Monday, December 31, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 31 Part II

Yeah, I'm late.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 31, 1958: The Federal Aviation Agency assumed the full scope of its statutory responsibilities. Under the provisions of the Federal Aviation Act (see Aug 23, 1958) the effective date of appointment of the first FAA Administrator (see Nov 1, 1958) determined the effective date of most of the operative provisions of the act, which were to take effect 60 days from the qualification of the first Administrator. On this date FAA superseded CAA and absorbed certain CAB personnel associated with safety rulemaking. James T. Pyle, the last CAA Administrator, became Deputy Administrator of FAA, a post he continued to hold until Nov 30, 1961 (see Feb 21, 1962).

Dec 31, 1958: The FAA Administrator signed an agreement with the military departments setting forth the conditions for assignment of members of the Armed Services to FAA.“

Don Brown
December 31, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- GCA

I was fascinated when I first read this history. I had no idea that the Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) system was almost chosen over the Instrument Landing System (ILS) as the standard for air traffic control.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 31, 1945: Dr. Luis W. Alvarez received the 1945 Collier Trophy for his outstanding initiative in the conception of the Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) system and his contribution to its use for the safe landing of aircraft. The Armed Forces had introduced the system during World War II. After the conflict, some urged GCA’s use by civil aviation, while CAA continued to favor the Instrument Landing System (ILS). (See May 2, 1940, Mar 30, 1947, and Apr 3, 1947.) “

”Apr 3, 1947: CAA began in service testing of GCA (ground controlled approach) radar systems at Washington National and Chicago Municipal Airports. This modified radar precision landing equipment had been developed for military use, loaned to CAA by the Army Air Forces, and installed by the Airborne Instrument Laboratory of the Air Transport Association. New York's La Guardia Airport received similar equipment later in the year. (See Dec 31, 1945, and Apr 9, 1947.) Another operational service test, started about the same time at Washington National Airport, involved a microwave early-warning radar (MEW), one of the best long-range sets developed during the war. A joint CAA/Army Air Forces undertaking, this test aimed at developing effective means of coordinating MEW data and information from ATC flight progress boards.“

”Apr 9, 1947: CAA granted its first approval of the Air Forces' Ground Control Approach (GCA) radar device for commercial planes, authorizing its use by Pan American Airways at Gander, Newfoundland. (See Apr 3, 1947, and Jul 11, 1947.) “

”Jul 11, 1947: The House Subcommittee of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, chaired by Representative Carl Hinshaw (R-Calif.), submitted a report recommending creation of a single instrument landing system to safely and economically serve the requirements of both commerce and national defense simultaneously. Addressing the controversy regarding the merits of CAA's Instrument Landing System, known (ILS) and the military's Ground Control Approach (GCA) system, the committee recommended that CAA stop installation of additional ILS equipment. The committee suggested further that the United States proceed with the development of an instrument landing system satisfactory for fully automatic landing, and that the most modern GCA be installed at selected airports. Congress endorsed the report through its Aviation Policy Board in Mar 1948, and recommended, through the Board, that the "single system" program be undertaken.

Meanwhile, on Jul 15, 1947, CAA Administrator Theodore Wright had announced a new civil-military instrument landing system policy. ILS would remain the primary CAA landing aid, but the agency would supplement ILS at busy airports with an element of GCA designated precision approach radar (PAR), along with airport surveillance radar. The Air Force, however, would still rely primarily on GCA, using ILS for heavy planes and as a backup to GCA. (See Mar 30, 1947, and Feb 4, 1949.)“

”Feb 4, 1949: CAA granted authorization for commercial planes to use ground control approach (GCA) radar as a "primary aid" for bad-weather landings. (See Apr 9, 1947.)“

Don Brown
December 31, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 31

This is the busiest day in FAA history I’ve seen by far. I’ll probably put up a couple of other postings today (assuming I can find the time) but I think I’ll start with the most appropriate.

There was an episode on The West Wing entitled “Take Out the Trash Day.” The gist is that it’s a ploy to minimize the damage a bad news story will do to the Administration. December 31 is the ultimate “Trash Day.” Accordingly, the FAA and NASA will release a report today that they had previously tried to bury. Bad news, the FAA and NASA. Let’s look at the history.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 31, 1971: FAA terminated its four-year-old policy of granting immunity from enforcement action to airmen reporting near midair collisions. FAA had adopted this policy on Jan 1, 1968, to encourage full reporting of near midair collisions, and thus gather adequate data for developing midair collision prevention programs. In 1969, FAA published a midair collision report based on data collected during 1968; data collected in subsequent years substantiated the findings of the 1969 report. FAA saw no need, therefore, to continue its immunity policy. (See Jul 15, 1969, and Apr 8, 1975.) “

”Jul 15, 1969: FAA issued a study of near midair collisions. To encourage the reporting of such incidents, FAA had granted pilots and other airmen immunity from penalties under the Federal Aviation Regulations (see Jan 1, 1968). This study found that most of the reported near miss incidents of 1968 that were judged to be hazardous had occurred in congested airspace near large airports having air traffic control service, and resulted from mixing controlled traffic with traffic under visual flight rules. On Jul 31, 1969, on the heels of FAA's report, the National Transportation Safety Board released a study of actual midair collisions, which was also based on incidents occurring in 1968. In contrast to FAA's findings on near misses, the Board found that the majority of the 38 real collisions had taken place in uncongested airspace at or near airports without air traffic control service. There was no evidence that adverse weather was a significant factor in any of the 38 accidents. All of the 71 persons killed in the collisions were occupants of general aviation aircraft. A general aviation aircraft was involved in each accident, with three collisions involving air carrier aircraft and one military airplane. On Dec 4, 1969, FAA's near miss reporting program was extended for an additional two years (see Dec 31, 1971). “

”Apr 8, 1975: Acting Administrator James E. Dow announced the establishment of the Aviation Safety Reporting Program (ASRP), designed to provide the agency with information on potentially unsafe conditions in the National Airspace System, effective May 1, 1975. To encourage the reporting of violations, the program granted immunity from disciplinary action to pilots or controllers who filed a timely report. No immunity was granted, however, in the case of "reckless operations, criminal offenses, gross negligence, willful misconduct, and accidents." FAA remained free to take corrective or remedial action necessary for air safety. Although such immunity programs had been instituted before (see Jan 1, 1968), the ASRP was the first not limited to reports of near midair collisions. The program's establishment anticipated one of the recommendations being prepared by the Secretary's Task Force on the FAA Safety Mission (see Jan 28, 1975), of which Dow served as Executive Secretary. The Air Line Pilots Association, skeptical of the ASRP, preferred a system in which a third party would process reports and protect their confidentiality. (See Aug 15, 1975.)“

There are about a dozen more entries I could make on this subject but I’ll stop before I lose the entire audience. Slowly but surely, the program morphed into the Aviation Safety Reporting System. During my career, it was -- by far -- the most effective safety program in existence. Much of that effectiveness was because of the trust the program administrators have earned over the years. Trust was a big part of the reason they were chosen to run the program in the first place. Who were these trusted people ? None other than NASA.

I’ll say it again. Most people have no idea how much damage has been done to their government during the Bush Administration. Perhaps the biggest causality of all is trust.

Don Brown
December 31, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 30

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 30, 1963: FAA made public a study completed for the agency by a private research firm with the cooperation of the Air Transport Association. The study concluded that airport surface congestion was the principal cause of airport delays, a finding that corroborated an Aug 1962 FAA staff study. The firm found that runways, taxiways, ramp space, and gate positions were inadequate for modern-day air traffic, particularly during the evening rush hour. Only about one in five flights encountered delay, however, and significant delays were concentrated within a relatively few large airports. “

And some things never change.

Don Brown
December 30, 2007

Saturday, December 29, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 29

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 29, 1972: An Eastern Air Lines Lockheed L-1011 crashed in the Everglades northwest of Miami, killing 99 of the 176 persons aboard. Two survivors died later as a result of their injuries in this first fatal crash of a wide-body airliner. The National Transportation Safety Board cited the probable cause as the flight crew’s failure to monitor flight instruments. Preoccupied with a malfunction of the landing gear position indicator, they allowed the aircraft to descend unnoticed. “

Just in case you’ve forgotten how to do this...

You can go to the NTSB’s “query” page and search. Or in this case, in that we already know the date, you can go to the monthly listing page and look it up. That will get you to the report for this accident and as you can see, there isn’t much there in this case. It does, however, give you the all important accident number: DCA73AZ005.

With that number, you can usually find a lot of other information. I rummaged around a little and wound up at this site: The Crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 401 . You can learn more than you’d ever want to know about the flight from that web page.

