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James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award

Winners of The James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award:

2019: Tom Costello

NBC News reporter Tom Costello was presented with the James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award at Communicating For Safety in Las Vegas on Sept. 18, 2019.

Costello’s quarter century of national and international reporting has earned numerous awards including national and regional Emmy awards, and multiple Edward R. Murrow reporting honors. 

Costello has covered aviation since 2005, including the 2009 Miracle on the Hudson, the 2018 fatal engine explosion onboard a Southwest Airlines flight, and the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes and subsequent MAX fleet grounding. One of his first stories in 2005 when he moved to the NBC News Washington Bureau was about the first winners of NATCA’s Archie League Medal of Safety Awards.

Costello has also covered a wide array of stories across the beats of transportation, space exploration, cybersecurity, and economics. In 2017, his coverage of deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville earned NBC News an Excellence Award from the National Association of Black Journalists. Tom’s reports appear across all NBC News platforms, including online, The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, and CNBC. In fact, he was on duty as CNBC’s Nasdaq Editor in Manhattan on 9/11. Before joining NBC News in 2004, Costello spent six years at KUSA-TV in Denver, and two years at KVIA-TV in El Paso, TX.

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

2018: Gordon Graham

The 2018 James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award winner, Gordon Graham, was honored during Communicating For Safety (CFS) in Las Vegas on Oct. 23, 2018.

Graham, a risk management expert, was presented with two special honors before he took the stage at CFS for the fifth straight year. First, Graham was presented with an honorary NATCA membership that the 17th Biennial Convention voted in April 2018 in Philadelphia to bestow on him. Next, Graham was given the James Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award.

Graham, who has become a very good friend to NATCA, has been a tireless advocate for safety for decades. And each time he speaks, safety professionals leave with vitally important information that better prepare them to approach their jobs with even more care and professionalism than before.

The wildly popular Graham spoke to another captivated CFS audience about making a commitment to risk management through ethical decision making. “In every profession, there are different types of external risks in all situations,” he said. “People make commitments to risk management. What control measures do you have in place to prevent these risks?”

He went on to say that things normally go right in aviation for air traffic controllers, statistics show. But when things go wrong, the proximal cause – what happens right before the tragedy – should be identified to prevent future events from happening. “Real risk managers ask what were the causes before, that everyone knew about, but no one did anything to change.”

Graham gave a 10-step process on how to think things through, in order to limit mistakes and prevent risks in the ATC profession:

–      Identify what needs to be decided.

–      Do you have time to think?

–      Do you have jurisdiction? If you don’t, give it to the people that do..

–      What does your policy say? Look it up policy and follow it.

–      Think about past practices and ask how have WE done it before? It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done it, ask if someone else in your facility has.

–      Are you doing the right thing? Ethics has to be a part of your decision making.

–      What are the consequences if you do it? And what are the consequences if you don’t do it? Make consequence analysis a part of the decision-making process.

–      Make the call and do something.

–      Document the process.

–      If you learn something new, share it with others.

Graham told the audience that controllers should be training daily, to avoid mistakes and make good decisions. He also emphasized the need for the Union to capture the knowledge from members that did great things in their career, before they retire.

“Collectively, this group knows everything about ATC, but individually, ATCs have limited knowledge. You must learn and share,” he said. He continued to say that every day, controllers are making people safer and, at the same time, improving the quality of the ATC profession. “You are sending people home to their families daily,” he said. “Your profession is so important in the scheme of things, that continuous improvement is warranted. Take this message and work safely.”

2017: Margaret Jenny

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert presented the James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award to RTCA President Margaret Jenny at the annual NATCA Corporate Partner Appreciation event on Nov. 13, 2017. 

“Tonight we are very proud to present this honor to a leader who has been at the forefront of the collaborative effort to modernize the National Airspace System,” Rinaldi said. “Margaret Jenny, as the president of RTCA, has been an advocate for NATCA since day one. She’s a thread inside NATCA’s fabric. Through her work and partnership, NATCA has built relationships throughout the aviation industry and has become a vital stakeholder in the eyes of industry leaders.”

“We wouldn’t be able to solve the problems we are trying to solve, and make progress with NextGen, without NATCA,” Jenny said in her keynote remarks for the event, after which she accepted the award. “Paul and Trish understand they need a seat at the table. These two understand you’ve got to try to find common ground or you are not going to move forward.”

“I look forward to many more years of partnership between our organizations,” Jenny said.

BELOW: Watch NATCA’s video tribute to Jenny.

2017: Michael Huerta

On March 22, 2017, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert presented the James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety award to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta before he spoke at the Archie League Medal of Safety Awards banquet at Communicating For Safety.

