Sunday, September 30, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 30

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

”Sep 30, 1983: During the fiscal year that ended on this date, key equipment was installed for the National Airspace Data Exchange Network (NADIN), a new interfacility communication system being established under a contract awarded in 1980. Under the NADIN system, messages originating at an air traffic control facility would go to the nearest of some 20 regional concentrators (computerized communication equipment sites). The message would then go to one of two major switching centers, located at Atlanta and Salt Lake City. These switches would disseminate the data, bypassing failed or saturated areas when required. Each switch would handle messages for half the country, but would possess the ability to manage the entire system if necessary. During FY 1982, the first of the switches was installed at Salt Lake City, and the first of the concentrators was installed at the FAA Technical Center. The Atlanta switch and the remaining 20 concentrators were installed in FY 1983, moving NADIN closer to commissioning. (See May 5, 1989.) ”

” May 5, 1989: FAA’s National Data Interchange Network 1A (NADIN 1A) became fully operational, supplanting several independent communications networks with a single, efficient means of transmitting weather and flight plan data. The agency had originally contracted for the system in Nov 1980. On Mar 31, 1995, FAA commissioned an upgraded version designated NADIN II. “

It’s late so you’ll have to do your own analysis. “Fiscal year”, “manage the entire system if necessary”, look at the dates, etc., etc. Yes, this is the same system that broke and caused the widespread delays earlier this year.

Don Brown
September 30, 2007

Using Judgment

This post will require you to use your powers of judgment carefully. The points I’d like to make are subtle but, I believe, important.

The Chicago Sun-Times ran a story today (September 30, 2007) about a mid-air collision that occurred 7 years ago.

Judge clears Collins in deadly air crash

I’d be the last to supplant the NTSB’s judgment with that of a judge, in assigning the cause of an aviation accident. However, there are a couple of things worth noting in that article.

”Because of federal immunity from lawsuits, though, the most Collins' widow, Christine, and the other victims' families can share is the $1 million insurance policy of Midwest Air Traffic Control Services, said Christine Collins' attorney Bob Clifford. “

Midwest Air Traffic Control Services runs the privatized Air Traffic Control Tower at Waukegan, Illinois (UGN.) According to the NTSB, “UGN handles approximately 100,000 aircraft operations per year. Although operations are predominantly general aviation, they also range from flight training, generated both locally and from other airports, to high-performance corporate jet operations. The U.S. Government contracts with Midwest to run the Tower." I first heard that operators in the Federal Contract Tower program were only required to carry a $ 1 million dollar insurance policy years and years ago. The guy telling me about it couldn’t believe it and neither could I. Even the cheapest of the “ high-performance corporate jets” cost more than a million dollars. This accident took three lives. I won’t comment on how much a life is worth.

”The air traffic controller -- who had gone seven hours without a break, in violation of FAA rules -- ... “

In that this accident occurred at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, that makes it obvious the controller had worked all day without a break. I didn’t see this fact mentioned in the NTSB report on the accident, which I find very curious. I did find a couple of other facts in the NTSB report though.

” The LC (Local Controller) has served as the tower manager since October 1993. “

”UGN ATCT operates from 0600 to 2000 local time, year round. Four controllers and a tower manager, who works on an operational schedule similar to the controllers, staff the tower. The contractor also provides "rovers," who are controllers certified at more than one facility that can fill in as needed.“

It doesn’t take long to figure out that staffing is minimal, at best.

There’s another set of facts you might want to know. Also from the NTSB report:

”UGN ATCT was established in 1989 as a Level 1 tower. The FAA funded the initial construction and equipment. In 1994, under the Federal Contract Tower Program, a private contractor, Midwest Air Traffic Control Services, was awarded the bid to operate the tower and provide controller and supervisory staffing. The FAA retains ownership of the facilities and equipment and conducts controller certification.“

It sounds much the same as the Fulton Country ATC Tower in Atlanta, GA. The FAA built a new Tower for the Olympics (the previous Tower was around 40 years old) and then promptly contracted it out as soon as the Olympics left town.

