Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Old Dopey Me

I give you a press release from NATCA and don’t tell you where to find it on line. You can always get them here.

Don Brown
July 31, 2007

A Press Release

I don’t think I’ve ever put a NATCA press release on my blog. At least it isn’t a habit. I believe everybody knows I’m partial to NATCA by now. I’ll disagree with them from time to time but I still think of them as my guys.

Anyway, it’s an interesting press release in of itself but I (of course) have my own purposes for posting it. Look for the highlighted part.



CONTACT: Jason Hubbard, 859-512-3099

CINCINNATI – For the second time in six months, a primary radar failure Sunday morning at Cincinnati Tower (CVG) and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and lack of appropriate secondary radar feeds severely delayed scores of flights into and out of the nation’s 14th-busiest airport at the beginning of a morning rush hour period. It also exposed again the lack of Federal Aviation Administration action to give local CVG management the radar feeds necessary to keep the airport running efficiently in the event of power interruptions.

The outage began at 7:36 a.m. EDT Sunday and by the time it ended at 10:30, 29 departing flights were delayed between 28 and 39 minutes each. Controllers instituted a first-tier ground stop, meaning Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC, or “center”) and Indianapolis Center put flights to CVG into holding patterns.

There are only two long-range radar feeds into CVG, meaning that when controllers have to rely on secondary radar, they cannot “see” planes on their radar scopes that are below 5,000 feet. In those situations, such as on Sunday, Cincinnati air traffic controllers were forced to use non-radar procedures, which are based on time and distance measurements and result in 10-mile gaps between departing flights. The normal arrival rate into CVG is 108 aircraft per hour. During Sunday’s outage, that was cut to 32.

“We need other radar feeds,” said Jason Hubbard, the CVG facility representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “The FAA has the ability to bring others in, but it appears to be a cost problem.” Simply put, local FAA management officials’ calls to senior FAA officials to fix the problem have been ignored.

            Hubbard said the FAA termed a similar radar outage in January “unprecedented” and the likelihood of one happening again was “rare.”

(emphasis added)

Interesting that those numbers match (exactly) isn’t it ?

Don Brown
July 31, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 31

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

”Jul 31, 1968: General William F. McKee resigned as FAA Administrator effective this date (see Jul 1, 1965). On Aug 1, 1968, Secretary of Transportation Alan S. Boyd designated FAA Deputy Administrator David D. Thomas as Acting Administrator. No one was named to the FAA Administrator post during the remaining months of the Johnson Administration. (See Mar 24, 1969.) ”

There’s a precedent for it. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the next President will get to choose the next FAA Administrator.

By the way, do you even know who the current FAA Deputy Administrator is ?

Don Brown
July 31, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

The News on News

In Getting Serious I tried to gather my thoughts about the special place that the media occupies in America and how important its role is. I recognize that my interest in this subject was sparked by Al Gore’s new book The Assault on Reason (yes, I’ll do a review soon.)

I also recognize that in the greater scheme of things, my writing ability pales in comparison to the professionals. A case in point: James Fallows’ blog today. Moving the Bancroft/Murdoch choice to the moral level

Mr. Fallows is on the same general subject but his knowledge is much deeper, his research more thorough and...well, he just plain writes better than I do. For instance, just take this one sentence;

”The fundamental problem with today's American press is a mismatch between its economic basis and its public function.”

There you have it. The institution that we depend upon for information has to compete in a market where titillation pays more than illumination.

Do yourself a favor if you have the time. Make sure you click on the links that Mr. Fallows’ provides. They provide important information that will further your education. One such link is to The Wall Street Journal riddle by Eric Boehlert. In it you will find:

”But therein lies the Wall Street Journal riddle. While cheering each anti-Murdoch statement from the families, I'm left perplexed by the fact that the Ottaways and the Bancrofts are so (admirably) focused on maintaining journalistic integrity at the Journal that they are willing to leave Murdoch's billions on the table, yet they're the same trustees who allowed the newspaper's right-wing editorial page to practice, and perfect, a noxious brand of misinformation that doesn't even qualify as journalism. If owning the newspaper remains such a deep public trust for the families, why have they allowed the editorial page to stain the entire Journal news operation?”

Just in case you thought I’d forgotten I’d written this.


”From Saturday’s Wall Street Journal editorial.

” If Congress decided instead to privatize the whole system, as Britain, Canada, Germany and other countries have done in whole or part, we'd hardly object. But it seems more likely that our Solons in Washington will bring it down to the wire over union givebacks and the like.”

As I told you earlier, I’m in the middle of a lot of travel so I don’t have time (at the moment) to give this editorial the thorough thrashing it deserves. But I don’t want you to forget to see the forest for the trees.”


I will get back to the WSJ’s editorial. But right now, I have to face reality and mow the yard. Which reminds me, I need to work on my post; “Top Ten Reasons I Hate Summer.”

Don Brown
July 30, 2007

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Report Card Update

If you’ll remember, on July 19 I posted that AVweb was taking a poll about Marion Blakey’s performance as the FAA Administrator. At the time, 87% of the respondents had given her an “F”.

Now it’s 92%. Ten days later and only 23 people are willing to give her a “A”. I don’t know about you, but for me, that says something. And it ain’t good.

Check it out. (You may have to vote to see it.)

Don Brown
July 29, 2007

Getting Serious

Michelle Ku, a reporter with the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader has written an article that may interest you. The specifics might not interest you but what the article demonstrates should. This is how the good old U.S. of A is supposed to work. Well, it’s almost how it’s supposed to work. It’s still refreshing to see. It’s been awhile.

You see, the article is actually about a subject that the majority of the masses won’t read. It deals with an important subject (aviation safety) in a manner that is sadly lacking in today’s media -- with fairness and a willingness to tackle the complexity of the issue.

”Common abbreviations such as TWY, RWY and UFN (taxiway, runway, and until further notice) are easy to understand. Others such as DCMSND, HAA and MALSR (decommissioned, height above airport and medium intensity approach light system with runway alignment indicator lights) are not.

"It assumes that everybody knows the acronyms, and generally the pilots do," said Paul Czysz, a retired aeronautics professor at St. Louis University. "But if you haven't seen an acronym for a month or two, it doesn't register all the time."”

While this issue (aviation safety) -- in of itself -- is important, I want to highlight the bigger issue. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees a Free Press. As Thomas Jefferson pointed out in so many ways, a well-informed electorate is necessary for a democracy to survive. A Free Press is one that informs the electorate. It is their function to cover and highlight the stories that you -- The People -- don’t have have the time and/or technical expertise to find. In short, freedom of the press was designed to ensure that the electorate was “well informed.” Informed citizens make informed decisions about how they govern themselves.

I applaud Ms. Ku and the Lexington Herald-Leader for doing their part and doing it well. My praise is tempered though. It is tempered by the knowledge of why they have suddenly “found religion.” A planeload of people -- 49 people -- had to die before we woke up. And I do mean “we.”

