Home Invasion

Rosie and I spent a few days away from home this weekend. When we arrived home and walked into the house last night, most of our electronics were out of place. Components were detached from cables, games and movies were mixed up and thrown into places we never put them, and an XBOX 360 was sitting in the middle of the room. Our sliding glass door was slightly open, and a very strange note was on the floor:

We called up the Spanish Fork Police Department, and an officer came over to survey the situation. The suspect entered through our front window, pulled out the screen and forced the front window open…bending the track of the window and breaking the lock. Once they had the loot, the unlocked the sliding door, which gave them access to come back and take more, or just “borrow” our stuff for a while. The officer told me that we are not the only ones in the neighborhood who’ve had this happen recently, and the written plan is consistent with the other thefts that have happened nearby. The note details the masterplan of the heist, and it was obvious that the theft was pulled off by kids.  Looking closely at the XBOX 360, we realized it wasn’t our console. It was an older XBOX version that had the “red ring of death,” and the input for the power cord was bent.

After working with SFPD, and putting a few facts together, I was pretty sure who did it. Rosie remembered that a neighbor boy who occasionally came to our house liked to play games with her, because his XBOX was broken. I’d had previous uneasy feelings about this boy, and he only came over to play video games. I knew his home situation was rough, with several older and younger siblings. His mom works at McDonalds, and would give her kids free food coupons to pass out at school. He has scars on his face from a brother splashing hot cooking oil on him, and he often wanders around the neighborhood alone without a winter coat.

I decided to take the broken XBOX over to the suspected boy’s home and confront his mother. She doesn’t speak English very well, and I could tell that her kids were twisting my words when they translated for her. After an hour of several kids denying facts, explaining how it couldn’t possibly be their 8-year old brother to write out the note, the truth came out when we plugged in the 2 XBOX consoles. The beat up one we brought over immediately glowed the “red ring of death,” which requires the console to be mailed to Microsoft for repair. The console the kids brought up from the basement had all gamer tag information recently swiped off of it, but it was undoubtedly ours.  The mother realized that her kids had our XBOX, but wanted to talk to her kids privately and get back to me.

About 30 minutes later, two of the teenage siblings showed up at our door (with no coats on.) The mother wanted me to come back over and talk with her. A large pile of our missing items sat upon their kitchen counter, including HD cables, games, wireless controllers, and our Game Cube. She made her kids apologize to me, and say that they’d never do it again. Most of our items were recovered at their house last night, but we are still missing about $100 of games, controllers, and movies. The mom was mortified that her kids pulled off the heist, and that so many of them were involved.

Rosie is not taking the whole situation well. She thought this kid was her friend, and feels so betrayed. I am angry that the kids did not come clean immediately, and that they didn’t return all of our missing items. I feel bad for the mother, as she realized that her kids worked together to break into a house, steal things, and repeatedly lied to her that they didn’t do it. I know their family is struggling financially, and the mother looked to be at the end of her rope when she opened the door (before having any idea about the theft). We had a hard time communicating due to the language barrier, and her kids changed my words when they translated our conversation. I think that between the police department and our renters policy, we’ll be able to recover our missing items. I just hate the negative and violated emotions that a situation like this evokes.

First Officer Jeffrey Skiles: Right Seat Hero

As the wife of a First Officer pilot, I’ve felt some disappointment about the reduced media bravado for First Officer Jeffrey Skiles. His role in the successful splash landing on the Hudson was just as vital as Captain Sully’s. A CA/FO relationship must be a well-oiled machine, as any pilot will tell you. “Pilot flying” and “pilot navigating” responsibilities are typically reversed on every leg of a trip. As I was looking for pictures to add to this posting, there were very few picture of Skiles alone. Most were taken with Sully, or with the flight crew.
I bring this up not to diminish the importance of a well-functioning flight crew, INCLUDING flight attendants. I wholeheartedly acknowledge the efforts of US Airways 1549 flight attendants Donna Dent, Sheila Dail and Doreen Welsh. They brilliantly followed the safety procedures to assist the 150 passengers to safety. My heart goes out to flight attendants in general, who must deal with unruly passengers and threatening situations in a big metal cylinder day after day.
I’m really glad that the media coverage post-accident has included the whole flight crew, but a little ticked off that the “FO got the shaft”(in the brilliant words of one of my FO friend). Yesterday, Skiles gave an excellent speech at the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation, U.S. House of Representatives. Other than TV stations cutting Skiles off after Sully completed his remarks, the address in general was fantastic. Skiles echoed Sully in many of the issues found in US aviation. I will now quote part of his address.

