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CHAPTER 10 

What's Wrong
With This Picture
 

When a person works in a field of employment long enough you begin to see where some mistakes are made.  In this chapter I will discuss this subject in detail.  It appears to me that there are some fundamental problems in airline management that are the direct result of not being able to make good value judgements.  Managers in all industries today are unaware of who their good employees are.  As a result they are unable to show any direct appreciation for the good work that they do.  This leaves the employee to ask himself why he is performing better than his fellow employees when he gets nothing in return for his extra efforts.  As a result everyone begins to perform on a level that is just adequate enough to get by.  Adequate enough to get by in this line of work will get you or somebody else killed.  Even though many attempts are made in the development of an airline to eliminate this from occurring by the internal structure of the airline structure alone is not the answer.  Management must consider the performance of the individual and provide some incentives for doing better. 

They must also keep their minds open to the needs of the workplace.  They can't buy new aircraft and not provide them with the special tools to repair the aircraft and expect that the work will get done.  We are mechanics not magicians and the same rule applies to parts.  It comes as no surprise to me that these are the reasons that our large corporations are being sold to the Japanese.  If decisions like these are being made so poorly, the productivity of the company becomes directly affected. 

There needs to be some changes in legislation also.  The first and most important law that should be changed is the one that permits any pilot the ability to depart from an airport that he can't return to because of the weather.  I became acutely aware of this when I was working for the commuter and I watched six pilots take off in weather so bad they could not return to their point of departure.  Yet they were legally permitted to do so, by flying under FAR part 91.  In other words these pilots because they were not carrying passengers or cargo for hire were in effect flying under the same regulations as the average Joe in his Cessna 172.  If you ask me the laws regarding this issue are exactly why so many average Joe's are crashing in their Cessna 172's.  I said these words and felt this way from the moment I discovered this.  I said back then that if this was allowed to continue there was going to be a crash.  It didn't take very long before a Boeing 727 on take-off crashed into a DC-9 that was lost in fog while taxiing to the active runway in Detroit, Michigan.  In this situation the airport was permitting aircraft to take-off but they were not permitting them to land.  Doesn't it make good rudimentary common sense that we should be able to finish that which we are about to start? Especially so, when you consider that flying if not done well can kill you. 

A chief I had in the Coast Guard once told me that if anything is going to go wrong with a powerplant it will happen in the first thirty minutes of operation.  Aircraft crash statistics will prove this to be true in most cases.  The law states that you can depart from an airport with visibility so poor that it is below minimums for a legal return at the departure airport, if you have an alternate airport that is fifty-five minutes from your departure airport and has legally approved weather conditions.  Well, if you take the lengthy experience of an old salt and put it into play here, you'll never make it to your alternate airport.  To summarize this subject what we in this country permit in the name of safe flying weather is anything but safe.  Student pilots are told over and over never fly into a thunderstorm.  Yet airline pilots do it everyday.  They use radar to navigate around the most severe portions of the storm called cells, which are columns of rising and descending air filled with rain and hail.  We think that we are operating safely because we can see by the aid of radar, where the worst parts of the storm are and avoid them.  Is this any different from the guy who makes a turn on a road in a thunderstorm only to see the Mack truck coming the other way and it's in the wrong lane? In both instances we could see disaster coming yet it did us no good because we could not eliminate the fact that we were there.  We wouldn't have been there if we had decided that the weather was too bad and decided not to go.  By increasing the legal minimums for safe operation and eliminating the possibility of taking off in weather that prevents you from returning, the pressure on the pilot to fly the airplane would be reduced to a more acceptable level.  If you were to change the law, the pilot could no longer be pressured by his airline to fly the airplane, because to do so would be operating the aircraft outside the limits of the law. 

