Air Traffic Union Panics, Demonstrates How Badly Reform Is Needed

I was out of the country for a week but wanted to circle back to note that the reaction of air traffic controllers’ union – NATCA – to the tragic collision over the Hudson River on August 8th can best be described as panic.

Union president Pat Forrey quickly attacked me (Aug. 16) for my non-accusatory New York Post op-ed (Aug. 12) which merely explained how politicized decision-making had led to this congested airspace remaining uncontrolled and better technology pushed far into the future.

Forrey went on to blather about air traffic control (ATC) being “inherently governmental,” etc.—all the usual NATCA tropes. A few days later, when it was revealed that the air traffic controller on duty at the Teterboro Airport tower at the time of the crash had called his girlfriend to talk about barbecuing a dead cat while the two aircraft were on a collision course, NATCA went into all-out cover-your-ass mode. Defying the confidentiality rules that apply to all investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board, it revealed time-line information that was still under wraps purporting to show that the controller’s dereliction of duty was not a causal factor in the accident—admitting that in doing so, it could no longer play a constructive role in the ongoing investigation.

And now we’re treated to a long New York Times article (Aug. 22) presenting the typical union sob story about what a cramped, awful, obsolete mess the Teterboro tower is. While serving to distract attention from the controller’s actions in this tragedy, this union stratagem only reinforces the case Pat Forrey attacks me for making—namely that a politicized, poorly funded ATC system needs basic reform of its governance and funding, not hysterical defenses of the status quo.