Thursday, December 06, 2007

Planes can't fly with only a right wing

Now here's something interesting. Apparently, a spike in airport runway collisions this year is being blamed directly on piss-poor leadership in the White House.

Does that seem like a far-fetched allegation? Yes, even considering how our leadership really is piss-poor. And, after all, the report is from the hippie Congress, which obviously means it's out to get the president at any cost. Besides, am I a worse driver now than I was in 1998, just because a Bush is in the White House? Hell no! If anything else, I'm better than I used to be because soaring fuel and insurance costs, combined with declining highway funding and fear of expensive tickets, has me as vigilant behind the wheel as Ted Nugent is behind a scope. If slightly less eager to hit anything. But I digress.

For all the accusations that the report is sure to get from both remaining Bush apologists, statistics don't lie:

In the 2007 budget year that ended Sept. 30, the incidents spiked to 370 — 6.05 incidents per 1 million air traffic control operations. That approached the level in 2001, when there were 407 runway incursions and 6.1 rate. An incursion is any aircraft, vehicle or person that goes where it should not be in space reserved for takeoff or landing.

Ah, the good old flying days of 2001. Nostalgia! But what could be causing such a sudden spike in these incidents, when they had been going down for years?

Air travelers face a high risk of a catastrophic collision on U.S. airport runways because of faltering federal leadership, malfunctioning technology and overworked controllers, congressional investigators said Wednesday [...]

At this time, "no single office is taking charge of assessing the causes of runway safety problems and taking the steps needed to address those problems," the Government Accountability Office said in a report requested by Rep. Jerry F. Costello, D-Ill., and Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J.

So the cause is big, bureaucratic government? Here comes the Bush administration to the rescue!

What, no excerpt? I thought we had an excerpt. Moving on...

Then-Federal Aviation Administrator Marion Blakey stepped into that leadership void in August by calling an industrywide conference to produce ideas for quick action. In October, the FAA reported progress on recommendations from the conference, including speeding improved runway markings and pilot training. The GAO report approved of those moves but also recommended more leadership from the FAA, better data collection and less overtime required of controllers.

"This report makes clear that the Bush administration is cutting corners and failing to put passenger safety first," Lautenberg said. "The FAA is taking too many chances and ignoring too many red flags."

So a leadership vacuum in a bloated government bureaucracy and lagging technology, combined with a lack of sufficient workers for the job, are causing lax safety situations at airports? This is not a case of minimum-wage-earning, untrained airport security; this involves well-trained professionals, which means it takes a serious crisis for them to have as many close calls as they have. And there's simply no excuse for that. But how about some good news?

Serious incursions, where a collision was narrowly averted, declined to a record low 24 in 2007, compared with 31 the year before. But the report said they have stayed high enough to pose "a high risk of a catastrophic runway collision."

Oh. Guess not.

Debate all you want about whether the Bush administration is doing the right thing overseas. But there's no debating that government has been crippled in so many areas domestically, from FEMA to the FDA and the FAA. When Republicans talk about ending big government, this is exactly what they're talking about. They have no problem putting cameras on every street corner and microphones in every phone; but actually ensure that our most basic public programs are well-staffed, well-funded and competent? Why, that requires more than lip service! It might actually entail making airports safer, and the public thus less subject to sort of fear that the White House needs to get away with its bungling.

And, yes, it is Bush's fault, because this is happening under his watch. Someone remind him that global conquest doesn't cancel out a president's need to address problems in his own country.

I think Tom Tucker from Family Guy said it best: "These days, it seems you can't even fly in a plane anymore!"

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