Sunday, April 13, 2008

Flying Blind

Then came 'Heck of a Job' George W. Bush.
Ideology trumped reality and competence, once again

Fred Hiatt's Pravda on the Potomac editorially wrings its hands today over this week's FAA-enforced grounding of all MD-80 airplanes, operated by American Airlines, "resulting in more than 3,000 flight cancellations and more than 250,000 stranded passengers by Friday." Then, there's this:
[L]ast month... an FAA inspector let Southwest Airlines fly its Boeing 737 jets despite reports of a crack in a fuselage. At hearings before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on April 3, the Transportation Department's inspector general, Calvin L. Scovel III, bemoaned the "overly collaborative relationship" between the FAA and Southwest. According to an FAA safety inspector, this was the result of the agency treating the airlines like "customers." Meanwhile, the real customers -- the ones crammed onto crowded and late planes who are nickel-and-dimed for everything from checking an extra bag to securing an onboard meal -- are treated with disdain.
This inspires WaPo to reach the brilliant, hard-hitting conclusion that passengers "shouldn't... have to worry that the plane they're sitting on might be a disaster waiting to happen." Really? Every time we board an airplane we assumed it was our job to worry.

The trouble with the Post's editorial is that there's no hint of how, when, or why our civil air transportation industry was allowed to fall into such a disgraceful state of disrepair. For that, you have to turn to today's New York Times.

In "Behind Air Chaos, an F.A.A. Pendulum Swing" by reporters Matthew Wald and Michelle Maynard, we learn that under the Clinton administration FAA inspection reforms led to enhanced safety. "Over the next decade, the accident rate fell 65 percent, and [the] new approach is widely seen as having played a role in the drop."

Then came 'Heck of a Job' George W. Bush. Ideology trumped reality and competence, once again.
[T]he F.A.A., under the Bush administration, took on a role after the Sept. 11 attacks to help the industry recover — “through technology, through greater efficiencies, through sensible and non-burdensome regulatory schemes,” Marion C. Blakey, the F.A.A. administrator in 2002, said at the time. She declined to be interviewed for this article.

This more collaborative approach was reflected in a “customer service initiative” announced by the F.A.A. in April 2003.

The customers in this case were not passengers; they were the airlines the F.A.A. regulates. The core principles of the new initiative, which inspectors could print up on pocket-size cards, included creating for the airlines “an environment without fear of retribution if you challenge our decisions” and “clear guidance on how you can elevate your concerns to the next higher level of authority.”

The F.A.A.’s watchdog role, to many Democrats in Congress who now oversee airline regulators, grew toothless.
One notorious example is the fresh example of Southwest Airlines:
In January 2007, the airline discovered cracks on some of its Boeing 737s. Less than two months later, an unidentified whistle-blower in the F.A.A.’s Chicago office noticed a crack in a Southwest jet that had been flown the day before.

Earlier this year, Southwest told the F.A.A. that it had flown 46 planes without the required inspections of fuselage panels, operating the defective planes for up to nine months on more than 61,000 flights.

It took the persistence of brave whistle-blowing inspectors deep down in the agency to expose safety concerns which the Bush's FAA administration has been actively suppressing. The whistle-blowers, we're told, "have become 'rock stars' within aviation safety circles."

Predictably, the Bush administration hit back hard at the whistle-blowers instead of the FAA administrators who consciously endangered public safety. But when an independent inspector-general's report about the controversy began circulating on Capitol Hill, the FAA was forced to act by re-inspecting all civil airplane fleets.

By one informed estimate, some 568 unsafe aircraft have been grounded so far. And, we're told, "more groundings of other planes throughout the industry are likely to occur in coming weeks."

We're thinking we should cancel our airline reservations for a business meeting next week. In fact, we just might cancel everything, go to bed, and pull the covers pulled over our head until Bush leaves office.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Quiet Rockland
Law Office of John J. Tormey III, Esq.
John J. Tormey III, PLLC
217 East 86th Street, PMB 221
New York, NY 10028 USA
(212) 410-2380 (fax)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Quiet Rockland Urges America To REJECT Robert A. (“Bobby”) Sturgell As FAA Administrator

In the lyrics of Dewey Bunnell of the group America, from the 1971 song “Sandman”:

“All the planes have been – grounded”.

It’s time to bring back America. The REAL America. The FAA is more broken than the cracked airplanes it purports to regulate. FAA Head “Bobby” Sturgell is a losing legacy case – the son of J. Edgar Hoover’s personal secretary, planted years later at the FAA, an agency that the powers-that-be assumed Sturgell could never muck up.

Well, that failed legacy case named “Bobby” Sturgell DID muck it all up. Big time. The United States aviation system is now at flashpoint crisis.