Like each and every one of my fellow professional airline pilots and flight attendants, I realize that flying a commercial airliner is a tremendous responsibility. The aftermath of this incident has brought forth in me a renewed understanding that this is a job for experienced professionals. Being an airline flight crewmember, whether pilot or flight attendant, is a serious job for serious people, and I am tremendously proud to count myself among their number. The dedication, seriousness and professionalism with which we in the aviation community approach our responsibilities can be credited for the dramatic improvement of our national aviation safety record.

The training, procedures and tenets of cockpit resource management (CRM) developed throughout the airline industry over the last 15 years, played a significant role on January 15th. Training departments industry wide are ceaselessly striving to identify future problems and develop procedures to combat them before they occur. A functional self-disclosure safety program is a valuable tool to identify and track errors. Mutually agreeable solutions to make these programs available are in the traveling public’s interest. We must work tirelessly to maintain an unrivaled commitment to safety and professionalism. However, another component of the positive result was the vast experience of the cockpit AND cabin crew.

Sully and I have over 70 years of experience and 40,000 flying hours between us. New pilots in the jet aircraft of our affiliate airlines have 300 hours. When I began at US-Airways, the Company required several thousand hours just to gain an interview for a pilot position. It is certainly in the interest of the traveling public to have experienced crews in the cockpit.

Along with Captain Sullenberger, I have concerns for the future of the Airline Pilot Profession. Experienced crews in the cockpit eventually will be a thing of the past. What this country has experienced economically in the last 8 months, we have experienced in our industry for the last 8 years, since 9-11. In the wake of these 8 years of financial turmoil, bankruptcies, layoffs, and revolving door management teams, airline piloting careers have been shattered. I personally earn half of what I once earned, AND I have lost my retirement to a PBGC promise that will pay pennies on the dollar. Many pilots like Captain Sullenberger and myself have had to split their focus from the Airline Piloting Profession and develop alternative businesses or careers. I myself am a general contractor. For the last 6 years, I have worked 7 days a week between my two jobs just to maintain a middle class standard of living.

The more than thirty thousand people who work at US Airways are proud of the work they do each day, and of their accomplishments. To many of us, the near total devaluation of our professions by our management is heartfelt. In the last several years the only constant I see is the ever increasing compensation levels of our management.

When I started in this industry there were aviation dynasties. Entire families would be employed in aviation as pilots, flight attendants, mechanics or agents. An aviation career was something people aspired to their entire childhood, as I did. Now I know of NO ONE who encourages their children to enter the airline industry.

From our perspective, it is clear that the current state of the management/ labor negotiation process is broken. Negotiations drag out for years in stagnation with little clarity for those of us who have spent our entire lives training to be on the front lines of safety for the American flying public. We aren’t asking for special privileges, but for a level playing field inside the NMB negotiating process. There is not a balance in the negotiating process and the state of the airline piloting profession is proof.

I would respectfully urge members of this subcommittee to work with other relevant committees to promote better balance between airline management and airline employees, especially in the area of creating an environment for efficient and effective negotiations inside the National Mediation Board process, thereby eliminating years of negotiating stagnation. I believe the reforms being considered by the House Judiciary committee can lead to more cooperation and less confrontation. This in turn would certainly help to rebuild an environment that will allow us to concentrate on the safety of the traveling public.

Our colleagues in this industry have rallied around our incident. While Captain Sullenberger and I generally prefer to land at airports, we are proud that the Hudson River landing displayed what well trained, professional pilots and flight attendants can do when faced with tremendous adversity. We are all very gratified and moved that our colleagues in the flying industry have seen this incident as a positive reflection of themselves and our shared profession.

We must ensure that America’s proud aviation traditions of transporting our citizens with safety and security does not fall victim to the immense challenges we face. In this, Congress has a role to play. We hope that you will take seriously the challenges that aviation professional’s face by helping us to level the playing field, and working with us to protect the airline pilot profession.

We ask that congress be a partner to the men and woman who make up the professionals who move America every day, as well as the companies who employ us. Working together we can ensure that the flight crews of the future will be the best and the brightest, and will have the experience and training necessary to ensure safe air travel to each and every passenger they carry.

Amen, brother.