It isn’t the Lexington Herald-Leader’s job to ensure air safety anymore than it is yours. But it is yours and theirs. You are a citizen and it is still “We the People...” The Lexington Herald-Leader is part of the Free Press. We -- collectively -- do have a duty to fulfill. The fact that it is a shared responsibility cannot excuse us from our duty. I submit that if you are responsible enough and intelligent enough to have read this far -- you have an even greater duty to this country. Your less-informed fellow citizens look to you for help and advice in deciding the course of this country. To whom much is given, much is expected.

As important as aviation safety is -- as passionate as I am about it -- it does not approach the significance of many other issues we, as U.S. citizens, face. We have invaded Iraq and made a mess of it. We were poorly informed (if not downright misled) by our government. The Press did not completely fail to fulfill it’s role and inform the electorate prior to this momentous decision but much of it did. Much too much of it. The national press is now trying to catch up to the issue just as the Kentucky press is now trying to catch up to the issue of air safety.

One accident and 49 people paid with their lives. One war and 3,500+ soldiers have paid with their lives. We can’t afford to play “catch up” too often. The United States is the most powerful nation the world has ever known. We cannot afford to be (or even perceived to be) a loose cannon in the world. “We the People of the United Statesmust form a more perfect Union. The world will demand it.

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

Don Brown
July 29, 2007

Saturday, July 28, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 28

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

”Jul 28-31, 1976: A slowdown by PATCO-affiliated air traffic controllers disrupted traffic around the country. PATCO president John F. Leyden had ordered the slowdown to protest the U.S. Civil Service Commission's delay in completing a pay reclassification study for controllers. Leyden had also protested a Civil Service proposal to downgrade controllers at certain low-activity facilities. The slowdown ended when the Civil Service Commission agreed to reconsider its position and expedite the review, while FAA Administrator John L. McLucas publicly confirmed his support of upgradings at certain facilities. FAA took no disciplinary action against PATCO. (See May 7, 1975, and Nov 12, 1976.) ”

(emphasis added)

Wouldn’t you like to know the rest of that story.

Don Brown
July 28, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 26

I’m a day late (and probably a dollar short) but I thought this too important to skip.

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

Jul 26, 1985: FAA announced the award of a contract for replacement of the IBM 9020 computers at the nation's 20 air route traffic control centers (ARTCCs) as part of the agency's Advanced Automation Program. IBM won the replacement contract in a competition with Sperry Corp. under a pair of contracts that had been announced on Sept 22, 1983. The new installations were designated the "Host" Computer Systems (HCSs) because of their ability to run the existing 9020 software package with minimum modifications. Using the IBM 3083-BX1 computer as its key element, the Host system would provide greater speed, reliability, and storage capacity. Each installation would consist of two units, one serving as the primary processor and the other providing support and backup. (See Mar 22, 1983, and May 29, 1987.) In addition to installing the Host systems at the ARTCCs, IBM agreed to supply the systems to teams working on the other major element of the Advanced Automation Program, the Advanced Automation System (AAS). Under a pair of contracts announced on Aug 16, 1984, IBM and Hughes Aircraft Co. were engaged in a competition to produce the best AAS design (see Jul 26, 1988). Among the key elements of AAS were controller work stations, called "sector suites," that would incorporate new display, communications and processing capabilities. AAS would also include new computer hardware and software to bring the air traffic control system to higher levels of automation. Once the full AAS system was operational, FAA planned to begin the integration of en route and terminal radar control services at the ARTCCs, which would be renamed Area Control Facilities (ACFs) and expanded to handle the new functions (see Apr 19, 1993). Among the planned future enhancements to AAS was Automated En Route Air Traffic Control (AERA), which would automatically examine aircraft flight plans to detect and resolve potential conflicts.

In July of 1985, I’d been in the FAA for less than 4 years. I distinctly remember a guy (that had sipped the kool-aid one time too many) saying that AAS (Advance Automation System) would replace half the controllers in the country and that we’d just “monitor” the air traffic. Nothing much changed in my entire career. The FAA kept trying to replace us with computers and controllers kept doing what they do best --controlling air traffic.

In case anyone is still wondering why I post these history lessons, it’s the old saying -- those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The FAA’s efforts to automate control were doomed for my entire career and will continue to fail with NextGen. The FAA culture continues to go down that path the kool-aid-drinking gentleman I mentioned above took. Humans make lousy monitors. Humans make decisions. They must be engaged. Take them “out of the loop” and their decisions become faulty. Until the FAA learns to design the technology to fit the human instead trying to make the human fit the technology, the FAA will continue to fail. AAS was one of the biggest technology failures in government. It has become a textbook case on how a project fails. The figures vary but 2.5 billion dollars wasted is the figure most often used. And that was back when a billion dollars was real money.

Lest you forget, that was your money.

Don Brown
July 27, 2007

Some People Claim...

There’s a woman to blame. It figures. After all, we are talking about pink shirts. My friend Michelle read my blog and clued me in about the history behind the “pink shirts.”

It came about as these things usually do. The leaders of the controllers working the airshow at Oshkosh (OSH) wanted their members to be easily recognizable. Every year, they’d get the entire crew the same color shirt to wear. Gray, blue, whatever. It would change from year to year. Then one year, they picked a green that they thought would provide high visibility.

They’d already determined over the years that some colors just didn’t work for them. Working OSH is a very “visual” business and some of the colors worn by the controllers at the approach end of the runway just melted into the background. Although the green was carefully chosen to contrast with the grass surrounding the runways, the grass had other ideas. By the time of the show it changed to match the shirts. The controllers were -- effectively -- now camouflaged. Not a good thing when airplanes are landing mere yards (pardon the pun) away.

It just so happened that Michelle and a couple of other ladies were in charge of the next year’s planning. They discussed what they could do about the situation. Red shirts were out. The EAA was using it to identify their people. Yellow was out for the same reason. The ladies settled on “neon pink”. And yes, there was a certain gleam in their eyes at the thought of telling their fellow male controllers that they would have to wear a pink shirt this year.

It worked so well -- it was highly visible and nobody else was wearing pink -- that it stuck. And the rest (as they say) is history.

On a more serious note, this is just a lighthearted example of what I call “institutional memory.” It’s this kind of knowledge -- knowing the history behind a procedure that works -- that is lost when a large percentage of the workforce leaves at once. A lot of controller knowledge was lost in the PATCO strike in 1981. That knowledge had to regained -- rediscover -- at a painful price. That is the reason I and many other controllers get so upset about the current condition of the FAA. We know the cost of relearning these lessons -- firsthand.

For the FAA to purposely drive their senior controllers out of the profession is morally reprehensible. It degrades the safety of the system -- needlessly. It is reckless. It’s just plain wrong.

Don Brown
July 27, 2007

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Early to Bed

That’s the problem with going to bed early. You wake up early. Like 4:30 AM early. Maybe it’s just age but I’ll blame it on 25 years of screwed up shift work as a controller. I can’t seem to sleep more than 5 hours at a stretch.

Oh well. It gives me time to run through my presentation again (and again.) I’ll be giving my favorite talk today: Filing an IFR Flight Plan (Correctly). I feel like a preacher on Sunday morning. I know I won’t convert many people but it’s important, so I’ll give it my best shot.