Enter, Sandman.

Quiet Rockland opposes Robert A. “Bobby” Sturgell’s confirmation as FAA Administrator. Moreover, Quiet Rockland calls for “Bobby” Sturgell’s SUMMARY REMOVAL as Acting FAA Administrator.

“Bobby” Sturgell is an abominable public official. The current regime of the FAA is a dismal nightmare. The FAA is a guileful federal agency still dwelling in the pocket of industry. Together, Sturgell, the FAA, and the airlines derisively and contemptuously laugh at you and me, the American people – the people to whom this country belongs.

But no more.

This spring started with cracked Southwest Airlines planes. The FAA allowed these planes to remain in revenue service. The FAA allowed passengers to fly in these cracked airplanes. And Southwest was more than happy to take money from passengers for flying in these cracked planes. Now but a few weeks later, at least four (4) airlines have filed for federal bankruptcy protection, with more bankruptcy filings that may follow. The airline industry is disintegrating before our eyes just like the tired old defective planes which they pretend to maintain.

This past week saw record numbers, in the thousands, of planes grounded. The groundings are “Bobby” Sturgell’s fault. The groundings are the direct result of a previously-illusory safety inspection regime and the astounding and unlawful regulatory ineptitude of the FAA, now under FBI investigation and Congressional investigation. The results of the groundings to the everyday American, were and are intolerable. Many thousands of travelers were stranded, with no end to the problem in sight.

This is what “Bobby” Sturgell would have all Americans endure for FIVE more years if he is confirmed as FAA Administrator. He MUST be joking.

Moreover, “Bobby” Sturgell now threatens our national stability and security. As John Dean observed almost two generations ago at the outset of the long national nightmare known as Watergate, there is a cancer growing on the Presidency. There is a cancer growing on the Administration, and on this country. That very cancer is failed FAA Acting Administrator “Bobby” Sturgell himself, and the rogue dysfunctional federal agency known as the FAA. “Bobby” Sturgell must be ejected. The FAA must be repopulated with competent and honest federal officials.

As Senators Lautenberg and Menendez observed in a yesterday letter to “Bobby” Sturgell:

“The FAA’s hands-off approach to airline oversight has allowed …deliberate violations…, shoddy maintenance, incomplete record-keeping, and complacent oversight practices to fester”… “Why were… potentially unsafe planes allowed to fly…?”

Instead of protecting our safety like they are supposed to do, the FAA, in continuing complicity with the airlines, threatens hero aviation inspector whistleblowers. The House Transportation Committee hearing on Thursday April 3, 2008 exposed all of that in a 9-hour webcast, for all the world to see. As Congressman James Oberstar the Head of the House Transportation Committee observed, if last Thursday’s hearing “had been a grand jury proceeding, it would have resulted in indictments”.

Unbelievably, a few Senators, and even possibly the President, continue to this day to support “Bobby” Sturgell as FAA Head. Quiet Rockland disagrees. We are proud Americans who believe in the integrity of the American system of government. We want national stability, national security, aviation safety, environmental justice, and aviation justice. We’re sick of our country’s aviation system being laughed at by other countries. We want to foster continued public pride in our government, and a continued belief that the system works - in the eyes of U.S. citizens, and in the eyes of the rest of the world. “Bobby” Sturgell’s removal as Acting FAA Head is integral to these goals.

Even if you assume arguendo that Mr. Sturgell did not himself personally make or sanction threats against aviation safety whistleblowers, the offensive activity occurred at a failed federal agency under his watch. The April 3 House hearing chronicled many other of “Bobby” Sturgell’s FAA failures. During that hearing we also learned that circa 2003 the FAA launched a “Partnership Program” wherein individuals spent months hand-delivering packets to airlines, happily announcing that airlines had become the “customers” and “clients” of the FAA. That’s flat wrong. WE THE PEOPLE are the customers of the FAA. The FAA is supposed to regulate the airlines. The FAA is not supposed to kiss the backsides of the airlines. As for “Bobby” Sturgell’s role and involvement in all of this perversion of justice and dereliction of federal duty, one only need note that “Bobby” Sturgell started work at the FAA in the very same year as the “Partnership Program” was launched – 2003. “Bobby” Sturgell is a private dancer for the very airline industry that callously and inhumanly threatens our safety. Throw the bums out.