Another factor that plays into the weather situation is that of delays and on time departures.  Somewhere down the road I think we forgot that we are flying airplanes and believe that we are working for the railroad.  I have become aware of countless situations where people might lose their jobs if they didn't get home by a certain time.  In one situation I saw a Tech Sergeant in the armed services threatened with a charge of A.W.O.L.  because his flight was delayed due to a snowstorm and nothing was flying in the entire midwest.  If a delay of considerable time occurs the airline in question is forced to put these passengers on another airline to get them home as close to on time as possible and as a result the airline looses money.  From the economic viewpoint of the airline I can see that this is bad news and something to be avoided.  For the U.S.  military and the employers of the public to exert such exorbitant demands on their employees is unjust and unsafe.  I can understand the salesman who has to be somewhere to make a deal or something similar to this requiring on time performance.  But for anyone who is not going to be more than mildly compromised by being a few hours late, to take the situation as seriously as they do is unsafe and unfair.  If for example you are at the hub of a major airline and the airplane is at the gate and encounters a delay, it can only be for one of very few reasons.  The first and most likely is that the airplane is broken and unsafe to fly.  Is this a reason to get upset? Do you want to get somewhere so bad you are willing to die today? The second reason for a gate delay at a hub is that there hasn't been a clearance issued to your aircraft by air traffic control.  In this case if the pilot were to take off without a clearance he would be in violation of the law and placing the safety of his passengers in danger as well as the passengers in aircraft anywhere near his airplane.  The third reason for a delay is that the food or baggage hasn't been loaded yet.  In the case of the food the delay you shouldn't be upset because you're about to get fed and in the case of the baggage you should be relieved that the odds of your arriving at your destination with your baggage have just about been guaranteed.  The fourth and final reason for a delay is that the crew has not arrived.  This can be the result of confusion in the schedule, a traffic jam, car trouble enroute to the airport, sickness or the delay of another aircraft that your crew happens to be flying.  In which case the airline made a mistake.  Surely you want people to be tolerant of you when you make a mistake, so please return the favor.  The other type of delay is when the aircraft arrives at the hub late.  This could be due to any of the previously stated reasons that occurred somewhere outside the influence of the hub and was therefore beyond the airline's ability to deal with quickly and effectively enough to prevent a delay.  It should also be noted that if a delay occurs early in the day, it is almost impossible for the airplane to make up the lost time.  As a result all the flights that occur after the delay took place will be late.  As you can easily see if an airline is running late it is in the interest of flying safely in most cases or to provide you with the services that you paid for. 

Either way the airline and its' employees have your best interests at heart and are probably working harder and putting in some overtime to see that you get where you want to go safely.  Anyone that you may be conducting business with should understand this and cut you and the airline some slack.  If the public doesn't want to agree with this then they are better off taking some other form of transportation, because the last thing aviation needs is a lot of pressured pilots, stressed out mechanics and dead passengers.  The public I believe needs to wake up and realize that on time departures are a luxury that can't degrade the level of safety required to fly an airplane.  You have to realize that an airplane propels your puny human body at about six hundred and fifty miles per hour.  Your body wont hold up to well if you hit the ground at even half that speed. 

We should also change our laws regarding aircraft de-icing.  As it stands on the books now, airlines bare the full responsibility for de-icing their own aircraft.  The E.P.A.  is moving to restrict the number of locations de-icing can be done at an airport due to the pollution problems that the ethylene glycol solution creates.  You see it causes brain and liver damage over prolonged exposure.  So if you are de-icing a plane that stuff may taste sweet, but don't lick your lips, wash them off With gallons of this fluid rolling off airplanes and into the city drains you can see why the E.P.A.  is concerned.  In a typical winter day a national airline can use twenty thousand gallons of de-icing fluid.  As far as the location for de-icing goes, the airline will usually de-ice at the gate.  Then the airplane taxi's to the runway and takes off It is not always as simple as that and several accidents in the past have proven this to be true.  What can happen shortly after the plane is de-iced is that there is a gate hold, followed by heavy traffic departing the airport that causes delays.  So the airplane can be sitting out there waiting to take off while snow or ice accumulates on the airframe.  De-icing should be done at the end of the runway just before take off in an area where the run off fluid can be collected and used again.  Rather than drain it into our rivers and streams.  This not only protects the environment but provides the greatest amount of protection to the aircraft.  It will take a change in the law and the time to establish de-icing companies before any of this will come to pass.  In a situation such as this one, if every airline were to drive their de-icing equipment to the end of the runway the resulting traffic jam of service vehicles would require a controller just to handle them all.  In the years since this has been written many politicians and experts have talked about this but nobody does anything. 

