Friday, August 31, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 31

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

Aug 31, 1940: a Pennsylvania-Central Airlines DC-3 crashed into a ridge near Lovettsville, Va., killing all 25 persons aboard, including Sen. Ernest Lundeen (Farmer-Laborite, Minn.). The Civil Aeronautics Board cited the probable cause as disabling of the crew by a severe lightning discharge near the aircraft. The crash ended an unprecedented 17 fatality-free months for U.S. domestic scheduled air carriers, who flew 1.4 billion passenger-miles during the period. ”


Aug 31, 1986: A Mexican DC-9 and a Piper PA-28 collided in clear sky over Cerritos, Calif. The Piper had inadvertently made an unauthorized entry into the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area (TCA), and its radar return was not observed by the controller providing service to the Mexican flight. The accident killed 82 persons--all 64 aboard the DC-9, all 3 aboard the Piper, and 15 on the ground. The National Transportation Safety Board later listed the probable cause as the limitations of the air traffic control system to provide collision protection, through both air traffic control procedures and automated redundancy. The Cerritos accident was the first midair collision to occur within a TCA. On Sep 15, FAA Administrator Engen appointed a special task force to study actions to improve the TCAs. On Oct 27, the agency announced plans to implement the group's 40 recommendations, including: a minimum 60-day license suspension for pilots violating TCA boundaries (see Oct 10, 1986); expanded requirements for altitude encoding transponders (see Jan 29, 1987); and action to simplify and standardize the design of TCAs (see Jan 12, 1989). “


Aug 31, 1988: A Delta Airlines Boeing 727 crashed on takeoff at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, killing 13 of the 108 on board. The National Transportation Safety Board listed the probable cause of the accident as inadequate cockpit disciple resulting in an attempt to takeoff without the wing flaps and slats properly configured, and a failure in the warning takeoff system. As a contributory factors, the Board cited: Delta’s slow implementation of safety steps necessitated by the airline’s rapid growth; a lack of accountability in FAA’s inspection process; and insufficiently aggressive action by the agency to correct known deficiencies at Delta, which had been the subject of a special inspection in 1987 following a series of incidents. FAA’s response to the Board’s recommendations included certain actions concerning inspections, required modifications to the 727 takeoff warning system, and a variety of other measures.“


I found no mention of airline delays on this date in FAA history.

Don Brown
August 31, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sneak Attack

"It's not as though it sneaked up on anybody," she said.”

“She” would be Marion Blakey, the current FAA Administrator, talking about the the upcoming deadline for reauthorizing the FAA. You can read it for yourself in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The quote is terribly ironic for air traffic controllers. It’s exactly what we’ve said about FAA in regards to the current controller staffing crisis.


Statement by National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr on Congressional Action on Air Traffic Controller Staffing:

...”While it is good news that Congress has given the FAA new money to hire and train controllers, considerably more resources will be needed if FAA is to address the serious staffing crisis facing our nation. Many of our critical air traffic control facilities across the country are already short-staffed. And the FAA administrator herself has said that we are looking at a 'tsunami wave of retirements.'"

It hasn’t exactly snuck up on anybody has it ? The FAA has known they would face a “tsunami wave of retirements” for 25 years and yet they failed to act. If you’re not involved in aviation, you might think that this situation can’t get any worse. It can. And it will.

2 planes that nearly collided at LAX were only 37 feet apart, report says

FAA: Delta, United planes nearly collide in Florida

La Guardia Near-Crash Is One of a Rising Number

Anybody that is in the ATC safety business knows that all these incidents (there are more) aren’t just a string of bad luck. It’s a pattern -- a very scary pattern. The pilots are scared, the airlines are scared, the controllers are scared and the NTSB is scared. Even the FAA is scared.

Watch this video and you will be too.

The problem the FAA has is the same problem the Titanic had. By the time you see the iceberg, there’s not enough time left to turn the ship. You don’t retrain thousands of controllers and pilots on procedures that should have -- arguably -- been put into place a few years ago, overnight. We probably wouldn’t need the new procedures if we had enough controllers. If hundreds of senior controllers weren’t retiring. If we didn’t let the airlines over schedule the airports. If we hadn’t let the airlines run roughshod over their pilots and other workers. If we hadn’t deregulated the airlines.

But we didn’t do all that did we ?

There is something out there -- waiting -- that is a lot worse than airline delays. It used to be my job to think about the unthinkable. 37 feet is about as close as you ever want to get to the unthinkable.

“It's not as though it sneaked up on anybody."

Don Brown
August 30, 2007

A CEO with The Flick

Kevin Garrison writes an monthly column for AVweb that is entitled: CEO of the Cockpit. The thing you must always keep in mind is that the CEO of the Cockpit is a fictional character. Kevin is (was) a real-life airline pilot. The CEO of the Cockpit is not.

Kevin (or the CEO) has a...uh...crusty sense of humor. I like it. He also has The Flick.

”My co-pilot, Sally, was reading a statement from the CEO of the very airline who owned the jet base we were creeping past. According to the article Sally was reading -- in clear defiance of both the sterile cockpit rules and company policy -- Delta was now blaming their financial woes on general aviation. Apparently, according to the CEO at Widget Wonderland, it is those pesky, small airplanes that are making all of the airliners schedule their push-backs within minutes of each other and then line up like Russians at a cheese sale to wait almost an hour for takeoff.”

It’s a good article. You might want to read it. Don’t be surprised to find that airline pilots (even fictional ones) are telling you the same thing that controllers are telling you. And you might want to ask yourself why a fictional CEO is writing the truth while the real CEOs are writing fiction.

CEO of the Cockpit #73: Those Devilish Little Airplanes

Don Brown
August 30, 2007

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

CBS News Link

Here's the link to the CBS story mentioned below.

Can GPS End Gridlock In The Air?

Don Brown
August 28, 2007

Government to Refund All Taxes

Seriously. I just heard it on the news. The Federal Aviation Administration has learned how to warp time, defy the physical laws of the universe and get blood from a stone. This GPS-thingy is some really slick stuff.

I really don’t know what to say folks. I thought that Time magazine had it wrong with this article. I just figured it was a reporter that didn’t really understand aviation (much less air traffic control) but having just watched The CBS Evening News, I saw almost the exact same graphic. It shows an airplane flying from radar station to radar station. Huh ? Airplanes have never done that. They used to fly from radio station to radio station (a radio navigation device called a VOR) but hardly anyone uses the actual stations anymore. Most of them already have the capability to fly direct without passing over the VORs.

The airway system we use in air traffic control is based on the VORs. It doesn’t have to be. We already have some GPS airways and there is nothing to stop us from building many more (except time, common sense and the laws of physics.) Of course, most airplanes don’t use the ones we have now. The FAA built two GPS airways through Charlotte Approach’s airspace years ago (T201 and T203.) The few times I tried to assign them, the pilots didn’t know what I was talking about. Or to be more precise, they couldn’t figure out how to get the airway programmed into the GPS system. It’ll be a little tough to get them to fly “closer together” if they can’t fly the “new and improved” airways.

Looking at this from the outside, the only conclusion I can come up with is that the Press has been conned. I don’t suspect they’ll be too happy about it when they figure it out. But by that time, the taxpayers will have seen $40 billion dollars of their money spent.

“...take off and land closer together.” , says the CBS News report. I can just hear it now, “Delta123, flight of two, cleared to land runway 9-Right.” Don’t worry about the wake turbulence, GPS has taken care of that. And your refund check is in the mail.

Don Brown
August 28, 2007

Tivo Alert -- August 28

For those that read this in the next few hours...

There is supposed to be a story about Air Traffic Control on The CBS Evening News this evening.

Notice I said “supposed to be.” It doesn’t always work out.

