwin (WI), to confirm if FAA did or did not respond.]
  • On 6/8/13, the editor at posted an article, summarizing the whole situation and encouraging pilot-readers to join in on a variety of petitions. There was no sign of any ‘fix’.
  • Then, on 6/13/13, EAA announced they had reached a ‘one-time’ agreement, that had them paying $447K to FAA. Two excerpts:
    “…As far as we’re concerned, this isn’t over. We entered this agreement only because there was no other realistic choice to preserve aviation’s largest annual gathering. We also look forward to FAA’s leadership coming to Oshkosh this year to personally explain their policy to the nation’s aviators.” and, “…refusal of FAA services or not meeting the agency’s standards would have caused the FAA to void the necessary waivers that are essential for Oshkosh air operations during the event….”
  • On 6/18/13, J. Mac McClellan posted an article questioning whether the recent rash of FAA sequester threats shows a need to finally privatize FAA. Historically, the GA community has resisted privatization, but the success of Nav Canada coupled with the repeated failures of FAA to serve the Public, may be stirring real change. Mr. McClellan is the former editor-in-chief at FLYING magazine, and is highly respected. 
  • On 6/19/13, Bob Poole at Reason Foundation published Issue #104 of ATC REFORM NEWS, which closed with this line: “…it may just be that the long history of GA groups defending the FAA status quo and opposing ATC corporations is coming to an end….”

It seems fair to assess that FAA is trying to use AirVenture to leverage power against the sequester threat; it also seems fair to assess that, because FAA billed Sun ‘n Fun for $285K, they almost had to bill EAA comparably. What surprises me is that EAA was willing to pay so much. I would have expected FAA to meet them halfway, especially if they could get EAA to accept that a $250K payment for 2013 included recognition that EAA will plan to pay the full amount in the budget-constrained future. Then again, this may be exactly the agreement FAA was angling toward, and EAA refused to accept…

At any rate, we can certainly expect that if/when FAA officials speak at this year’s AirVenture, they will hear well over $447K worth of aviation wrath, which may drown out their spin-talk and nullify their posturing to defeat the sequester.

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The comments are revealing.

Some people are mad at FAA…

…Some people are mad at Congress…

…Some people are upset with EAA (who honorably did not censor out those comments!)…

…Some people (still) hate the Obama administration…

…but, to some of us who worked (or still work) at FAA, perhaps the most interesting comments came from the controllers and ATC managers with direct experience at Oshkosh, and/or personal familiarity with the process for selecting these ATC ‘paid volunteers’. One comment that really stood out was this:

“…I’m still proud of the job I performed and of my career; however, I long-ago lost pride in my employer.

A wise man once told me …

“When you play ball with the FAA they make you bring your own ball and bat. They will lose your ball and then shove the bat up your ***, as they tell you the game is over.”
…with this gained wisdom I fear
what the future could hold.”

This comment was posted by a retired FAA supervisor, responding to an article blogged by EAA. It sure made me chuckle. In my 22-years at FAA, up until the last few years, I never would allow myself to agree with the many coworkers who expressed deep disdain for FAA. From 1986 until 2009, I always had at least a few ATC coworkers who were bitterly distrustful of FAA.

I only began to understand this distrust after I was locked out in February 2007, and eventually fired 21-months later, in November 2008 … all to force me to ‘voluntarily’ retire when I became eligible in 2009. It was astonishing to see the power FAA had to raise hell. They paid me for most of those 21-months, to stay home and wait while they figured out how to fire me.

Those decades in denial, hearing my distrustful coworkers … well, I learned late: they sure were right.

And, the FAA records I have obtained since (through some persistent FOIA requests) show the extraordinary lengths to which many FAA officials hid key records, thus denying me the factual evidence needed to defend my job. These records prove all the more how corrupt and untrustworthy some FAA officials are. And the larger problem is that FAA’s culture allows this behavior, because nobody is held accountable. Anyway, here’s a link to a chronology that shows the extent of FAA’s corruption, when they strike out against their own whistleblowers.

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The quote above, cautioned what will happen… “…when you play ball with the FAA….” This quote, shared by a retired FAA supervisor, is minimally crude and maximally SPOT ON. Anyone wanting to learn more about the FAA — to understand its politics and what needs to be fixed — should spend some time reading the comments on this blogpost.

Scrutiny of Major Banks is Putting Home Foreclosures on Hold

This is a bit off/topic from the core FAA/aviation content at this website, but it is a short news item worth passing on. And it is related to the FAA dysfunction, as yet another example of how failed our system has become … and how much we need whistleblowers.

It was five years ago that the housing bubble burst. The Fed was quick to bail out the big banks, but then we soon found these banks were failing to work with distressed homeowners. The robo-signing scandal was revealed. Outrage piled up as high as a February dairy lot, and it grew while a solution  just delayed for years. Last month, we finally saw both the Federal Reserve and another federal office known as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issue foreclosure standards. And, these standards have enticed Wells Fargo and Citi to slow down the foreclosures. Here’s a link to a pdf copy of those standards; and, here’s an article from

Times are tough for many, and made far worse by both a rising tide of corporate greed, and a virtual disappearance of effective regulation. Times like these need tough people capable of critical thinking. People who see something is wrong and have the fortitude and responsibility to speak up, to make it right. People like Whistleblowers. So, if you know someone who is on either end of the present mortgage foreclosure fiasco (maybe a failing homeowner, or maybe a bank employee), be sure to help them to blow that whistle.

(thanks to
for the tip on this story)


Understanding the Whistleblower’s Hell

A new book by whistleblower James H. Holzrichter, Sr. has been released. A Just Cause shares the story of how Mr. Holzrichter’s integrity brought great pain upon his family, when he bravely and responsibly spoke up about massive fraud by Northrop Grumman Corp., in federal Defense contracts. Hopefully, this book will help us all understand (and end) the corruption that has become so pervasive in recent years.

As noted by Jebb White, former CEO of Taxpayers Against Fraud, A Just Cause is the first single volume to successfully bypass extreme stereotypes and misinformation, and fully reveals the inner and outer struggles of the whistleblower. It distills the personal and professional story into a fully developed portrait. “By sharing his firsthand, unvarnished experience of struggle and survival, Jim Holzrichter finally provides us with a more complete picture of what it actually means to blow the whistle on dishonest corporations.”

From my own experience as a federal air traffic controller and whistleblower, I would estimate that statistically there is a small minority of people who ignore personal hazard and feel compelled to speak up when they see something wrong. Frankly, in our current culture, the vast majority of us are inclined toward silence. Of those few who do speak up, a tiny minority of them have the passion and the energy to fight all the way through. These few wage heroic battles that often run for decades. They should not have to do so, but they do. Why? Because it has to be done.

Mr. Holzrichter is one of these truly heroic whistleblowers; his case began in 1988.

Lastly, I applaud Mr. Holzrichter for taking the time to share his story, which mirrors so many of my own experiences, after I spoke up about that TV set at my first FAA control tower