Another thing that completely baffles me is the locations we choose to put airports.  We put them in the heart of our cities where they can do the most damage if something goes wrong.  All in the name of accessibility.  Take Midway airport for example.  If an airplane crashes on landing or take off- there, the airplane will in most cases wipe out half of a subdivision or crash into some factories that are nearby.  Another change in legislation should be made regarding where future airports can be constructed.  In the past we used our bus and railroad station mentality and constructed airports as close to major cities as we felt safe for buses and trains and never gave any consideration to the possibility that a jetliner could crash into the Sears Tower in fog.  Even when an airplane crashed into the Empire State Building we ignored the possibility.  What airports need are runways that are long enough to permit a fifty foot climb and set back down on the ground without running off the other end.  What airports need is to be located safely away from cities where they canít hurt people on the ground and to provide good mass transit directly to the airport to eliminate traffic congestion on roads leading to the airport.  Also in conjunction with this a law should be passed prohibiting the building of any structure that has sustained irreparable damage as a result of a collision with an aircraft within a five mile radius of an airport.  What this would do is permit the formation of safe zones that a pilot could set the aircraft into during an emergency landing.  These safe zones would be free of any houses or other buildings and as a result eliminate the possibility of people on the ground getting hurt or killed.  In time after several accidents these areas would become clear of all structures on the ground and could be graded flat to increase the chances of survival for the crew and passengers.  In Phoenix when they constructed the addition to the airport they bought more land than they needed and created what they call buffer zones at the ends of the runways for the aircraft to use if there is an emergency.  This was smart planning on the part of the city officials.  It greatly improves the chances of surviving a disaster and at the same time protects persons on the ground by eliminating their presence in places where they shouldn't be in the first place.  By giving aircraft this small amount of extra room to plant a disabled aircraft it must certainly go a long way to improve the peace of mind of the pilots who will have to decide the best place to put their airplane in an emergency.  I think that having this small amount of added peace of mind would tend to make the flight crew better pilots by eliminating their worries about where to put the aircraft to avoid killing people on the ground and permitting them to concentrate more on flying the aircraft. 

Coupled along with this are noise abatement procedures where the pilots cut back on power just after take off to reduce the noise footprint of the aircraft as it travels over the ground.  Now I ask you, if you were in that plane on take off and ascent wouldn't you want that airplane to be going as fast as it can and climbing the same way2 If you have a minuscule amount of common sense you certainly would.  You see as long as the engine power is at maximum and the aircraft is climbing at maximum the airplane will have the greatest amount of potential energy in the form of altitude and have the highest amount of kinetic energy in the form of airspeed.  This places the airplane in the best possible condition if something goes wrong. Instead due to complaints from neighbors, who in most cases arrived long after the airport was there, noise abatement procedures are performed at almost all airports where the flight path will take the airplane over a populated area at a low altitude.  We find ourselves cutting back on the very thing that could save our lives at the critical moments of take off and ascent if something goes wrong.  This doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it? 

I think that to a certain degree the industry has taken advantage of the fact that we love the work we do.  Whether we are mechanics, pilots, flight attendants, passenger service agents or what ever, the people who run this industry know that we love what we are doing and will take a lot of abuse and neglect before we become discontent enough to quit.  I am speaking of the type of airline personnel that have over one year of experience because those that have less than a year in the field are new A&P's and pilots straight out of school who are still filled with misconceptions about what life is like in the airlines.  The ones that get into this line of work thinking that they are going to make a lot of money or that the work environment in an airline must be close to a state of perfection are the ones that are gone within a year of their employment.  This is a very sad statistic because a lot of these people are very qualified and extremely intelligent.  What the industry must realize is the talent that is walking out the door every day because of the problems that exist, that management repeatedly fails to address, that makes everyone unhappy.  At each time that I have been laid off I have seen good mechanics drop out of the business due to the economic hardships the job itself was placing on them. To a certain extent we appear to be a group of chronic gamblers who are in the game as long is we have the funds and the will to continue and when that runs out we have to fold.  I have seen young mechanics who have been pressured out of the business by their parents who could not afford to finance the travel they required to get another job.  I have seen parents pressure their children out of this business because they thought this was not an acceptable way to make a living or they didn't want their children forced into the life of a Gypsy.  I myself would not be able to continue in this line of work if my parents had not given me the money that I needed to move to my next job.  These are problems that are critical to keeping skilled mechanics in this industry.  These are problems that seriously affect the morale of mechanics across the nation and can greatly affect airline safety. 