I worked with a different Contract Tower when I was a controller. I even went to visit that Tower a couple of times. Decent people, working alone, doing the best they could with what they had. There was one incident that did stick with me though. There had been a possible error and the tape recordings of the Tower (all ATC transmissions are recorded) weren’t available. The recorder had malfunctioned. The recorder was fixed, and lo and behold, there was another incident very shortly thereafter (I think it was the same day.). The tape recorder malfunctioned on that incident too.

It’s taken as a given among controllers that if a contract controller reports an operational error, he’ll get fired. It’s hard to prove that without evidence. If an FAA controller doesn’t report an error, we know the FAA will take disciplinary action. I know a supervisor that got a three day suspension for failing to report an error. Many proponents of contracting like to point to an Inspector General report that said contract Towers are as safe -- if not safer -- than FAA Towers. Take it for what it’s worth. Use your judgment. One guy might get fired if he reports an error. The other guy might get fired if he doesn’t report an error. What do you think the safety statistics would show ?

Minimal staffing, minimal insurance, minimal accountability. You get what you pay for. You might want to consider that if you live under an area where airplanes fly. And in that the FAA has contracted out the Flight Services Stations, it isn’t just areas around contract Towers, it’s everywhere.

”Collins' plane crashed onto the roof of Midwestern Medical Center in Zion, injuring people there and killing him and his passenger, Herman Luscher. Student pilot Sharon Hock's plane crashed into the street, killing her. “

It could be worse. You could live in Iraq and have to deal with our contractors over there.

Don Brown
September 30, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

Privatization Fetish

Just in case you missed it, Paul Krugman hit another one out of the park. Man ! I wish I could write like this:

”Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies. “

Let’s not forget the FAA. I’m lucky if I can come up with one memorable point per day. Krugman gets a half dozen per column.

”You might think that national security would take precedence over the fetish for privatization — but remember, President Bush tried to keep airport security in private hands, even after 9/11.“

Read the whole thing.

Don Brown
September 28, 2007

A Job Well Done

Listen up all you grumpy aviation guys. You know, the ones that say the media never gets it right. Well the folks at WREG TV in Memphis did.

Here’s the print version of the story and be sure to watch the video version (click on the little red camera on the left side of their web page.)

Once you’ve done that -- and if you agree they did an excellent job -- take the time to let them know about it. Here’s all the e-mail contact information.

If you’re like me and you’ve fired off a e-mail or two at some hapless reporter that couldn’t understand what it took us years to understand...

Take the time to fire off an e-mail letting them know it was a job well done.

Don Brown
September 28, 2007

Brace for Impact

This can’t be good.

President Bush has summoned his secretary of transportation and the acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration to a meeting on Thursday to discuss air traffic delays in New York and around the country. “

There’s a lesson I learned when working for the FAA. When the FAA takes the action that you’ve been recommending...

”The F.A.A. will also meet with airline executives to consider options, including the possibility of reimposing slot controls... “

...they’ll mess it up. Every time.

I know, I know. You just can’t make some folks happy. The Administration is looking at what I’m been saying to look at and I’m still not happy. Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Later on in the New York Times article quoted above you’ll see this.

”... among the ideas under consideration is congestion pricing, in which airlines would be charged more for landing at busy periods. “

And you will continue to see that in every news piece that checks with the Administration for information (which will be all of them.)

As I’ve stated before, I’m somewhat ambivalent about a market-based approach. What I’m looking for is what works. Congestion pricing might work. It might not work. Working out a market-based system is going to be a sticky matter. Fighting over who gets to keep the money always is. But let me put it another way. It’s going to take time -- a lot of time -- to work out.

On the other hand, history has taught us what does work (slot restrictions) and we can implement them right now. Or the FAA Administrator can. It’s the law.

United States Code -- Title 14: Aeronautics and Space

93.130   Suspension of allocations.

The Administrator may suspend the effectiveness of any allocation prescribed in §93.123 and the reservation requirements prescribed in §93.125 if he finds such action to be consistent with the efficient use of the airspace. Such suspension may be terminated whenever the Administrator determines that such action is necessary for the efficient use of the airspace.