For those old enough to have a few memory cells stimulated, this crash took on a life of its own. There was a book written about the crash, “The Ghost of Flight 401” and a movie was made about the book. Of more earthly concerns, this accident left us with two new rules from the FAA, trying to prevent any future occurrences.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 24, 1974: FAA published a rule requiring installation of the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) on large turbojet and turboprop airliners. The equipment was to provide both visual and aural signals when the aircraft was less than 2,500 feet above the ground. The rule’s implementation deadline of Dec 1, 1975, was subsequently extended due to persisting technical difficulties, but all major airlines were in compliance by the end of 1976. A rule published on Oct 10, 1978, extended the GPWS requirement to smaller commuter airline turbojets if able to seat as many as ten passengers. (See Dec 1, 1974, and Mar 17, 1992.)“

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Nov 5, 1976: FAA commissioned the first Minimum Safe Altitude Warning (MSAW) system, an add-on computer software feature specially devised for use with the ARTS III radar terminal system, at Los Angeles International Airport. MSAW had the capacity to spot unsafe conditions by automatically monitoring aircraft altitudes and comparing them to terrain maps stored in the computer's memory. If aircraft descended dangerously close to the ground, aural and visual alarms on their consoles alerted controllers who could then radio warnings to pilots (see Oct 28, 1977). Sperry Rand's UNIVAC division developed MSAW under a contract announced by FAA on Jul 17, 1974. The need for such a system had been highlighted by the crash of an L-1011 near Miami (see Dec 29, 1972). “

The rule requiring the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) was also spurred on by another fatal (and famous) accident on December 1, 1974.

Don Brown
December 29, 2007

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Frontline Protection

No, not the flea protection...well, on second thought..

It’s a lot like that. Just another one of those mundane tasks in government that Congress never gets any credit for. Except maybe a nice editorial from The New York Times.

Protection for Endangered Whistle-Blowers

Good job, Congress. Of course, Bush has threatened to veto it. I hope no one is surprised any longer.

Don Brown
December 27, 2007

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Comprehension Slowly Dawns

As the political pendulem continues to swing, time transforms the voices crying in the wilderness into prophets. And comprehension slowly dawns on the doomed.

National shortage of air traffic controllers worsening

”"We used to have over 70 controllers at Tampa International Airport that were certified professional controllers, we now have 46," said Mark Kerr, VP of National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA).”

"Right now we have 22 of 46 who are eligible to retire," Kerr said. "Three more eligible in next three months so if something doesn't change pretty soon a lot of those people will probably be doing the same thing."

Orlando takes note and then Tampa. Next it will be Atlanta or New York or Peoria. The message won’t play any better no matter what the name (or size) of the town. And slowly but surely, the conscience of the country will wake up to the crisis -- We don’t have any air traffic controllers.

Then the question will be asked -- Why ? Then the next one -- What do we do now ? And then it will really start to sink in. You can’t replace experience by hiring people faster. You can’t replace experience by throwing money at the problem. You only get experience with time.

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”

We’re about to learn from experience.

Don Brown
Deccember 26, 2007

What the” L” ?

My buddy Bob always has this strange twinkle in his eyes. It is as if all of life is here for our amusement and he understands this -- even though most of us don’t. This, too, amuses him. I think he’s amused by almost everything.

Bob, being braver than I, is about to embark on a trip around the home planet. He decided to start a blog to document the trip. It’s a personal blog -- not meant for the masses -- but I decided to share it with you anyway. It’s like a treasure hunt for humor. So pay attention if you visit. I’d been there a dozen times before I noticed the crack about the title and the Pages. See if you can figure out what the “L” is going on at:

Atlanta to Atlanta: Around the World by the Book

Don Brow
December 26, 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


American two forty one, Atlanta Center, turn right heading two seven zero, vector for traffic. Expect direct Volunteer in one five miles.

Right now -- right this very second -- some air traffic controller somewhere is uttering words very similar to those -- perhaps even those exact words. A pilot, whom the controller has never met, carrying a plane load of people he doesn’t know, will turn the airplane to a heading of 270 degrees and life will go on. For everybody.

It happens thousands upon thousands of times a day. Unceasingly. Never ending. Without fail. Even with all our known frailties, we humans still find the capacity to trust each other. Despite all the technology available to us -- the true miracles of this modern world -- we take comfort in the humanity of strangers. Someone is watching over us. Though he be a stranger, he is a fellow human being. We trust our humanity more than our technology. I find that curiously hopeful. I hope you do too.

The few will watch over the many today. They’ll make sure that our loved ones get where they’re going -- if safely possible. They’ll deal with the misplaced anger if it is not. Some will take solace in the whispered “thank you”s, the slight nod of recognition or the silent smile of thanks they receive from strangers. And some will keep watch, unseen. Just a trusted voice on the radio.

American two forty one, clear of traffic, cleared direct Volunteer.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Don Brown
December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mickey Gets the Flick

I really don’t think I need to comment on this editorial from The Orlando Sentinel.

”Our position: The FAA needs to acknowledge -- and solve -- its controller crisis”

“The problem - and the threat it poses -- seems plenty specific, but not to the folks at the Federal Aviation Administration.

At Orlando International Airport, 41 certified air-traffic controllers are staffing the control tower and radar center -- far short of the 69 to 85 controllers who're supposed to be working there.

Don Brown
December 24, 2007


For those that are just joining us, I’m peeking into the corners where the FAA sweeps their data about airport capacity. The FAA is, of course, a public institution and is expected to tell the truth about various matters. And they do, if you know where to look and how to read “governmentese.” I’m not an expert at either, but I have some practice and I’m more stubborn than most.

Today’s subject is LaGuardia (LGA). Named after new York’s famed mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, at various times, LGA has been described as the world’s greatest airport all the way down to the bleak, LaGarbage.

Speaking of garbage, let’s look at the numbers from the FAA’s
Airport Capacity Benchmark Reports for 2001 and 2004.

In 2001: ”The current capacity benchmark at New York LaGuardia is 80-81 flights per hour in good weather. “

In 2004: ”The capacity benchmark for New York La Guardia Airport today is 78-85 flights per hour (arrivals and departures) in Optimum weather, when visual approaches can be conducted. “

Once again, we seem to be losing capacity. Or is it gaining ? It’s so hard to tell.

In 2001: ”Current capacity falls to 62-64 flights (or fewer) per hour in adverse weather conditions, which may include poor visibility, unfavorable winds or heavy precipitation.“

In 2004: ”The benchmark rate is 74-84 flights per hour in Marginal conditions, and 69-74 flights per hour in IFR conditions, for the most commonly used runway configuration in these conditions. Throughput may be less when conditions force the use of other configurations. “

Aha ! A ray of hope. An improvement in IFR conditions. From 62-64 in 2001 to 69-74 in 2004. Tsk, tsk. Come, come people. This is governmentese. You have to read the whole thing. ”Throughput may be less when conditions force the use of other configurations. “ The 2001 stats didn’t make any such disclaimer. I’m assuming it was an average “throughput”, considering all “configurations.”

As far as truthiness (copyright 2005 -- Stephen Colbert), I’d have to go with the 2001 report.

” • LaGuardia operates close to its good-weather capacity for nearly 8 hours of the day, but these traffic rates cannot be sustained in adverse weather.

• In 2000, LaGuardia had the highest rate of delays in the country. Over 15% of all flights at LaGuardia experienced significant levels of delay (more than 15 minutes). Average delays vary from 47-52 minutes in both good and adverse weather.

• In good weather, LaGuardia’s scheduled traffic is at or exceeds capacity most of the day.

• In adverse weather, scheduled traffic exceeds capacity 12 hours of the day. “

Oh, and this last line.

”• This data does not reflect the effects of the slot lottery that took effect recently, on February 1, 2001.“

I have to say, though, when it comes to truthiness (copyright 2005 -- Stephen Colbert), the 2004 report is not without its charms.

”In the following charts, please note that a number of hourly traffic points fall outside the calculated capacity curves at LGA, especially in IFR conditions. There are many possible reasons why this may occur without affecting operational safety, including efficient sequencing of aircraft and above-average controller and pilot performance. Also, actual weather conditions during the hour may have been better than the hourly readings in the database, allowing more efficient ATC procedures than were modeled. “

(emphasis added)

Say what ? Controller and pilot performance is recognized in an FAA capacity report ? Holy Smoke ! That doesn’t bode well for the immediate future does it ?

As I keep saying, there is a finite amount of capacity for any runway. It doesn’t get any better until we change the rules. Most of the rules are safety rules and they won’t be changed.