Quiet Rockland urges each Honorable U.S. Senator to further forestall any vote on “Bobby” Sturgell’s confirmation. Additionally, Quiet Rockland urges all Senators, and all Americans, to carefully consider the manifold reasons why any vote in support of “Bobby” Sturgell would be antithetical to the interests of this country and its citizens. What we want, is what is in the best interests of the American people – removal of “Bobby” Sturgell from office, NOW.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would continue to subject the American public to a steady stream of aircraft near-misses and near-disasters, such incidents occurring in epic numbers since “Bobby” Sturgell took over as Acting FAA Administrator half-a-year ago last fall.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would send us the message that it is perfectly normal for the Inspector General; the Government Accountability Office as the investigative arm of Congress; the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives; the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology; the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; civil litigators and the courts in no less than 13 federal court actions; and even now the FBI; to all be investigating the same failed federal agency at the same time.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would be the continued marriage of a failed bureaucrat and a failed agency that act in concert in purposefully blind ignorance of and to Homeland Security concerns.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would say it is OK for a regulator to totally fail to regulate.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would consecrate the further training of pilots at U.S.-based flight schools who themselves could be enemies dead-set on harming our country. That’s how 9/11 happened in the first place, and given Sturgell’s demonstrable contempt for the northeast, he doesn’t seem to mind.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA will ensure that aircraft repair will continue to be outsourced to facilities in foreign countries, with little or no screening procedures in effect to ensure that mechanic-enemies of our country will be kept away those planes. That is an outrage.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would stand for the principle that it is OK for a federal agency to be required to audit safety documents and safety compliance, only after they have been caught not doing same in the first instance over a period of many years. The compliance and enforcement measures taken now by FAA should have been done all along!