Don Brown
August 28, 2007

Sunday, August 26, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 26

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

” Aug 26, 1975: The commissioning of the computerized radar data processing system (RDP) at the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center marked the end of the final phase of the completion of NAS En Route Stage A, FAA's program of automating and computerizing the nation's en route air traffic control system, an effort covering more than a decade (see Feb 13, 1973). Miami was the last of the 20 ARTCCs to receive RDP capability. The RDP system consisted of three key elements: radar digitizers located at long-range radar sites that converted raw radar data and aircraft transponder beacon signals into computer-readable signals transmitted to the centers' computers; computer complexes in each center able to relay this information to the controllers' screens; and new screens that displayed the information to the controllers in alphanumeric characters. ”

RDP really was a revolutionary improvement. In short, it put the electronic “data tags” on a controller’s radar scope (at the Centers) and replaced the little pieces of plastic (i.e. "shrimp boats") controllers used to push around on the radar scopes -- back when radar scopes laid down flat.

I guess the most important point to notice is the length of the program -- over a decade. And when I came to Atlanta ARTCC in early 1982, the computer would “flop” on a monthly basis -- forcing controllers to revert back to strips and and “shrimp boats.”

You can get a little more insight (if you’d like) by looking at a picture album at the FAA’s site.

Don Brown
August 26, 2007

Saturday, August 25, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 25

This history lesson will be just a little different. First, we’ll start off in last March. On March 23, 2007 the FAA issued a press release with this sentence.

”Airspace delays are virtually eliminated and route flexibility is enhanced.”

You might want to ask yourself, what -- exactly -- are “airspace delays” ? Whatever they are, I’m sure we’re all for eliminating them. Right ? Don’t be so sure.

The FAA is redesigning the airspace surrounding the New York Metropolitan area. That could be a good thing or a bad thing -- depending on how many airplanes are routed over your house. Whichever it is, it isn’t the first time airspace has been redesigned and it won’t “eliminate” delays.

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

”Aug 25, 1988: FAA announced changes to the Expanded East Coast Plan because of numerous complaints of increased noise by New Jersey residents. Changes to the EECP included rerouting Newark westbound departures from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. (See Feb 12, 1987, and Mar 11, 1991.) ”

The Expanded East Coast Plan was a previous “redesign” of the airspace around the New York area. As the name implies, it changed the entire East coast in an attempt to ease delays. I’m guessing that you can figure out that -- even if it worked -- fixing something in air traffic control doesn’t mean it stays fixed. The plain and simple truth is that the National Airspace System should always be in a constant state of repair. Modernization of equipment and redesign (I prefer to think of it as updating) of airspace should be a continuous process.

Having said all that (and there is so much more I could say about it), what caught my eye in today’s history lesson is the next part. When it says, “See... Mar 11, 1991”, sometimes, it pays to actually do that.

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

”Mar 11, 1991: FAA began a series of hearings in New Jersey to obtain public comment on the noise effects of air traffic changes under the Expanded East Coast Plan (EECP), which had been implemented in phases between Feb 1987 and Mar 1988 (see Aug 25, 1988). The meetings reflected strong citizen discontent with the EECP. On Jun 28, FAA announced a contract with PRC, Inc., to assist in developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the effects of New Jersey flight patterns revised under the EECP. In Oct 1992, Congress acted to freeze the pay levels of certain FAA employees involved with the project until the final impact statement was completed...”

(emphasis added)

The next time somebody wants you to believe that Congress can’t act -- that they are powerless -- I hope you’ll remember that little tidbit. The next time that somebody wants you to believe that citizens are powerless -- I hope you’ll come back and read this. And the next time somebody tries to tell you that solving airline delays is simple -- I hope you’ll remember it just ain’t so.

Don Brown
August 25, 2007

Friday, August 24, 2007

He’s Got The Flick

I don’t know who he is...I don’t even know where San Mateo is...but Brian Franklin has The Flick.

It is time to get real about air traffic control

”Unfortunately, it would take volumes upon volumes to list all the other concerns air traffic controllers have with their employer that affect you and your safety aboard airplanes. The FAA has been unfair, deceitful, and unlawful in its operation and it’s time to make the madness come to an end. I’m not an air traffic controller, but I’m a pilot — and we’re all starting to get fed up with how the FAA is treating the professionals who keep us safe in the skies.

Wow ! You need to read the whole thing. Click on the link.

Don Brown
August 24, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 24

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

” Aug 24:, 1992 Hurricane Andrew swept through south Florida, causing devastation that included damage to airports and resulting flight cancellations. Among the worst hit FAA facilities were the Richmond Long Range Radar site and the tower and International Automated Flight Service Station at Tamiami airport, all of which were severely damaged. Facilities at Key West lost communication lines, and other agency installations experienced significant damage, power loss, and outages. By the following day, however, Miami, Key West, West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale Executive airports reopened. The hurricane moved into Louisiana on August 26. During the height of the storm, most FAA facilities in the affected part of that state shut down or were placed on standby status, and several airports were temporarily closed. The hurricane destroyed or badly harmed the homes of about 144 FAA employees in the Miami area, and the agency organized an airlift to provide emergency relief. A committee representing local agency organizations coordinated the distribution of supplies and of funds donated by FAAers throughout the country, while the agency provided such benefits as administrative leave, counseling, and emergency loans. At the same time, FAA rushed the restoration of airspace system facilities and supported the overall Federal relief program. ”

Hey ! Wasn’t somebody just saying something about hurricanes and ATC the other day ? Oh yeah, that was me.

You can’t cover all the bases in a book (or a blog) but if I remember correctly, that long range radar site mentioned above stayed out of service for a long time (like over a year.) I also seem to remember NATCA getting supplies to controllers faster than the FAA did (thanks in large part to a couple of aviation friends that won’t be named -- or forgotten.) I know we (that’d be NATCA) have done so ever since. We even have an unofficial hurricane rescue expert. (I’ll pick on Cliff just because I know he’ll only point out how well others have responded too.) I know our guys showed up in New Orleans before FEMA did -- but a lot of folks can make that claim.

Don Brown
August 24, 2007

Idea Fishin’

As I was casting about for ideas on what to write about today, the thought occurred to me; If I could ever organize my brain I’d probably be dangerous. Stick with me a minute and you’ll see what I mean.

First I went over to John Carr’s blog. Good stuff (as always) but today’s story didn’t really grab me. Then I went over to the FAA Follies. That reminded me of the FSS guy I ran into as Oshkosh. He’d lost his government retirement (for all intents and purposes) and was now working for LockMart (Lockheed Martin.) Twenty years of retirement eligibility shot. That has to hurt. It’d be a great “human interest” story for a reporter. Not to mention the fact that, less than two years after the FAA put these guys on the street, it can’t find enough controllers to staff the system. Of course, if the FAA had kept them on (and shown the least bit of humanity) then LockMart wouldn’t have had anybody to staff their “new and improved” Flight Service Stations.

All that reminded me of a little tidbit I’d read about Lockheed. So I went back to Wikipedia.

Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) is a leading multinational aerospace manufacturer and advanced technology company formed in 1995 by the merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta. It is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, a community in Montgomery County, Maryland, and employs 140,000 people worldwide. Robert J. Stevens is the current Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer.

Lockheed Martin is the world's largest defense contractor (by revenue).[1] As of 2005, 95% of Lockheed Martin's revenues came from the United States Department of Defense, other U.S. federal government agencies, and foreign military customers.”

(emphasis added)

But isn’t just Lockheed.

The Boeing Company (NYSE: BA, TYO: 7661 ) is a major aerospace and defense corporation, originally founded by William Boeing. Its international headquarters is in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Boeing is the largest global aircraft manufacturer by revenue, the second largest by deliveries and the second-largest aerospace and defense contractor in the world.

I could go on but you get the idea. But I did, in fact, go on. That is how a wound up looking at The Carlyle Group and reading about this little, other group.

Now, you really need to go over to Wikipedia and read this one for yourself (that’s sort of the idea here folks) but I’ll give you the teaser before I continue on (which is what this blog entry is about.)

