I spent some time working at the William J. Hughes Technical Center earlier in my career when I was fielding and managing terminal automation systems and later while I was on a detail managing en route automation second level engineering. I like the balance our Tech Center colleagues manage to strike between executing world-class aviation work with the utmost professionalism and passion while making everyone feel comfortable in a casual, family-like atmosphere.
The tools we use to help us learn have come such a long way since the days when overhead projectors, photocopiers and handheld calculators seemed like high technology. Now, many kids have a tablet and a smartphone to help them with school work from a very young age.
We usually think of ourselves as a service provider with many internal and external customers. But we also are a customer ourselves when it comes to some services and supplies.
The ATO spends more than $148 million a year on a range of parts and services from the FAA Logistics Center (AML) at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, where we get everything from headsets and radios used by air traffic controllers to the radar system components that Technical Operations installs and maintains in the field. We have been AML’s largest customer for its $230 million a year business.
Keeping air traffic safe and efficient is our primary mission -- but we have to be careful not to confuse that mandate with maintaining the status quo. Innovation is a key strategic priority for our agency and for the ATO, and I’m asking you all to adapt to our dynamic environment and be ready.
One of the ways the ATO is immersed in innovative activities is through the role we are playing in the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP), the administration’s opportunity for state, local and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities to ensure safe UAS integration in our airspace.
As I visit facilities across the NAS to meet with many of you, I’m always so impressed with the breadth and quality of our people and our work. Everywhere I go, it’s easy to spot people who are leaders, going above and beyond their daily work to solve problems and make the ATO a better place to work.
On some weekends, it’s easy for me to feel productive by mowing the lawn, weeding the flower beds and washing the deck. But I know I have to also make time to tackle difficult projects that could potentially give my home more value and efficiency in the long run, like determining whether I should get solar panels or replacement windows to save energy, or install new gutters or plumbing to avoid water damage.
I read this story awhile back that talked about how Google asks its employees to provide feedback about their managers on a semi-annual basis. The questions the technology company poses include whether supervisors communicate clear goals, share relevant information and value employee perspectives. Sounds familiar! The questions are very similar to some of those we ask in the FedView survey that gauges federal employee satisfaction and engagement.
I grew up with four brothers, and we all watched and played baseball in the summer. Over time, we realized that the game was much more than whether a batter could hit or a fielder could catch. The game had layers of strategy built in and even people who didn’t take the field were instrumental in a team’s fate. The team’s manager chooses the batting order of the players, selects a pitcher and decides when to bring in a reliever. He can focus on tackling the challenges of the daily operation while the team’s general manager focuses on broader strategies that impact the future like trading players and negotiating contracts.
A key reason we value our jobs so much is we have such an important mission of ensuring that air travelers move safely and efficiently through our national airspace. When we also feel appreciated, trusted and respected among our co-workers, we look forward to coming to work every day.
I got a chance to hear a marvelous speaker at the Professional Women Controllers conference earlier this week. Her name is Christine Darden and she is one of the NASA mathematicians who inspired the book Hidden Figures, which was later turned into an Oscar-nominated movie. She led some of the major research on supersonic flight and sonic booms.
In the most recent Safety Stand Down events, we have had themes focused on recognizing and communicating hazards. During the current event, which began April 22 and wraps up May 6, we are focusing on mitigating and resolving hazards.
None of us will forget any time soon the 2017 weather season. We experienced several fatal hurricanes, destructive wildfires and damaging storms that disrupted our airspace, our equipment and our people. We’re still recovering in some places.
As severe weather season begins again, I want to let you know about a few of the measures we are taking this year to leverage the lessons we learned and mitigate challenges next time they occur.
I’m pleased to tell you that next week we are starting a series of nine workshops that focus on leadership development specifically for our operations managers (OMs), which is one of our most challenging positions.
When some of the newest users of our national airspace first emerged, I don’t think any of us anticipated just how quickly we’d have to adapt and find ways to make our system accessible for additional purposes beyond manned aircraft moving passengers and cargo from place to place.
Since those early days, I am pleased at how many ways the FAA and our colleagues in the ATO are leading and contributing to so many innovative initiatives involving unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commercial space vehicles and other non-traditional entrants.