Once you accept that “benchmark” -- that truth -- it’s all downhill. There are a myriad of factors affecting capacity but all of them take away from the maximum number. Less controllers equals less capacity. Less talented controllers equals less capacity. Some of my sharper readers may have noticed that LGA’s capacity isn’t that much lower than JFK’s which is kind of strange considering the runway layouts. (LGA and JFK) It’s hard to explain the type of traffic JFK handles and its effect on capacity -- in 800 words or less. Or in a nontechnical way. Or in a culturally and politically sensitive way. JFK handles a lot of overseas flights -- lots of “heavy” aircraft that require additional spacing for wake turbulence and being flown by pilots to whom English is a second language. A lot of things take away from the maximum capacity of a runway.

Don Brown
December 24, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Truth is Stranger

This probably didn’t hit the non-aviation crowd the same way but...

Baby Jesus getting GPS for Christmas

I think I’ll let this pass without any further comment.

Don Brown
December 23, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Say It Ain’t So

I don’t get it. These guys sound surprised.

Menendez may hold up nomination of FAA chief

”Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) said yesterday that he might hold up the nomination of Robert Sturgell to be administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration until he was satisfied with the agency's response to questions he had raised about the airspace-redesign plan.”

”He and U.S. Reps. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) complained at a joint news conference that the FAA had reneged on public statements that it would not start using new routes for planes taking off from the Philadelphia and Newark airports until next summer. “

You mean the FAA lied to you guys ? Say it ain’t so. Welcome to the controller’s world.

Now, what are you going to do about it ?

Don Brown
December 22, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 21

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 21, 1955: CAA and the Air Force announced an agreement under which CAA would for the first time use USAF Air Defense Command radar for civil air traffic control. Under the arrangement, CAA used information from the Air Defense Command radar at the Olathe, Kan., Naval Air Station to maintain approach control at nearby airports. CAA commissioned the facility for this use on Jan 15, 1957. “

Don Brown
December 21, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cui Bono ?

I could stay on this kick for a good long while. If you bothered to go to that “Airport Capacity Benchmark 2004” link I provided, you could have picked up a bonus -- the Airport Capacity Benchmark for 2001. I know, I know -- that’s what you have me for.

The link for the entire report downloads a broken file (in case somebody at the FAA might want to fix it) so I had to be content with downloading individual reports. Let’s stick with JFK in that everybody seems stuck on that airport this year.

For JFK in 2001:

• The current capacity benchmark at John F. Kennedy International Airport is 88-98 flights per hour in good weather.

• Current capacity falls to 71 flights (or fewer) per hour in adverse weather conditions, which may include poor visibility, unfavorable winds or heavy precipitation.

Just for comparison...which the FAA says you shouldn’t do because the methodology has changed...which they change on a regular basis so you can’t track trends...but their reports are junk anyway as discussed previously....

Good weather capacity at JFK 2001 -- 88-98 flights per hour.

Good weather capacity at JFK 2004 -- 75-87 flights per hour.

Bad weather capacity at JFK 2001 -- 71 or less flights per hour.

Bad weather capacity at JFK 2004 -- 67 or less flights per hour.

So, it would appear that capacity at JFK is actually declining. Isn’t that interesting ? Technology had 3 years to boost capacity yet it didn’t. What happened ? Let’s see.

The report goes on to say:

• In 2000, almost 4% of all flights at Kennedy experienced significant levels of delay (more than 15 minutes).

• Periods of excess arrival and departure demand can be handled efficiently during good weather conditions, but cannot be sustained in adverse weather.

• In adverse weather, scheduled traffic exceeds capacity for more than 5 hours in the day.

• On adverse weather days, about 9% of the flights are delayed significantly (more than 15 minutes). “

• Technology and procedural improvements are expected to improve Kennedy’s good weather capacity benchmark by 2% (to 90-100 flights per hour) over the next 10 years.

• The adverse weather capacity benchmark will increase by 3% (to 73 flights per hour.

That is a good place to pause. Bad weather capacity will increase by 3%. But it didn’t. It declined. It decreased from 71 to 67. That math genius tells me that is a 5.4% decrease. And while we’re having fun with numbers, I want to emphasize this point. Look at the number of airplanes we’re talking about here folks. It’s 1, 2, 3 maybe 4 per hour. We’re talking about billions of dollars to get 2 more airplanes per hour on the runway.

Let’s move on.

• These capacity increases could be brought about as a result of:

– ADS-B/CDTI (with LAAS), which provides a cockpit display of the location of other aircraft and will help the pilot maintain the desired separation more precisely.

– FMS/RNAV Routes, which allow a more consistent flow of aircraft to the runway. – Precision Runway Monitor (PRM) – allows use of independent arrivals for some parallel runway configuration. These benefits are not reflected in the benchmark value, however, since they apply to different runway configurations than those identified for the optimum and reduced rates.

• Demand at Kennedy is projected to grow by 18% over the next decade indicating that delays are expected to increase in the future.

Right off the bat it’s “could be”. ADS-B is going to save the day -- 7 years ago in 2001. CDTI (I had never even heard the term and I’ve only been retired 13 months) sounds great but depends on equipping the entire fleet to get a couple more airplanes per hour on the runway. Let me ask the question -- Then what ?

Let’s say we can accomplish all this. Using technology, we can get the bad weather arrival rate up to good weather arrival rate. Then what ? Technology will give you a 3% increase (2 airplanes) per hour and demand is expected to increase 18% in the same time frame -- 10 years ? Is that worth $20-40 billion ? Atlanta’s new runway cost over a billion dollars but that will handle around 60 airplanes per hour. At even half that rate it’s a better bargain than ADS-B/CDTI.

Are you getting the flick yet ? You need to ask the age-old question -- Cui Bono ? To Whose Benefit ? Who benefits from a $20+ billion dollar, government-mandated program ? Even if it works, the runways will still be overscheduled. There will still be delays. It will still snow and snow plows will still have to clear the runway. Thunderstorms will still occur and nobody is flying through one of those -- ADS-B or no ADS-B. There will still be delays.

I’ve already established for you that there is a finite capacity to runways. Even if NextGen --ADS-B/CDTI/GPS/etc.-- works, you still run into that brick wall -- finite runway capacity. Then what ?

Why spend $20+ billion on NextGen instead of runways ? Cui Bono ? Did the paving contractors forget to send in their campaign contribution ?

Don Brown
December 20, 2007

Wiggle, Evade and Dodge (or Air Traffic for Dummies II)

"These Holiday Express lanes in the sky will give airlines the wiggle room they need to avoid backups, evade weather, and dodge delays,” Secretary Peters said."

So, now they’re “Holiday” express lanes. I can’t wait for the acronym-crazy FAA to fully embrace that one -- HEL. But let’s focus on the Wiggle, Evade and Dodge.

I’m confused about the Secretary’s announcement..

” She said the new measures developed at the direction of President Bush this fall include an agreement to cap hourly operations at JFK International Airport, plans for hourly limits at Newark and capacity improvements for the region, and were based on input from a multi-month process that involved airlines, airports and consumer advocates.”

Is it an “agreement” or a regulation ? Is it enforceable ? Who signed their names on the proverbial dotted line ? Some might think I’m quibbling but I’ve watched these people call their imposed work rules for air traffic controllers a “contract” for over a year and I assure you, no controller has agreed to this “contact” much less signed it. Wiggle, Evade and Dodge.

Speaking of controllers, I assume you noticed their absence in this latest “agreement” ? “...based on input from a multi-month process that involved airlines, airports and consumer advocates.” Don’t you think it just a little bit odd ? The people that actually have to make HEL work -- the controllers -- aren’t consulted ? In this case, I’d be happy if the Secretary Peters would consult with the FAA.

” “These new measures will cut delays, protect consumer choice, support New York’s economy, and allow for new flights as we bring new capacity online,” Secretary Peters said.”

“New capacity” huh ? I wonder where that is coming from ? That doesn’t agree with what I was reading this morning -- another long, boring FAA report: “Airport Capacity Benchmark 2004”. The casual reader will NOT be interested in downloading this report. It is 5+megs of the most confusing charts you would ever want to see and is chock full of evasions, caveats and obfuscation. Wiggle, Evade and Dodge.

Buried in the section on JFK airport is this:

”NEW YORK – New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) Benchmark Results

• The capacity benchmark for New York John F. Kennedy International Airport today is 75-87 flights per hour (arrivals and departures) in Optimum weather. The benchmark remains the same in Marginal conditions.