Most people want to think of airspace as just a blank slate. You go from Point A to Point Z and there’s nothing in between. It’s actually a complicated maze full of sector borders, Special Use Airspace, Restricted areas and mountains. Navigating it can be quite complex. But with the near universal radar coverage we are blessed with in the U.S., radar monitoring and vectors have replaced careful route planning. On most short trips within Terminal areas, it’s not unusual to be on a radar vector from takeoff until joining the Final Approach Course. Oh well.

It’s supposed to be as hot here in Wisconsin as it is at home in Georgia today. Yuck. I guess it was bound to happen. Every time I’ve been here before the weather was just delightful. I’ll just have to grin and bear it. The grin part won’t be hard -- after all -- it is the EAA’s AirVenture.

Don Brown
July 26, 2007

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

When You’re Hot You’re Hot

And I’m hot ! As I told several people today, I could have stayed in Georgia if I wanted to be hot. Don’t pay any attention to me. I’m just whining for no apparent reason. Yes, it was a bit warm today but it really hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm. This is still a great place to be.

After the interview on EAA Radio this morning I did my usual stint at the NATCA tent. Mostly “meet and greet.” We get a lot of people dropping by and an even wider variety of questions. Many have technical questions they’d like answered and others are just getting a general feel on how controllers feel about the issues of the day. The big topic is User Fees. NATCA is against them like virtually every other organization and individual here. Everybody knows they’re wrong -- except the people that stand to make the money off of them.

We do our best to give all the visitors the best answer possible. I’ve got 25 years at Atlanta Center, Darren is an Air Safety Investigator for NATCA, Jesse is the “young gun” and does a great job with the “How do I become a controller” crowd. Grant is a legislative rep. for NATCA and Michelle used to work OSH (back when the FAA ran it) and has several OSH “pink shirts” in her closet. Bob manned the very first booth for NATCA at OSH (and I think every one since) and then my friend Chuck should be here tomorrow and he has a few “pink shirts” in addition to being one of the finest people I know.

As you might notice, NATCA doesn’t really need me. They have a wealth of talent to choose from and I am incredibly flattered that they asked me to come back even though I retired last year. I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of this organization and the people that make it work. Speaking of which, my (cowboy) hat is off to Kelly from the National Office. He is the Ring Master of this circus. How he pulls it off every year is beyond me but he always does -- and every year it’s better.

I guess the non-aviators might be interested in knowing about a “pink shirt.” Somewhere back in the past, someone had the idea to put all the controllers working OSH in the same color shirts. I assume that this particularly shocking version of pink was chosen for it’s high visibility out near the runways. Whatever the real reason, it stuck and everyone here knows what it means. The only down side to wearing one is a sore right hand from all the hand shakes they get from pilots thanking them. It’s an honor to get one. And well deserved. Alas -- a poor, ignorant Center guy like me will never get one. This gig is for the Tower folks only.

I had this list of things to tell you today but like everything at OSH -- it’s overwhelming. Just the number of old friends I bumped into -- Bruce with ASF, Harry from LGB, Eric from ProPilot, Cole and Geoff from AVSIG -- the new friends -- the guy that became a mechanic in 1947 (add that up), the young lady (all of 16) that has enough moxie to be the next Administrator -- it’s just crazy fun.

I’ve got to quit so I can get up and do it again tomorrow.

Don Brown
July 25, 2007

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Radio Show

Did you catch me on the radio this morning ? No ??? Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.

People that have never been to the EAA’s AirVenture at Oshkosh have a hard time comprehending just how big an event it really is. It’s BIG. So big that they even have their own radio station.

Check it out.

To listen on your computer, just click on the EAA radio icon like the one below.

If all goes according to plan, I’ll be on tomorrow morning (7-25-07) again, at 9 AM Central Time. You can check the schedule here. I really enjoy these interviews and I hope you will too.

Don Brown
July 24, 2007

Monday, July 23, 2007

Goodnight Ladies

Well, I’m safely tucked away in Oshkosh, WI and I am bushed. I wasn’t too tired to go eat at my favorite restaurant though. Who knew German cooking was so good (not to mention the beer) ?

It’ll be a long day tomorrow so I’ll say goodnight. See you tomorrow at the show.

Don Brown
July 23, 2007

By the Numbers

I was just looking at some numbers for the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) airport -- the world’s busiest.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

”1 million — The number of takeoffs and landings the airport will experience this year.

3,000 — The average number of daily takeoffs and landings at Hartsfield-Jackson.

218 — The record hourly number of takeoffs and landings the airport experienced on Wednesday from 7 to 8 p.m.

3,103 — The record number of daily takeoffs and landings Hartsfield-Jackson experienced in a single 24-hour period earlier this month.”

Then I went to Flight Aware and looked at the arrivals between 8 PM and 9 PM today (7-22-07.) There were 110 arrivals in that hour.

I then went to one of those FAA Traffic Management pages I found not long ago. VAPS stand for “visual approaches.” In essence, it means good weather in which the airport can operate at it’s most efficient. The best weather and the best runway configuration gives you an 88-96 airport arrival rate.

Those numbers don’t exactly jibe do they ? If your “best” rate is 96 an hour but you’re landing 110 an hour then something isn’t exactly right. I don’t see the fifth runway that recently opened at ATL listed so I guess that is it. But let’s look a little deeper while we’re here anyway.

Suppose the weather wasn’t good. That takes the arrival rate (even with the preferred runway configuration) down to 68 arrivals per hour. I’ll give you 32 extra arrivals on the “fifth” runway and make it an even 100 arrivals per hour in bad weather. (Quickly, ATL has 4 “main” runways. Two for arrivals and two for departures. The “fifth” runway was recently added.)

According to the AJC, the record was set between 7-8 PM. Half of 218 (arrivals and departures) is 109 arrivals. With a 100 an hour airport arrival rate you’ve got 9 arrivals left over. They get pushed into the 8-9 PM hour. But that hour has 110 scheduled. Add 9 and you’ve now got 119 -- or 19 more than can the airport can handle.

Imagine what happens if the airport arrival rate goes down to 55 per hour. It isn’t just weather you have to worry about. Imagine what happens to the airport arrival rate when an aircraft blows a tire and gets stuck on the runway. Or a hundred other little glitches.

You’ve got to ask yourself some questions. Is scheduling an airport at 100+ percent of capacity worth that super-duper deal you got on your last airline ticket ? Or would you rather leave a little “give” in the system to allow for an occasional glitch ? Is that “cheap” airline ticket worth a 2 hour delay ? 4 hours ? 9 hours ? You may not realize it but it really is your choice. It’s your National Airspace System. You paid for it.

Don Brown
July 23, 2007

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Wall Street Weighs In

In case you’ve forgotten, the goal is to privatize the United States’ National Airspace System. The Bush Administration wants to sell your airspace system -- the one you’ve bought and paid for with your taxes -- to the next Enron.

From Saturday’s Wall Street Journal editorial.

” If Congress decided instead to privatize the whole system, as Britain, Canada, Germany and other countries have done in whole or part, we'd hardly object. But it seems more likely that our Solons in Washington will bring it down to the wire over union givebacks and the like.”

As I told you earlier, I’m in the middle of a lot of travel so I don’t have time (at the moment) to give this editorial the thorough thrashing it deserves. But I don’t want you to forget to see the forest for the trees.