Rinaldi explained that under Huerta’s term as Administrator, the relationship between NATCA and the FAA has come far. Rinaldi said that we have built a culture of collaboration that has enabled us to make progress on NextGen, strengthen the workforce at the local and regional levels as well as at FAA headquarters, and ultimately enhance the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS).

“I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” Huerta said.

Administrator Huerta is the first Administrator to come to the Archie League Medal of Safety Awards banquet, and he has attended every year he has been Deputy Administrator, Acting Administrator, or Administrator. Rinaldi said this embodies Huerta’s commitment to the work that aviation safety professionals do each and every day.

“I can’t really say that I can take credit for the amazing things that we’ve accomplished because we have done so much together,” said Huerta. “Our ability to go so many years with this incredible safety record is due to the work of all of you.”

Huerta said that on any given day, thousands of people are getting on airplanes and they are thinking about a lot of things — whether the bag is going make it, what the TSA line is like, will that kid ever shut up — but if you think about it, they’re not worrying about whether it’s safe.

“It’s gotten to the point where the public doesn’t even think about it — but we know that we have to be vigilant each and every day to ensure the system we love so much is the safest it can possibly be,” Huerta said. “Thank you for all that you do and thank you for this. It means a great deal to me.”

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

2017: Christopher Hart

At NATCA’s Communicating For Safety conference in March 2017, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert presented the James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety award to a pillar of the aviation community, former NTSB chairman and member Christopher Hart. Rinaldi commended his dedication to the safety of not only the National Airspace System, but all modes of transportation.

Rinaldi explained that Hart fully embraces a collaborative approach and understands that in order to improve safety, the workforce must be engaged at the earliest stage possible.

“Yes I played a role in it, but the people who really did it was the staff,” said Hart. “The wonderful, competent, proud, professional staff. They did all the work and I got all the credit.”

Hart concluded by thanking all of the aviation safety professionals who have helped him safeguard the NAS and that he looks forward to continuing their positive and growing relationship.

BELOW: Watch the award presentation.

2016: Joseph Teixeira

2015: Deborah Hersman

2014: Lee Moak

2013: Randy Babbitt

Randy Babbitt, a true champion of aviation safety for more than four decades, was the 2013 recipient of the James L. Oberstar Sentinel of Safety Award.

“Paul and Trish and all of you at NATCA, thank you very much,” said Babbitt as he accepted his award. “I’m humbled by this recognition (and) flattered by your thoughts, but I’m really pleased to see the progress, happy to be a part of it. Any organization is reflected by the characters of its people. And you, the people at NATCA, have made this airspace system the safest it has ever been, and will continue to be.”

Babbitt served as FAA Administrator from 2009 to 2011. During his tenure, he was committed to restoring fairness to all air traffic controllers and worked diligently to provide frontline employees with pre-decisional involvement. Babbitt made it clear that achieving lasting success would require both the FAA and NATCA to “put chains” on the pendulum swings that often result when there is a change in leadership.

A veteran pilot and internationally recognized expert in aviation and labor relations, Babbitt was no stranger to the FAA. He was a member of the agency’s Management Advisory Council since 2001. In that capacity, he provided guidance to the FAA Administrator on a variety of topics, ranging from air traffic modernization to regulatory policy. He was chairman of the council from 2004-06.

He also was appointed by DOT Secretary Mary Peters to be a member of a special Internal Review Team to assess safety oversight within the airline industry and the FAA.

Babbitt had been the founding partner of Eclat Consulting, a highly successful aviation firm, in 2001 and was the President and CEO until Eclat was acquired by Oliver Wyman in 2007.

Babbitt began his aviation career as a pilot, flying 25 years for Eastern Airlines. A skilled negotiator, he served as President and CEO for the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l. (ALPA), the world’s largest professional organization of airline pilots. While at ALPA, he championed the “One Level of Safety” initiative implemented in 1995 to improve safety standards across the industry. He also promoted the international expansion of ALPA through a merger with the Canadian Air Line Pilots Association in 1997.

He was recognized by Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine with the Laurels Award for outstanding achievement in the Commercial Air Transport.

2012: Jim Fossey
Jim Fossey accepts his award from NATCA Great Lakes Regional Vice President Bryan Zilonis.
2010: Jane Garvey

2009: Rep. Alcee Hastings

2008: Rep. Peter DeFazio and Rep. Frank LoBiondo

2007: Rep. Jerry Costello and Rep. Steven LaTourette

2006: Sen. Frank Lautenberg

2005: Rep. James Oberstar