• The benchmark rate decreases slightly to 64-67 flights per hour in IFR conditions, for the most commonly used runway configuration in these conditions. Throughput may be less when ceiling and visibility are low, or when other runway configurations are in use due to wind direction or for noise abatement.”

One page further down is this little tidbit:

”Planned Improvements at JFK are not expected to affect the benchmark rates.“

Interpretation. Secretary Peters (holding a really big hammer) has convinced the airlines to limit the number of operations at JFK to 82-83 operations per hour. Delays will go down during good weather. In that 82-83 flights an hour still exceeds the bad weather capacity (IFR -- Instrument Flight Rules) of 64-67 flights per hour, when the weather worsens the delays will start piling up and the airlines will still blame the weather just like they do now. Despite what Secretary Peters might want you to believe, it still comes down to the runways. If you want more capacity, build a runway. Even the FAA says so. On page 11 of that benchmark report.

”For those airports operating close to capacity, technological and procedural changes could have a significant impact in improving the capacity benchmark. In general, the greatest benefit is derived from adding a new runway.”

I know what you’re saying, “But Don, it says right there, “...technological and procedural changes could have a significant impact...”” Yep. You see, I read things differently than most people. Let me dissect it for you so you can have the flick too.

First off, it says “could”. It doesn’t say “will.” It’s saying, “well...maybe.” When you read these things, always look for “and.” For instance: “...technological and procedural changes”. There is a reason it doesn’t say, “Technological changes will improve capacity.” You think I’m just picking nits don’t you ? I’m not. Let me show you.

On the same page, the report also says this: “CEFR will increase the benchmark capacity in Marginal conditions.” That sounds great. There’s no Wiggle, Evade and Dodge in that sentence. But what is CEFR ? See page 4.

”CDTI -Enhanced Flight Rules (CEFR) allows suitably equipped aircraft to maintain visual separation from other aircraft and continue visual approaches even in Marginal weather conditions.”

Okay. What is CDTI ? See the note at the bottom of the page.

”Cockpit Display of Traffic Information”

Okay. So if the airplane is equipped with CDTI and if the crew is rated for CEFR...”CEFR will increase the benchmark capacity in Marginal conditions.” And then it hits you -- you didn’t look up “Marginal”. Most people give up. I don’t. I look it up. Besides, the section on JFK (quoted above) says: “The benchmark remains the same in Marginal conditions.“ Does your head hurt yet ?

I’ll spare you another agonizing wild goose chase. Here’s the part that throws the whole report into question.

”For the purpose of this analysis, it was assumed that all aircraft at these 35 airports will be suitably equipped [with CDTI] by 2013; actual equipage will probably be less.“

I assume their assumption is incorrect also. Wiggle, Evade and Dodge.

Don Brown
December 20, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 20

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 20, 1985: DOT published a new rule on allocation of takeoff and landing reservations ("slots") at the four airports subject to flight quotas under the High Density Rule (see Mar 6, 1984). Beginning on April 1, 1986, any person might buy, sell, trade, or lease air carrier or commuter slots (with the exception of international and essential air service slots, which were subject to certain transfer restrictions). A lottery procedure was provided for allocation of new slots, or slots returned under the rule's use-or-lose provision. On Mar 12, 1986, DOT issued a special rule aimed at increasing competition: 5 percent of slots at high density airports would be assigned by lottery to new entrants and incumbent air carriers with fewer than 8 slots. Although the High Density Rule was subsequently amended in certain other respects, its main provisions remained essentially unchanged despite opposition from some parts of the aviation community. On Jun 16, 1995, DOT released a report on the issue and announced its conclusion that, on balance, the rule was currently beneficial. “

Don Brown
December 20, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Playin’ the Slots

Politicians sure like to make things complicated. I think we’re supposed to believe the issues are complex. I get the feeling it’s more like a game of three-card-monte though. See if you can follow along.

First up, we have today’s story from Matthew Wald at The New York Times.

For Now, U.S. Won’t Cap Flights Per Hour at J.F.K.

”WASHINGTON — The United States transportation secretary will announce on Wednesday that her department has negotiated an agreement with the airlines to ease congestion at Kennedy International Airport next summer by shifting some flights to less busy times, according to government officials and industry executives.

As a result, the department will not, at least for now, order a reduction in the number of flights per hour at Kennedy, they said. “

Is anybody surprised ? Please tell me you aren’t. Summer is over folks. Crisis over. It’s back to business as usual. Read the story and soak up all the subtleties. They’ll do something like the “express lanes” for Christmas and they’ll study it some more (and delay and delay some more.) Check out Senator Schumer’s statement and see if you can figure out why it looks like he’s playing a game of Twister.

Now, lets review and see how we got here. I feel like I’ve put at least a dozen history lessons up about landing slots. Let’s see. There’s one here, here, here and here.

Here’s another one from a few years after the FAA’s history book was published.


FAIR-21, which also authorizes programs of DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration for the next three years, directs that all slot restrictions be eliminated on July 1, 2002 at O’Hare, and Jan. 1, 2007 at the two New York airports.“

Speaking of should read the whole thing. But I’m going to move on. Did you notice the date for the New York airports -- Jan. 1, 2007 ? Do you remember which year delays spun out of control ? But what about Chicago O’Hare ? The restrictions there were eliminated in 2002. Let’s see how that worked out.

”April 22, 2004

U.S. Orders Further Cuts in Air Traffic at O'Hare

Despite an order by the Federal Aviation Administration to reduce traffic at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, delays became worse there in March. As a result, the agency will order deeper cuts, the transportation secretary announced on Wednesday.

The F.A.A. expects a return of air traffic to levels before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and is trying to avoid a return to the kind of congestion that produced. In January, it said it had won agreement from the two biggest carriers at O'Hare, United Airlines and American Airlines, to reduce flights 5 percent from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. But on Wednesday, the transportation secretary, Norman Y. Mineta, said the two airlines would cut flights by 2.5 percent more during that period and reduce flights from noon to 1 p.m. as well. “

I included the blurb about the attacks on 9/11 to remind those not in aviation that air traffic dropped off dramatically in their aftermath. Always keep that in mind as you’re reading any statistics about air traffic. Everything was reaching saturation in the year 2000-2001. In that regard, the air traffic system got a real break -- some breathing room -- a chance to rebuild. And the Bush Administration -- in the form of Marion Blakey and the FAA -- squandered it. You can cut them some slack if you choose to, in that you may think they were preoccupied. They weren’t.

Retirement of Air Controllers Poses Problem, Official Says
Published: March 18, 2004

Towards the bottom of that story you’ll also see this:

”John S. Carr, president of the union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said on Wednesday that another problem was that the aviation agency had delayed or eliminated several new technologies meant to improve capacity.

Ms. Blakey said a possible solution was to allow controllers to work beyond 56. But Mr. Carr said that this was not a good idea because the stress of working in busy air traffic jobs ''fries you like a fritter.''”

You’ll notice that my buddy John Carr (of The Main Bang fame) had a way with words even back then. And if his words occasionally sound a little shrill, think about what he knows now. When the FAA got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get ahead of the power curve and get the ATC system staffed...they instead were plotting the demise of the ATC system.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Congress and the FAA are still playing with the slots. Runways aren’t roads. There isn’t any “stop and go” traffic in the sky. There is only “go” -- even if you can only go in circles. If you “stop” you fall out of the sky and die. You just can’t wish real hard and expect a landing slot to appear. If you want more landing slots you have to pour some concrete. A lot of concrete.

When you hear the next airline spokesman complain that the FAA wants to “take us back to 1969” with slot restrictions, ask yourself a question: How many new runways have been opened in New York since 1969 ?

You may think these guys are playing games but they’re gambling with lives.

Don Brown
December 19, 2007

P.S. I’ve been somewhat overtaken by events. Mr. Wald has an updated story out now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lawyered Up

Andrew Cohen has good entry on his blog at The Washington Post.

White House to Military Lawyers: Keep Quiet

”Here is another terrible idea from the Bush administration: The White House now wants to politicize the promotions process for attorney-soldiers. To uniformed lawyers who often put the rule of law ahead of their own interests, the message is as clear as it is cynical and short-sighted: If you want a promotion, stop criticizing U.S. policy in court, no matter how legally flawed it may be.“

In other words, they want to pick lawyers the way the FAA picks supervisors -- don’t criticize us no matter how unsafe a policy might be.

It’s hard to believe anyone is running for President. From sub prime mortgages to the military to the FAA to Iraq...How would you like to be the person cleaning up this mess ?

Don Brown
December 18, 2007

Good Government

My regular readers have often heard me make the case for good government. One of them sent me to a site where that is the main topic.