The name of this game -- the end game -- is privatization. And the Bush Administration is going to sell it to you the same way they sold the Iraq War to you. They are going to create a crisis (WMD/Gridlock) for which they already have the solution (Invasion/Privatization.)

I and many others have been detailing the FAA’s destruction for you. It isn’t “just happening.” It is deliberate. When it fails (not if but when) you’ll be more than ready to privatize the whole thing. Imagine how a passenger that just spent 9 hours trapped on an airplane with no food, no water and overflowing toilets would jump at any “solution” offered. Trust me, it can get worse. Much worse. When fear sets in -- real fear -- reason will go out the window.

Don Brown
July 22, 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

Didn’t Learn Much Did We ?

From history that is. Remember this ?

””Jul 19, 1968: Air traffic congestion reached critical proportions when a total of 1,927 aircraft in the vicinity of New York City were delayed in taking off or landing, some for as long as three hours.”

You might be interested in these numbers.

”Number of Flights Delayed on July 18, 2007 -- 2,364 -- according to the FAA”

That message was brought to you by your favorite public servants, the air traffic controllers of NATCA . Check it out at Avoid Delays.

It really is a cool site. And you don’t have to take my (biased) word for it.

” Book non-stop flights whenever possible, and before you book that flight use the information found on the incredibly useful Avoid Delays Web site, which is maintained by air traffic controllers, to fine-tune your travel plans.”

That’s from Fodor’s.

I love it when my guys do the right thing and do it well. And they usually do. They aren’t perfect. But then again, they are. At least 99.999997% of the time. And that’s as close to perfect as any humans you know.

Don Brown
July 20, 2007

Travelin’ Man

If you’re traveling, you’ve got to have some Bob Segar music. I knew there was something else I needed at the iTunes Store.

Anyway, I’ve got some traveling to do for the next few days. So things might slow down a little. I’ll post what I can, when I can.

After a few long distance errands, I’ll be headed to OSH for a week. It’s amazing how many people don’t know about the EAA’s AirVentrure. Lots of people do, of course. I mean LOTS of people. I’m just surprised at the ones that don’t.

If you’re going, be sure to drop by the NATCA tent and say hi. We’re normally located between the Tower and the FAA hangar. Right across the road from the Cannon Camera building.

And be sure to put me on your schedule. Our schedule is tentative (aren’t they all ?) but I’ll be there and speaking at most of the NATCA sponsored events.

Don Brown
July 20, 2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 19

You’d be forgiven if you thought this history lesson was from today’s date; 7-19-07. It isn’t, of course. It’s from almost 30 years ago. (Whoops...make that almost 40 years ago.)

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

”Jul 19, 1968: Air traffic congestion reached critical proportions when a total of 1,927 aircraft in the vicinity of New York City were delayed in taking off or landing, some for as long as three hours. The jam, which spread to other major transportation hubs, was exacerbated by PATCO's decision to conduct a slowdown. (See Jul 3, 1968, and Jan 15, 1969.) At the root of the problem, however, was the inability of an inadequate and long-neglected air traffic control and airport system to accommodate the heavy tourist season traffic. The jam was symptomatic of conditions that forced FAA to develop schedule restrictions for certain airports. (See Jun 1, 1969.) ”

I just think I will (see June 1, 1969.) But before I do, a comment. Imagine if the controllers of today ran a slow down. As we used to joke back when I was a controller, “We’d have to advertise it. Otherwise nobody would know.” Today’s “slowdown” is brought to you by your friendly FAA and the 800 lb. gorilla in aviation -- the airlines. Watch this. Jump to June 1, 1969.

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

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 (70 for air carriers and supplementals; 5 for scheduled air taxis; 5 for general aviation);

(Chicago)O'Hare, 135 (115 for air carriers and supplementals; 10 for scheduled air taxis; 10 for general aviation);

La Guardia, 60 (48 for air carriers and supplementals; 6 for scheduled air taxis; 6 for general aviation);

Newark, 60 (40 for air carriers and supplementals; 10 for scheduled air taxis; 10 for general aviation);

Washington National, 60 (40 for air carriers and supplementals; 8 for scheduled air taxis; 12 for general aviation).

The rule did not charge extra sections of scheduled air carrier flights (such as hourly shuttle flights) against the established quotas, except at Kennedy; this airport, however, was permitted 10 extra air carrier operations per hour during the peak traffic period between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. IFR flights were required to make advanced reservations for each operation. Pilots obtained IFR reservations by contacting the Airport Reservation Office (established May 30, 1969) in Washington, D.C., or any FAA flight service station. Aircraft under visual flight rules (VFR) made arrival reservations in the air when approximately 30 miles from their intended destination. Departure reservations for such aircraft were handled by the air traffic control facilities serving these five high density airports. Originally implemented for a six-month period, this "High Density Rule" was subsequently extended to Oct 25, 1970. On that date, the hourly limitations on operations were suspended at Newark, where peak operations during fiscal 1970 had averaged 18 less than the assigned quota of 60. At the same time, the quotas were extended for another year at the other four airports. In taking this action, FAA noted that the percentage of aircraft delays at the five airports had decreased substantially since the rule was put into effect.

On Aug 24, 1971, FAA published an amendment extending the High Density Rule until Oct 25, 1972. Flight limitations remained unchanged at La Guardia and Washington National, but at O'Hare and Kennedy the quotas were now in effect only between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. The relaxation was due in part to a decline in aviation activity during a general downturn in the U.S. economy.

An amendment published on Oct 25, 1972, extended the High Density Rule until the same date in 1973, when another amendment was published giving it an indefinite extension. At the same time, FAA eliminated the requirement that pilots operating under visual flight rules at all five airports file a flight plan. FAA believed this requirement was no longer necessary since these airports were now operating under the terminal control area concept, which required pilots to establish radio communications with the tower and receive permission to enter the terminal airspace. (See Mar 23, 1978, Nov 3, 1980, and Mar 6, 1984.)

(edited for emphasis and clarity)

Did you notice that ATL (Atlanta - Hartsfield) wasn’t on that list ? You know, the busiest airport in the world ? Or number 3 (DFW) or 4 (LAX) or 5 (LAS) ? And while we’re here, just in case you’re curious, LGA is number 19 and DCA is number 41.

(Check it out. You can get the entire listing in the FAA Administrator’s Fact Book. I used the Dec. 2006 version.)

I did not pull those two airports (DCA and LGA) out of a hat.

And if one of you guys that works for the people that buy ink by the barrel doesn’t figure it out...I’ll have to write the story myself and charge you for it. We know what works. The FAA just won’t implement it (unless they’re told to by somebody more powerful than the airlines.) (Wink-Wink)

Here’s a hint. Two words. Concrete and Concrete.

Don Brown
July 19, 2007

Report Card Time

If the post below (detailing how Congress is displeased) wasn’t bad enough, those wacky guys at AVweb (disclaimer: I used to write for them) have gone and added insult to injury. Their “Question of the Week” is a report card for Marion Blakey. Can you say “Ouch !” ? As of this morning, 87% had given her an “F”.

For a more serious view, go read this excellent piece of work from my friends over at The FAA Follies.

