A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Friday, March 25, 2011

Another Reason to Take the Train

Did you ever hear the story of the CEO of a large conglomerate who was faced with a labor crisis one day? It seems that experienced workers of one particular skill set for one of the CEO’s subsidiaries was threatening to walk off the job if management did not negotiate with them for a new contract. The CEO acted quickly by not negotiating at all and firing the entire lot. The subsidiary immediately hired inexperienced workers for a highly specialized, highly stressful job, and it’s a wonder to this day that there weren’t more incidents with loss of life due to the turnover of experienced workers.

The fired experienced workers: air traffic controllers. The CEO: Ronald Reagan.

Now — nearly 30 years after Reagan dismissed the unionized workers — there is a news report of an air traffic controller falling asleep on the job at — irony of ironies — the airport named after Ronald Reagan!

The incident happened around midnight one day earlier this week when two flights were unable to establish contact with the control tower at Ronald Reagan National Airport near Washington, DC (actually located on the southern edge of Arlington, VA). Normally the tower would have a full staff of controllers to guide the flights down, but since Reagan National has reduced air traffic after dark due to noise restrictions, the staff is comprised of one flight controller. One and only one! Uno! Single! Sole controller working the night shift who

Meanwhile, high over the monuments and edifices of democracy in Washington, two sets of pilots were probably wondering what the hell was going on. They couldn’t reach the control tower through normal radio contact and they couldn’t know if any other flights were ahead of them in landing. Their options: contact the next nearest control center forty miles away; or wake up the sleeping passengers on their respective flights and order them to all yell as loud as they could all at once in hopes that this might wake the controller up; or just crash into the Potomac River with the hope that the cacophony of screaming sirens from hundreds of emergency vehicles rushing to the river might rouse Sleepy from his late winter hibernation!

(Speaking of hibernation, I feel compelled to go off topic very briefly with a personal message to Phil from Punxsutawney, PA. Yes, I mean you, you demented little rodent! You better be in the Witness Protection Program, because there are hundreds of people literally gunning for you after we had snow showers this week, five days past the beginning of spring! Who awarded you a degree in meteorology? Reagan should have fired your flea-bitten butt years ago when he dumped the air traffic controllers! Six weeks more winter, my ass!)

Meanwhile, back at the airport...

So the pilots did contact the nearest control center which could help them up to a point, and they did announce to the passengers that they were circling the airport until they could get clearance to land. Both flights were able to land safely by maintaining radio contact with other pilots in the area so that they could coordinate their actions and land safely. However, that isn’t the end of the story.

The Federal Aviation Administration has vowed a thorough review of procedures for overnight landings. The FAA has already helpfully suggested that there should be no fewer than two controllers on duty at all times. Some critics have also helpfully pointed out that this won’t solve the problem necessarily, because then the probability exists that both controllers might fall asleep due to lack of activity.

One solution around this might be to arm both controllers with very sharp instruments so as to poke their drowsy buddy into alertness. If one poke doesn’t do the trick, then by all means, try harder thrusts multiple times. The other person will have to wake up sooner or later, or bleed to death. Okay, so there are still some details to be worked out on this plan, but it might yet prove to have some merit.

As of now, the air traffic controller has been suspended. I wouldn’t be surprised that — in the very near future — he is given lots of time off to catch up with his sleep. And by time off I mean the type of free time that Reagan gave to those other air traffic controllers a generation ago.

Whatever happens — disciplinary actions, upgrading of air traffic control systems throughout the nation, etc. — it will all be for the good and safety of the air traveling public. Some day soon, passengers and pilots will be able to fly in confidence to the nation's capitol, secure in the knowledge that they will land safely when they hear an alert, highly-caffeinated voice from the control tower of Ronald Reagan National Airport say, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Washington, DC”. At that point, the horrified pilot will look at the co-pilot and say, “Aw, shit, Hal! We overshot Minneapolis again!”*

*Please see blog entry: “Meanwhile, Somewhere Over Minnesota...or Wisconsin...or...?” 11/09/2009.

(Thank you for reading. Please remember if you have to go, go Amtrak!)


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