"US Investigations Services

USIS is the privatized arm of the Office of Personnel Management's Office of Federal Investigations, which was privatized in 1996.

USIS began as an employee-owned company, but has since been purchased by private investors and was owned by The Carlyle Group and Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, two private equity firms. In May 2007 USIS announced that it had been sold to Providence Equity Partners, another private equity firm.

Since OPM’s privatization of its federal investigators, approximately 2000 investigators from the Defense Security Service have been transferred to OPM, and OPM has since reconstituted its federal investigations program in the Center for Federal Investigative Services, located within OPM. OPM is responsible for 90% of federal security clearance investigations, but it contracts out most of this work."

(emphasis added)

Now that is interesting. And it ain’t the half of it (literally.) Trust me folks, you really need to read the whole thing. Maybe two or three times.

Disregarding (for the moment) that this started as “an employee-owned company” (huh ???) that was bought out by a private equity firm (“Revenue -- Undisclosed to public”) and not bothering to figure out if the statement “OPM has since reconstituted its federal investigations program” really means what I think it means...

...let’s go back to this “privatization of its federal investigators” thing. You may not know it but every air traffic controller reading this (there are quite a few that do) knows that controllers go through a background check prior to being hired by the FAA. As a matter of fact, all of the background checks were “updated” shortly after 9/11 (not that the Government -- or it’s contractors -- had been lax in performing their duties or anything.)

I’m not really sure why but the fact that potential government employees are disclosing personal information to a private contractor --which is owned by a private equity firm -- just bothers me. I have no idea if this section of Wikipedia is correct and I have no idea if USIS did a background check on me. I thought the Federal Government conducted the check. And the recheck. 9/11 was in 2001. USIS (in case you missed it) was formed in 1996. Too bad it doesn’t say when the “employee-owned company” (yeah, that’s still bugging me) was acquired by The Carlyle Group.

This little tidbit stuck with me through most of the day. Including the part of the day in which I found myself in a library with some time to kill. I ran down the political science isle until I found a book on political corruption. Unfortunately, I forgot the name of the book (it should have been “Dry As Toast”) but it was interesting. (Keep in mind I’m the guy that can actually read FAA manuals and stay awake.)

It turns out that selling civil service positions is -- historically -- a great source of wealth. It was actually legal in England until a few centuries ago. Our (as in American) best known flirtation with this form of corruption was encompassed in the story of Boss Tweed. There are many other examples in today’s world. Greed never goes out of style.

In short, government officials sell the assets (or power) of the Government (in America’s case that would be your assets and power) for private gain (assets, power or both.) It all sounds pretty much like the same old, same old -- until you think about that “privatization of its federal investigators” part. Private (for profit) investigators acting on behalf of the government (think serious power) and being able to influence who can (and can’t) work for the government. That seems to be a whole ‘nother can of worms.

Speaking of bait (worms -- get it ?), I’m the kind of guy that just casts out a line and sees what I can reel in. Perhaps you’re more like a fly fisherman and have the patience to zero in on just one fish and go after it. This seems a likely spot to try because something around here sure smells fishy.

(If you do pursue one of these ideas-- and you post it on your own blog -- email me and I’ll post a link.)

Don Brown
August 24, 2007

Thursday, August 23, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 23

This is The Big One. Pay attention and don’t let the bureaucratic jargon throw you off. I know it’s long and dull so I’ll throw a little emphasis in to help you remain focused.

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

”Aug 23, 1958: President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (P.L. 85-726) into law. Treating comprehensively the Federal role in fostering and regulating civil aeronautics and air commerce, the new statute repealed the Air Commerce Act of 1926, the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, the Airways Modernization Act of 1957, and those portions of the various Presidential reorganization plans dealing with civil aviation. The act assigned the functions exercised under these repealed laws, which had been dispersed within the Federal structure, to two independent agencies--the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), which was created by the act, and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), which was freed of its administrative ties with the Department of Commerce.

FAA came into existence with the signing of the Act, but assumed its functions in stages. Pursuant to the legislation, it also took over the responsibilities and personnel of the Airways Modernization Board, which were transferred to it by Executive Order 10786, on November l. FAA inherited as a nucleus the organization and functions of CAA on Dec 31, 1958. Later (on August 11, 1960), Executive Order 10883 terminated the Air Coordinating Committee, transferring its functions to FAA. Section 103 of the act concisely stated the Administrator's major powers and responsibilities as follows:

"(a) The regulation of air commerce in such manner as to best promote its development and safety and fulfill the requirements of national defense;

"(b) The promotion, encouragement, and development of civil aeronautics;

"(c) The control of the use of the navigable airspace of the United States and the regulation of both civil and military operations in such airspace in the interest of the safety and efficiency of both;

"(d) The consolidation of research and development with respect to air navigation facilities, as well as the installation and operation thereof;

"(e) The development and operation of a common system of air traffic control and navigation for both military and civil aircraft."

CAB, though retaining responsibility for economic regulation of the air carriers and for accident investigation, lost under the act most of its former authority in the safety regulation and enforcement field to FAA. The law provided, however, that any FAA order involving suspension or revocation of a certificate might be appealed to CAB for hearing, after which CAB could affirm, amend, modify, or reverse the FAA order. Provision was made for FAA participation in accident investigation, but determination of probable cause was to be the function of CAB alone. When the FAA assumed full operational status on Dec 31, 1958, it absorbed certain CAB personnel associated with the safety rulemaking function. (See Nov 1 and Dec 31, 1958.) ”

Obviously, I could go off on several different tangents with legislation this broad. The first thing you’ll notice is that the CAB no longer exists. You could write a book about that alone. And some people have.

The tangent I’ll stick with is the military and civilian one. This legislation was spurred on by three major mid air collisions -- two of which were military vs. civilian aircraft. If you’ve been paying attention, you can name at least one of the three.

If you’re really thinking, you now know why virtually every Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) was built in 1960 or shortly thereafter. (Aug 23, 1958 + a year (or so) for construction = 1960.)

If you’d like to do some more thinking, think about how GPS -- a system designed and controlled by the military -- is still being integrated into the civilian aviation side of things. It’ll also give you an idea about the cost and lead time of a “space-based system.” (Hello NextGen. Yes Virginia, I inserted the GSP history link for a reason. Think about the history of INS while you’re there.)

There was something else...oh yeah -- facility consolidations. Those 60+ year-old ARTCCs won’t last forever. Replacing all 20+ of them will be expensive. The FAA will try to consolidate them (and others.) Be careful. There’s a happy median somewhere between expensive and really expensive. Expensive is when you build enough of them and the system works. Really expensive is when you don’t build enough of them, lose one of them to a hurricane (ZMA, ZNY or ZHU) or a wildfire (ZJX or SCT) or an earthquake (ZAN, ZSE or ZOA) or any other disaster and find out that the system really doesn’t work.

Don Brown
August 23, 2007

Government vs. “The Market”

Robert Reich was the Secretary of Labor during Bill Clinton’s Administration. He is currently a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. I occasionally hear him National Public Radio. Besides that, he has three other things going for him. He’s really smart, he makes sense and I like him. Hey, it works for me.

I happened upon his blog today and thought I might point you towards it. I really like this piece:

When Caveat Emptor Doesn't Work in China -- or in America

”The lesson on both sides of the Pacific is that free-market capitalism and government intervention are not on opposite sides of a great ideological divide. Free markets need governments to police them so buyers can be confident about what they're buying.”

I told you he was smart. He’’s got good taste when it comes to blog templates too.

Don Brown
August 23, 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Here’s A Quarter

Marion Blakey, the current Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, is leaving the FAA. She has found herself a new job.

FAA Chief To Become Aerospace Lobbyist

”In her new job, which is to start in November, Blakey will be the most prominent spokesperson to the federal government for the makers of commercial aircraft and for contractors to the Pentagon.”

She’ll be lobbying for companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Yeah, I know, big surprise huh ?

