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Aviation expert spells out risk of incompetent air-traffic controllers

A military air traffic controller works approach control in Carrier Air Traffic Control Center aboard the Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (Wikimedia Commons)

A military air traffic controller works approach control in Carrier Air Traffic Control Center aboard the Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln

The Obama administration’s dumbing down of the selection process for the job of air-traffic controller – valuing “workplace diversity” above competency, experience and skills – is a deadly “collision with reality” that threatens not only the lives of airline passengers but also the nation’s security and economy, contends a veteran safety expert.

“They’re taking something that is very real, the danger of death, and playing with it politically,” said Vernon Grose, a risk-management expert and air-disaster analyst who was appointed by President Reagan to the National Transportation Safety Board in 1983.

The Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson recently featured a lawsuit by a former FAA employee who is challenging a requirement enacted in 2014 by the Obama administration that air-traffic controller candidates complete a “biographical questionnaire” before being considered for a job. Remarkably, factors such as being unemployed and doing poorly in science in high school are weighed higher than having extensive air-traffic-control knowledge and being a licensed pilot.

Further, when the policy was implemented, many highly qualified minorities who had been training to become air-traffic controllers were bypassed, according to the lawsuit.

With an average of about 5,500 aircraft airborne over the United States at any given time, an air-traffic controller must be capable of dynamic and rapid interaction, maintaining constant awareness of aircraft movement while quickly and accurately communicating with pilots and other controllers, Grose emphasized in an interview with WND.

Grose, who was an air-traffic controller in the Air Force, said the job requires a cool and decisive Special Forces-type temperament, and only the best of the best should apply.

“If you show any hesitancy, the pilots will complain, because they depend on you,” he told WND. “They can tell by your voice – you can’t hide your voice if you’re stressed – and they’ll say, ‘Get rid of that guy.’”

As a member of the NTSB, Grose pioneered the concept of multiple causation of accidents. He also served on the National Highway Safety Advisory Committee, and in 1997, Vice President Al Gore asked him to serve on the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. After the 9/11 attacks, Grose testified before Congress for the NTSB.

He frequently monitored air traffic control from the cockpits of airliners as an NTSB member.

Wreckage of Avianca Boeing 707 that crashed in New York in 1990. (Wikimedia Commons)

Wreckage of Avianca Boeing 707 that crashed in New York in 1990

One of his most significant investigations was the Avianca Flight 52 accident in New York City in 1990 in which a Boeing 707 crashed after running out of fuel, killing eight of the nine crew members and 65 of the 149 passengers. The NTSB determined the Colombian flight crew failed to properly declare a fuel emergency, resulting in air-traffic control underestimating the seriousness of the situation.

For the investigation, Grose flew in the cockpit with an Avianca crew on the same flight from Colombia to New York City.

He and his colleagues found that in the January 1990 incident, the air-traffic controllers asked the pilots for their fuel status, the pilots didn’t use proper “air-traffic controller language.”

“You had all these airliners in line trying to come down in bad weather, and the air-traffic controllers had to stagger the planes, maintaining a two-minute interval,” Grose noted.

It’s crucial, he said, that the air-traffic controllers, as well as the pilots, know the specific code words and deliver instructions to multiple aircraft quickly and accurately.

Recalling the dire state of the airline industry in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Grose noted that a series of accidents can undermine confidence in air travel, a crucial, fundamental part of the U.S. economy.

“It impacts the psyche of the nation when that happens,” he said.

‘Workforce too white’

Michael Pearson, an attorney and a former air-traffic controller, is suing the FAA over the Obama “diversity” program. He explained to the Fox News Channel’s Carlson last week that under pressure from Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition, a group within the FAA, including the human-resources department and the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees, “determined that the workforce was too white.”

“They had a concerted effort through the Department of Transportation in the Obama administration to change that,” he said.

Pearson said there’s no data to support that increasing diversity in the ranks of air-traffic controllers would make the flying public safer.

It’s the safety of the national airspace that’s at risk here,” Pearson said.

Pearson affirmed the value of giving minorities career opportunities in air-traffic control.

He said that in the process of implementing the new diversity criterion there was a “purge” of some 2,600 students in the Collegiate Training Initiative, a network of partnerships with educational institutions that prepares students to pursue careers in air-traffic control and aviation administration.

On that list, he said, was a “large percentage of female and minority applicants who would have been fantastic air-traffic controllers.”

Pearson said some of the applicants were pilots with military experience “who were more qualified, certainly, than I was, when I started.”

This is not a partisan issue,” he said. “It’s the safety of the national airspace that is at risk here.”

Fox News obtained an internal email from an executive at the firm that devised the biographical questionnaire. The executive admitted the test had nothing to do with finding the best air-traffic controllers. His advice was that if you want to find good air-traffic controllers, find people with experience.

The FAA ignored this advice, Carlson noted, and used the biographical screen anyway.

Pearson pins much of the blame on the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which controls a large political action committee that funds many politicians.

“Nothing will get passed in aviation unless they get blessing of the controller’s union,” he said, referring to legislation proposed in Congress. “Their position radically changed when the Obama administration came in.

He called the policy “social engineering at its finest … at the sacrifice of public safety.”

Carlson said acting FAA administrator, Daniel K. Ewell, and the administrator who signed off on the questionnaire, Michael Huerta, refused to appear on his program.



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