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FAA as PM June 13, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
Tags: ,

The FAA has recently been working on a plan to consolidate many of its meteorologists into two locations in Maryland and Kansas City.  This may seem somewhat benign to non-pilots, but represents a significant potential for safety degradation.  The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has called the plan “foolish” and “reckless”.

As a pilot myself, I look at the plan a few different ways.  The FAA has stated that it is trying to improve safety while reducing costs.  This seems oddly familiar – from a project management perspective.  They are essentially “value engineering” the system to increase the performance/quality (in terms of safety records) while at the same time reducing the costs of the project.

While surely noble, I personally question the logic here.  First off, though the FAA is separate from the TSA, I would wonder how much is being spent to detect bad people compared to the actual risk.  Then compare that to the dollars spent on providing solid weather information (some of the best in the world) to pilots and dispatchers.

I’m going out on a limb here, but it seems that the risk to aviators of bad weather far outweighs the risk of terrorists.  I’d much rather see an adjustment to the draconian security procedures that have yielded few apparent successes.  Weather forecasting – and especially the transfer of that information to the pilots themselves – has surely saved countless lives.  From flights that never left the ground to timely diversions to emergency responses for pilots in trouble, weather information should be placed near the top of the list for funding if we’re basing it on risk reduction.

Sadly, bureaucracy doesn’t work that way.  The public takes weather forecasting for granted (just like so many other things these days) and doesn’t realize the value just beneath the surface.  Just as aviators Chesley Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles highlight the value of experience and training in an emergency, we may find out the hard way that weather forecasting saves more lives than is apparent now.

Project Managers are always – always – faced with the pressure to reduce costs, with a common reaction being to trim scope and performance from the project.  In this case, the supposed improvements in staff and technology efficiency will make up for the lost physical presence of weather professionals at control centers.  I doubt that this is possible.  Any cost reduction will likely be offset by other tangible and intangible – and unintended – consequences.  Public transportation and safety does not seem to be a good place to perform such an experiment.



1. Jason - July 17, 2009

Update: at least one member of Congress sees that the FAA has not sufficiently justified its motives: http://www.generalaviationnews.com/?p=10852

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