In situations like this, I always remind my kids of these three words, “Gracious and charitable.” My mother always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

In that Ms. Blakey quoted me, I’ll just stick to quoting her.

"We are at a breaking point," Blakey says of the U.S. air transportation system.

She ought to know. She took us there. Oh well, Mama tried.

(Note: Yes, I’m aware of the Time article this week. I’ll get to it as soon as I can figure out a way to be gracious and charitable about it.)

I guess I’ll just quit while I’m behind. Blakey’s got a new job lined up. Here’s a quarter, call someone that cares.

Don Brown
August 22, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 21

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

”Aug 21, 1986: FAA's Air Route Traffic Control Centers handled 112,467 en route operations, the highest single-day traffic to that date. Record operations levels at many facilities in fiscal 1986 helped to create a 19.85 percent increase in delays as compared to the previous year. During the fiscal year, FAA proceeded with implementation of a Traffic Management System integrating certain air traffic control functions to create a more orderly traffic flow. Work also continued on the Expanded East Coast Plan, the first phase of which was scheduled for implementation in 1987 (see Feb 12, 1987). Under development since 1982, the plan was designed to alleviate congestion in the New York area and associated airspace through the use of additional departure routes and other techniques. During fiscal 1986, FAA also deployed mobile "tiger teams" of personnel with expertise in a variety of air traffic control disciplines to improve traffic management in areas experiencing delays. ”

It seems like only yesterday.

Here’s a video where you can actually see how many airplanes controllers work everyday now.

Don Brown
August 21, 2007

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Voice From the Past

I’ve been saving this for a rainy day.

“...Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failures and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True, they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money.

Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored conditions. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers.

They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

The money changers have fled their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths.

The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money, it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.

The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto
but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow-men.

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be values only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit, and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing.

Small wonder that confidence languishes,
for it thrives only on honesty,
on honor,
on the sacredness of obligations,
on faithful protection,
on unselfish performance.

Without them it cannot live.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Selected remarks from FDR’s First Inaugural Speech -- March 4, 1933

Don Brown
August 19, 2007

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Here We Go Again

I must be getting older. Or I read too much history. It just doesn’t ever seem like people that should know better -- really smart people -- ever learn.

”For it is becoming increasingly clear that the real-estate bubble of recent years, like the stock bubble of the late 1990s, both caused and was fed by widespread malfeasance.

That is from Paul Krugman, as quoted from this post on the Economist's View. I’ve tried to steer you towards both in previous posts.

When it comes to money, I’m like Forrest Gump -- “I’m not a smart man...” Seriously, I don’t spend a lot of time studying money and the investments I make tend to make financial planners wince because the are so conservative.

But there’s one theme I keep seeing over and over again. Financial scandal -- lack of regulation. Financial scandal -- lack of regulation. Financial scandal -- lack of regulation. It’s like having a Shania Twain song stuck in my head -- playing over and over. It’s maddening.

I mean really, how many times do we have to hear it before we’re sick of it ? This time it’s the sub-prime mortgages. Last time it was the deregulation of electricity (Enron) and telecommunications (World Com.) Before that it was the deregulation of the Savings and Loans (Charles Keating and Neil Bush.) (Yes, of the Bush family, for you younger folks.) I’m sure there are others that I missed in my youth but we could keep going to back to the Great One in 1929 (lack of regulation in the stock market) and even beyond.

People are greedy. This isn’t recent news. Greed is one of the Seven Deadlies. It’s as old as...well, sin. Smart people aren’t immune. Even rich people aren’t immune. It’s how a lot of them got that way. Has TV finally succeeded in poisoning our collective minds ? Do we believe a $1,000 dollar suit and a Masters degree in Business Administration somehow equates to honesty ? To good character ? Not to put too find a point on it but you don’t go to business school to learn it’s wrong to cheat, steal and lie. You go there to learn business law, how to generate income and how to advertise.

We need to wake up and smell the coffee before the rest of the world does. When I was putting this post together and went to the Economist’s View to get the links I needed, I ran into this:

”The ongoing sub-prime mortgage crisis, a result of irresponsible lending policies designed to generate commissions for unscrupulous brokers, presages far deeper problems in a U.S. economy that is beginning to resemble a giant smoke-and-mirrors Ponzi scheme. And this has not been lost on the rest of the world.

We’re getting better advice from an Iranian economist (Hamid Varzi) than from our own government. You really ought to read the whole thing.

”A solution to the U.S. debt problem requires radical measures, including: the elimination of corporate tax loopholes, a reversal of tax breaks for the ultra-rich, a bipartisan campaign to eliminate budget "pork," imposition of stringent limits on corporate debt and speculative lending, a vast reduction in military expenditure and, finally, an additional 50 cent per gallon gasoline tax that would slash the federal deficit, curtail energy waste and spur technological breakthroughs.”

If we can’t put our own house in order -- if we can’t stop the “malfeasance”, the “pork” , the “irresponsible lending”, the “unscrupulous brokers”, the unregulated greed in our country, the world -- that global economy you hear so much about -- isn’t going to do business with us. We may not call it stealing but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world won’t.

Don Brown
August 18, 2007

“Deadly Express”

Rummaging around in your web browser’s bookmarks can lead you to all sorts of places. I remember this article making an impression on me so I took the time to track it down. (The link had changed.) It’s worth the read if you’re interested in the subject -- the underside of the air cargo industry.

"The Federal Aviation Administration has ignored specific pleas to upgrade safety for a highly competitive industry plagued by a culture of cut corners, loose oversight and risky flying, a Miami Herald investigation found.”

Not that he needs them (I believe the article won several awards) but kudos to Ronnie Greene for an excellent piece of journalism.

Don Brown
August 18, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 17

In that I’ve been so busy this week (sorry about that) you get a two-for-one today.

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

”Aug 17, 1990: A portion of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) was called up for the first time in history as the Defense Department activated CRAF Level 1. Participating airlines provided aircraft and crews to expand U.S. airlift capability for the Operation Desert Shield deployment in the Middle East. (See Aug 2, 1990, and Sep 25, 1990.) ”

This was (of course) in support of the Persian Gulf war. It’s just a little reminder of how integrated the National Airspace System (NAS) is in national defense. Also, let me go with it just a little further. When the Department of Defense needs additional airlift capacity, they don’t need regional jets. They need aircraft with “legs” -- long range aircraft with large capacity. Regional jets are all well and good for certain markets but they do not a National Airspace System make.

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

” Aug 17, 1994: President Clinton signed the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994. Under the new law, manufacturers could not be held liable for accidents happening more than 18 years after the production of general aviation aircraft, engines, or parts. The legislation was followed by an upturn for this sector of industry. “

I haven’t really studied this issue but on the surface it seems to be another example of good public policy. Just as the average citizen never hears of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, most don’t have any idea how much General Aviation contributes to the National Airspace System. Lawsuits were slowly but surely killing off the industry. I’d like to see more done in public policy to promote General Aviation but at least we didn’t let it die off.

Don Brown
August 17, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 14

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

”Aug 14, 1974: The Operations Committee of the Air Transport Association (ATA) decided that, effective Sep 1, its member airlines would withdraw from the familiarization flight (SF 160) program under which an air traffic controller could make up to eight free flights per year as a cockpit observer. Members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization reacted by conducting work slowdowns that continued until ATA reversed its decision on Oct 16. (See May 7, 1975.) ”

Huh. I can’t help but wonder how many current NATCA members know this.

The important part of the familiarization program always seems to get lost somewhere between a small minority of controllers abusing the privilege and managers (both FAA’s and ATA member’s) scared that somebody might get away with something.

The important part is that controllers (and pilots) might actually learn some little subtle piece of information that could save somebody’s life one day. Like how confusing it can be taxiing an airplane out to the runway at o’dark-thirty in a multicolored sea of lights. I watched it being done from a Tower or the ramp at least a hundred times and I was shocked at how different it looked from the cockpit the first time I saw it.

You never know when an experience like that might save a life. Or 49.