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA stands firmly for the proposition that “prudence” only “dictates” anything AFTER we have been caught asleep at the switch, and never BEFORE we have been caught asleep at the switch.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would signal to American citizens that it is absolutely normal for multiple major airlines like Southwest, United, American, and others to keep grounding thousands of aircraft for safety reasons while thereby stalling hundreds of thousands of passengers. The Sturgell FAA harms our economy at a time in history wherein we cannot afford to be harmed.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would tell American citizens that they were not at all put at risk when Southwest Airlines and Sturgell’s FAA allowed hundreds of thousands of them to fly in under-inspected and in some cases cracked aircraft, at risk of rudder-control failure, and with fuselage cracks being the same defect which caused loss of life in the Aloha Airlines disaster of 1988. Sturgell’s FAA all the while told us we were never safer. “Bobby” Sturgell’s initials of “B.S.” were never more appropriate.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA is a regime wherein false federal filings are made, with airlines telling ersatz federal “regulators” that hazardous planes had already been grounded when in fact they had not. The wink-and-nod between regulator and regulated, must stop.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA tells the American people that it is OK for the agency which is the regulator of our air safety, to be under federal and indeed FBI investigation for among other things threatening aviation safety inspector whistleblowers. Those threats are something a drug cartel would do to informants.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA is a federal agency run like a P.R. firm rather than as a responsible arms-length regulator objectively protecting our health and safety.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA tells us it is OK for an agency and the airlines to work together to enlist a goon-squad of spelling-challenged Internet “bloggers” to hit the message boards and tell the American people that air travel was never safer, whilst planes are grounded and falling apart in under-inspected disrepair.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would have us forget all about how Sturgell lied under oath, committed perjury, and acted in contempt of Congress on February 8, 2008 before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA ensures recidivist arrogance, non-responsiveness, equivocation, and evasiveness that characterizes Mr. Sturgell’s management style and that of his failed agency’s current management.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA sends a message to flyers that it is OK that airplane parts fly off in mid-flight and strike the passenger windows inches from their face – and that is OK for an airline to deny a dying passenger oxygen when she needs it – and that it is totally understandable for an in-flight pilot’s side-arm to be shot off while landing, puncturing a hole in the cockpit.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA IS the revival of the Oberstar-decried and Schiavo-decried “Tombstone Mentality” of the “Tombstone Agency” – the notion that “If the plane doesn’t crash, we’re doing great” – the notion that a federal agency is not required to anticipate and navigate around safety problems, but is instead only required to react if and when there is already a tombstone and post facto.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would be consistent with support of other failed federal agencies such as FEMA, HUD, and the Fed. Yesterday’s “He**uva Job Brownie” has now become today’s “He**uva Job Bobby” Presidential vote of confidence.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA is the imprimatur for further profligate federal spending, just like the US$53,500,000+ which Sturgell and his FAA cohorts already blew on the failed piece of software known as the NY/NJ/PHL Airspace Redesign. This Redesign has been called but a “Band-Aid solution” by FAA’s own COO Hank Krakowski. The Redesign wasn’t even originally engendered as a means to increase air-travel efficiency. The Redesign was first set in motion by NY-area air traffic controllers as a way to steer more air traffic their way from Boston and towards their own economic advantage. The Redesign was then re-purposed, re-tooled, and re-tread by Sturgell and FAA, once Sturgell and FAA realized they could use it to pad the pockets of their aero-mercantile cronies – and likely to their own personal economic advantage once they left the agency in the same manner that “Made” Marion Blakey recently did.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would sanction the further trampling of citizen due process rights of notice, opportunity to be heard, and meaningful involvement in the political process.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would mean that is just fine to purposefully over-saturate and over-schedule the skies, and then blame the American traveler for it, instead of rightfully blaming the pecuniary greed of the aeromercantile complex which really caused the delays and inefficiencies.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would mean it is OK for an agency-head to lie to the President of the United States himself and tell the President that an airspace redesign would create a 20% efficiency savings across all flights – when the agency’s own harbinger told communities not but a few weeks prior that the same redesign would only stand to save 3 minutes per flight. One must wonder how all flights could be 15 minutes long.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would be authorization for the FAA to continue to abrogate environmental justice. In Rockland County, NY, for example, if you are African-American, Jewish, working-class, or lower-income, then you can virtually bet that the FAA is seeking to fly low-altitude jumbo-jet aircraft over your head and home up to 600 times per day – and then lie to you when telling you that it was only the software and not FAA personnel that chose the flown-over neighborhoods. This is racism and classism by air. This will not be tolerated in the United States of America. Incidentally, if you are a member of any of these “minority” groups, you can also be virtually certain that there will be no job for you at the senior management levels of “Bobby” Sturgell’s FAA.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would tell us it is OK for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to revolt in anger against the FAA. Yet it is in this country’s interests to keep the Teamsters happy.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would tell us it is OK for FAA’s own aircraft inspectors to revolt against the FAA, too. Yet the inspectors are right. FAA management is wrong.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would give blessing to the continued anti-competitive and perpetual abuse by Sturgell and FAA of the most prized possession of the FAA workforce – the noble and skilled air traffic controllers who every day save the lives of passengers in the air, despite while enduring sub-human working conditions and the continued malicious FAA endeavor to break the ATC’s own labor union.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would mean it is OK for a true solo-pilot to have no idea how to handle his labor force - and for an FAA to tell controllers that if they think the NY/NJ/PHL Redesign is unsafe, then they can go look for work elsewhere.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would sanction safety-disasters-in-the-making at places like Florida radar and control towers, Chicago, Wisconsin, NY-area airports, and LAX runways. Pick a place. Sturgell has messed it up.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would retroactively sanctify Sturgell’s failure to timely implement NextGen technology, which put our lives at further risk thereby.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would work as a continued approval of the unlawful misconduct of an FAA Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) unit that continues to conceal, lie, deceive, and falsify documents.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would tell any one of us that yes, we, too, can grow up the son of J. Edgar Hoover’s personal secretary, in a family-owned biker-bar in Deale Maryland where biker recruiting-sessions and gunshots occur, and where outdoor signs are tolerated to post which insult patrons who are bikers, male homosexuals, and African-Americans – and then we can grow up to head a federal agency using a lawless yahoo-sounding undignified nickname like “Bobby” while running the place like the Dukes of Hazzard - just as long as once Quiet Rockland figures out it is our own family that owns that biker bar, we put the biker bar up for sale on Craig’s List before anyone else might hear about it. See:

(Incidentally, the seller just took down the “Happy Harbor” Craig’s List posting!).

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would indicate to the American people that they should simply stomach and not object to - in the words of Rep. Oberstar when speaking about Southwest and the FAA - the worst aviation safety problem Mr. Oberstar has seen during all of his 23 years on the job.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would tell federal agencies that it is OK to collaborate with other federal agencies like NASA so as to purposefully obfuscate and conceal needed flight-safety data from the American people, and then release it on New Year’s Eve when it is hoped that every citizen will be watching the ball drop instead of paying attention.

A “Bobby” Sturgell FAA would further shake and threaten the American economy, and further give other economic competitors in countries like China, Germany, Japan, India and elsewhere the further leg-up – at a time in history when we need to compete as opposed to be led by inept bureaucrats and be laughed at by those countries.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The talent pool is deeper than this. There is more to leadership than rhapsodizing through one’s old aviator goggles.

We have an ugly aviation safety crisis and scandal on our hands. Let’s wash our hands of it.

Let’s wash our hands of “Bobby” Sturgell and his [f]ailed [a]viation [a]dministration.

Quiet Rockland urges all Americans to Just Say No to “Bobby” Sturgell. Quiet Rockland urges all Americans to let all of our elected officials hear that, loud and clear.

Enter, Sandman.

Respectfully submitted,

John J. Tormey III, Esq.
Quiet Rockland