Government is Good

I’ve been slowly working my way around the site -- it has a lot of information on it -- and I bumped into a section that really hit home for me.

The Case FOR Bureaucracy

”In Massachusetts alone, Blue Cross/Blue Shield employs 6682 workers to cover 2.7 million subscribers. This is more people than work in all of Canada’s provincial health care plans, which cover over 25 million people.”

That makes a powerful case for national health care insurance. But that isn’t my forte. This is.

”Myth No. 3: We Want the Government to Act Like a Business “

”Conservatives are constantly saying that we would all be better off if government were run like a business. But would we? Businesses are obsessed with their bottom lines and are always looking for the cheapest way to make a product or deliver a service. But in many cases, we don’t want government services to be as cheap as possible. Often, with government, the main concern is the quality of the service, not its costs. For example, do we really want to spend the least amount of money possible on our air traffic control system? Obviously not – the main goal should be maximizing the safety of the aviation system.”

I always thought it was obvious. It’s nice to see that somebody else does too. The thought of a bankrupt ATC system isn’t really very comforting is it ?

Don Brown
December 18, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 18

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 18, 1992: Eight fatalities occurred when a Cessna 550 crashed after encountering wake turbulence behind a Boeing 757 during descent into Billings, Mont. The National Transportation Safety Board subsequently cited the probable cause as the pilot’s failure to follow established wake turbulence procedures. Nevertheless, the accident increased concerns that 757 wake turbulence might represent a special problem, an issue raised within FAA by Chief Scientist Robert Machol. (See Nov 1, 1975, and Dec 15, 1993.)”

” Dec 15, 1993: Five persons died when an Israel Westwind aircraft following a Boeing 757 encountered wake turbulence and crashed at Santa Ana, Calif. The National Transportation Safety Board later found the probable cause to have been the Westwind pilot’s failure to maintain adequate separation behind the 757 and/or to remain above its flight path during approach. The Board considered a related factor to be inadequacy of air traffic control procedures regarding visual approaches and visual flight rules operations behind heavier airplanes. On Dec 21, meanwhile, FAA required air traffic controllers to issue wake turbulence advisories to aircraft following 757s in all cases for which such advisories would be issued for jets heavier than the 757. On Dec 22, FAA sent a letter to licensed pilots alerting them to accidents and incidents involving 757 wake turbulence and urging attention to existing guidance on avoiding wake hazards. (See Dec 18, 1992, and May 20, 1994.) “

I’m guessing Marion Blakey never read about these two accidents. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been saying this on PBS’s New Hour.

”And the system we're talking about, ultimately, because it is much more precise than radar means you're going to be able to bring aircraft closer together, and that means you can get more up there. So all of this goes to improvements.“

We can “get more up there” all right. It’s getting them back on the ground that is the problem. Unless NextGen can make more runways or cure wake turbulence, it won’t do a thing for airline delays.

Don Brown
December 18, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 17

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 17, 1935: The Douglas DC-3 first flew. One of the most successful aircraft in history, the DC-3 was the first plane that allowed airlines to begin basing their profits squarely on passenger service rather than on carrying mail. The Bureau of Air Commerce certificated this aircraft on May 21, 1936, and American Airlines became the first to place it in service (using the berth-equipped DST version) on Jun 25, 1936. By 1942, the DC-3 represented 80 percent of the U.S. airline fleet. When production of the DC-3 and its modifications ended in 1945, 10,926 aircraft had been built, 803 as commercial airliners, and the rest as military versions (called C-47 in the U.S. Army, R4D in the U.S. Navy, Dakota or Dakota I by the British). “

In case it hasn’t hit you, December 17th is the anniversary of powered flight. Many aviation events were scheduled on December 17th.

Don Brown
December 17, 2007

Sold Out

Marion Blakey has earned some unwanted attention with her new job.

FAA chief moves to high-paying industry job

”Blakey has parlayed a succession of government posts with aviation oversight into one of the most coveted jobs in the aerospace industry. “

”There’s little doubt that Blakey received a substantial pay raise to go to AIA. At the FAA, the Alabama native earned approximately $168,000 annually. The 2005 tax return for AIA, the most recent public filing available, shows that her predecessor was paid $532,000 annually, plus benefits and expenses. “

$532,000. Not back work if you can get it. Keep in mind, this is the lady that cut air traffic control trainee’s pay to less than 9 dollars an hour because that was all the FAA could “afford.” I made that much when I was washing airplanes for Lockheed over 26 years ago. Speaking of Lockheed, they are one of AIA’s clients.

”It was Blakey’s first year-end assessment of the aerospace industry as president of AIA, which represents powerhouses such as Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.

At a luncheon in a hotel ballroom about a mile from the Pentagon, she said the industry had posted a record year in 2007, with total sales reaching $198 billion.”

$198 billion in a year versus $9 an hour. Do you see anything wrong with this picture ? Get the flick.

Oh yeah, just in case you forgot. From Wikipedia:

”Historically, Flight Service Stations in the USA have been operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In February 2005, the FAA selected Lockheed Martin to operate 58 Flight Service Stations. In its 2006 annual report the FAA described this as the largest nonmilitary outsourcing initiative in the Federal government.

(emphasis added)

Don Brown
December 17, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 16

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 16, 1960: A United DC-8 and a TWA Super Constellation collided in midair over Brooklyn, N.Y., killing all 128 occupants aboard the planes and eight persons on the ground. CAB determined that the probable cause was that the United flight proceeded beyond its clearance limit and confines of the airspace assigned by Air Traffic Control. The DC-8's high speed, coupled with a change of clearance which reduced the distance which the aircraft needed to travel by approximately 11 miles, contributed to the crash. The Board concluded that the crew did not take note of the change of time and distance associated with the new clearance. The crew's workload was increased by the fact that one of their two Very High Frequency radio navigational receivers was inoperative, a fact unknown to Air Traffic Control. FAA actions taken as a result of the accident included: a requirement that pilots operating under instrument flight rules report malfunctions of navigation or communications equipment, effective Feb 17, 1961; a program to equip all turbine-powered aircraft with distance measuring equipment, or DME (see Jun 15, 1961); a speed rule, effective Dec 18, 1961, prohibiting aircraft from exceeding 250 knots when within 30 nautical miles of a destination airport and below 10,000 feet, except for certain military jets requiring a higher minimum speed for safe operation; and other steps to strengthen air traffic control procedures. “

Some of you might remember this picture from a previous post about this accident.

Don Brown
December 16, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Quick-Witted Kiwis

The New Zealand Herald wins the best title-of-the-day award.

It's all looking a bit LAX

It also happens to be a very good article on the problems at Los Angeles International Airport -- LAX.

”Unless safety improved, warned the office bluntly, there was a high risk of a catastrophic runway collision occurring in the US.

The GAO suggested the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates US civil aviation, had downplayed the risk.

Airlines reported 65 incursions, the most, at LAX, America's second-largest international airport after JFK International in New York.

The trouble-prone airport, warned the
Los Angeles Times, is the US headquarters of potential disaster."

Don Brown
December 15, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 15

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 15, 1962: FAA authorized simultaneous instrument approaches and landings on parallel runways at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to relieve traffic backup during peak-activity periods. The agency approved this air traffic control innovation only after extensive testing under both simulated and actual conditions. Participating pilots had to operate under instrument flight rules, regardless of weather. They were radar vectored by the tower's approach controllers from four outer fixes to one of the two final approach ILS courses. “

This improvement in capacity lasted less than 7 years.

”Jun 1, 1969: In response to growing congestion, FAA implemented a rule placing quotas on instrument flight rule (IFR) operations at five of the nation's busiest airports between 6 a.m. and midnight. The rule assigned the following hourly quotas:

Kennedy International, 80 ...

O'Hare, 135...

La Guardia, 60..........

Newark, 60

Washington National, 60 ...

Don Brown
December 15, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Counting the Cost

After George W. Bush no longer holds the reins of power -- when the investigations start -- history will hold him to account. When we start counting the cost, you’ll want to know who was squandering your money on ideology instead of spending it on bettering our country. I thought I’d start taking names.

If you’ve worked for the U.S. government -- or were served by the people that do -- here’s a guy you can “thank” for the mess he left: George Nesterczuk. Described as an “archconservative”, he came from The Heritage Foundation to work at the Office of Personnel Management.

There is an interesting article in that will point you towards the truth.

”In a July 2002 Heritage paper, Nesterczuk argued on his own for "a streamlined [Homeland Security Department] dispute resolution system, providing for internal agency appeals and reviews and ending with the secretary as final arbiter." Just such a system took shape at DHS and at the Pentagon; both were ruled illegal this year.”

