Friday, April 25, 2008

The Anatomy of a Lynching

(Across the bottom of the hard copy of this letter as I prepare it for upload to my blog is written: "Input ignored, not considered".  I assume those words were written by my union rep.  It doesn't matter who wrote it; it's true.)

The following is a letter I wrote to FAA management in response to a Letter of Reprimand they intend to place in my file for some trumped-up charges against me.

I was conducting on-the-job training in sector 29 when Mr. Mark said he needed a 30 and a 15 (miles in trail restriction between aircraft) on some ORD (Chicago, IL) landing traffic. AAL764, #1 in the sequence was in our sector. #2 in the sequence was AAL1210, well south of OBH (Wolbach, NE) in sector 39 and already 10 miles-in-trail with AAL764 when measured to their next common fix of DBQ (Dubuque, IA). #3 in the sequence was a United flight, 20 miles-in-trail with AAL764 being worked by sector 28 overlying us.

After analyzing the situation I felt that it wasn't our routine ORD sequencing problem because the aircraft in sector 39 was further south than normal. I thought that it presented a good teaching scenario for my trainee about how to achieve the needed miles-in-trail through the use of other available resources; Mr. Mark, the supervisor in the area, being one of those resources. I called Mr. Mark over and asked him if he could work through either our Traffic Management Unit (TMU) or Area 6 to have them follow our lead aircraft, AAL764. I wanted my trainee to see that the supervisor could be a good tool in helping to effect the needed coordination.

Often times sector 29 will have to reach out to sector 39 and have them put an ORD flight on a northerly heading to blend them in with sector 29's ORD stream. I felt this situation was different due to how far south AAL1210 was. Mr. Mark told us to bring AAL1210 into our airspace and work him ourselves.  Had my trainee done as Mr. Mark suggested by having sector 39 drive AAL1210 north into our sector (considering the aircraft's southerly position and very strong westerly winds, 280 degrees at 130-145 knots), the aircraft would have easily been the necessary 30 miles-in-trail before ever reaching our airspace and still south of OBH. It did not make sense for us to be involved in the control of this aircraft. I told Mr. Mark that we should simply have sector 39 follow AAL764; a very reasonable request.

Mr. Mark disagreed and said that we were responsible for the ORD sequencing and that we should do it. I reiterated that it would make more sense to have sector 39 follow our #1 aircraft, AAL764, because it would never enter our airspace. Mr. Mark was adamant that we do whatever ORD spacing there was. Whether he was deliberately being pigheaded or confrontational or simply just plain ignorant about how best to do the job, his actions were causing me confusion and frustration in the sector.

In retrospect, I should've made the call to sector 39 myself and kept Mr. Mark out of the equation but I was trying to provide training.

Mr. Mark inquired what the order of sequence was and I told him (we're only talking 3 aircraft in total). He then proceeded to tell the sector 28 controller the wrong order causing that controller to later have to go back and turn out his aircraft to gain additional miles-in-trail because of the bad information Mr. Mark had given him.

I've since learned that a similar situation recently occurred where Mr. Mark made a controller sequence an aircraft for ORD which also never entered his sector. This ill-advised approach to air traffic control is entirely wrong and needs to be addressed so that people like me can go about the business of doing our job rather than having to defend ourselves for doing our work correctly.

In addition to investigating my actions, I would hope you would also take a good look at Mr. Mark's actions and see who posed the real problem. Also, if we're going to have an investigation (and I welcome one), let's not forget TMU's role in this and how AAL1210 was allowed to proceed direct DBQ from where it was.

I'm disturbed about this incident for several reasons. All of this resulted from me disagreeing with Mr. Mark about the best way to achieve the ORD spacing. I was the controller in charge of the sector conducting OJTI and making a reasonable request of him. I had intimate knowledge of the traffic and weather conditions in the sector at the time and was in a better position to evaluate how best to achieve the ORD spacing. Mr. Mark did not possess the same understanding.

Mr. Mark has a difficult time whenever he's challenged or disagreed with but you already know that. If you would like me to expand on this I'd be happy to as it goes to the heart of the matter. His inability to work in a cohesive way with those he manages shows poor managerial skills. With all the talk about CRM, I found it sorely lacking during this situation.

The sector was becoming busy with lots of other traffic in addition to what little ORD traffic there was. It was all I could do to maintain "the flick" in the sector as M.r Mark presented much more of a distraction than was reasonable. At one point, I asked him to get me out of the sector so we could discuss the situation because I felt he was creating an unsafe environment for working traffic. I've never in my career been in such a position. It was at this point when he asked me if he should have the #2 aircraft routed up over FOD. I told him that would be fine. My trainee later conveyed to the sector 30 controller the need for 30 miles-in-trail between AAL764 and AAL1210.

This could have and should have been a good teaching tool for my trainee but I'm afraid the lesson learned (and he learned one) wasn't the lesson I'd intended for him.

I can't imagine myself as Controller in Charge, not facilitating a controller's request in the sector. To countermand their method of moving traffic would serve no useful purpose if they were doing nothing wrong. If I had a problem with what they were doing I would save it for when they got out of the sector and talk about it then. Becoming confrontational with them in the sector would not be one of my options especially when the plan they proposed was a solid one. This was a live traffic situation; this was not a simulation. This was no time for chest thumping.

My relationship with other supervisors in the area is good; ask any of them. If they need something done, I do it. My relationship with my peers is also good; ask any of them. I'm very easy to work with and I get along with everyone. Can Mr. Mark say the same? Does he have issues with people he works with or with those he supervises? I think an honest evaluation will lead you to the truth.

My relationship with Mr. Mark soured last December when he accused me of being disrespectful toward himself and Ron Sekinski during a discussion between the three of us. I left work that day very bewildered as to why he would accuse me of such a thing. On the drive home I couldn't stop thinking about what had happened so I phoned Ron and asked him if he felt I'd been disrespectful. Ron thought I was joking with him. I assured him that I wasn't. He told me there was no way that I was being disrespectful. I asked him to say nothing more as it was my desire for the incident to fade away. Please call Ron and ask him as I'm sure he'll recall our conversation. I bring up this incident for you as it bolsters my case that the one with the problem is Mr. Mark and not me.

Since that episode last December, Mr. Mark and I have spoken to each other only when necessary. Our relationship has sunk to a new low now and this was neither my desire nor my fault. My aim is to lessen stress in the control room, not increase it. I am not one to pick fights or create turmoil in the workplace; ask anybody I work with beginning with the balance of your supervisory staff.

I welcome this investigation, but for it to be meaningful it needs to be a full investigation and not just Mr. Mark's side of the story. I'd like for us to discuss how Mr. Mark did or didn't utilize CRM with me that morning and how he decreased sector safety by complicating a simple situation.

I'm disappointed that this entire matter has been blown out of proportion and that I have to spend time on my day off defending my actions with this letter. I'm bothered that Mr. Mark's actions aren't the ones being scrutinized as they should be for being so unnecessarily disruptive. But, if we can gain a better appreciation for working together then we will be further down the road in a good way and I welcome that.

If CRM is truly our goal, serious consideration should be given to what I've said.

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