FAA Whistleblowers Alliance Supports Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger for FAA Administrator
Why did the FAA Whistleblowers Alliance (FWA) generate the White House petition to draft Captain Chesley Sullenburger for the position of FAA Administrator? Because the FAA, we are sad to say, is a broken agency. It did not become broken after former Administrator Randy Babbitt’s sudden resignation last week following a weekend arrest for driving under the influence, nor his failure to report uncomfortable truths to his superiors. While Babbitt’s inability to deal directly and maturely with his arrest called his judgment into question, it also revealed an inability to confront the truth about the FAA’s manifold problems, and this has contributed to the FAA’s problems.
The FAA has consistently ranked at the bottom of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) annual survey of federal agencies that asks government employees about their job environment and satisfaction. This is the largest safety agency in the DOT and the message coming from its own employees is that things aren’t going well.
The FWA has long been bringing the FAA’s internal cultural problems to light with little to show for its efforts, other than bureaucratic lip service which quickly becomes yesterday’s forgotten news. Some examples might be appropriate: A culture where FAA executives have been caught lying to Congress and cronyism prevails over merit. A culture that allows an FAA safety inspector to openly sell firearms from his office using a government computer for his side business website. A culture that looked the other way when an inspector in a field office sold hundreds of pilot certificates, including Airline Transport Pilot Certificates, for $300.00 each. A culture that continues to mistreat air traffic controllers until, inevitably, ATC scandals hit the newspapers, as has happened this past Spring.
The FAA has been on a steady decline since the 1996 ValuJet crash that claimed 110 lives and the ensuing investigations that revealed all the contributing FAA failures. Lamentably, in response, the FAA rolled out its new Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS) two years later, with the promise that ATOS was the antidote to the country’s discount air carrier problems. However, the FAA neglected to include the discount air carriers in the program! It instead applied ATOS to the ten top legacy carriers in the country, with the obvious result that obscures the real safety issues and provides a false sense of security.
The FAA then proceeded to look the other way as maintenance outsourcing exploded in third-world countries and the U.S. carriers flocked there to increase their bottom line. The FAA did nothing to realign its priorities to provide oversight where the maintenance is really being done and, instead, it created a system — ATOS — that allowed the carriers to self-report problems. Undoubtedly, the FAA will tell you that maintenance outsourcing is safe because we have not had a major fatal air crash that has been attributed to outsourcing. But such a supposed argument flies in the face of increasing numbers of emergency landings by major carriers around the country, with as of yet no fatalities. That’s the problem; the FAA historically needs to see bodies before they act.
It’s unlikely that no one in Congress is aware of this trend, especially given that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg was recently involved in an emergency evacuation from her scheduled flight. It’s more likely that the aviation industry special interests, who the FAA still regard as their primary customer, are more interested in profit programs than true safety programs.
This brings us to Sully, who by all accounts is not controlled by the Washington, DC lobbyists and has spent his professional career relying on and promoting the safety of the air transportation system. His pre-Hudson River landing resume speaks volumes about his professionalism and his efforts to contribute his knowledge to others. The FWA believes he would deal honestly and effectively with the uncomfortable cultural truths hiding behind the FAA logo.
These are just a few of the reasons that the FWA supports Captain Sullenberger’s nomination to be considered to be the next FAA Administrator. We ask that you show your support by signing the White House petition.
Gabe Bruno, Executive Director
FAA Whistleblowers Alliance