(emphasis added)

The article goes on to say:

”Nesterczuk doesn't apologize for his work at Heritage or his reputation as an ideologue. "It was in that context that [former OPM director] Kay James hired me," Nesterczuk says. "She sought me out. It was because I had a reputation of having strongly held views on, how should we call them, controversial issues."“

Of course he doesn’t apologize for hatching an illegal plan -- he’s a Bush appointee. And in case you missed it, Kay James hired him. Who is Kay James ? I looked her up. And that is what I think you should do if you have the time. Look up the people mentioned in the article. It might just open your eyes as to the people that have been running your government.

Kay James was the dean of the government school at Regent’s University. Regent’s University was founded by Pat Robertson -- he of The 700 Club fame.

The Heritage Foundation ought to ring a few bells for you too.

”The Heritage Foundation's initial funding came from political conservative Joseph Coors, co-owner of the Coors Brewing Company. Funding from Coors was later augmented by financial support from billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. “

The links ought to keep you busy for awhile.

Don Brown
December 13, 2007

Close But No Cigar

I wonder how much your average reporter -- much less your average citizen -- can follow along as we watch the National Airspace System implode. For instance, do you think anybody caught this one ? On 12/7/07, Matthew Wald of The New York Times reported on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s (PANY/NJ) recommendations to ease air traffic congestion in the New York metropolitan area. In his story Mr. Wald had this:

“Others would entail actions -- like using three runways simultaneously instead of two at Kennedy -- that controllers have in some cases deemed unsafe.”

Before I fast-forward to 12/11/07, let me say this. I downloaded the PANY/NJ report and read it. It’s 99.99% pure fluff. However, Mr. Wald picked out an interesting example -- on Friday, the 7th. Let’s fast forward to Tuesday, the 11th.

Commuter Jet and Boeing 747 in Near Miss

"A 37-seat commuter jet arriving at Kennedy Airport nearly collided with a Boeing 747 cargo jet on Sunday afternoon when the Boeing, which was supposed to land on a perpendicular runway, failed to do so and continued across the smaller jet’s path, controllers at the airport’s tower said yesterday.

Controllers were using the perpendicular runways to keep up with the stream of arrivals. The runways are separated by a few feet of grass, but the flight path from one leads directly across the other."

Give that man a cigar. They were close.

What you probably didn’t read was this:

US Airways flight, small jet nearly collide in midair

”A US Airways flight bound for Charlotte and a small private jet leaving Statesville narrowly missed hitting each other Tuesday morning about 15 miles west of Greensboro, a representative of the air traffic controllers union said.”

”When the small jet's pilot said he couldn't climb that high, the controller tried to direct Flight 829 to hold its altitude, Phillips said. But the US Airways pilot didn't respond for several seconds, Phillips said, and the two planes ended up at about 16,500 feet and about eight-tenths of a mile apart.”

In that I used to work that airspace and I can still clearly picture all this in my head, let me read between the lines for you. The controller was working on a “swap.” He was trying to get the private jet above the USAir. The USAir was inbound to Charlotte (CLT) and descending. If the timing is right -- and the aircraft are descending and climbing quickly enough -- the airplanes will “swap” altitudes before they ever get within five miles of each other. But if they don’t, you’re left with nothing. Evidently, it wasn’t going to work and the controller tried to level them off at different altitudes-- a thousand feet apart. But aircraft can’t stop a steep climb or descent immediately and it didn’t work.

Here’s the scary part -- “eight-tenths of a mile apart.” That sounds like a lot of distance to non-controllers. It might even sound like a lot of distance to an Approach controller. But for a Center controller -- people that work on radar scopes set at 60-125 mile ranges -- “eight-tenths of a mile” means that the radar targets merged. On the ranges typically used in the Centers, the radar targets are about a mile wide. From this controller’s perspective, these two airplanes merged.

Now stick with me here, we’re going to go someplace you weren’t expecting. Remember all this talk about NextGen and how GPS and ADS-B are more precise than radar which will allow controllers to run airplanes closer together ? Let me ask you a question. How large will an ADS-B target be on a Center controller’s radar scope ? Will it still be a mile wide ? I assume we could make it one pixel wide but we want controllers to be able to see it. All you pilot types that read this blog -- how wide are the aircraft symbols on your traffic display (TCAS or TCAD) ?

If you haven’t thought of this angle, you probably don’t need to be giving advice on how close controllers can run airplanes. Just a thought for the folks at the Port Authority.

Don Brown
December 13, 2007

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bush Increases Regulation

You know there has to be a catch right ? We’re talking about the free market’s number one cheerleader. Why in the world would his administration increase regulation ?

Because it weakens unions -- that’s why. It’s okay for a hedge fund manager to make a billion dollars a year and screw up the economy with sub prime mortgages. We don’t need to regulate that. But let a bunch of working folks get together to try and improve their lot ? We can’t have that.

Kudos to Elizabeth Williamson of The Washington Post for the story. I’m sorry it’s behind the firewall. You’ll have to register to get to it.

” Political operatives in the Department of Labor are using federal reporting requirements to undermine trade unions and conduct a "political misinformation campaign" against them, a report released yesterday charges.”

As an alternative, the story refers to the report from the Center for American Progress.

”Rather than relax these regulatory responsibilities, the Bush administration shoveled significantly more federal tax dollars into the department’s Office of Labor-Management Services so that key political operatives in OLMS could expand and exercise regulatory authority to:

* Impose costly and confusing new reporting requirements

* Attempt to increase the number of criminal prosecutions

*Disclose the results to the public in seriously misleading ways

*Mischaracterize the published data through a variety of false analyses

The underlying purpose, of course, is to undermine the reputation of the labor union movement through a classic political misinformation campaign—all under the supervision of a lifelong partisan political operative whose career has been dedicated to the destruction of his political opponents.

I’ve had several instances this last week where I’ve been talking to people whose professions have taken huge pay cuts. People that made the sacrifices to get into a career that promised them a ticket to the upper-middle class are now stuck in the lower-middle class -- or lower. Wage cuts, out-sourced jobs, stolen pensions, etc., etc.

It disgusts me.

Don Brown
December 12, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

Intentionally Left Blank

The government workers among my readers will get a sad chuckle out of Robert O’Harrow’s blog entry.

Blackwater, Contracts and Redactions

Hopefully, I won’t spoil the impact for too many, but don’t bother downloading the .pdf file. It’s 23 pages and 20 of them are blank.

Don Brown
December 10, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 10

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 10, 1964: The Airman's Information Manual (AIM) replaced three basic FAA flight information publications: the Airman's Guide (see Apr 1946), the Directory of Airports and Seaplane Bases, and the Flight Information Manual. The AIM was divided into five sections that were revised either monthly, quarterly, or semiannually. In 1978, Parts 2 and 3 were discontinued as parts of the AIM and were published as the Airport/Facility Directory. Parts 3A and 4 were also separated from the AIM and published under the title Notices to Airmen. The Part 1 data, concerning basic flight information and air traffic control procedures, continued to be issued as the AIM. On Jul 20, 1995, the AIM’s title was changed to Aeronautical Information Manual. “

Anyone who has ever read my columns on AVweb knows that the AIM is my favorite FAA publication. Some might consider that odd, in that I’m not a pilot. But if you were paying attention you’ll remember I told you the FAA has an incredibly hard time trying to follow its own rules.

The quickest way for me to determine if there actually was a rule (about any particular problem) was usually the AIM. That will probably need a little explanation.

The general theory is that all FAA publications and rules must agree with each other. The controller’s handbook -- FAA 7110.65 -- must agree with the AIM. The AIM must agree with the Federal Air Regulations (FARs). The FARs must agree with the 7110.65, Air Traffic Bulletins, 7110.10 (FSS), 7210.3 (Facility Operations), ad nauseum.

Most of these are highly technical publications -- except the AIM. The AIM is written for as general an audience as you will find in aviation. Therefore, it is generally much easier to search through and find what you are looking for in the AIM. If you do find it in the AIM, you can be assured that it will be in another FAA publication and the all important one -- the FARs.

For instance: I’ve been doing some research on wake turbulence lately. I was a Center controller (as opposed to a Tower or Approach controller) so I’m not real familiar with the separation requirements. It’s much easier to go to the AIM and search than it is to search through a whole book (the 7110.65) about ATC. It’s usually easier to read also. But the main point is that they should agree.

7-3-9. Air Traffic Wake Turbulence Separations
(a) Heavy jet behind heavy jet-4 miles.

FAA 7110.65
Section 5. Radar Separation
5-5-4. MINIMA, e,
1. Heavy behind heavy- 4 miles.