Don Brown
August 14, 2007

Mostly Right

AOPA is the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. There “about us” page pretty much tells it like it is.

”AOPA is the largest, most influential aviation association in the world.”

When they say largest, they mean large. Over 400,000 members. From time to time I can pick a nit or two with them but overall, they get it right. For instance, I could quibble about a few points made on this page of their web site but I won’t. I will point you to the right side of that same page. The part highlighted in blue and entitled: "Frequent lairs: Airlines hide truth about delays".

Sometimes, I wish I had a staff to do research for me. I’ve been looking for some specific data for a month and just can’t seem to nail it down. AOPA highlights one of the reasons why.

”The issue of the airlines scheduling more flights than the airport can handle is a little more difficult to tease out of the BTS statistics. More than 28 percent of airline flight delays are attributed to "national aviation system (NAS) delays."”

AOPA wasn’t looking for exactly what I’m looking for but they’re close. Real close.

”But AOPA analyzed the June airline schedules at all of the major airports. And at 17 out of 35 hub airports, the airlines have scheduled more flights during their daily "pushes" than the airports can handle in instrument weather conditions. It doesn't take a thunderstorm to delay flights all across the country. Just have visibility drop below three miles or the ceiling below 1,000 feet at one of these 17 major airports and flights will be delayed.”

“The Market” -- in all its supposed wisdom -- has decided that many of those flights will be regional jets too. Less capacity. More congestion. Now there’s a good idea. Not.

Don Brown
August 14, 2007

YJCMTSU -- Volume 1

You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up.

Patriot Act used to search for evidence in cockfighting case

(I labeled it “Volume 1” because I’m sure there is more to come.)

Wasn't the Patriot Act -- a serious erosion of civil liberties -- so desperately needed so that we could fight terrorists ? Don't you think we would have saved it for something a little more serious than cockfighting ?

Don Brown
August 14, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Having It Both Ways

I ran across an article from (yes, I’m still trying to catch up) that highlighted a point I’ve wanted to make for some time.

” This legislation will make a real difference in the safety of our highways and rails," said Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based nonprofit public interest group. "Whistleblowers are America's first line of defense -- literally where the rubber meets the road.“

So far, so good. But later on -- in the same article, talking about the same legislation -- you run into this little tidbit.

”Meanwhile, a provision that would have granted collective bargaining rights to thousands of airport screeners at the Transportation Security Administration did not make it back into the final law. Both the House and Senate had agreed to the language in their initial versions of the bill, but last month Senate Democrats agreed to strip the collective bargaining provision in order to move the legislation to conference negotiations.

So, let me see if I’ve got this right. America wants the benefit it receives from whistleblowers by having them point out the wrongs and the problems they might encounter while conducting The People’s business...but America doesn’t want those same individuals to be protected by a union from the same types of abuses directed at the employees themselves. Protect us but don’t protect yourself. Is that right ?

Something isn’t quite right about this picture. That “something” would be the Bush Administration.

”Some lawmakers have argued it was worth dropping the provision -- which was not included in the 9/11 Commission's recommendations -- to get the rest of the bill enacted. President Bush had threatened to veto the measure, citing opposition to the TSA provision.”

Politics is all about the art of the “possible.” Legislating involves compromise. We all understand this. This is how our government works. I just think it important to notice where we are willing to compromise and where we aren’t.

Whistleblowers are an important protection in Government. You might have heard of Daniel Ellsberg and by now you may know of Mark Felt. But can you tell me who Bunny Greenhouse or Joseph Darby is ? You might want to read a little about each of those. Especially Joseph Darby.

Bargaining rights are no less important. President Bush was willing to extend whistleblower protections...hey...wait a minute. That isn’t right. If President Bush and the Republican Congress had wanted to protect the American public by giving workers whistleblower protection it would have been put in the law when it was written -- shortly after 9/11. Remember that ? The Federal Government took the job of airport security screening away from private industry because private industry failed to protect the American Public.

That means the real story is that President Bush (and the Republicans) were willing to compromise about whistleblowers but they weren’t budging on unions. That ought to tell you something.

Don Brown
August 13, 2007

Did You Forget ?

Communicating for Safety is now less than a month away. It will be held in Atlanta, September 10-12. I’ll be there. Will you ?

Don Brown
August 13, 2007

Sunday, August 12, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 12

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

”Aug 12, 1993: The Clinton Administration announced that air traffic controllers fired for participation in the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization strike (see Aug 3, 1981) could apply for reemployment. (Since Dec 1981, the fired controllers could apply for any federal position except for jobs in the FAA and certain related positions in the Defense and Treasury Departments.) At the time of the announcement, FAA had already imposed a hiring freeze because of budget restrictions. The agency estimated that once the freeze ended it would hire fewer than 200 new controllers per year over the next few years. In Jan 1995, a rehired group of 26 former strikers began training, and about 14 others were rehired during that year. (See Feb 22, 1996). ”

There are subtle but important lessons to be noted here. The Government -- in the form of a new Administration -- changes. The Clinton Administration reversed a Reagan Administration policy. Yet on another level -- the bureaucratic level -- the Government doesn’t change so easily. And on yet an even deeper level -- the culture of the Government can be even harder to change.

We tend to think that when the President speaks, the rest of the Government, says “yes Sir!”, salutes and starts marching. It’s not quite so simple. The higher level bureaucrats -- the career civil servants -- have an agenda of their own. They also have long memories. Much longer than a President’s four year (or even eight year) term.

The rehiring of the PATCO controllers was a political decision. Barring them from employment as controllers had been an irritating thorn in Labor’s paw for over a decade. The Clinton Administration may have believed in the justice of removing this thorn but in the greater scheme of things, it was a token gesture, considering the hiring freeze that was in effect.

When the hiring freeze was lifted, the bureaucracy had their turn. They hired a few but they weren’t happy about it. And the lower the decision worked it’s way down the food chain, the more the culture of the FAA took over.

When the culture of the FAA took over -- in that it was the same culture that contributed to the strike -- there was no way that culture was going to admit it was wrong. So, there wasn’t any way that this program was going to succeed. It wasn’t just incompetence, it was vindictiveness too.

This is the same culture that has given us the current crisis in the FAA. Over 25 years have passed and nothing has really changed. Keep this in mind for when this current crisis reaches the boiling point. And make no mistake about it, it will. (That’s the whole point, remember ? Create a crisis in order to present privatization as the answer.)

When it happens, try something different. Try firing the ones responsible for the culture. This time, fire the management. I’m serious. Take the top FAA managers and hand them their walking papers. I bet it would do more to change the culture of the FAA than firing 11,000 controllers did.

The PATCO controllers were fired -- supposedly -- for breaking their oath. Their oath -- their word. But what of the FAA’s Administrator’s promise ?

”The title, vice president,’ matches the performance expectations for these executives, said Blakey. This team will bring a business-like focus to running their respective service units and will be held accountable for results.”

(Emphasis added)

Will Ms. Blakey be held to her word with the same vigor ?

Don Brown
August 12, 2007

Saturday, August 11, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 11

Just in case you think I’ve forgotten about the history lessons, I thought I’d tell you I haven’t. I thought about putting up my favorite nonsensical governmentese...


...but I was afraid folks might not see the humor in it. The fact is, I haven’t run across anything that caught my attention. I missed the big piece of history while I was out of town -- the PATCO strike on August 3, 1981 -- and besides that, nothing much as popped up. Here, I’ll show you what I mean. This is the most interesting thing I found on this date in the FAA:

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

”Aug 11, 1971: FAA expanded requirements for an anticollision system of flashing aviation-red or aviation-white lights for night operations. The agency mandated that the system be installed on all powered U.S. civil aircraft with a standard airworthiness certificate by Aug 12, 1972. (Aircraft with experimental, restricted, or provisional type certificates were exempted.) Previously, FAA had required the anticollision light system only on large aircraft and on certain small aircraft as specified in their airworthiness certificates. The agency required this system in addition to the position-light system carried by all aircraft on their tails and wingtips. ”

See what I mean ?