Ask yourself one question: "Does the flying public want the people flying their planes and repairing them to have to live like this?" I don't believe that anyone possessing even a shred of common sense wants this to happen.  Yet this is the way it is and no one from airline C. E. O.'s to politicians appear to be addressing the issues.  Everybody wants to have a certain degree of stability in their lives.  We got in this line of work to visit places throughout the world, not to live in them.  People like to walk into a place of business and be recognized by the people that work there.  They want to develop close friends and see them on a regular basis.  They want to have wives and husbands and a family and own a house, all of which are impossible to have if you are forced to move every year or two because the airline you were working for went out of business.  I can say with a great degree of certainty that there isn't a woman in the nation that would want to live like this.  So what chance is there for a single gay who wants a wife and a home and possibly a family?  Most of these problems arose from deregulation, which turned pilots into highly trained bus drivers and airline mechanics into less than grease monkeys, instead of the highly trained and skilled persons they are.  A very disheartening fact is that a good automobile mechanic can make more money than most of his aviation counterpart.  Add to this that the auto mechanic isn't subject to the rules and regulations of the F.A.A.  that can fine an aviation mechanic up to ten thousand dollars and take away his livelihood in the form of a license suspension or revocation.  If I liked the automobile I would probably be working on them instead.  The irony of the entire situation is that deregulation is about to create what it was designed to prevent.  Deregulation was supposed to stimulate competition and thereby reduce fares.  What in reality is occurring is the formation of three to four monopolies and when this happens they will control the market and the price of a ticket and they will charge whatever they want. 

When it comes to the management types I am always spellbound by the creative ways they come up with to get more money.  The golden parachute is one of the most vile ways that I can think of I never knew what a golden parachute was until my airline had filed for chapter eleven.  That's when you will discover all sorts of things you never knew before.  In case you don't know what one is I will explain.  A golden parachute is a clause in the employment contract of an upper management employee that states that the employee concerned will receive a paycheck regardless of the financial outcome of the airline.  In most cases these managers will receive pay that would make a congressman happy.  Incredible sums of money all for people who in most cases never flew a plane or turned a wrench in their lives.  People who got a Bachelors Degree in Aviation Management with little aviation experience behind them other than what they obtained by putting the make on the flight attendant in first class.  As you can probably figure out I don't like golden parachutes.  An employee that has one is under no special motivation to make the company succeed, because even if the company disappears tomorrow he is still going to get his paycheck.  Meanwhile Joe the mechanic is forced to stand on a street corner with a sign that says, "Will work for food!" The guy who has a degree has financial security that the average working man does not.  Yet at the same time these managers will tell you how we are all in it together for the long haul.  This does not strike me as being very fair.  It is my opinion that we should all be in the same boat together.  That management should be susceptible to the same fate as everyone else that works for a company.  There is nothing noteworthy about them other than the piece of paper they hang on their wall.  The golden parachute should be made illegal because of the damage it does. 