You’d be surprised how useful it can be -- knowing the rules better than the people in charge of enforcing the rules.

Don Brown
December 10, 2007

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Consider the Consequences

Worried about air safety ? Maybe you ought to be.

Authorities investigate near miss at Newark Airport

”The incident came one day after a report from the Government Accountability Office which criticized the FAA for not doing more to curb so-called incursions. An uncoordianted runway safety system and "the absence of national leadership" leave the nation's airports vulnerable to potential disaster, the report said. “

There is one thing -- in a different article from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- that I want you to save. Seriously. I don’t know how Windows users would do it, but for the Apple users, copy and paste this into a “stickies” note and leave it on your desktop.

Investigators: Public at "high risk" of runway accidents

”"We are operating in one of the safest periods of aviation history," said Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman in the agency's Atlanta regional office. "Whenever an incident occurs we investigate it thoroughly and take corrective action." “

Right up front, I want to say I bear Ms. Bergen no ill will. She’s just doing her job. However, she hasn’t a clue about investigating any “incident”. She only knows what she is told and I assure you, she isn’t told a lot of things about what happens in the field, including numerous “incidents.”

I merely wish to point out this: Ms. Bergen and her superiors will suffer few -- if any -- consequences when “one of the safest periods of aviation history” comes crashing to an end. The folks at FAA headquarters will feel bad, of course, and they will express their condolences to the families of those lost. They will assure you that everything is being done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the organizational chart, there will be one hapless controller whose life will be changed forever. He (or she) will suffer some very personal consequences -- consequences that will last for the rest of their life. Every controller in the country knows that the next major accident might have their name on it. If they are unlucky enough to draw the straw that breaks the camel’s back, it will be their name plastered all over the press along with one question -- why did all those people die ?

That is the brutal reality controllers face -- every single day. The next time you read a story in the press, pay attention to who is speaking and consider the consequences -- for them.

Don Brown
December 9, 2007

Saturday, December 08, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 8

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 8, 1964: A United Air Lines Caravelle jet made the first computer landing (automatic touchdown) at Dulles International Airport. (See Jun 10, 1965.)“

I hope this will provide you with a little perspective. We’ve had the technology to let a computer land an airplane for 43 years. And yet, the vast majority of landings are still made by the human pilot.

We’re a whole lot closer to replacing pilots than we are air traffic controllers. It’s something to keep in mind when people start trying to tell you what is possible with computers and a “space-based” air traffic control system. Just because we can doesn’t mean we will -- or should.

Don Brown
December 8, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 7

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 7, 1941: The Japanese attacked Hawaii and the Philippines. The following day the U.S. Congress declared a state of war with Japan. On Dec 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. “

Today would be a good day to think about airpower. I read something in a book once (sorry, I don’t remember which one) that really opened my mind about the subject. Prior to aviation, warfare was two dimensional -- land and sea. The airplane added a third dimension. Airpower wasn’t a deciding factor in World War I but by World War II it was. And it’s been that way ever since.

December 7th itself is a lesson in airpower of course. Pearl Harbor (despite the obvious nautical reference) was an air battle. America was left with very few ships but fortunately they were the important ones -- the aircraft carriers. In battle after battle you can trace the importance of airpower, right through to the very end -- over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Berlin would have starved without the Berlin Airlift. We would have been pushed into the sea off Korea if not for airpower. Vietnam became known as “The Helicopter War.” Ground combat in the first Gulf War only lasted 100 hours, thanks to airpower. Afghanistan showed that we still have innovative ways in which to apply airpower.

When America talks of projecting power, it’s talking about air power. “Gunboat diplomacy” is now conducted mostly by aircraft carriers.

Don Brown
December 7, 2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Two at The Times

There are a couple of things at the The New York Times today that may interest you. First, they have an article on runway safety.

High Risk of Runway Collision Plagues US

Here’s my favorite part:

”At this time, ''no single office is taking charge of assessing the causes of runway safety problems and taking the steps needed to address those problems,'' the Government Accountability Office said...”

Then you scroll down to the bottom of the page and find out that the FAA actually has an office that is supposed to be in charge of runway safety -- with an astonishingly ironic name.

”The FAA's Office of Runway Safety has not produced a national runway safety plan since 2002...“

As they say, you just can’t make this stuff up.

The next item that might interest you is a new blog at the NYTimes.

Jet Lagged -- Navigating the Unfriendly Skies

Check out the authors on the right side of the page. An airline executive/consultant, a travel writer, an ex-inspector general, a flight attendant, a travel author, an airline pilot and another writer. Excellent selections, one and all. Yet, I can’t help but feel something is missing. I can’t quite put my finger on it...what they might be missing...

Don Brown
December 6, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 6

Decisions, decisions. Sometimes, it seems as if there isn’t a thing of interest in the FAA’s history on a certain date. And then, there are dates like today. I could go with the Microwave Landing System (MLS) that was going to replace the Instrument Landing System (ILS) -- but didn’t. Or the “satellite based” communication system that failed to replace the “land-based” system we still use to today. Just so you could see the hype behind those systems and relate it to the hype you hear today...

But, I think I have to stick with the runway capacity issue.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 6, 1981: A new Metropolitan Washington Airports Policy became effective. In the making since 1978 (see Mar 23, 1978), the new policy differed only in a few respects with the policy proposed by the Carter Administration in 1980. The overall objectives of both the Carter and Reagan policies were to reduce the noise impact of operations at Washington National, maintain National's longstanding status as a short-haul airport, and promote better utilization of Dulles. The policy placed no restrictions on Dulles, while putting the following limitations on National:

* A 16 million cap on the number of passengers enplaning and deplaning per year (compared to 17 million under the Carter plan).

* A maximum of 60 landing slots per hour distributed as follows: Part 121 air carriers, 37; Part 135 commuter air carriers and air taxis, 11; general aviation, 12. (Compared to the Carter plan, this gave Part 121 operators one more slot and Part 135 operators one less.)

* Extension of the nonstop service perimeter rule from a radius of 650 to 1,000 miles (see Oct 30, 1986).

Whereas the Carter plan would have lifted the ban on 2- and 3-engine widebody jets at National, the Reagan plan retained the ban. Moreover, the new administration eliminated the Carter plan's restrictions on night-time arrivals and departures; instead, it limited operations at National between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. to aircraft that generated no more noise than 73 dBA on takeoff and 85 dBA on approach. The noise limitations, which become effective on Mar 1, 1982, initially had the effect of excluding jet operations at the airport during the specified hours. (See Aug 31, 1983.) “

The majority of this policy was driven by noise complaints. That will interest some folks in the New York metropolitan area. The thing that should interest the controllers -- and anybody interested in the safe, orderly and expeditious movement of air traffic -- is the retention of the 60 operations per hour restriction. (Note: I believe the use of “ 60 landing slots per hour” is an error in the history entry. DCA’s current “best rate” is 55 arrivals per hour and the law says “IFR Operations per Hour.” Not to mention the data available at

Less airplanes equates to less noise, less congestion and greater safety margins. And when it comes to arriving on time, realistic caps based on capacity can mean the difference between being #18 and dead last.

Don Brown
December 6, 2007

Fear Factor

In case you missed Krugman on Monday...

”How bad is it? Well, I’ve never seen financial insiders this spooked — not even during the Asian crisis of 1997-98, when economic dominoes seemed to be falling all around the world.”

Or Pearlstein on Wednesday...

”If all this sounds like a financial house of cards, that's because it is. And it is about to come crashing down, with serious consequences not only for banks and investors but for the economy as a whole..”

...You might want to start paying attention. Back on October 10th I tried to warn you about it. I’m not a financial guru nor a public policy expert. I’m just a retired guy that has a lot of extra time to read and chase down stories. You want to pay attention to this one.

Oh, and when the political season really starts raging ? You might want remember which party made the word “regulation” a dirty word and at whose behest they did it. You might also want to notice that the same ones touting the miracles of “the market” are the first to turn to the government for salvation when “the market” goes mad. Regulation would have been cheaper. And a lot less painful.

Don Brown
December 6, 2007

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 5

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 5, 1969: FAA announced a major program to expand and modernize the physical plants of 20 air route traffic control centers in the contiguous United States to accommodate the personnel and equipment needed to handle the increasing volume of air traffic. The basic plan of the modernization program called for an additional three-story administrative wing at each center to provide space for training and administration. Space would also be provided for the automated air traffic control systems being delivered to the centers, for additional engine generators, and for future expansion of mechanical, electrical, and communications systems. The plant modernization program would continue through the early 1970s. “

Lest anyone forget, the buildings the Center controllers (and staff) work in are old. Most were built in 1960 and as you can see, were updated in 1969. During my 25 years at Atlanta Center, we moved into a new control room that was actually smaller than the old control room. The old control room had asbestos. The new control room has mold.

