FAA and NATCA Leadership Meet in Dallas
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Two recent developments should further enhance the effectiveness of the FAA/NATCA collaborative process, which has been formally under way and growing successfully for more than a year.
First, joint training on the process and how it works was completed last month for nearly every facility. The second was a meeting in Dallas held Sept. 19-23, when both parties took a huge step forward into better understanding how collaboration will help across ATO operations.
FAA directors of operations (DOs) met in Dallas with their counterparts from NATCA, the regional vice presidents (RVPs). Those leaders also met with the regional coordinators (RC), FAA labor relations (LR), NATCA LR, executive technical representatives (ETRs), Vice President of Terminal Services Walt Cochran, Vice President of En Route and Oceanic Services Chris Metts, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. Members of the Collaborative Working Group (CWG) also attended and assisted with the meeting.
"Dallas was the missing piece of the puzzle in the communication for the collaboration effort,” said CWG member and Collaborative Program Co-Manager Rusty Buchanan. “No other time in my career have I seen a meeting that included this hierarchy. To me this was a very positive sign."
“I'm convinced we made a healthy dent in the work needed to make these collaborative investments really pay off for all the people depending on us,” added NATCA’s Russ Miller, Buchanan’s counterpart in the CWG. “If we follow through on the commitments made, and also on those anticipated, we'll look back on that meeting as a crucial step in making collaboration a permanent shift in our culture."
The meeting participants said they came away with a clearer understanding of the current state of collaboration efforts in the field, as well as the realization that each of them has an important part to play in establishing collaboration as a better way to do business and building its sustainability.
The Eastern, Central, and Western Service Area participants met in subgroups to make regional-level commitments to those efforts. They also made regional-level plans on how to collect, assess, and discuss facility data on collaborative efforts.
Another meeting, tentatively scheduled for November, will bring together FAA and NATCA representatives in Tech Ops/Region X and Mission Support Services who weren't able to attend the September meeting.
“This is really important work for all of us,” said Suzanne Alexander, director of Operations for Terminal Services in the Eastern Service Area. “The more effective working relationships we have, the better we'll be able to run the national airspace system. Effective collaboration is the key to help us develop the best use of our technology, airspace and procedures, and really taps into the talents and passions of all the workforce.”
"Early on during the Dallas collaborative process meeting it was apparent how far the deployment of this initiative had come, which is a testament to the dedicated work of the regional coordinators and field teams,” said Paul Sheridan, director of Operations for Terminal Services in the Central Service Area. “It was also apparent that the hard work is just beginning in weaving this important skill set into the fabric of our culture. With all of the challenges that this organization faces, this effort could not have come at a more appropriate time in our history."
NATCA regional vice presidents shared that positive outlook on collaboration following the meeting and noted the benefits – both for the agency and the country – that are now possible.
“I am deeply encouraged by the collaborative process as it allows us to address issues of importance to both NATCA and the FAA without the typical struggles between labor and management,” said NATCA Western Pacific RVP Ham Ghaffari. “At a time when our country is in desperate need of an economic stimulus, the collaborative process will allow us to focus on providing the most cost-effective and efficient service to the aviation community and the American taxpayer.”
“Dallas was a starting point for the collaborative process being used in my relationship with the Central Service Area directors,” said NATCA Great Lakes RVP Bryan Zilonis. “It is easy to speak at someone. It is harder to listen. Challenging ourselves to understand an issue and work it to conclusion together is simply a better way to do business.”
The FAA and NATCA leaders at the meeting learned that making collaboration a common way of doing business takes more than posters, emails and speeches. They saw that it’s a new way of looking at challenges, a preferred way of exchanging information, and a functional way of setting expectations for both management and labor leaders.
Those developments did not occur in a vacuum, however. The September meeting followed a series of conscious, deliberate shifts in FAA/NATCA relations, including the creation of a mutually agreed upon and documented process for collaboration.
“The senior leadership of the FAA and NATCA met in Dallas during September to build upon its commitment to institutionalize collaboration throughout the ATO,” said John McCartney, director of En Route and Oceanic Operations for the Eastern Service Area. “The regional vice presidents and the directors met to discuss the progress made thus far and to assess the challenges that we need to overcome together to facilitate cultural change in which the collaborative process is imbedded naturally throughout our organization. Together we restated our commitment to provide the leadership in the collaborative process necessary to help transform the ATO for the benefit of our employees, the taxpaying public and our customers.”
Collaboration can sometimes be a challenge, but NATCA and FAA leaders understand that meeting the challenge has a definite payoff.
It's often harder for labor and management to work together to resolve issues, but when we do, the finished product is always superior,” said NATCA Southern RVP Victor Santore. “NATCA members truly care about the safety and efficiency of the air traffic control system. Advancing the mission of the Agency collaboratively benefits management, our membership, and the flying public. I'm very happy we are developing a process that will last.”
The Dallas meeting helped participants working outside Washington, D.C., understand what is possible through collaboration and what is necessary to make it successful – with these leaders critical to the success of the next stage of the collaborative process.
“It feels like the first time in my professional memory that both parties involved in the collaborative process — labor and management — are truly focused on the same goal of improving the system,” said Mark Reeves, director of Operations for Terminal Services in the Western Service Area. “I am seeing more opportunities to do the right things for the right reasons than I can ever remember.”