(emphasis added)

I know that reads “backwards” (they’re lawyers, what do you expect ?) but in short, the “high density rule” can be suspended or enforced, as needed, by the Administrator. The “high density rule” applies to LaGuardia, Newark, Kennedy, O'Hare, and Washington National Airports. And as should be obvious, the “Administrator” (aka the Bush Administration) has chosen not to enforce it and will continue not to enforce it for as long as politically possible.

Please notice I didn’t say for as long as is safely possible or (as the law says) “is necessary for the efficient use of the airspace.” We passed those points some time ago.

Hey ! I know. Let’s privatize it. Don’t let them make you lose the flick folks. Privatization is still the end game -- just as it has been from the start. Brace for impact.

Don Brown
September 28, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 27

A short two-for-one today.

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

” Sep 27, 1956: CAA announced the formation of a team of aviation specialists to provide technical assistance and guidance to Afghanistan in developing a national airways system. Under the sponsorship of the International Cooperation Administration, the modernization program called for loans and expenditures totaling $14,560,000 to expand Afghanistan’s air transportation facilities. ”

” Sep 27, 1987: California became the first state to ban smoking on all intrastate trips by airline, bus, or train. In addition, the bill required that at least 75 percent of the space in airports and public transit centers be set aside for nonsmokers. The bill became effective Jan 1, 1988. (See Apr 23, 1988.) ”

Don Brown
September 27, 2007

Not So Lucky Guess

A funny thing happens when you pay attention. Occasionally, you “guess” right. (Scroll down two blog entries to read my guess or click here.)

”Harris FTI Deficiencies Continue to Risk Safety Around the Country”

“ At fault is the FAA’s failure to address serious deficiencies in Harris Corporation’s Federal Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI), which provides circuitry and communications for the FAA.”

My favorite part of the press release from PASS came later.

”The FAA has spent billions of dollars replacing what they deemed to be antiquated telecommunications systems; ironically, the antiquated systems operated much more successfully and safely than what Harris FTI is providing. “

This is such a “target-rich environment” I hardly know where to start. Seriously, you could spend all day just reading the links I found it ten minutes and you don’t have to take my word for it. Go to Google and type in “+FAA +FTI” (or just click on the link) and you can read all day.

"You're sitting on a program that if it doesn't explode is going to implode in a pretty major way," said one aviation expert with close knowledge of the project who is critical of the Harris contract. "This is to FAA what the Challenger was to NASA. We think there is going to be a significant outage."

But if you’ll type in “+FAA +FTI +Mica” you will see a link from a fellow that writes a blog that we all know and love -- The Main Bang.

Follow The Money, Part One

“Despite the known safety-related problems directly attributed to the FTI program, Congressman John Mica was adamant then that the program should continue.”

Congressman John Mica is the Representative of the Florida 7th Congressional District. He is the ranking Republican on the House Aviation Subcommittee, which means he was the Chairman until the Democrats became the majority party last election. NATCA and ex-Chairman Mica -- as they say -- have history.

Don Brown
September 27, 2007

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More Info on ZME Outage

Here’s more information on the outage at Memphis Center yesterday from USA Today.

Don Brown
September 26, 2007

Don’t Snooze News

Some of you may have caught the news yesterday -- the Memphis Air Route Traffic Control Center (aka Memphis Center -- ZME) declared “ATC Zero”. In short, that means ZME was out of business.

Here’s the AP News story about it.

Planes Grounded Over Equipment Failure

The ever-helpful FAA spokespeople evidently helped the AP News explain (away) the problem.

”The problem started when a major telephone line to the Memphis center went out at 12:35 p.m. EDT. The Federal Aviation Administration said air-traffic control operations were back to normal about three hours later.”

There’s one little tiny problem you might miss in that statement -- the “telephone line” carries the radar data too.

It helps if you know where to look and what to look for. Let me help.

”"We had a catastrophic failure of communications," said Walt Cochran, director of Eastern En Route and Oceanic Operations. ATO Technical Operations Services is investigating why most of the center's radio and radar equipment failed.”

