The Classic Definition of Insanity — Privatizing Essential Government Services . . . Again . . . and Expecting Different Results!


We’ve tried this failed experiment before, and once again it’s your safety and the nation’s security that are at stake as we try it yet again.  Yep, we’re talking lives, property, and national security sacrificed upon the altar of a long-discredited philosophy that places corporate profits above your (and the nation’s) interests.

Standard warning posted outside Air Traffic Control Facilities — Looks “Inherently Governmental” to me!

This time it’s the remnants your Air Traffic Control system they want to sell off.  You remember air traffic controllers.  They’re the only federal employees during the run up to and aftermath from the 9/11 attacks to actually have performed flawlessly in saving lives that day and disrupting further attacks.  The FBI and CIA?  Not so much.

The usual suspects are at it this time as well.  If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time then you know who they are.  They are Congressman John Mica, “Think” Tanker Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation, and privatization forces both within and outside congress.  And, as always, all one need do is follow the money.

We’ve seen before how these forces work together.  They manufacture a “crisis” by defunding, sequestration, furlough, and intentional disruption, then claim the only “solution” to Congress’ inability to govern (in other words do the one job your representative and senators were elected to perform) is to spin off yet another essential government service so that corporations can profit from those services while charging taxpayers two, three, four or even more times what we now spend in return for reduced levels of service over what we currently receive.

Now we have another proposal to privatize, either through a government-run corporation (how’s that Post Office thing working out for you, by the way?) or spin off to corporate America (ditto Blackwater, Haliburton, Harris Corporation, Lockheed Martin AFSS, and many other examples too numerous to list), the remaining two of the original three legs of this nation’s air traffic control system.  Those two remaining legs would be this nation’s vital Air Route Traffic Control Centers and Terminal Facilities (Terminal Radar Approach Controls and Control Towers).

What was the third leg, you ask?  The one that is now a laughable shadow of its former self?  We’ll get to that now:

Here’s an example of what to expect from the selling/spinning off of your air traffic control system — the system you already bought and paid for.  John Mica and Robert Poole advocated for and achieved the privatization of the Flight Service Stations that file flight plans; coordinate overdue aircraft notifications; and brief general aviation pilots on everything from equipment outages, to presidential aircraft movements they need to avoid, to hazardous weather and other safety-related information critical to the conduct of safe flight.  It was their crowning achievement, designed according to them to save the government money while providing better service for less cost.  How has it worked?

Dismally.  And you, the taxpayer, are paying what I conservatively estimate to be four times as much per operation as you did before the sell-off.  Worse, because AFSS facilities were consolidated and vital services were curtailed to increase corporate profits, people have actually died as a direct result of John Mica’s and Robert Poole’s efforts, others have had rescues delayed after crashes (see below), and the security of even presidents of the United States — both past and present — has been violated on more than one occasion because private pilots left flight service briefings unwarned of presidential movement flight restrictions.

Before FAA Administrator Marion Blakey transferred to Lockheed Martin control of most of this nation’s Automated Flight Service Stations back in 2005, the FAA in the preceding year conducted around 25,922,000 “operations” (defined as any pilot contact whether by radio or telephone for a specified service).  By 2011, the last full year for which such data is currently available, that number had dropped to around 6,553,000 (a figure which includes right around 435,000 operations performed by the FAA’s few remaining Alaska Flight Service Stations).  That’s a drop of right around 75%.  Where did all those pilots go?  If you ask they’ll gladly tell you their horror stories.  Many quit using Flight Services because of notoriously bad service, incorrect information, and long waits on the telephone and over the radio since Lockheed Martin took over AFSS operations.  Indeed it initially got so bad that many pilots in the Lower 48 were calling FAA Alaska Flight Service Stations to file flight plans and get weather briefings even if they were going no farther north than the Florida panhandle.  Really.  I’m not kidding

And don’t even think of asking pilot Michael Trapp about the services he received from Lockheed Martin’s Lansing AFSS.  They darned near managed to kill him.  Mr. Trapp contacted Lockheed AFSS as his Cessna 150 was going down into Lake Huron on July 26, 2011.  He thought his radio distress call was being picked up by Lansing AFSS.  Unfortunately, in the name of cost cutting and unbeknownst to Mr. Trapp, Lockheed Martin had closed Lansing AFSS.  His distress call was instead answered by someone in Leesburg, Virginia.  That someone was totally unfamiliar with the area around the Great Lakes, and consequently unfamiliar with the landmarks Mr. Trapp relayed to the controller.  That just so happens to violate a clause in the AFSS contract that stipulates AFSS controllers will have familiarity with the area they are servicing.  So, despite Mr. Trapp having given his approximate location after an initially incorrect position report, the controller in Leesburg still managed to send rescuers to the wrong lake — only four hours after the crash, because the Leesburg controller did not initially relay to the Coast Guard the seriousness of the situation.  What should have been perhaps an hour ordeal wound up with Mr. Trapp treading water for eighteen hours and throughout a very long night before being picked up the next day by boaters unconnected to the rescuers searching in the wrong area.

Meanwhile, despite never having fully complied with the terms of their contract and having chased away three out of every four pilots using Flight Services, Lockheed Martin still get paid as though they were still handling nearly 26,000,000 operations per year.  Indeed, the FAA announced in September of 2013 that they were extending Lockheed Martin’s contract for an additional two years at a cost of $221,000,000.  That’s on top of a previous three-year, $356,000,000 extension awarded in 2010.  Those figures as far as I know doesn’t include bonuses routinely given to Lockheed Martin despite repeated noncompliance of contractual obligations.  Lockheed Martin then bragged in the same press release that they had in 2012:

  • Filed more than 1 million flight plans for aviation pilots;
  • Provided more than 1.5 million pilot weather briefings;
  • Answered 457,575 aviation radio contacts; and
  • Helped pilots in 6,691 aviation search and rescue events.

Now, I’m no math wiz, and the FAA has yet to release statistics for all 0f 2012 and beyond, but it appears to me from the above numbers that total operations dropped even further to less than 3,000,000.  In just two years!  Additionally, a quick calculation reveals that if (a big”if” considering the decline in numbers seen ever since Lockheed Martin took over) Lockheed Martin AFSS specialists continue to work 3,000,000 operations a year over the two-year life of that latest extension, they will pocket nearly $37 per operation.  Or, in other works, $37 for every telephone and radio call made to a Lockheed Martin AFSS.

Sounds a bit like one of thoseI-made-$15,000-last-month-working-at-home” scams, doesn’t it?

Think that’s a good deal for the taxpayer?  Robert Poole and John Mica do.  But don’t even think of letting them do for your (because you bought and paid for them) En Route and Terminal Air Traffic Services what they did with your (which you also bought and paid for, but which they gave away) Flight Service Stations.

And don’t let your congressman or senators tell you that you must now relinquish services you bought and paid for, and turn them over to corporate profiteers, because your congressman or senators either cannot or will not do the job they were elected to perform.  Any congressman or senator telling you that has just told you that they are unfit to govern and shouldn’t be in office.

Indeed, John Mica has been telling his constituents that he’s unfit to govern for over a decade.  Question is, are the voters in Florida’s 7th Congressional District finally going to listen to him this time?

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1 Comment

Filed under Aviation Safety, R. Doug Wicker

One response to “The Classic Definition of Insanity — Privatizing Essential Government Services . . . Again . . . and Expecting Different Results!

  1. Vannevar Bush

    Nailed it. Every word is rock-solid spot-on true.