Don Brown
August 11, 2007

Crazy as a ‘Roo

I have no idea if that means anything (Crazy as a ‘Roo) but I don’t think it really matters. I’ve just finished another book by Bill Bryson and I’m delighted to tell you that this one doesn’t make any more sense than the other ones I’ve read. I’m not quite sure why I enjoy reading this crazy man so much but I do. And I am not alone.

Mr. Bryson is a confused individual that grew up in Iowa (not that there’s anything wrong with that), moved to England in his twenties, stayed there some 20 odd years (and I do mean odd) and then moved back to the United States. So, of course, the book I’ve just finished is about Australia.

In a Sunburned Country (yes, yes, he explains it’s suppposed to be “sunburnt”) is just another romp through life with Mr. Bryson. It’s just that this time, it’s in the land Down Under. There really is no explanation for the man so I am at a loss as to how to explain the book. Seriously, how do explain a book that starts off with losing the Prime Minister (as in they lost one -- vanished), explains the story of Nothomyrmecia macrops (a “long-lost proto-ant”), then talks about getting drunk in a place called Daly Waters and then winds up in a museum looking at a picture of a naked man perched on a telephone pole repairing the line -- wearing boots. And it has something-or-other to do with NASA. Try explaining that.

Bill Bryson helps slake my unquenchable thirst for more input and he makes me laugh at the same time. In my readings, it is a unique experience and one that I think you will enjoy.

Don Brown
August 11 ,2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Assault on Reason

Perhaps the strongest argument I can make in order to compel you to read this book is the picture it paints of Mr. Gore himself. One of the tenets of this book is that our view of the world has been seriously distorted by TV. After reading The Assault on Reason I’m left with the picture of a deeply thoughtful, educated and passionate man. It is so at odds with the TV image of a stiff and humorless Al Gore.

I’ll be honest, I’ve put off writing this post for a couple of weeks. It’s a hard book to distill into its essence because it is already so refined. A case in point; I couldn’t think of a better title for this blog entry than the title of the book itself. The title is the essence of the book. It’s about a deliberate attack on our society’s ability to rationally think about our problems and how we might solve them. See what I mean ? I’m sitting here trying to find better words to describe a book that already has better words.

The book is broad in scope and thought provoking. Yet, I was shocked to note the body of the book is only 276 pages. For me, it felt much weightier. Books that normally leave me with this feeling are in the 1,000 page range. There are many substantial issues covered in this book but Mr. Gore makes his point -- concisely -- and moves on. And the points stick with you. After you read the book, you’ll be able to notice how it has influenced my thoughts in these past few weeks. I feel certain that it will influence your thoughts also. You need to read this book.

I can’t get past this point so forgive me for returning to it. Al Gore isn’t a stranger to us. He was Vice President -- a very visible Vice President -- for 8 years. He ran though the high visibility gauntlet of a Presidential campaign. How did this Al Gore -- the Al Gore you find in this book -- remain out of sight ? How could someone with such intellect, such breadth of knowledge, such power of reason -- with the ability to organize and present his thoughts succinctly -- remain unknown to the public ?

The thought occurs to me that this is the kind of man we want as our President. The question is, “Why didn’t we posses this knowledge when we had a chance to act upon it ?” The answer is the same answer as to the question of why 70% of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was somehow responsible for the attacks on 9/11. It’s the same answer as to why we as a nation were so uninformed about the potential aftermath of the Iraq War. Find the answer. Turn off the TV, put the computer to sleep and pick up a book. This book.

Don Brown
August 10, 2007

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Top Ten Reasons I Hate Summer

Living in Georgia provides you with an opportunity to study life’s contradictions. It is an incredibly varied and beautiful place. From the “Hills of Habersham” to ”the Marshes of Glynn” it is blessed with nature’s best. And it’s worst. Mosquitoes, gnats and 4-out-of-4 of the poisonous snakes found in America come quickly to mind. Of course, the biggest contradiction is the warmth, grace and charm you’ll find in such abundance amongst its people -- right alongside the racism, ignorance and bigotry.

I guess I’d best move on with the list before the list moves on without me.

Number Ten -- Gnats

I don’t have to put up with gnats where I live but folks sure do in South Georgia. Unfortunately, I occasionally have to cross the Gnat Line and visit South Georgia. Yankees tend to think folks in South Georgia are friendlier than in North Georgia because folks down there wave at them more from their front porches. Not so. They’re waving the gnats away from their faces. Yankees just think they’re being waved at.

Number Nine -- Bugs

Yes, I know gnats are bugs but gnats deserve their own special place on any hate list. Ask anybody. Mosquitoes, chiggers and No-see-ums don’t try to get in your eyes. They’re irritating, but they don’t try to get in your eyes. They might get there anyway, they might bite, they might get in your ears -- but they don’t try to get in your eyes.

Number Eight -- Snakes

I know some folks that actually like snakes. I know some crazy people too. As far as I’m concerned, they’re all Copper-Mouthed-Coral-Rattlers until proven innocent. Georgians have a special hatred for Water Moccasins. You see, they’re called Water Moccasins ‘cause they like water. In that Georgians like water (‘cause it’s hot) it presents a problem. Rattlesnakes are bigger, coral snakes are more poisonous and copperheads are more likely to bite you. But the Cottonmouths like to hang around in the water. In that every other water snake looks a lot like a Water Moccasin and I’m not going to get close enough to inspect them...I’ve decided I’ll just stay out of the water and sweat.

Number Seven -- Grass

Yes, I have a lawn. Yes, I fertilize it, aerate it and water it. Nobody ever said I was smart. Grass looks pretty. But it grows like crazy in the summer (along with the weeds.) You won’t find me complaining about it in the winter (yes, I have a lawn that grows all year round) but when it’s 95 degrees outside and the humidity is 85% I still have to cut grass. There is some primal pleasure in viewing a green pasture. It stirs something deep inside all of us. But until my wife lets me have that 40 acre pasture and the air-conditioned John Deere that goes with it...I’ll hate grass. At least in the summer.

Number Six -- Holidays

I know. How could anybody not like holidays ? I’m all for celebrating the nation’s birth on July 4th. Just so long as I’m in an air-conditioned room watching it all on TV. Unfortunately there’s always some fool that expects me to be outside turning the crank-handle on the ice cream churn (‘casue it’s better than store-bought) when it’s 95 degrees and the humidity is 85%. It must be the sweat dripping off my nose that makes the hand-churned ice cream taste better. And standing over a grill when it’s 95 degrees ? No wonder people think we’re kind of slow down here.

Number Five -- Long Days

In a perfect world, the days would be long in the winter instead of the summer. The nights are the only time it cools off down here. Well, it sort of cools off. The low on August 8th was 81.2 degrees. Seriously. I think it was some kind of record. Check it out. At least the humidity was only 51%.

Number Four -- The Haze

The visibility today is 10 miles. This is a good day. A normal day is about 5 miles. A bad day is about 2 miles. Yes, some of it’s smog but some of it’s natural. The Blue Ridge Mountains get their name from the haze that makes the mountains look blue. With no mountains down here south of Atlanta it’s just a murky gray, thick enough to cut with your pocket knife. (All real Georgians carry a pocket knife. Even the women.) The normal summer forecast is summed up as the “Three H’s” -- day after day. Hot, Hazy and Humid.

Number Three -- The Humidity

It’s not just the fact that we have to live with the humidity...we have to listen to everybody talk about the humidity. (Yes, I realize that is exactly what I’m doing.) “It’s not the heat -- it’s the humidity.” You’re out in the heat, drenched with sweat that won’t evaporate because it’s so humid and you have to listen to some guy drone on about, “It ain’t the heat that’s gettin’ to you so much as it’s the humidity.” After listening to that for about 3 months you’re ready to take your shovel (or pickax, sling blade, hoe or whatever) and whack them. “Crazy from the heat” is a widely recognized legal defense down here in the South.

