Thursday, June 21, 2007

I Accept

Now, before anybody gets excited, I want folks to understand -- I want to move to D.C. about as bad as Marion Blakey wants to spend a shift plugged in at New York Tracon. That’s about as much as you’d want to have a tooth pulled. But just like a painful tooth, if it hurts bad enough, you’ll endure the pain of having it pulled.

My friend (and ex-boss) John Carr over at The Main Bang was “nominated” by my former publisher (AVweb) to be the next Administrator at the FAA. Yes, it is all (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek. You can tell by this part from John’s blog.

”16.  I will make Don Brown Minister of Safety”

We all know there has got to be somebody better qualified than me. But in the spirit of the moment, here is my X (I’ll fill it in after I write it) point plan.

1) Divert all funds currently spent on NextGen, JPDO, NGATS and whatever other pie-in-the-sky project the FAA has going that I can find (won’t Congress be happy ?) and build a “virtual” air traffic control system. It will be staffed by real controllers talking to real pilot dealing with real situations. I even want the real weather hooked into it. Dispatchers, FSS, Base Ops -- everybody gets plugged in. When pilots train in their simulators, they’ll be plugged into the “virtual” system. When controllers train on their simulators (and they will -- often), they’ll be plugged into the “virtual” system also.

There ought to be enough “pork” in that idea to keep all the “players” on The Hill happy. The next PhD with a “better idea” will get to show me it works in virtual reality before he gets to experiment with the American public’s safety. If nobody can figure out how to make a virtual system work I’ll get the guys over at VATSIM to show them how.

2) Safe, Orderly and Expeditious won’t be just a slogan -- it’ll be your job.

”AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL- A service operated by appropriate authority to promote the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic.”

Everybody’s job. Get the order (pardon the pun) mixed up (too often) and you won’t have one.

3) Make a standing appointment with a representative of the NTSB (say for every Friday afternoon at 4 P.M.) and the only agenda item will be “Why haven’t you implemented our safety recommendations yet ?” When we get them all resolved we’ll get an “early go.”

4) Speaking of safety recommendations (look for “fatigue” in the link above), controllers will get a 32 hour week. Don’t get too excited. Those 32 hours will probably still cover 5 whole days. We’re going to talk to the Human Factors people about rotating shifts and fatigue. Then we’re going to implement the best schedules we can. Ditto for pilots and everybody else. I don’t expect anybody will like it but everybody will live longer -- controllers, pilots and passengers.

5) Speaking of Human Factors people -- saddle up. You’re going to be busy. The National Airspace System will be “human-centered”. (I’m already using buzz words.) People are going to make the final decision when it comes to safety and you’re going to teach our people how to make the best decisions. We will make the technology fit the human instead of the other way around. What we aren’t going to do is let you sit in a lab and write papers that get filed away on a dusty shelf. I want you to write the papers, they just aren’t going to sit on a shelf. You’re going to hit the road and sell those ideas to controllers, pilots, managers and CEOs. Don’t be surprised if you learn something when you get to talk to these people face to face.

6) Controllers will get back in the cockpit to observe. And you will observe (and learn.) I don’t care if you learn on the flight to Hawaii but I do care that you learn. There will be a dozen rules governing your behavior in the program but it will really come down to one simple rule: mess up and it won’t happen again. (Brownie points will be given for actually learning to fly.)

In reverse, pilots will get back in the Towers and the radar rooms. No, seriously, I mean you will. Anything beyond a VFR private pilot license will require some time in an ATC facility. It’ll be progressive. The fancier the ticket, the more requirements it will have. Airline pilots can expect to have visited a Tower, Tracon and a Center. If you’re going to use the ATC system you’re going to have to learn something about it besides what is written in a book. We might even plug you into a radar position in that “virtual” system I want. Pilots will be welcome at any ATC facility at any time. Their presence will be required at others. (A box of doughnuts will be required to enter any FAA facility during non-administrative hours.)

As a matter of fact, we’re all going to have one great big group hug. Staff, TMU, R&D, FSS, AF, mangers, pilots, government, military, civilians and anybody else I can afford to put together. Everybody is going to learn a little about everybody else’s job and we are going to learn how to communicate. Secrets and Safety don’t mix.

7) Train, train and train some more. We’re going to gather up every CBI (Computer Based Instruction) computer, buy a baseball bat and raffle off tickets to take a swing at every one of them. We’ll use the proceeds to replace about a tenth of them and put all the courses on the internet where they belong. Where anybody can look at them. (Think of what that will do for their quality.) The rest of the time you will be taught by the experts in your field. And yes boys and girls, we’re going to make recognized experts out of some of you. Unless you want Seymour Traffic to be the one giving lectures you’d best think of who you want to be “recognized” as an expert.

Anybody that wants to sit behind a radar scope will have to learn to move traffic without one. That’s right. Non radar. It’s “pass or fail” in the real world, it’ll be pass or fail in training. Remember that virtual system I was talking about ? It will be designed to virtually “fail gracefully” just like the real system will be. The first time you ever see a radar scope go blank won’t be when sitting in front of a real scope, full of real airplanes, full of real people. And that goes for pilots too. When a controller with a scope that just quits says, “Say position” you’re going to learn a better answer than “857.6 miles west of Podunk” or “Uhhhhh....”

8) Cap the number of scheduled flights for all airports at a percentage of the IFR arrival rate. We’ll have to find “the number” but it will be significantly less than 100% of the VFR arrival rate. (That ought to torpedo my nomination.)

9) Phraseology -- You’ll learn to love it. Ditto the AIM. Ditto the 7110.65. Some of you will even learn how to write them.

10) Anticipated Separation -- If anybody wants to use it you’ll have to convince me it’s better than “positive separation.” “Better” will be defined as “Safer” (and then those other two words.) Ditto for “Land and Hold Short.” I look forward to hearing from the Tower contingent and being illumined (or illuminated -- like with a targeting radar.) Remember, any argument that begins with “expeditious” is a loser.

11) Hire Jon Stewart as my communications consultant. Maybe he can teach me to lighten up a little and still get the point across.

Don Brown
June 21, 2007

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