"Working Together for Safety"
Michael Huerta, Miami, Fla.
August 20, 2013

2013 PASS Annual Convention


As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Mike (Perrone). It’s great to be here. The FAA and PASS have enjoyed a very good working relationship and I am committed to continuing to improve it.

You all know as well as anyone that the FAA’s number one mission is safety. That’s what we all think about 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And one of the greatest benefits of having a good working relationship with our unions is that we can spend more time thinking of ways to enhance safety to make our system run better.

Our good relationship has led to the new contract that was signed for Tech Ops employees in December – the first since 2000. And the way we arrived at this contract was different than in the past. We took a more collaborative approach, using interest-based bargaining. We began by taking the time to understand the problems that each of us faces and where our interests lie, and we became joint problem solvers, looking for a win-win solution. And it got results.

We are in the process of conducting training for managers and union representatives on the changes that are included in this contract. We want everyone to be clear on the intent of the contract and the articles that changed.

Also, in July we reached a tentative agreement on a contract for employees represented by PASS in AVS. This agreement will now be subject to a union vote. Most employees under this proposed contract have gone more than 20 years without a new contract. While this is not a done deal, this agreement represents real progress, not just at the bargaining table, but also in the relationship between PASS and the FAA.

I look forward to strengthening our relationship with PASS so that together, we can continue enhancing the safety of our system.

Later today you’ll be hearing from three top FAA officials, Vaughn Turner, the head of Tech Ops; Joseph Teixeira, the head of safety and technical training, and John Allen, the director of Flight Standards. They will join PASS representatives to talk about how we can all work together to improve safety.

I want to emphasize one of the core truths about safety. It is a job not just for people who have “safety” in their title. It’s a job for everyone, everywhere, every day. It never stops. And it takes all of us to think about safety and to actively discuss these issues in order to reach the next level.

We are continuing with the Safety Stand Down for Tech Ops. This eight-hour training session twice a year reviews the basics. It’s always good to slow down every so often and think about the basics, like how we drive our vehicles and how we climb towers, so that we always put safety first. We thank PASS for partnering with us on this important initiative.

Vaughn Turner has taken on the role of FAA’s Designated Safety Health Official. He has responsibility for workplace safety for the entire agency and all 47,000 employees. It’s a big job and I’m confident that the lessons that we learn in TechOps can be useful to the rest of the agency and vice versa.

Tech Ops keeps our system safe by maintaining more than 66,000 pieces of equipment. You service more than 1,200 Instrument Landing Systems; more than 1,000 VORs; and more than 240 Airport Surveillance Radars. You understand a thing or two about electricity. You make sure the radios work, the lights are on, and the generators are ready to back up our system.

If our equipment doesn’t function correctly, we have no system. PASS members understand the software and the hardware for the terminal and en route automation platforms. In fact, PASS subject matter experts are helping us with ERAM, Time Based Flow Management, Data Comm, and NAS Voice Switch as well as more than 30 other projects.

We have learned that getting our workforce involved on the early end of major transformation programs greatly improves the outcome. When you stop and ask the people who are going to use or repair a product how they feel about it, and whether it’s working, you get some very direct and important feedback. So thank you for your hard work and valuable contributions in these areas.

The FAA and PASS are working together in a very collaborative way on several safety programs that reinforce the importance of all points safety.

For example, the Certified Safe initiative recognizes individuals who go above and beyond. If an employee sees a colleague doing something that makes the workplace safer, we encourage you to let us know so that we can acknowledge the good work.

Vaughn recently recognized a PASS member who is an automation systems specialist at Indianapolis Center. This individual, Javon Henry, saw that we could make changes in the Time Based Flow Management system that would minimize any loss of system availability during the deployment.

The TBFM system connects our centers to our airports and allows them to work together to improve the flow of air traffic into congested airports. For example, controllers at en route centers surrounding Atlanta help meter the flow of traffic to Atlanta and Charlotte. If a carrier leaves Minneapolis and is ahead of schedule, we can slow them down en route so that they arrive when there is an available runway in Atlanta. This keeps the system running smoothly and minimizes delays for everyone.

Javon had ideas for the installation process of TBFM and as the subject matter expert for PASS, he let them be known. It would be a good idea to train technicians before installing the system, so that they would be ready to maintain it, he said. And it would be good to have the new system working properly at one site, before deploying it at many locations. Javon had more than a dozen ideas that led to an improved deployment. He did not accept anything other than success.

And for that, he got the Certified Safe recognition. So thank you to Javon and many others who are standing up for safety.

I can’t emphasize enough how important communication and collaboration is. For the past two years, we have run a pilot program in the Central Service Area where Tech-Ops employees can report problems that they see in order to make the system safer. By now, I think you are all familiar with T-SAP, which is similar to the self-reporting programs for pilots – ASAP, and for air traffic controllers – ATSAP. We have received numerous reports from technicians since the pilot program began in October 2011, and we’ve made 58 changes to mitigate hazards in our airspace system due to these reports.

We are using corrective action and training before punishment or discipline to solve the problems in our system. These reports are not about blame – they are about having the professionalism and practices in place that let us know where problems exist so we can come together to try to resolve them. Our safety culture is dependent on people being able to say anything without fear of reprisal. You should be able to raise your hand and say, “Hey, this isn’t working.” That’s even if your boss came up with the idea. By working together and being open, we have a chance to draw on everyone’s expertise to address problems. This is very important for our success. We are encouraging everyone to voluntarily report safety information that may help identify potential precursors to accidents. Let me give you an example of why T-SAP matters and how it’s improving safety. And let me stress that this program is working so well because we are working with PASS on this. We are all working together.

A T-SAP report came in after an electric heater in an engine generator room malfunctioned. The heater scorched the ceiling of the room that helped run an Airport Surveillance Radar-11. Of course this is not something that we want to happen again.

We reviewed that report and asked the radar team to figure out why the heater didn’t work right. And they figured it out: the heater was mounted too close to the ceiling because the mounting brackets were the wrong kind. We asked everyone to inspect their heaters. Turns out, they were installed too close to the ceiling in other places too. Needless to say, those mounting brackets were changed out and the heaters were re-installed correctly.

This one T-SAP report averted and eliminated a risk of fire at several locations. This is exactly why we value voluntary reporting. It’s the basis for a safety management system and a stronger safety culture. In fact, we look forward to expanding the program to include the Eastern and Western Service Areas in the coming year. So thank you to those who have participated, and everyone please keep your eyes peeled for other safety issues that you feel need attention.

The best way for us to enhance safety is to work together. We run a very large airspace system with a lot of complicated equipment. No single person has all the answers or all the insights into how to make our system better. That’s why we very much value employee insight and input. We rely on it.

I hope that you’ll find the sessions and panels informative at the conference this year and return to your jobs refreshed and energized to maintain and improve the safest and most efficient airspace system in the world.

Now I’d like to open it up to questions if anyone has something they’d like to ask.

###