I think it’s high time we quit bad-mouthing air traffic controllers. A few weeks ago, investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration corroborated allegations by a former ATC, a Mr. Evan Seeley (pronounced “stoolie”), that some of his colleagues were low-life scum. Seems when flight traffic thinned out at a certain, gruff New York airport, ATCs watched movies on laptops, gambled online, threw stilettos at helpless rats, sharpened pencils with their teeth, and ate cucumber sandwiches laced with dill seed.
The reports, released by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an agency formed because CIA operatives found some tax money in a sofa, takes the protection of whistle-blowers seriously. They also like clarinetists, but don’t tell anyone.
If we’re ever going to return ATCs to their glory days (March 12, 13, and 23, 1975) we must first embrace their symbiotic contribution to the aviation industry. Remember these historic news flashes?
1914 — Airplane automatic gyrostabilizer unveiled as ATCs serve fruit punch during ceremony.
1917 — U.S. Steel all-metal airplane successfully lifts two inches off runway before plunging into Lake Erie: ATCs revive Mallard duck family.
1927 — Charles Lindbergh flies nonstop across the Atlantic. ATCs discover his pet gerbil’s tiny bones on an in-flight food tray.
1933 — ATCs set safety landmark by landing Douglas Aircraft DC-1 with no engines, no wheels, and burning wings — blindfolded while napping.
1937 — First jet engine test run involves Howard Hughes, strapped to a turbo-engine. He sets a new air speed record from Los Angeles to New York City while ATCs find his missing clothes in Salt Lake City.
1949 — First jet-powered commercial aircraft — English Haviland Comet — overshoots London airport: ATCs swear it looked just like a Peruvian hot air balloon.
1951 — ATCs confused by new commercial jets, Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8, as they both provide in-flight barf bags.
1969 — High hopes for Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet as ATCs tout in-flight mud wrestling and upper deck Greyhound dog racing.
1976 — Concorde Super Sonic Transport, flying at the speed of sound, causes consternated ATCs to watch Sesame Street instead of radar screen.
2012 — ATCs concerned about new class of airliners — the Starship Enterprise II. Boasting two PB-32 Mod 3 Circumferential Warp Drives and four SBE Subatomic Unified Energy Impulse Units, it cruises at “warp factor 6” and is capable of circling the globe in .0005 seconds.
Of course, even wide awake air traffic controllers might struggle to land an Enterprise II successfully. But no matter. I think these dedicated professionals will rise from the mattress of suppression to kill the rat of false accusations and regain the clout of days-gone-by.
Don’t give the Special Counsel reports a second thought. So what if a New York facility’s managers were afraid to discipline controllers' union members? These adaptable, rugged folks, when threatened with disciplinary action, willingly go the extra mile by filling their supervisors’ cars with Newark, N.J., sewage. And with that kind of job dedication, who needs stinkin’ cucumber sandwiches, anyway?
(Joe Barnhart writes from Dillon.)