Number Two -- The Heat

It’s hot. Good Lord it’s hot. The forecasted highs for the next 5 days are 100, 99, 97, 95 and 94 degrees. The best we can hope for is that it might “cool down” to 85 degrees or so. Day after day, month after month, it just drags on endlessly. Folks wonder why the South is known as “The Bible Belt.” It’s simple. We know first hand what a half-eternity in the heat of Hell feels like and we’re scared. The thought of it never ending -- never having the respite of winter -- will keep us on the straight and narrow for generations to come.

Number One -- The HEAT !

That’s what it’s like. It just keeps repeating itself. Day after day. And NO !, unless you live down here you really don’t have any idea. Up North you have hope. It might get hot but you know the heat will break. It NEVER breaks down here. NEVER ! EVER ! We have no HOPE ! Only heat.

I hate the heat like Yankees hate the snow. I don’t care if it never gets above 80 degrees for the rest of my life. It’s no coincidence that a Southerner has taken the lead in warning us about Global Warming. Al Gore lives in Tennessee and he’s scared Global Warming will turn Tennessee into Georgia. Somebody from Georgia really ought to take the lead but they’re too busy swattin’ skeeters, waving at gnats and looking for snakes. Actually, I think they’re secretly hoping for Global Warming. If Greenland will melt, Georgia will turn into Florida and we’ll have some place to take a cool swim without Water Moccasins and maybe -- just maybe -- even a sea breeze. Then we can sell out to the Yankees and move to Greenland -- someplace cool without Yankees.

Don Brown
August 9, 2007

Strike Two ?

There is a remarkably candid conversation going on in cyberspace. I think you should run over the The FAA Follies and take a look.

First, read “Screw this -- let’s talk strike.” Yes, that does get your attention doesn’t it ?

Second, you need to read the counterpoint -- “Strike - a bad idea.”

Third, you need to read the comments about both.

Fourth, you might want to leave a comment of your own. If you’re a non-controller, non-pilot, non-aviation type, I’d like to especially encourage you to leave a comment. Controllers are public employees and the smart ones take that very seriously. Try to keep in mind that they are highly agitated at this point in time, but they occasionally need to hear from the average citizen on the street -- their real employers.

Don Brown
August 9, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Political Bodyguard ?

I’m catching up on my reading too. For 25 years, I’ve depended on Time or Newsweek to keep me up to date on the important events in our world. Like most Americans, I simply couldn’t find the time to read everything I needed to read to remain part of the “well-informed electorate.”

Now that I’m retired, I can read a lot more. But I still read Time as part of my routine. And I read something from Massimo Calabresi’s latest article that disturbed me greatly.

Why Bush Needs Gonzales

“In backing Gonzales, Bush is influenced by advisers whose future depends on the survival of their political bodyguard.”

Perhaps it’s a good time to remind you of the oath that these people (including Gonzales , I and virtually every other U.S. Government employee) have taken.

I,____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

I’m not going to detail all the significance behind swearing allegiance to the Constitution right now -- most of my readers have either done so themselves or are smart enough to figure it out themselves. I am going to ask you to contrast the two -- swearing allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and being called a “political bodyguard” in a respected magazine. We’re not talking about a Vernon Jordan here folks, we’re talking about the Attorney General of the United States of America.

I think it is time to write a few other folks that have taken an oath of office.

Don Brown
August 7, 2007

Monday, August 06, 2007

We Must Attack

Normally, I don’t bother reading the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I’ve tried and tried. I read the New York Times whenever I can get it but I stopped getting the AJC years ago. But I will say one thing for the AJC -- they have the best cartoonist around.

Mike Luckovich

Don Brown
August 6, 2007

Pick An Airport -- Any Airport

I missed this story which means you probably did too.

Jetliner pilots may have picked wrong airport

This is one of stories we can laugh about because everything worked out. This time. The problem is we keep pressing our luck. You see, I used to work this airspace. As a matter of fact, I grew up in this area (which is one of the reasons I wound up working the airspace.) Let me explain.

My first real job was pumping gas into airplanes at the Spartanburg Downtown Airport in Spartanburg, SC. That was where I first learned about the tendency of airplanes to land at the wrong airport. There is a Spartanburg airport, a Greenville-Spartanburg airport and a Greenville airport. They are identified (in aviation) as SPA, GSP and GMU, respectively. They’re confused on a regular basis. Back in the day it wasn’t too bad because we had a robust safety net. All three airports had a Air Traffic Control Tower.

After the PATCO strike in 1981, the SPA Tower was closed. Permanently. Later on, the GMU Tower was contracted out. There’s a radar facility at GSP (called Greer Approach) but it closes on the midnight shift. That means when GSP Tower and Approach closes all the services are transferred to Atlanta Center. That is the radar facility in which I used to work, located in Hampton, GA (south of Atlanta.)

”Nicholas said the regional jet could have landed safely at the Downtown Airport.”

Really ? Not to question her competence but Ms. Nicholas is a “spokeswoman for Continental Express.” According to my research on the web (which took about 5 minutes) the ERJ-145 needs approximately 4,500 feet of runway to land if it’s dry and about 5,400 feet of runway if it’s wet. I also know enough to know I don’t know all the factors needed to determine if it’s safe to land a ERJ-145 full of passengers at GMU (Greenville Downtown Airport.)

I do know this. The pilots were expecting an 11,000 foot runway at GSP. The one at GMU (the longest one) is only 5,393 feet long. Drive down your favorite highway at 55 MPH and only give yourself half the time you’d normally allow to stop at the traffic light. Does that feel safe ?

I also know the conditions that contributed to this incident. The controllers that work this airspace don’t work any airplanes below 11,000 feet all day long -- except on their midnight shift. That means they don’t work any airplanes down low -- no approaches, no departures -- except on their once-a-week midnight shift. I also know their radar doesn’t “see” below 2-3,000 feet. In other words, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty -- when an airplane is approaching the airport -- the target drops of the radar scope. It makes it tough to say “Hey Buddy, you’re lined up on the wrong airport” when you can’t see the airplane.

Don’t get me wrong. These controllers are among the best in the world at what they do. They just don’t have a chance to remain proficient at working airplanes around airports. Been there, done that. I learned this lesson firsthand when I botched a vector to the approach at GSP one night.

Kudos to the pilots for catching the mistake. Shame on the FAA for putting them in a position in which it was so easy to make the mistake.

Don Brown
August 6, 2007

P.S. You did think about fatigue didn’t you ? This airplane landed at 4 minutes after midnight -- “65 minutes after the scheduled arrival at 10:59 p.m.”

Playing Catch Up

It is the curse of the unorganized: You can’t take a vacation without falling behind. Oh well. Luckily for me my blog doesn’t have a deadline. It seems an awful lot happened in just 3 short days.

A-number-one, first-on-my-list is a job-well-done to J. Adrian Stanley for a story in the Colorado Springs Independent entitled Turbulence Ahead. It’s one the best efforts I’ve seen regarding the current events in air traffic control.

Popular Mechanics, on the other hand, has fallen into the pit -- something you wouldn’t expect from a magazine that is supposedly techno-savvy. In their article End of Flight Delays? FAA's GPS Fix Could Bust Sky Gridlock they’ve fallen for the bait -- hook, line and GPS-guided sinker. Seriously, this argument is the equivalent of Ali’s rope-a-dope. One look at the first graphic tells you all you need to know. There’s a pretty blue line that shows the airplane taking off Airport A and making a beeline, straight to Airport B. It’s a GPS-inspired miracle I tell you. Why didn’t we think of that before ?

Oh yeah. That’s right. We did think of that before. Unfortunately the airplane at Airport B wants to fly the same line to Airport A. When two different vehicles were on the same track -- head on -- we used to call it a Train Wreck. You’d think a magazine like Popular Mechanics would have heard of that before. And the jetstream.

