Dedicated Federal Employees Keep Air Traffic Moving During Major Power Outage

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Tuesday’s power outage across South Florida did not impact air traffic in the area due to the work performed everyday by dedicated Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees, said the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, AFL-CIO (PASS), the union that represents FAA technicians. The important jobs performed by FAA technicians behind the scenes helped to ensure that the FAA facilities in the area moved to backup power and the outage did not affect area air traffic.

“The professionalism of these employees and their commitment to making sure systems and equipment are maintained properly is the reason that Miami air traffic did not experience significant issues,” said PASS National Vice President Mike Perrone. When the power outage was reported, FAA technicians quickly assessed the situation. While facilities had switched to backup power, technicians did notice some minor issues, which if left unattended could have resulted in a major mechanical failure. The swift response by FAA technicians and the seamless transition to backup power allowed the towers in the area and Miami Center to continue operations uninterrupted, and there was no loss of communication with aircraft.

The Miami Center is maintained by trained and certified FAA employees with in-depth knowledge of the equipment and systems that make up the National Airspace System (NAS). Despite repeated examples of the expertise of these federal employees throughout the country, the FAA continues to search for new ways to contract out as much of this work as possible. “The example in Miami shows how smoothly things can run if trained FAA employees are on hand to attend to the issue,” said Perrone. “These employees understand how everything fits together within the NAS and how their work impacts the entire system. As opposed to private contractors who focus on just one piece of equipment, FAA technicians feel a strong sense of ownership over the entire process.”

While the work of FAA technicians helped to avoid problems in Florida, there are many areas across the country where inadequate technician staffing threatens the safety and efficiency of the system. “As we praise the men and women who maintain the safest aviation system in the world, we must also recognize that they are fighting an uphill battle since the FAA is moving toward reducing the number of technicians and decreasing or eliminating the routine checks that guaranteed there was no interruption to aviation services during the Miami outage,” said Perrone. “If the systems had not been periodically maintained to ensure their safe operation in Miami, the power outage could have had disastrous results for air traffic. Delays would have rippled across the country.”

The FAA’s “fix on fail” concept will no doubt be extremely disruptive to the aviation system as technicians are dispatched to address problems with systems and equipment that may not have had attention in months or years without the periodic maintenance checks. “Waiting for a problem to occur is neither safe nor efficient. These previously monitored facilities and equipment will be left neglected with the hopes that they will continue to work as intended. When there are problems, air passengers will be forced to deal with even more delays and other issues,” said Perrone.

Making the situation even worse is the fact that the number of FAA technicians has recently fallen below 6,100, which was the figure previously agreed upon by PASS and the FAA as being the minimum number of technicians needed to maintain the system safely. Some facilities are staffed at less than half of what the facility’s workload generate, making daily operations difficult and resulting in more unplanned outages and longer restoration times. Despite falling below the minimum number of technicians, the FAA has not requested additional staffing in its proposed budget for FY 2009.

“We have the most complex air traffic system in the world and the technicians maintaining the system have been doing regular checks for decades to prevent problems before they occur,” said Perrone. “To protect the safety and efficiency of the aviation system, the FAA must continue to monitor facilities and equipment on a regular schedule and there must be an adequate technical workforce in place to perform this critical work.”

For more information or questions, please contact Kori Blalock Keller at (202) 293-7277 x110.

###

 

PASS represents more than 11,000 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense who install, maintain, support and certify air traffic control and national defense equipment, inspect and oversee the commercial and general aviation industries, develop flight procedures, and perform quality analyses of the aviation systems For more information, visit the PASS website at www.passnational.org.

Members News