In the wake of a report that showed the FAA is hiring air traffic controllers based more on race than qualifications, one member of a national civil rights panel called out the agency — and used references from a 1980 comedy film to make his point.
Peter Kirsanow, a Republican member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, wrote a letter
to Department of Transportation Administrator Michael Huerta slamming the agency for changing its hiring practices to focus on diversifying its staff.
A Fox Business report
last month uncovered the practice.
Kirsanow referenced the movie "Airplane" throughout his letter.
"I write as one member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and not on behalf of the Commission as a whole," Kirsanow wrote. "I also write as a concerned frequent flier who has no desire to find himself appearing as 'Victim No. 6' in accounts of an airplane disaster."
Kirsanow included a footnote at the end of that paragraph, which read, "See generally Airplane! (1980)."
"Americans have long assumed that when hiring air traffic controllers, the FAA tries to hire the most qualified people for the job," Kirsanow continued. "Unfortunately, news reports indicate that the FAA has abandoned or diluted objective standards of evaluating competence, such as having obtained a college degree in air traffic control and obtaining a score of 85 or above on the Air Traffic Selection and Training Exam (AT-SAT).
"It is even more troubling that many of these reports suggest that the FAA changed its selection procedures because it wanted fewer white male air traffic controllers. A news report quotes Secretary Foxx as telling Congress, 'The FAA took an opportunity to take a broad opening of the aperture if you will to try to get a larger universe of applicants into the program.' I don't speak jive, but I am fluent in bureaucratese, and this is easy to translate: the FAA didn't like the racial and gender composition of the people in its pool of potential air traffic controllers."
Kirsanow's reference to "jive" was also from the movie "Airplane."
The Commission on Civil Rights is made up of eight members — four presidential appointees and four Congressional appointees. Its mission is to both inform about civil rights policies in the U.S. and assist in the enforcement of civil rights laws.
In his letter, Kirsanow addressed the test given to all applicants in the air traffic controller hiring process. Several news outlets, he wrote, reported about a questionnaire given to each applicant, which Kirsanow took issue with.
After listing his grievances with the "biographical questionnaire," Kirsanow said, "On the other hand, perhaps I am underestimating the predictive power of the BQ. Maybe Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's experience with the Lakers was a useful predictor of his ability to co-pilot a plane — provided he avoided eating the fish."
The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar mention was another reference to "Airplane."
Kirsanow closed his letter by calling the FAA's racial hiring practices "lunacy," followed by yet another "Airplane" mention.
"It is one thing to select sociology students based on the color of their skin. It is another to pick gravel contractors based on the color of their skin," he wrote. "It is quite another to use skin color to choose air traffic controllers who are responsible for safely guiding thousands of people to their destinations. There is only one possible response to such lunacy:
"Surely you can’t be serious.
"And don't call me Shirley!"
A federal appeals court, meanwhile, recently determined
the FAA can allow passengers to use cellphones and other electronics while a plane is taking off and landing. However, the court said the FAA can decide to not allow them if it chooses.
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