Tuesday, March 27, 2007

NexCon


Did you catch the news ? The Bush Administration just proposed to raise the Federal gas tax 50 cents a gallon. Are you kiddin’ me ?!! Ross Perot might be snickering in the background but the American public is going to be outraged. Can you imagine what this will do to the economy ? What in the world are these fools in Washington thinking ?

Okay, so the Bush Administration isn’t talking about raising the tax on your gas. But they are talking about raising the tax on aviation gas by 50 cents. Federal tax on gas for your car is 18+ cents a gallon. On aviation gas it’s 19+ cents per gallon. The FAA’s “user fee” proposal would raise that tax on aviation gas to 70 cents a gallon. And it has about as much chance of being passed as a 50 cent hike on your gas. The FAA’s funding proposal is now being called DOA -- “Dead On Arrival.”

So why bother making the proposal ? Is it just a distraction ? A negotiating position ? Just more political shenanigans ? Who knows. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking these people are stupid. George Bush has made a career out of letting people think he’s stupid. And now he’s the President.

If you want to take the time to read the Administration’s NextGen Financing Reform Act of 2007 (Reauthorization) submission you’ll see some curious details. You can watch the slick video-sales job but you can also scroll down and look at the bits and pieces of the program.

I try to stick with what I know when I’m trying to figure something out so I chose to look at the NextGen Fact Sheet.

At the bottom of the page you’ll find this quote: “Without NextGen there will be gridlock in the skies.” I’ve got a real problem with the concept of “gridlock in the skies.” While “gridlock in the skies” is theoretically possible it’s almost irrelevant. In air traffic control, gridlock on the ground is the problem. The current ATC system can deliver airplanes to the runway far faster than any airport can handle them. Think of going from an interstate highway into a parking garage. Yes, sooner or later the interstate might back up but only long after you can’t get them into the parking garage fast enough.

And then there’s the weather. To carry this imperfect analogy a little further, a thunderstorm along a major air route is like closing a lane on the interstate. Again, it will back things up but the problem isn’t the “interstate”. It’s the weather.

So what do we we do ? Well, you make improvements where you can and as technology allows. You build better exits off the “interstate” -- high speed exits off the runway. You put grooves in the “road” to lessen the chance of an accident during bad weather -- better weather radar to improve an aircraft’s ability to navigate around dangerous weather. In other words, you do what you can and what is possible, recognizing that you can’t change the laws of physics or change the weather.

Technology is a good thing. Always keep this thought in mind, though. It’s key. Aviation doesn’t run on the “latest-greatest” technology. We should always be looking at it. We should always be thinking of what technology might be able to do for aviation. But the thing to remember is what we are looking for is reliable. We’re looking for proven, stable and safe technology. You don’t want the lives of a million-plus passengers a day depending on the latest version of your favorite software. You want the version that has had all the bugs fixed.

Gettin’ the flick ? ADS-B and GPS sound really cool until the Chinese decide to start shooting satellites out of orbit, sunspots start acting up or you realize your repairman now needs a space suit to fix your “satellite based system.”

One other thing while we’re here. There was a program in the FAA called NEXCOM. That’s "Com" -- with an “M.”

Next Generation Air/Ground Communications (NEXCOM)
“In May 1998, the FAA Joint Resources Council (JRC) approved the approach recommended by the Next Generation Air/Ground Communications (NEXCOM) investment analysis (IA) team. The team recommended adopting the International Civil Aviation Organization’s future communications system, VDL Mode 3, for the U.S. National Airspace System.”

May 1998 was almost nine years ago. Where is it (NEXCOM) ? Click on the “NEXCOM web site” link at the bottom of the page and you get... Page Not Found.

NextGen, NexCom or NexCon ? That’s "Con" -- with an “N.”

Don Brown
March 27, 2007

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