(emphasis added)

Speaking of knowing where to look. If you’re interested in finding out what really happened, keep your eye on the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s (NATCA) and the Professional Airways System Specialist’s (PASS) web sites . The questions that need to be answered are why was there a “catastrophic failure” of three separate, safety-critical systems -- the radios, the telephones and the radars. Please don’t tell me that some contractor put all three of those systems on one telephone line. You also need to ask, “Just exactly what does a controller do when he’s suddenly finds himself (effectively) deaf, dumb and blind.” I already know he’s going to whip out his cellphone that the FAA says he can’t use in the control room. But what does he do ?

There are a whole bunch of questions. When a Center fails, the surrounding facilities (other Centers and Approach Controls) are supposed to take over their airspace. You might want to ask yourself how you’re supposed to do that if controllers can’t talk to each other on the telephone. You might also want to ask yourself how an understaffed facility (like virtually every facility in the FAA) is supposed to take on this huge workload. And seeing as the radar is out too, how does the new controller “see” anything ? Would this be a good time to mention that URET isn’t certified for non radar operations ? Hmmm, and how did that new and improved, contracted out Flight Service respond ?

I could go on (and on) but before I lose you, do you remember this ?

” The FTI program is part of the FAA’s modernization plan, but according to PASS officials, the program is maintained by untrained contractors and has been the source of countless outages, delays and safety problems for American travelers. “

(FTI stands for “Federal Telecommunications Infrastructure”.)

I’m betting you don’t remember it, so let me direct your attention to the whole press release with emphasis on this part;

"There have been conflicting reports on the cause of the outage and the number of delays– the original Significant Event Report (SER) stated that the outage was caused by FTI personnel; however, PASS then received the official National Operational Control Center (NOCC) report that said the outage was caused by a misconfiguration and not personnel.”

I hope the truth doesn’t suffer a “catastrophic failure” too. Here’s a thought: Is there any possibility that the press will investigate this incident with the same vigor that they investigated the ComAir 5191 crash ? You know, find out what went wrong and get it fixed before it happens again and somebody dies ? Just a thought. I know our government is the one that should be investigating all this but I’m pretty sure that ship has already sailed.

Don Brown
September 26, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 26

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

”Sep 26, 1964: The Bureau of Budget released the first significant amount of hardware-procurement funds for modernizing the National Airspace System (NAS). These funds were specifically designated for installing the first complete NAS En Route Stage A configuration (FAA's semiautomated system for en route air traffic control) at the ARTCC at Jacksonville, Fla. (See Feb 1, 1967.) Modernization of both the en route and terminal air traffic control subsystems of NAS had been recommended in 1961 by the Project Beacon task force (see Sep 11, 1961). The modernization was a long-range program that would require a decade or longer to fully implement.

The air traffic control system targeted for replacement was essentially a manually operated system employing radar, general purpose computers, radio communications, and air traffic controllers. Only five ARTCCs (New York, Boston, Washington, Cleveland, and Indianapolis) had computers capable of processing flight data, calculating flight progress, checking for errors, and distributing flight data to control sectors. The old system had a two-dimensional radar display, which permitted controllers to view only an aircraft's range and bearing. Vital information such as altitude and identity was obtained through voice contact with the pilot or from the flight plan. To retain the correct identity of an aircraft target, controllers were required to tag the targets with plastic markers (known as "shrimp boats") and move the markers by hand across the radar display. The planned semiautomated system would perform these functions automatically, faster, and more accurately than the controller. Properly equipped aircraft would report their altitude, identity, and other flight data automatically at any given time. The computer processed messages would appear on a radar display next to the aircraft they identified, in the form of alphanumeric symbols which would make the radar display three-dimensional in effect. (See Oct 6, 1964, May 24, 1965, and Dec 30, 1968.) ”