Wise Words from Sully

Oops! Wrong Sully!

There we go! US Airways Captain Chesley Sullenberger

Yesterday, Chesley Sullenberger, First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles, and air traffic controller Patrick Harten received a standing ovation on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009, prior to testifying before the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation, U.S. House of Representatives. In addition to further details of the emegency landing on the Hudson last month, he gave a grim but realistic explanation of the current aviation industry. Quoting his remarks:

I am not only proud of my crew, I am proud of my profession. Flying has been my life-long passion. I count myself fortunate to have spent my life in the profession I love, with colleagues whom I respect and admire. But, honorable Representatives, while I love my profession, I do not like what has happened to it. I would not be doing my duty if I did not report to you that I am deeply worried about its future.

Americans have been experiencing huge economic difficulties in recent months – but airline employees have been experiencing those challenges, and more, for the last 8 years! We have been hit by an economic tsunami. September 11, bankruptcies, fluctuating fuel prices, mergers, loss of pensions and revolving door management teams who have used airline employees as an ATM have left the people who work for airlines in the United States with extreme economic difficulties.

It is an incredible testament to the collective character, professionalism and dedication of my colleagues in the industry that they are still able to function at such a high level. It is my personal experience that my decision to remain in the profession I love has come at a great financial cost to me and my family. My pay has been cut 40%, my pension, like most airline pensions, has been terminated and replaced by a PBGC guarantee worth only pennies on the dollar

While airline pilots are by no means alone in our financial struggles – and I want to acknowledge how difficult it is for everyone right now – it is important to underscore that the terms of our employment have changed dramatically from when I began my career, leading to an untenable financial situation for pilots and their families. When my company offered pilots who had been laid off the chance to return to work, 60% refused. Members, I attempt to speak accurately and plainly, so please do not think I exaggerate when I say that I do not know a single professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps.

I am worried that the airline piloting profession will not be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest. The current experience and skills of our country’s professional airline pilots come from investments made years ago when we were able to attract the ambitious, talented people who now frequently seek lucrative professional careers. That past investment was an indispensible element in our commercial aviation infrastructure, vital to safe air travel and our country’s economy and security. If we do not sufficiently value the airline piloting profession and future pilots are less experienced and less skilled, it logically follows that we will see negative consequences to the flying public – and to our country.

We face remarkable challenges in our industry. In order to ensure economic security and an uncompromising approach to passenger safety, management must work with labor to bargain in good faith. We must find collective solutions that address the huge economic issues we face in recruiting and retaining the experienced and highly skilled professionals that the industry requires and that passenger safety demands. But further, we must develop and sustain an environment in every airline and aviation organization – a culture that balances the competing needs of accountability and learning. We must create and maintain the trust that is the absolutely essential element of a successful and sustainable safety reporting system to detect and correct deficiencies before they lead to an accident. We must not let the economic and financial pressures detract from a focus on constantly improving our safety measures and engaging in ongoing and comprehensive training. In aviation, the bottom line is that the single most important piece of safety equipment is an experienced, well-trained pilot.

Despite the bad economic news we’ve experienced in recent times – despite the many challenges we face as a country – I have faith in America, in our people, in our promise. I have briefly touched upon some major problems in my industry today – but I do not believe they are intractable, should we decide to work collectively to solve them.

We all have roles to play in this effort. Despite the economic turbulence hitting our industry, the airline companies must refocus their attention – and their resources – on the recruitment and retention of highly experienced and well-trained pilots, and make that a priority that is at least equal to their financial bottom line. Jeff and I, and our fellow pilots will fly planes and continue to upgrade our education and our training, while we attempt to provide for our families. Patrick and the other talented Air Traffic Controllers will continue to guide us safely through the skies, our passengers will spend their hard-earned money to pay for their travel, and our flight attendants, mechanics, ground crews, and administrative personnel will deal with the thousands of constant details and demands that keep our planes safely in the air.

You can help us, honorable Members of Congress, to work together across party lines, and can demand – or legislate – that labor, management, safety experts, educators, technical experts, and everyday Americans join together to find solutions to these problems. We all honor our responsibilities in good faith and with respect for one another. We must keep the American commercial aviation industry safe and affordable for passengers, and financially viable for those who work in the industry day to day. And for those talented young men and women considering what to do with their lives, we must restore the narrative of a compelling career path in aviation with sufficient economic resources to once again make this vision a reality.