The air traffic controllers' rumor mill is one of the best, powered by a communications network second only to that of the Pentagon.
The word on the rumor mill is that longtime controller Ed Dishart, who works at the FAA center in Leesburg, Va., has really been hounded since he told CBS television recently that the FAA wants "to bring these new controllers on board too fast."
"That's just not so," Dishart said later. "I expected the FAA to say something, but I haven't heard a thing."
That may be because of the FAA's new interest in listening to controllers and keeping them happy. Administrator J. Lynn Helms said, "I don't think there's any question in anybody's mind that I'm serious" about improving employe-management relations.
A 1970 study group and another appointed after the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization strike in 1981, reported that FAA management's relationship with its controllers was dreadful and led to slowdowns and strikes. Both reports irritated the managers.
"I had some problems with the Jones report," the most recent study, said Louis Pol, chief of the regional air traffic control center in Islip, N.Y. "There was too much emphasis on facility managers being the cause of the strike. I don't think there was enough emphasis on the times, on the Vietnam war veterans among the controllers and the fact that disobedience was the standard."
The Jones report is named for Lawrence Jones, a human relations consultant who headed the task force that studied the FAA after the 1981 strike. Jones reported recently to Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole and Helms that he is "favorably impressed" with the progress the FAA has made to date.
That analysis was based, Jones said later, on a visit to Washington. It is premature, he said, to expect significant progress in the field.
"My view would be," he said, that "if things proceed, this coming spring and summer will be the worst time they will have" in the years-long process of training replacements for thousands of fired controllers. "Traffic is building. They've got all these trainees, and the first wave of trainees is going to have a high washout rate. So it's going to be tough."
Nonetheless, Jones said, "I think I am more optimistic, rather than optimistic. We're delighted" that the FAA seems "to be recognizing there's a real problem to be solved which will take real change to occur."
Human relations specialists have been hired at each of the FAA's nine regional offices, and facility managers are preparing human relations programs. Employe advisory boards and human relations committees are being established in every FAA facility, and Helms is pushing middle managers to recognize that problems such as the PATCO strike do not happen twice without something being wrong.
"We have to give controllers avenues to be heard," Pol said. He finds himself meeting with controllers and human relations committees. "In my opinion, the easiest way to deal is with a union, with one person, the union representative. It's more difficult to manage" through committees and meetings, he said, and "it's more of a challenge."
The typical air traffic controller, said Robert A. Frink, deputy chief of the O'Hare airport tower, "is used to seeing instant results. He tells an airplane to turn, it turns. He doesn't understand three-year budget cycles and, if he's told there will be a pay raise and then months go by without one , he gets angry."