Nearly three months after Henry “Hank” Krakowski was forced out as head of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO), the agency named acting head David Grizzle permanently to the post. Krakowski resigned as ATO COO on April 14, following a series of highly publicized incidents in which air traffic controllers were found sleeping on duty.
The incidents led the FAA to double up on controllers during the midnight shift at 27 airports, and to change its scheduling practices to allow controllers more time to rest between shifts. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt and Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca), embarked on a “call to action” series of visits to air-traffic-control facilities to emphasize safety and professionalism.
ATO is responsible for operating the U.S. ATC system. With a Fiscal Year 2012 request of $7.65 billion, the organization commands nearly 80 percent of the FAA’s $9.82 billion operations budget. It employs 35,000 people, including some 15,000 controllers, most represented by Natca. In addition to daily operations, ATO is responsible for rolling out the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) modernization program.
Like Krakowski, Grizzle, who served as FAA’s chief counsel for two years before Babbitt tapped him to lead the ATO, comes from an airline background. Before joining the FAA, he worked for Continental Airlines and its affiliates for 22 years, retiring in 2008 as senior vice president for customer experience. He took a leave of absence from Continental in 2004, serving 14 months with the U.S. State Department in Kabul, Afghanistan, as a senior advisor for transportation and infrastructure.
The cultural divide between FAA executives with backgrounds in airline management and unionized air traffic controllers has been cited as contributing to Krakowski’s undoing.
Babbitt also came from an airline; he flew 25 years as a pilot for Eastern Airlines. But he also has labor credentials, having served as president of the Air Line Pilots Association. Months after being sworn in as administrator in June 2009, Babbitt brokered a new contract with Natca, ending a three-year stalemate during which controllers worked under imposed work and pay rules.
Natca has not yet made a statement regarding Babbitt’s appointment of Grizzle.