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July 02, 2009

Robert Poole, Kathryn Wylde, NextGen ATC and the Overton Window

Robert Poole is a rhetorician for the Reason Foundation, a think tank loved supported paid for by the Reagan-Bush-Red-State side of the aisle. (Their Clinton-Obama opposite is the Center for American Progress.) Robert Poole's expertise is in surface transportation issues. He has been making bold claims about reinventing Air Traffic Control. He makes arguments that anybody with a bit of ATC experience will recognize as flights of fantasy.

Mr. Poole has seemed (to me) to be a harmless shill for the aviation-military-industrial complex, the people who build airplanes and satellites and rockets. He's sort of the Baghdad Bob of Boeing ATC. He pitches new technologies that will replace the (nominally) aging, creaking air traffic control system and set the planes and passengers free of the backwards, outdated technology that’s been holding us all back.

Robert Poole is an idiot if he thinks that this new package, marketed as - wait for it, wait for it - NextGen is going to deliver the promised benefits. However, I think he’s quite smart, and I think he's an artful mover of the Overton Window. Throughout the Bush years, Poole’s been giving speeches and white papers that advocate for Star Wars satellite-based navigation systems, new computers, and privatizing ATC. He asks, Why is the government in charge of air traffic control? Don’t they screw up everything?

Let’s put private industry (Enron, GM) in charge. First, let's buy a bunch of technology from vendors and contractors. We'll get it all working later.
Readers may remember the rhetoric: Government is the problem (see YouTube below), and Starve the Beast (more), etc.

Robert Poole is a useful tool for the airline industry, the avionics industry looking to diversify beyond the military, and the Beltway Bandits that profit from a sliver of everything that happens in DC. Curiously, all the Bush Administration honchos that embraced Poole's proposals are now out of government service - and they've all gone to work for the industry that wants to sell the equipment that Poole is pushing.

I have seen Poole’s work, and I have ignored it because nobody with an operational background could possibly entertain his notions. In June, he wrote about how NextGen would solve New York City's airport delays.

On Monday I saw the results of Robert Poole’s advocacy: on the Huffington Post, Kathryn Wilde blogged about how Robert Poole’s NextGen would solve all the problems of the New York City Airports – and if only we’d prioritize the investment in our future, we’d see the benefit in about twelve years.

And then Wednesday, I saw an article in New York Future Initiative echoing Kathryn Wilde's uninformed speculation. It seems to me like the NextGen marketing program is hitting full stride.

Who is Kathryn Wylde?

Ms. Wylde is not an pilot, not a controller, and not a transportation expert. She is President & CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for New York City. She's also President & CEO of the New York City Investment Fund, the Partnership’s $120 million civic investment fund. Prior to joining the Partnership, Wylde was the Urban Affairs Officer at Anchor Savings Bank (1979-81) and spent 11 years (1968-79) in various positions at Lutheran Medical Center.

She's a cheerleader of the Chamber of Commerce and certain financial interests. She’s a finance type, a fund developer, a schmoozer and hob-nobber who plays with other people’s money. There's nothing wrong with that. However, let's be clear: She is not an aviation expert (but she plays one on the web).

When you go to their website, check the button on the left margin, "GROUNDED: the high cost of Air Traffic Congestion". I like the alliteration that has ATC standing for Congestion; nice touch.

Somehow, this civic financial doyenne is advising the nation on the air traffic control system, and how if we’d only buy the NextGen and the BlackBoxGizmo, all the problems would go away. She has no idea what she’s talking about. Two days later, an article in NYfi was furthering the NextGen message, quoting Kathryn Wylde as an expert.

I ignored Robert Poole because no person who understood the operational issues would believe that he offered a solution for anything other than the industry’s cashflow problem. When I saw that the campaign had moved the discussion and the Overton window enough so that Chamber of Commerce types were confidently spouting his marketing shtick, I felt compelled to object.

I think I have found out what happened to the people who were promising an AeroCar in every carport and a JetPack for every Boy Scout in the 1950's - they're all out selling NextGen ATC now.


Anonymous said...

If you want a very funny read, go back and read Poole's "Newsletters" promoting the privatization of Flight Service. He batted 1000! Everything he said would come to pass was wrong!!! Also funny reading is his views on privatizing the all of ATC!!!

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