Government by the airlines, for the airlines, of the airlines

I won’t spoil the surprise but I will say it is truly a cut above for a blog. They put some real effort into this one.

Don Brown
July 19, 2007

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Buried Gems

What’s the quip ? Making laws is like making sausage ? Maybe so but there’s some interesting gems buried in all that ground up meat. Speaking of ground up meat, I wonder how the FAA’s feeling about right now ?

This is from a Senate Report (No. 110-131) Don’t ask me what that means. (I was the safety guy, not the legislative guy.) I just know what it says.


The Committee recommends $6,964,813,000 for the Air Traffic Organization to operate and maintain the national air traffic control system. The recommended level is equal to the budget estimate, and equal to the fiscal year 2007 enacted level. The Committee is confident that the recommended funding level is sufficient to continue safe and efficient management of the National Airspace System [NAS].

Air Traffic Controller Contract- Last year, after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract through the collective bargaining process, the Administrator used questionable statutory authority to impose a new pay structure and work rules on the air traffic controller workforce. Several issues regarding the imposition of these terms are unresolved and tension between the controllers and FAA management remains at its worst point since the PATCO strike. The Committee believes that the current tenor of labor-management relations at the agency is not at all in the best interest of the FAA safety mission and the ability of the agency to tackle its most vexing challenges. As such, the Committee expects the Administrator to work aggressively to resolve the conflict over the controller's contract immediately.

Air Traffic Controller Staffing- The bill includes a provision that requires the FAA to submit to Congress its annual air traffic controller workforce plan by March 31 of each year. The original controller workforce plan was submitted to Congress in December 2004. Although the agency promised that the plan would be updated annually, the Committee had to wait until June 2006 before receiving any update to that plan. Since that time, the Committee has not received the 2007 update. The Committee directs the FAA to submit its 2007 plan immediately. The Committee also directs the FAA to include in each update to the controller workforce plan annual information on the total number of air traffic controllers that the agency projects for its workforce in addition to providing the estimated losses and planned hires to the controller workforce. Under the terms of the provision in the bill, the agency's budget will be effectively fined for each day after March 31 that the report is not submitted.

The Committee believes that a fully staffed controller workforce is critical to maintaining the safety of the air transportation system. However, the Committee is concerned that the FAA will not be able to reach its staffing goals for the current fiscal year, placing the goals for fiscal year 2008 in further jeopardy. As illustrated by the table below, the FAA expected to lose 1,197 air traffic controllers this year, and it hopes to hire 1,386 controllers in order fill those vacancies and increase its total staff level to 14,807. However, a little over halfway through fiscal year 2007, the FAA had already lost 900 controllers, or 75 percent of the total number of controller losses that the agency had projected for the entire year. The FAA also underestimated the number of controller losses to the workforce for both fiscal years 2005 and 2006. If controller losses continue to occur at this rate, the FAA will have to hire a total of 1,732 controllers this year in order to meet its workforce goal. That hiring total is 346 more controllers than the FAA had planned to hire before the end of the fiscal year. While the agency insists that it can still meet its end-of-year on-board strength goal for this year, the Committee will continue to monitor this situation carefully. The safety of our skies makes it essential that the FAA's hard hiring targets be viewed as a mandate on the agency, not as some amorphous goal that can slip from year to year.

(emphasis added)

Don Brown
July 18, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 18

You probably won’t ever see this in an FAA history book.

FAA chief should get the ax, senator says

Don Brown
July 18, 2007

Tuesday, July 17, 2007



1. an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
2. good fortune; luck:

It’s been a serendipitous day. This morning I was visiting James Fallows’ blog. I bumped into Mr. Fallows in cyberspace (he’s a pilot, I was a controller) and found him to be an unusually thoughtful fellow. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t really know who he was. (or is that “is” ?) I, of course, checked him out and went “Whoa !” That led me to his blog and I’ve been reading him ever since. But back to today.

Mr. Fallows’ blog today was about a graph that appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. The economist crowd is having a field day pointing out the error of the WSJ’s ways. Mr. Fallows points his readers to the same site I’ve been pointing you towards; the Economist’s View.

If you take the time to look at the chart, take the time to compare it with this chart that I tried to steer you towards a while back. Norway, Iceland, Australia, Ireland. An interesting correlation.

Later in the day, I went to get a haircut. I thought it strange, but the girl cutting my hair wanted to talk politics. Fine by me. She let on that she no longer considered herself a Republican (that’s saying something in my county of Georgia) and I told her about about my quote from George Burns in this morning’s post. “Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair." She thought that was hilarious. I don’t get many laughs, especially when I’m talking politics. It was nice.

When I got home, I had a nice “thank you” waiting for me from my friend John Carr over at The Main Bang. To be honest, I had to go read his blog entry to see what he was going on about. John has a lot more connections than I do and he obviously knows something else that I don’t. I’m used to that. And I can live with serendipity.

Don Brown
July 17, 2006

Collecting Thoughts

I spend a lot of time these days collecting my thoughts. I don’t do much with them -- but I collect them. Perhaps one day...

I think much on civil service. Which, of course, means I spend much time thinking of government. This Presidential election will be the first in which I’ve been able to fully participate in 25 years. Federal employee’s political activities are restricted by the Hatch Act.

I was searching around the internet for some insightful quotes on government. Despite having choices ranging from Adams to Solzhenitsyn, this one best fit my current mode of thinking.

Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair."

--George Burns

Are comedians the sages of our times ? I’ve taken to calling Jon Stewart the smartest man on TV. It isn’t true is it ? And if it is, what does that say about us as a nation ?

I always considered Ted Koppel the smartest news anchor of late. And he never earned a slot of his own as the anchor of one of the major networks. Looking at the media as a whole these days I’m reminded of the same question we ask ourselves every Presidential election: Is this the best we have ? Is this the best we can do ?

Now there’s a policy question to chew on. If those mysterious “market forces” are driving all the smart people into private enterprise who’s going to run the government ? The dumb people ? What’s that all-knowing, all-seeing, omnipotent “market” going to do about that ? U.S.A , Inc. ? God forbid.

Think about it.

Don Brown
July 17, 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 16

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

”Jul 16, 1945: The United States Government exploded the first atomic device at Alamogordo, N. Mex. ”

Yeah, I was surprised to find that in the FAA’s history book too. No doubt about it though, it’s significant history.

Don Brown
July 16, 2007

Sunday, July 15, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 15

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

”Jul 15, 1968: The New York Common Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) Room at John F. Kennedy International Airport went into limited operation by taking over the manual IFR operations controlled by the Kennedy TRACON (terminal radar approach control facility). The Common IFR Room then took over manual IFR operations controlled by the Newark and La Guardia airports' TRACONS in August and September. This consolidation permitted more flexible and efficient air traffic control. Under the old scheme, each of the control facilities at Kennedy, Newark, and La Guardia had been assigned airspace with more or less inviolable boundaries separated by large buffer zones. Because of the slowness of communications between the control facilities, boundaries and buffer zones could not be easily shifted to meet changes in traffic flow. In the Common IFR Room, however, controllers working different control areas were within easy reach of each other; when necessary, they were able to shift boundaries and buffers almost instantaneously. (See Jun 1, 1969.) ”

You’ll still hear some old-timers refer to “the Common I”. It’s now N90 (“En Ninety”) or New York Tracon. The rest of the ATC world tries not to let N90 controllers get too big-headed but it is one tough piece of airspace.