Maybe PM hasn’t heard of Wikipedia.

”The location of the jet stream is extremely important for airlines. In the United States and Canada, for example, the time needed to fly east across the continent can be decreased by about 30 minutes if an airplane can fly with the jet stream, or increased by more than that amount if it must fly west against it. On longer intercontinental flights, the difference is even greater, and it is often actually faster and cheaper flying eastbound along the jet stream rather than taking the shorter great circle route between two points.”

I could write another 500 (or 5,000) words telling you how many fundamental concepts of air traffic control they failed to grasp in their article. But I won’t.

What else is in the news ? Oh yeah, AVweb says the Bush Administration is looking at Barbara Barrett for the FAA Administrator slot. From other sources, I hear that a “recess appointment” is under consideration to get around the Senate confirmation process.

As I told one of my friends the other night...Say what you will, the Bush Administration is the most effective administration I’ve seen in my career -- as far as changing government. It (government) may not work well anymore, but they’ve changed it. The problem is that their method is from a lesson every young boy learns very quickly. It takes half the day to build something out of Lincoln Logs or Legos or Popsicle sticks. It doesn’t take but a minute or two to (gleefully) destroy it.

Don Brown
August 6, 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Back In Town

Sorry ‘bout that. I got a last minute trip to the mountains (heaven) and I didn’t have internet access (not necessarily a bad thing.) I’ll have something up soon but right now, I’ve got a John Wayne movie and a nap waiting on me.

I’m telling you...this retirement stuff is tough !

Don Brown
August 5, 2007

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Back to this editorial by The Wall Street Journal from July 21: Gridlock in the Air. These guys deserve Rupert.

”Ms. Blakey has been beseeching anyone who will listen to fix some of the problems with the air-travel system since well before this summer's delays put the overcrowding in the headlines and on politicians' agendas.”

Perhaps the editors at the WSJ are confused. Ms. Blakey is the person that is supposed to fix the problems -- not plead for others to fix them. It isn’t a lack of money that is holding her up from doing her job. Remember that post of mine entitled Buried Gems ? In it I included a link to Senate Report (No. 110-131). There are a lot of interesting things in that report. I’m not going to post the whole report -- that’s the reason Al Gore invented the internet -- but you would think the editors at the WSJ could find it if an old, worn out ex-controller can find it. From the report:

“The Committee recommends a total of $8,761,783,000 for FAA operations. This funding level is $43,209,783 more than the budget request, and $387,566,000 more than the fiscal year 2007 enacted level.”

If Ms. Blakey needs some money to solve the FAA’s problems all she has to do is ask for more. Congress appears to be in a generous mood (as was generally the case in my 25 year career.) Besides, what about all that money she saved by “getting tough” with the controllers. From the editorial:

She has also gotten tough with the air-traffic controllers union, which has placed her on the least-favorite-persons list of a number of Democratic politicians, including New York's Senator Schumer. Specifically, Ms. Blakey last year fought and won a battle with the controllers union over a Clinton-era pay package that was eating up a vast portion of the FAA's budget.

I see. It’s all Clinton’s fault. Not only is that excuse sounding hollow at this late date but it begs the question, why did Ms. Blakey sign a two year extension to that contract if it was so bad (in a Bill Clinton is the root of all evil sort of way.) Is it the money or isn’t it ?

This part was a hoot:

”Ms. Blakey's victory over the union was a necessary step toward getting the air-travel system back on track.

The WSJ guys think Ms. Blakey won. Oh yeah, that’s right, this is the “Mission Accomplished” crowd. All Ms. Blakey has done is start a war. This war won’t be over for years. Been there, done that. I even got a few t-shirts. The difference is that Ms. Blakey and Mr. Rumsfeld will be writing their memoirs while the people unfortunate enough to have served under them will still be trying to pick up pieces.

The real crux of this editorial finally comes out towards the end. It isn’t the controllers, it isn’t the overcrowded airports (it is the airports guys, not the airspace) -- the WSJ Editorial Board didn’t suddenly buy a heart and start worrying about the passengers suffering through the endless delays -- it’s the money. Hey ! It’s the WSJ. It’s always about the money.

”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.”

I guess this is the reason y’all are the editorial guys and not the news guys. You wouldn’t object. That’s not exactly news is it ? (seeing as you’re the crowd that is promoting it.) Government bad. Business good. It’s the same old sad song. Unfortunately for this crowd it was the greatest government in the world that built the greatest air traffic system in the world. And Britain, Canada nor Germany can’t hold a candle to it. Not even if they all combined. So much for the theory that government doesn’t work. It does if you work at it.

The reason Ms. Blakey can’t fix the FAA mess is that she and the Bush Administration are busy destroying it. They don’t want the government to succeed at anything. Let me send you back to that Senate report.

“The FAA budget justification for fiscal year 2008 propose to restructure these two accounts along the lines of business of the agency. Under this proposal, one account would pay for the Air Traffic Organization, including both the operating and capital expenses of the organization. Another account, Safety and Operations, would pay for both the operating and capital expenses of the Aviation Safety office and other offices within the FAA. This new budget structure is consistent with the reauthorization proposal submitted by the President in February of this year.”

Pay attention now. You have to read between the lines. The FAA is being administratively carved up in preparation of privatizing. Air Traffic in one pot, Safety in another. The FAA isn’t going away. It will still be a regulatory agency. But if you privatize the operations side -- air traffic control -- you have a “toll booth” for the sky. The Senate report goes on to say:

“In addition to changes to the FAA budget structure, the reauthorization proposal submitted by the President this year would make significant changes to the financing of FAA programs. The proposal would replace the current system of aviation taxes with a new user fee system, and it would provide the FAA with the authority to borrow up to $5,000,000,000 from the Treasury. Such borrowing would be repaid by an automatic increase to one of the newly-proposed user fees.”

(emphasis added)

My, my, my what a tangled web we weave. There are more games being played than at the Olympics. And the WSJ Editorial Board is just serving it’s role in the world’s second oldest profession: peddler.

Don Brown
August 1, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 1

Mercy ! August 1st is certainly a busy day in the FAA. On some days, it’s hard to find much of significance to relay to you. It’s not a problem for this date.

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

”Aug 1, 1928: As a first step toward promoting uniform state aeronautical legislation consistent with Federal law, the Aeronautics Branch issued Aeronautics Bulletin No. 18 reviewing the characteristics of various state statutes and setting forth suggested drafts of required laws. At this time, 20 states had no aeronautical legislation. (See Dec 16, 1930.) ”

We’ve already covered this territory before but I thought you’d get a kick out of the date: 1928. Orville and Wilbur had only built the Wright Flyer in 1903.

”Aug 1, 1957: The United States and Canada informally established the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). The two countries ratified a formal agreement the following May. The organization was renamed the North American Aerospace Defense Command on May 12, 1981. ”

It’s funny how folks forget we work a lot of military aircraft. If you’re an aviation buff you might be interested in these two: Looking Glass and TACAMO. The Navy boys always had a sense of humor -- even about the most serious of missions. The E-6 was heavily modified including enlarged fuel tanks. Their callsign was WAY2. And because the aircraft was in the “heavy” category is was said over the radio frequency as “WAY TWO HEAVY.”

”Aug 1, 1993: A new collective bargaining agreement between FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) went into effect. The four-year agreement covered all operational air traffic control specialists in terminals and centers. (See May 1, 1989.) ”

Ah, the good old days. Back when our government actually negotiated. I noticed that this contract was for 4 years. The current one -- the one they insist on calling a contract even though nobody agreed to it -- lasts five years. I bet you can’t explain that one to me. If you’re going to impose your work rules why stop after five years ? What ? We’re going to start negotiating in 5 years but always keep in mind that we don’t really have to negotiate ? If you don’t negotiate like we want you to we’ll just impose another contract on you ? We are still in America aren’t we ? I feel like I’ve fallen Through the Looking Glass.

Don Brown
August 1, 2007