Recently while watching television I have learned that Frank Lorenzo has applied to the government to start up a new airline that is supposed to be called Friendship Airlines.  Of all the names he could choose, there could be none greater that would come across to me as a pathetic joke.  The reason for this is that there is no other man in aviation today that airline employees would be the most unfriendly towards.  This is the man that helped create Tent City.  This is the man that helped to destroy the second oldest airline in the United States.  This is the man that is responsible for the permenant loss of over 45,000 jobs.  What gall he has to attempt to start a new airline and call it Friendship Airlines.  I have worked with and spoken to union mechanics that lost their jobs as a result of the strike at Eastern.  They have told me how he repeatedly forced pay cuts upon the employees yet at the same time gave himself raises.  They told me how he took money from the employee pension fund and used it to keep the airline going.  Money that didn`t belong to him.  The loss of which has left families destitute in their golden years.  If anyone with a smaller pocket had done these things they would be in jail.  This man has no honor and we as an industry can do without the likes of him.  If deregulation has created competition so keen that the airlines find it extremely difficult to make a profit, then the people who made the decision to deregulate should be the ones to pay for the mistake.  Not the mechanics, pilots or flight attendants that were not even asked if they thought it was a good idea.  Since this was written Frank Lorenzo was permanently barred from conducting any business in aviation by the FAA.  The reasons stated by the FAA were that due to his business practices that undermined the safety of the flying public an entire team of FAA officials had to be used to monitor his activities to maintain Easterns' compliance with FAR's and they weren't going to do that again.  Too bad they didn't add humanitarian reasons as well.  It wouldn't have done anything to replace the money he stole but it would have been a shot in the arm to the moral of a lot of people. 

Regulations need to be set up to limit the amount an airline can discount their fares.  As it is now, the competition is so keen it is creating a situation where the carriers are pricing themselves out of existence.  While wave after wave of fare discounts sweep the nation leaving bankrupt airlines and unemployed airline workers in it's wake.  This must stop! A fare floor needs to be set to ensure the protection of the marketplace and all carriers concerned.  This floor could be a percentage of the standard daily price or a percentage of the Y-9 fare.  To go below that limit would place the airline in violation of the law.  Airlines need to start policing their own market place and to quit waiting for the government to solve their problems for them.  I can guarantee that if they don't, nobody will like what happens next.  The mechanics at Northwest were just asked to take another pay cut and this time they were told that if they didn't agree they would be forced to put the company into chapter eleven.  Nothing like having your arm twisted! The mechanics said that they would take their chances with chapter eleven.  I ask you, at any time prior to this did the CEO or anyone under him offer to take a pay cut? No? Just to put it into perspective the CEO of Northwest probably makes over $200,000 a year, nearly seven times what the average mechanic makes and over ten times what a flight attendant or ticket agent makes.  What I am suggesting here is that the people running most airlines today are taking too much money away for the services they provide.  Which in turn is bleeding the airlines dry.  I am not saying that money should be taken away from the CEO's and given to the employees.  What I am suggesting is that money should be taken away from CEO's and put back into the airlines.  This- way we can all be certain that we will have jobs, even the CEO's.  We work for the airlines because all our lives we wanted to do this kind of work.  We like the lifestyle that the airlines give us.  We aren't leaving! But can the same thing be said of Frank Lorenzo or Carl Icahn?  Did they get into the airlines for the same reason? Have their actions in the past demonstrated their devotion to the airlines? On the contrary!  Their actions in the past have displayed only one thing, the pursuit of money.  If the money were to dry up and these people were left without their golden parachutes you could watch them leave en mass like a lake full of geese after a shotgun blast.  Years ago the people running the airlines were people who showed leadership potential and had been working at their company for years.  They had come from the bottom up.  This gave someone a goal to strive for and a place to work when you were too old to fly or turn a wrench.  These people knew the business from top to bottom because they had been in both places.  They worked hard and did it for less money than their counterparts do today.  Why?  Because they loved working for the airlines.  Now people with masters degrees in bean counting are running airlines and the pathway to the top for the work1ng man has been eliminated.  Administrators today take advantage of the fact that we love what we do.  After all, if this was assembly line work we would have quit years ago.  This means they can abuse and neglect us to a greater degree and we won't leave.  Which in turn gives them the abi1ity to rape us further for a longer time, all the while shoveling more money into their pockets.  This situation is not unlike congress.  What do you suppose would happen if the people of this great land said to congress, "Enough is enough you will make thirteen dollars an hour, time an a half for anything over eight a day and that's it." You would smell the shoe leather burning and see a cloud of dust rise from capitol hill after they turned 1n their resignations.  The same holds true in the mahogany offices of our airlines and the reason behind it is that they aren't in the airlines because they love it, Herbert Kelleher excluded.  If you don't believe me take away the golden parachute and watch.  As for Lorenzo amateur night is over Frank.  Get off the stage before you get carried off.  Well I guess he didn't listen because the FAA carried him off.

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