It’s had some tough controllers there over the years too. The public remembers that it was Robert Poli who led PATCO down the road to ruin. But it was a former New York controller -- John Leyden -- that made PATCO into a powerhouse before it’s fall. NATCA’s first and second presidents -- Steve Bell and Barry Krasner respectively -- both came from New York Tracon. It’s an understatement but I’ll just let it go with...N90 is an interesting place.

Don Brown
July 15, 2007

Saturday, July 14, 2007

God, Money and Morality

Oh and privatization too. I told you a while back that the Economist’s View was an interesting place.

Church Attendance and Supply-Side Economics

Privatizing Morality

Even the titles are interesting.

Don Brown
July 14, 2007

Where to Start ?

I’ll give the Bush Administration credit -- they’re overwhelming. I literally don’t know where to start.

I’ve been on a reading binge since I retired. My wife -- trying to change my how-many-ways-can-Bush-screw-up reading list -- had my son buy me a Tom Clancy book for Father’s Day. I didn’t have the heart to tell her. It was Battle Ready written with Gen. Tony Zinni. The book wasn’t Clancy’s usual (superb) fiction. It was factual. Gen. Zinni didn’t support the Iraq War. He was one of the generals that called for Rumsfeld to resign. In short, Gen. Zinni had the flick before most other people did.

I’m currently reading Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason . The Bush Administration’s supporters will wish he’d stuck with global warming. I’m only halfway through the book and it’s mind-numbing -- the litany of tragic events in this Administration. I’d forgotten all about Jeff Gannon. I guess if I write about these things enough I’ll have to learn to speak more bluntly -- as Mr. Gore does in his book.

Some saw this event as just the ugly face of “politics as usual” in Washington. Some saw this event as a titillating story about an alleged gay prostitute in the midst of the White House Press Corps asking the President of the United States questions broadcast on national TV. My upbringing in the South makes me want to turn away from the embarrassing ugliness of it all and refer to it as just one event in a “litany of tragic events.”

Mr. Gore more appropriately calls it was it is: A calculated assault on the institutions that allow our democracy to function. Without a free press, the citizens of our country lack the information needed to make rational choices about how we govern ourselves. Poor information leads to poor decisions. Garbage in -- garbage out. Mr. Gore, of course, has the inside track when looking at this sordid affair. After all, he was in the White House for eight years. He knows that getting into the White House, getting in the White House Press Room and getting called on by the President of the United States doesn’t just happen all by itself.

It wasn’t happenstance. It wasn’t some sad comedy of errors. It wasn’t luck. It was calculated.

And sadly, it may be the least of our problems. As I said at the beginning of this post, it’s overwhelming -- the sheer volume in this “litany of tragic events.” Torture, the suspension of habeus corpus, bribes to reporters, intimidation of reporters, wiretapping, the Plame affair, the Iraq War, ad nauseam. It makes the shenanigans I write about at the FAA seem like small potatoes (and those can get you killed.)

Mr. Cheney isn’t the only one whose pants are on fire. Find a mirror America. We need to take a long, hard look at ourselves. Make sure it’s a full-length one. I smell something.

Don Brown
July 14, 2007

Friday, July 13, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 13

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

”Jul 13, 1977: FAA gave uninterrupted air traffic control service during a massive electric power failure that left approximately 9 million people in the New York City area without electricity for periods ranging from 5 to 25 hours. The uninterrupted service was possible because of the continuous power airport program that FAA had begun after an earlier massive blackout, in 1965, initially selecting 50 key airports to be equipped with standby engine generators. (See Sep 19, 1974.) ”

Being stuck on an elevator is one thing. Being stuck on an airplane with no place to land is quite another.

Don Brown
July 13, 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 12

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

”Jul 12, 1994: FAA dedicated its National Aviation Safety Data Analysis Center (NASDAC). Located at national headquarters, NASDAC provided access to safety-related computer data bases and relevant reference material in printed form. A new and improved NASDAC formally opened on Mar 14, 1996. ”

If you can only figure out how to get to it. That’s assuming you’d actually want to surf into hallways of aviation safety geekdom.

NASDAC’s page is now found at this link:


As soon as you click on it your web browser will do a few strange gyrations and you’ll wind on a page that says:


You can get lost on your own from there. Personally, I usually click on the “Data & Information” tab, then the “Aviation Safety Reporting System” link. You might be interested in other places. Happy surfing. Or should I say, "Good luck." ?

Don Brown
July 12, 2007

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 9

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

”Jul 9, 1982: A Pan American 727 crashed shortly after takeoff from New Orleans International Airport, killing all 145 aboard and 8 persons on the ground. The National Transportation Safety Board listed the accident's probable cause as the airplane's encounter with microburst-induced wind shear, which imposed a downdraft and a decreasing headwind. As a contributory factor, the Board listed the limited ability of the current Low Level Wind Shear Alert System (LLWAS) to provide definitive guidance for controllers and pilots in avoiding the hazard (see Sep 1978). Although the pilot was aware that LLWAS alerts were occurring periodically around the airport, the system did not detect the wind shear that affected the Pan Am flight until after takeoff began. Concerned over the accident, Congress in Dec 1982 passed legislation requiring FAA to contract with the National Academy of Sciences for a study of the wind shear hazard. The resulting report, completed by the Academy's National Research Council in Sep 1983, urged that FAA establish an integrated wind shear program to address all aspects of the problem. The report's recommendations included the improvement and wider use of LLWAS, which it considered the only detection system available in the near term for operational use. In Oct 1983, FAA announced that it had ordered another 51 of the systems. (See Aug 2, 1985.) ”

Don Brown
July 9, 2007

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Airwaves Belong to You

That says airwaves. Not airways (although they belong to you too.) It’s about The Public’s interest in a Free Press. Read this excellent editorial from The Seattle Times.

Save the airwaves for Democracy

Don Brown
July 8, 2007

Saturday, July 07, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 7

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

”Jul 7, 1964: President Johnson issued Executive Order 11161 directing FAA and the Department of Defense (DOD) to plan on the basis of the probability that in time of war FAA would become an adjunct of DOD. Under the guiding concept, FAA would remain organizationally intact and the Administrator would retain responsibility for his statutory functions, "subject to the authority, direction, and control of the Secretary of Defense to the extent deemed by the Secretary to be necessary for the discharge of his responsibilities . . . ." The Secretary of Defense was explicitly authorized to direct the Administrator to place operational elements of FAA under the direct control of military commanders. The order also required the Secretary and the Administrator to assure that during any national emergency short of war the functions of FAA would be performed in a manner satisfying essential national defense requirements. As a step in executing the order, FAA and DOD agreed on a memorandum of understanding on Apr 13, 1966. The understanding covered the relationship between the two agencies in the event that FAA became an adjunct of DOD, and provided for planning for this eventuality and for lesser emergencies. ”

We don’t often mention it but the FAA’s ATC system is an integral part of the national security system of the U.S. While the events of September 11, 2001 highlighted this for many people, the real story is told everyday as FAA controllers work DOD aircraft on their various missions. Most of these missions are your garden-variety training missions and transportation of equipment and personnel. Most of them. Not all of them.

