Thursday, January 24, 2019

A Decade Ago: Sullenberger Sets the Flying Standard

In January 2009, America was still embroiled in the Global Financial Crisis and Great Recession. Even in Washington DC, the effects were felt through fiscal austerity, especially at the local level in repose to falling property tax revenue; and through downsizing at Fannie Mae. I had become accustomed to the radio being bearer of bad news. But on the afternoon of January 15, 2009, the radio reported a strangest thing- an airplane landed in the middle of New York City's Hudson River with no loss of life.

I first heard this as I rode our school's shuttle bus to the train station. Back then, cellphones didn't have internet, so I learned more on the TV when I got home. While some passengers of US Airways Flight 1549 immersed in the icy water, many of the passengers and crew transferred from the wing of the downed aircraft to rescuing ferryboats, as if walking down a pier.

US Airways Flight 1549 was captained by US Air Force Veteran Chesley Sullenberger, then 57 and approaching the pilots' retirement age of 60-65. After spectacular performance in the Hudson River landing, his memoir, "Highest Duty", came out in 2010. It quietly demonstrated a middle-class guy trying to do better for his family. He had a real estate investment; and was paying the expenses after the commercial tenant had moved out. He worked in commercial aviation, a field where downward wage pressures are prevailing; and corporate restructuring, mergers and acquisition threaten the earned status of seniority and experience.

Less than a month later, and also in New York State, Colgan Air 3407 crashed outside of Buffalo. Colgan Air was a regional carrier, the kind where new pilots, fresh from school, start their careers at working-class wages. This accident uncovered ongoing pilot fatigue, and shortcomings in training and performance assessments. Compared to 'legacy carriers' like US Airways, regional airlines complied with federal regulations but did not embrace a safety culture. As Sullenberger's performance shows, experience and buy-in to excellence matters, when critical skills are put to a real-life test.

Since February 2009, though, American commercial passenger aviation has had a spotless safety record. A decade later, US Airways and Colgan are no more.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Government Shutdown Equals Failure

Let’s suppose your local power company tried to prove a point to your city council by shutting off electricity, plunging the town into darkness. Or the real life example of a Chicago Teachers Union which went on strike during the school year, and were rightly cricitized for the tactics they used.

Every time the US government heads into shutdown, it represents the failure of the US Congress, or the presidency, to fulfill basic responsibilities. Indeed, each family in America prepares and executes a budget, answering to the needs of its members. They may do it on spreadsheets, or may do so in the back of their mind. The members of Congress certainly do not resemble the role of benevolent fathers and mothers at this time.

My work life continues, business as usual, during the shutdown. The shutdown is limited in scope, even leaving my alma mater, the USMMA, unaffected. But there are inconveniences. Uncertainty among civil service in DC is likely putting a damper on the local small business economy, as previous shutdowns did. My correspondence with the US Coast Guard’s civilian-focused National Maritime Center is delayed. While of little consequence to me, it could mean lost job opportunities to other mariners, if they can’t get credentials issued on time.

So, please, Congress, do not let identity politics and rigid ideologies hurt constituents any longer. Voters, too, should remember in 2020.