I was always fascinated by the fact that the control room got smaller and the administrative wing just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I’d make a guess that the administrative space tripled in my career. It wasn’t anything to brag about though. We called one of the buildings the “Alabama Mansion.” It looked like a two story trailer and was painted “government green.”

Don Brown
December 5, 2007

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 4

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 4, 1991: Pan American World Airways ceased flying after 64 years of operations. On the previous day, Delta Air Lines had told a bankruptcy court that it would not supply further financing for Pan Am (see Jan 8, 1991). At an auction of Pan Am assets on Dec 9, United emerged as the largest purchaser, bidding successfully on most of the defunct airline's Latin American routes. Such remaining Pan Am property as industrial and office equipment was auctioned at Miami airport on Aug 4-7, 1992. (See Sep 26, 1996.) “

Meanwhile, on board the Titanic, the band played on.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 4, 1991: James B. Busey left the post of FAA Administrator and became Deputy Secretary of Transportation (a position which he held until resigning effective Jun 19, 1992). On Busey's departure from FAA, Deputy Administrator Barry L. Harris became Acting Administrator, and Executive Director for System Operations Joseph M. Del Balzo became Acting Deputy Administrator (see Jun 27, 1992). On Dec 6, 1991, President Bush announced the choice of DOT Secretary Samuel L. Skinner to become his chief of staff on Dec 16, replacing John H. Sununu (see Feb 24, 1992). Busey became Acting Secretary upon Skinner's departure from DOT. “

Don Brown
December 4, 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

Tivo Alert -- Uberlingen

The National Geographic Channel is showing a series called Air Emergency. They’re documentary- type programs and one of them is on the mid air collision over Uberlingen.

Your system might be different but I’m showing that particular episode (on the Uberlingen mid air) as airing on December 5th at 5 AM EST. Here’s the link on the NGC website. Good luck finding the listing. Between the website and my balky internet connection, I gave up and just scrolled through the TV menu to find the listing.

Don Brown
December 3, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 3

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 3, 1993: FAA’s first commissioning of an Airport Surface Detection Equipment model 3 (ASDE3) took place at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. An improved ground surveillance radar system, ASDE-3 had been installed for testing at Pittsburgh in Feb 1990, and FAA had formally accepted the system for operational use in Dec 1991. (See Dec 23, 1983, and Jun 27, 1996.) “

Don Brown
December 3, 2007

Sunday, December 02, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 2

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 2, 1939: New York Municipal Airport - La Guardia Field opened for commercial traffic on the improved site of the former Glenn H. Curtiss Airport at North Beach, Long Island, N.Y. The facility was renamed La Guardia Airport in 1947. “

Don Brown
December 2, 2007

Low Approach

For those that know what a Martin Mars is, you might want to jump on over to The House of Rapp and view this series of pictures. I don’t know if it’s just the angle or what but I can’t imagine flying an airplane -- this big -- this low, over land. Yes, I know that’s what they do. Go look at the pictures and you’ll see what I mean.

Don Brown
December 2, 2007

Saturday, December 01, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- December 1

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Dec 1, 1974: Approaching Dulles International Airport under conditions of poor visibility, a Trans World Airlines Boeing 727 descended too soon and crashed into a mountain near Berryville, Va., killing all 92 persons aboard.

Unfamiliar with terrain to the immediate west of Dulles, the TWA captain interpreted a controller's "cleared for approach" instruction to mean that he could descend to the final approach altitude of 1,800 feet immediately, although his chart indicated mountain peaks and a prescribed minimum altitude of 3,400 feet. The controller had assumed the pilot knew he was not to descend to 1,800 feet until he had cleared the mountains. Soon after the accident, FAA took steps to clarify pilot responsibilities for maintaining safe altitude by issuing a notice, followed by a regulatory amendment. This new rule explicitly required that in-bound pilots maintain their assigned altitude until they were given a new one or became established on a published route. FAA also issued additional guidance intended to ensure that controllers informed radar arrivals of any applicable altitude restrictions at the time that they issued an approach clearance. (See Jan 1, 1976.)

With FAA still under scrutiny for its handling of the DC-10 cargo door problem (see Mar 3, 1974), the TWA crash added to intense criticism of the agency (see Dec 27, 1974). The accident underscored the need for a cockpit device to alert pilots if they strayed too close to terrain, and FAA speeded work on a proposed rule to make a terrain warning system mandatory (see Dec 24, 1974). Other FAA actions in the wake of the TWA crash included the appointment of a Special Air Safety Advisory Group, composed of six retired airline captains, which submitted a variety of safety recommendations on Jul 30, 1975. Meanwhile, DOT established a task force on FAA’s safety mission (see Jan 28, 1975). “

You could write an entire book about this accident. F. Lee Bailey did. Cleared for the Approach -- In Defense of Flying. The book also has a lot about PATCO in it. Mr. Bailey was one of the first officers of PATCO. And while you’re busy saying “I didn’t know that”, you might as well Google PATCO + Johnny Carson, Arthur Godfrey, Susan Oliver and Arnold Palmer.

Getting back on track, this is one of the major accidents that had a real impact on air traffic control. The most obvious consequence to controllers is the requirement to issue an altitude to maintain until established on a published segment of the approach.

Section 8. Approach Clearance Procedures


b. For aircraft operating on unpublished routes, issue the approach clearance only after the aircraft is: (See FIG 4-8-1.)

1. Established on a segment of a published route or instrument approach procedure.

2. Assigned an altitude to maintain until the aircraft is established on a segment of a published route or instrument approach procedure.


I’ll use this opportunity to push one of my pet theories. And as always (it seems), it’s an unpopular one. I believe this accident was the tip of the iceberg -- an iceberg that I’ll call “direct-itis.” I don’t think I can lay claim to the term. I think I got it from Wally Roberts. You may not have heard of Wally and you may not know what TERPS is but Wally is the man.

There was a time when airplanes flying in instrument conditions stayed on airways. Airways always had Minimum Enroute Altitudes (MEA) posted on them. Think of it in three dimensions. Airways didn’t just provide lateral guidance -- across the ground -- they provided vertical guidance to keep you above the ground -- above the terrain.

With the advent of radar it started getting easier and easier to get aircraft off those “restrictive” airways. When you’re thinking of getting to your destination, anything that isn’t a straight line makes “restrictive” sound bad. When you think about flying through a mountain pass to an airport, “restrictive” suddenly sounds like a good thing.

From one of my favorite research sites:

”The issuance of the approach clearance when the flight was 44 miles from the airport on an unpublished route without clearly defined minimum altitudes.”

(Emphasis added)

If you’re on an airway -- a published route -- and the MEA says 5,000, you know what is safe. If you’re on an unpublished route there isn’t an MEA. The Minimum IFR Altitude (MIA) can change by the second, which is one of the reasons they’re unpublished (for pilots.) It’s as simple as Known vs. Unknown.

The #1 reason pilots want to go direct is simply to save time. People who fly in airplanes tend to be in a rush. It feeds the mentality that direct is always better, hence the term “direct-itis.” It helped kill all the people aboard TWA514, all the people aboard AAL965 and it’s probably not done yet.

The common wisdom that you should be able to fly direct in the wild blue yonder remains mostly unchallenged -- and everyone is aware of the dangers terrain presents once they’ve begun an instrument approach. However, there’s a huge gap in the transition between the two -- between “random” and “precision”, between published and unpublished -- that many refuse to face. How do you transition from random to “un-random” ? Once you answer it for approaches, find the answer for departures. Where do you transition from “un-random” to random ?

A review of Safety Board accident data revealed that, on March 16, 1991, at 0143 Pacific standard time, a Hawker Siddeley DH125-1A/522 transport-category turbojet airplane crashed into mountainous terrain about 8 nm northeast of SDM, killing 10 people. The Hawker accident site was located within 1.5 miles of the Learjet accident site. The Hawker accident site was at the 3,300-foot level of Otay Mountain and about 172 feet below the mountain’s top.

...” The captain stated that he wanted to depart from runway 8 to avoid flying over the city of San Diego. He also stated that a runway 8 departure would place the flight on a heading straight toward ABQ, and the copilot agreed with this statement. Neither the captain nor the copilot mentioned the mountainous terrain to the east and northeast as a consideration in deciding which runway to use for departure.”

(Emphasis added)

“Directitis” got them too.

Don Brown
December 1, 2007