Don Brown
July 7, 2007

Hey ! What’s the Big Idea !

This is the great thing about having your own blog. You don’t have to make sense. You don’t have to have a plan. You can just throw out an idea.

Don’t ask me where it came from. Don’t ask me why. Just ‘cause.

I want to see John Carr on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

Why not ? I think it would be great fun. If you need a visual, imagine Jon Stewart introducing John Carr as the next FAA Administrator. Now that would be funny. Hey ! It’s a lucky day. 7-7-07. Anything could happen. Imagine Jon Stewart asking John Carr to explain the “The Main Bang”. That could take up the whole segment.

You heard it here first.

Don Brown
July 7, 2007

Friday, July 06, 2007

Liars Figure -- Still

Poor old Marion Blakey. You’d figure that everybody was so busy turning on the President and the Vice-President that she’d be able to slip under the radar. (the crowd groans)

I guess not.

Some say FAA move could hide midair collision risk

Yep. Some of us do say. Again. And again. And again.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can take this guy’s. Or these guy’s. Or this guy’s.

Don Brown
July 6, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- July 6

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

” Jul 6, 1936: Federal air traffic control began as the Bureau of Air Commerce took over operation of the three airway traffic control centers at Newark, Chicago, and Cleveland. Up to this time, these centers had been operated by private airline companies (see Dec 1, 1935). The centers were placed under Earl F. Ward, whose appointment as Supervisor, Airway Traffic Control, had been announced on Mar 6, 1936. Ward reported to the chief of the Airline Inspection Service within the Air Regulation Division. When the Bureau assumed control of the centers, it hired fifteen center employees to become the original Federal corps of airway controllers. “

Yes-sir-re-Bob, it’s a banner day for Air Traffic Control. Don’t just take my word for it.

”Jul 6, 1986: President Reagan proclaimed this to be National Air Traffic Control Day in honor of the 50th anniversary of Federal involvement in controlling air traffic (see Jul 6, 1936). FAA personnel throughout the nation observed the occasion with ceremonies and celebrations. “

I must have been off that day. I don’t remember any “ceremonies” or “celebrations.” I do remember getting my butt kicked on a regular basis by the volume of traffic we were working at the time. But before I go off on a tangent...

I think it important to note that “business” asked the “government” to provide this air traffic control service. The operative word below being “uniform.” As in “a uniform system of air traffic control.”

”Nov 12-14, 1935: Representatives of all segments of the aviation community, except manufacturers, met at he Commerce Building in Washington, D.C., with Bureau of Air Commerce officials to discuss airway traffic control. Although the conferees agreed that the Bureau should establish a uniform system of air traffic control, a lack of funding prevented it from assuming control. Director of Air Commerce Vidal convinced the airline operators to establish airway traffic control immediately and promised that in 90 to 120 days the Bureau of Air Commerce would take over the operations. (See Mar 24, 1936.) On Nov 15, Vidal approved an interairline air traffic agreement between carriers flying the Chicago-Cleveland-Newark airway. He also relaxed the general ban on instrument flying by private fliers (see Nov 1, 1935). Those pilots could now fly by instruments if they filed a flight plan with the Bureau of Air Commerce and with at least one airline flying over the route they planned to use. “

”Dec 1, 1935: A consortium of airline companies organized and manned the first airway traffic control center at Newark, N.J. It provided information to airline pilots on the whereabouts of planes other than their own in the Newark vicinity during weather conditions requiring instrument flying. Two additional centers, similarly organized and staffed, opened several months later: Chicago in Apr 1936, Cleveland in Jun 1936. (See Jul 6, 1936, and Nov 12-14, 1935.) “

“Uniform” and “innovative” (or “cutting edge”) don’t actually mix well. It makes it real easy for critics to use the word “antiquated.” While everyone recognizes that the ATC system in New York needs to be modernized, they are reluctant to spend the equivalent funds needed to modernize that ATC system in Montana. Yet, airplanes can only carry so much navigational equipment. And since airplanes that fly in Montana like to fly to New York (and L.A. and Atlanta) that navigation system (and everything else that interacts with ATC) must be “uniform.”

And you thought the personal computer industry had “backwards compatibility” issues.

Don Brown
July 6, 2007

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Old Scout

Garrison Keillor is an odd duck. I probably would be too if I had a name like “Garrison.” Most of you probably know him from the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” (hate it) or perhaps you read his book “Homegrown Democrat” (loved it.)

Love him or hate him, Mr. Keillor is an extraordinary writer. Some people are kind enough (or ignorant enough) to say I write well. Guys like me read guys like Garrison Keillor to remind us of the truth (however unkind it may be.) Mr. Keillor is a professional. A gifted professional. I’m just an amateur.

I do have something to say (no matter how poorly.) I just wish I could say it half as well. Trying to pick a good column of Mr. Keillor’s to point you towards is like trying to pick just one treat in my favorite bakery. Coffee roll ? Cinnamon bun ? Cheesecake ? The one with the Oreo crust or the praline ? It’s torture.

Just give up and gorge yourself. You can pay your penance tomorrow and read more of my gruel.

Being Chosen: The Occupational Hazards

The cranky man's guide to contentment

The Pleasures of Perfect Cadence

Once you get to any of those, you’ll notice a whole display case of treats down the side. You might also notice something else that I just noticed today. (Odd, how we overlook the obvious, isn’t it ?) These extraordinary delights are absolutely free. Feel free to taste them all.

Don Brown
July 5, 2007

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Wasting Talent

When I was still writing for AVweb I had an article published about the wealth of talents possessed by air traffic controllers. That talent never ceases to amaze me. My point was that these individuals have been incredibly successful in a wide range of fields. This is most evident in NATCA’s success. And they’re doing it all for free -- as volunteers. Imagine what they could do for the FAA (and the taxpayers) if the FAA would stop making enemies of them and started making motivated employees. All it would really take is to get out of the way and let them work.

Nothing makes this point better than a few videos created by Paul Williams. Paul is an air traffic controller at Washington Center (Facility ID -- ZDC.) ZDC is one of the toughest facilities in the country (which makes it one of the toughest in the world.) It’s not enough that Paul can handle that. In his spare time he runs a web site and creates videos. Take a look at this one.

America’s Air Traffic Controllers

Pretty impressive huh ? That is what Paul does just for fun.

Now, take that creative energy -- that sense of pride that you can just feel in his work -- and let the FAA mess it up. This is what you get.

FAA: Runway Incursions

Quite a difference, eh ?

In a nutshell, that is what is going on in the FAA today. The house of the FAA is crumbling all around us and this Administration is busy slapping a new coat of paint on it. It’s more than just mere neglect. Even as they’re busy painting the outside -- on the inside -- they’re busy with hammer and chisel, breaking up the very foundation of the greatest air traffic system the world has ever known.

Selling off the FSS stations is merely the most obvious sign of taking the system apart, piece by piece. And as for that new coat of paint, they’ve just changed the way they count Operational Errors. Look for that statistic to improve too, in the near future. It won’t be any safer but it’ll look better.

