Thursday, June 23, 2016

Jay Ambrose: An unhappy Federal Aviation Administration landing

The Federal Aviation Administration does something excellent and then it turns on itself, on responsibility, on honesty, on fairness, on passenger service, maybe even on safety in the air. It reverses course on saying to people wanting to be air traffic controllers that you're first required to have military experience or college education in the field. It says something else is needed — a balderdash test.

We'll get to that shortly, but first let's go back to 1995 when the FAA was doing something excellent — it was getting colleges and universities to teach courses of up to four years in which students could learn the intricacies of this demanding profession in which mistakes can kill.

At the end of the programs, air controller aspirants would take tough, eight-hour, time-proved computer-based aptitude tests. If they passed, had done well in their studies, had solid faculty recommendations and got through interviews with the FAA, graduates would be accepted into the FAA Academy. After more training would come several years of on-the-job apprenticeship resulting in important jobs if all went well.

Now, well, bosh on the military experience or college requirement. On the basis of inept calculations, the FAA decided these procedures were not producing enough women or minorities as controllers. The better diversity option, it figured, was to lower standards for academy admission to a high school diploma, some work experience and passing a take-home biographic questionnaire.

Here is the balderdash: You supposedly reveal your character and aptitudes by saying what it felt like to get your first paycheck or to fail at something or whether you played sports in high school. While the FAA refuses to get much into content, it glows publicly about the test. Fox Business News found an internal FAA report that did not. It said those passing the test in the untrained crowd are far less likely to make it all the way to the top than those who had the college or military experience. This adds up to whole big bunches of inefficiency and wasted moolah, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer.

It also turns out that at least some untrained minorities taking the test got help from an FAA insider, news stories tell us, but not the college grads. Thousands of them have flunked it, including some who were absolute whizzes at the profession's demands. They can try again in a year, but meanwhile they have spent thousands of dollars and years of their lives on education that will not pay off.

While some of the 36 university and college programs are now struggling to stay in business, the Mountain States Legal Foundation is planning a rescue. The Denver-based nonprofit, which takes on government tyrannies of all shapes and sizes, has filed a class action lawsuit against the FAA for 3,000 graduates and is making sound, strong points.

It is observing, for instance, how the schools had actually done a superior job at bringing in women and minorities and that record numbers of air traffic controllers are in the process of retiring. The FAA is flunking at replacing them as it should, and those left on hand will have to work long days and weeks. The resulting exhaustion will be less than helpful in making lickety-split decisions that keep planes from crashing.

Some in Congress are considering laws about the balderdash test and a failure to do more about those retiring. In a recent hearing, Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., said the new "hiring process is not putting forward the highest quality of controller candidates," noting the number of those getting through the FAA training was down 20 percent on an annual basis. He said "the nation and the flying public" are being "underserved" as the 3,000 qualified graduates are not allowed in the door.

The costs here are plenty — not least the economy if plane takeoffs and landings become more limited. And, even though there are clearly top-notch officials in the FAA, what we are witnessing is what can happen in an administrative state when misled ideological overreaching takes control.

Original article can be found here:

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