Don Brown
July 3, 2007

Oooooooh, I’m Scared

I was on the internet doing some research (I don’t pull this stuff out of thin air you know) and I got this message from an FAA web site.

”You have attempted to access a RESTRICTED area of the Command Center website. Your intrusion has been logged and it will be investigated by our webserver administrators.”

Ooooooh, from the “Command Center” too. Get a life Buzz Lightyear. Spend some time making your website workable instead of trying to scare people.

Reporters, pay attention. I was looking for data on CLT (Charlotte, NC) and ATL (Atlanta, GA) but I’ll have to settle for PHX (Phoenix, AZ). I already know all this stuff but I guess you have to be able to prove it to people.

PHX Traffic Management Tips

“This results In an arrival rate of 48-52 during IFR weather conditions.”

Okay. So, PHX has an “arrival rate” of 48-52 airplanes per hour during Instrument Flight Rule conditions or what civilians would call “bad weather.”

Now you go to FlightAware. If you click on “Analysis” it conveniently pulls up PHX but let’s go to all the statistics on PHX.

If you’ll look at the first chart you’ll see that PHX has right at 60 arrivals scheduled at 1300. That’s 1 o’clock in the afternoon local time (unless they’re using GMT and the point is really moot regardless.)

The FAA Command Center’s web page on PHX has a VFR arrival rate of 76 on a West Operation. VFR is “Visual Flight Rules” or “good weather.”

Let’s start adding it up.

Good weather -- PHX can take 76 an hour.
Bad weather -- PHX can only take 48 per hour.

The airlines that sell tickets for PHX sell tickets for around 60 airplanes an hour. And they’ll sell you a ticket 90 days in advance. A 5 day weather forecast isn’t worth much. They have no idea what the weather will be like in 90 days.

On “good weather” days things work okay. Not always great (more on that in a minute) but okay. On “bad weather” days, they don’t work well at all. At a minimum, 8-12 airplanes will take some kind of delay (somewhere) around 1300. What kind of delay will depend on who’s doing the talking. If it’s your friendly airline gate agent it’ll probably be an “ATC delay” because that is what they’re told to say. Here’s a hint: People don’t understand ATC so they’ll accept that explanation. Besides, it sounds better than, “Our CEOs can’t count.”

PHX isn’t known for “bad weather.” But ATL is. And CLT. And EWR (Newark, NJ), LGA (La Guardia, NY), JFK (Kennedy, NY) and ORD (Chicago, IL). You can check them out if you like but you’ll see the same problem. As to why it doesn’t work any better in “good weather”...

If you’ll click on the button at FlightAware that says “View Airport Activity” and then “More” on the next page, you’ll get to this page. And on it you’ll note things like COA169 and SWA2471 are scheduled to arrive at exactly the same time -- 5:45PM MST. I assure you, both airplanes will not land in formation on the same runway.

The real lesson comes when you take the time to do the math. Look at just about any 15 minute window and you’ll discover that more arrivals are scheduled than can land in that period of time. In that I hate math, I’ll just refer you to where I took the time to do it before.

”To put it in real-world terms: At Charlotte, N.C., the very best airport acceptance rate you can expect is around 70 airplanes per hour, or about one plane every 51 seconds. That is if the wind doesn't blow the wrong way, the weather is good and all the planets and stars are aligned correctly. This explains why the airlines schedule 78 per hour -- because we all know how reliable perfect weather is. Actually, the airlines don't schedule 78 per hour; they just schedule a bunch of planes to arrive in a short time span. But to get all those flights on the ground during that time span, Charlotte would have to land a plane every 46 seconds and Charlotte can't do that even on the best day. Someone is going to be late; and lots of flights will be late when the wind shifts and the storms move through.”

In other words, it isn’t the number of airplanes per hour that will give you the whole story. It’s a convenient figure to use -- even I use it. But in order to understand why there are delays -- even on perfect days -- you need to look at the number of arrivals (and departures) per minute.

You thought I forgot about the departures didn’t you ?

Once you soak all this in, read this article and see if you can believe a word the ATA is saying.

Don Brown
July 3, 2007

Monday, July 02, 2007

I’ve Got to Get a Job

After researching today’s history lesson, I’ve decided I’ve got to get a job. Before I wind up like Larry.

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

” Jul 2, 1982: Truck driver Larry Walters reached a reported 16,000 ft. over Long Beach, Calif., during a 45 minute flight in a lawn chair tied to balloons, crashing into a power line on descent but alighting unharmed. FAA fined Walters $1,500 for the escapade. “

When asked why he did it ?

"A man can't just sit around."

“Lawn Chair” Larry

Don Brown
July 2, 2007

DeFazio Has “The Flick”

If Congressman Peter DeFazio was a controller trainee, I’d check him out without a moment’s hesitation. He has “the flick.”

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the story, the U.S. Congress has been working on fixing the labor troubles between the FAA and it’s air traffic controllers. Much of the hearings that have been held are (of course) available on You Tube.

I’d encourage you to watch as many of them as time (and attention span) allows. I’ll make a bet that you won’t hear anyone speak more plainly than Congressman DeFazio in this one.

Don Brown
July 2, 2007

Sunday, July 01, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- Star Date Unknown

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

”Jun 1956: The first radar in a CAA program to "circular polarize" airport surveillance was completed at La Guardia Airport. The modification program would permit the radar to "see" aircraft passing through rain and snow. With the unmodified equipment, aircraft operating in storm areas often failed to show on the scope. “

Good old New York. Except for the very earliest days, they’ve always been at the forefront of aviation news. Unfortunately, a lot of it is bad news. But right now, in this period in time, all eyes are in the middle of nowhere -- focused on an area that most citizens still never think about. Enroute Air Traffic Control.

”Spring, 1956: The Senate Aviation Subcommittee, chaired by A. S. "Mike" Monroney (D-Okla.), held hearings relating to the resignation under fire of CAA Administrator Frederick Lee (see Dec 8, 1955) and to the larger allegation of the neglect of CAA by the Department of Commerce. “

Every controller has heard the name “Monroney.” It’s the name of the FAA Academy in -- where else ? -- Oklahoma. You’ll hear the name again.

”Fall, 2007: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by James Oberstar (D-MN), held hearings relating to the tenure of FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and to the larger allegation of _________.”

So many choices. So little time. In case you’ve never heard of Congressman Oberstar, he’s known as “Mr. Aviation” in the House. He was previously Chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation and something else that might come in handy -- Investigations and Oversight.

Stepping way above my thinking level, I’m betting Congressman Oberstar spends more time on fixing the FAA than on detailing all the missteps of the current administration. Historians can do the latter. Only Congress can do the former.

It will be a close call I think. There comes a point where malfeasance rises to the level that it must be brought to light and dealt with. I know many think this Administration passed that point awhile ago. I wouldn’t argue the point. But the fundamental problems at the FAA still remain. Do you spend your time shining a spotlight on the past or do you use it to look ahead and find your way out of this mess ?

I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision and I don’t envy Chairman Oberstar his task. But I’m glad someone of his caliber is in a position to make those decisions.

Don Brown
July 1, 2007