Feb 13, 1973: Ceremonies at the Memphis Air Traffic Control Center celebrated the center’s switch over to computer processing of flight-plan data, completing Phase One of the NAS En Route Stage A, FAA's decade-long program to automate and computerize the nation's en route air traffic control system (see Sep 26, 1964). With the new computer installation at Memphis, all twenty ARTCCs in the contiguous 48 states gained an automatic capability to collect and distribute information about each aircraft's course and altitude to all the sector controllers along its flight path. Pilots still had to file flight plans at flight service stations and military operations offices, but now computers would handle the centers' "bookkeeping functions" of assigning and printing out controller flight strips. The new computers also had the ability to record and distribute any changes registered in aircraft flight plans en route. The system eventually tied in with the Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS III) units then being installed at major airports (see Oct 4, 1971 and Feb 15, 1973). Phase Two of the en route automation program was still under way; it would provide controllers at the twenty centers with new radar displays that would show such vital flight information as altitude and speed directly on the screen. (See Feb 18, 1970 and Jun 14, 1973.)”

”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.”

Would anyone like to bet how long it will take NextGen (which hasn’t even been designed yet) to be completed ?

Don Brown
September 26, 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 25

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

”Sep 25, 1978: A midair collision over San Diego between a Pacific Southwest Airlines Boeing 727 and a Cessna 172 caused more fatalities than any previous civil aviation accident within U.S. airspace. All 137 persons aboard the two aircraft and seven on the ground were killed. Both aircraft were transponder equipped and were operating in clear weather under local air traffic control when they collided at 2,600 feet. Both pilots had been warned of the presence of the other aircraft. The PSA pilot, which was overtaking the smaller plane, had received clearance for visual, "see-and-avoid" separation procedures after reporting to controllers that he had the Cessna in sight.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the accident’s probable cause was the PSA crew’s failure to comply with the provisions of a maintain-visual-separation clearance, including the requirement to inform the controller if they no longer had the other aircraft in sight. The Board cited as a contributing factor the procedures that allowed controllers to authorize visual separation procedures when the capability to provide radar separation was available.

NTSB member Francis H. McAdams dissented, citing the use of visual air traffic control (ATC) procedures as part of the probable cause rather than merely contributory. He also listed a number of contributing factors, mostly inadequacies of the ATC system. Among these were failure to resolve an automated conflict-alert alarm that the approach controller had disregarded on the assumption that the pilots were maintaining visual separation. (NTBS later adopted McAdams’ viewpoint in an Aug 1982 amendment that included both ATC and pilot failings in the probable cause finding.)

The San Diego accident followed another midair collision that had occured on May 10, 1978, between a Falcon Jet and a Cessna 150 over Memphis, Tenn., with the loss of six lives. The NTSB’s finding of probable cause in that case cited the failure of controllers to maintain proper separation as well as the pilots' failure to see and avoid each other. The two accidents set off intense criticism of FAA’s ATC program and the pace of its plans to develop an airborne collision-avoidance system. (See Dec 27, 1978.) ”

There was a very famous photograph of this accident and I could swear it made the cover of Time magazine. I couldn’t find the cover but I did find the Time article on the story while I was searching.

Don Brown
September 25, 2007

Free Lunch

How many times have you heard the expression, “There is no such thing as a free lunch” ? Something that hit me about it the other day...

Why is it, that the guys saying “There is no such thing as a free lunch” always seem to be the guys that own the companies that bought the advertising that tries to convince you that there is indeed a “free lunch” ? Buy One Get One FREE !

You know...the guys that sit around the fancy restaurants, pretending they’re working, when all they’re really doing is padding the expense account -- with a free lunch.

Don Brown
September 25, 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 24

There are a couple of very interesting subjects on this date in history. I decided to go with the part about Frank Lorenzo. If you don’t know who he is, you might want to look him up and get some background on him. I think it safe to say, at least as far as aviation workers, he’s one of the most hated figures in aviation history.

We must first start in 1981 while remembering two significant events. The Airline Deregulation Act became law in 1978. The PATCO strike happened on Aug. 3, 1981.

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

”Aug 6, 1981: The Civil Aeronautics Board approved acquisition of Continental Airlines by Texas International, a subsidiary of Frank Lorenzo's holding company, Texas Air. The transaction was consumated in Oct 1981. A year later, Lorenzo merged Texas International's operations into those of the much larger Continental. (See Sep 24, 1983) ”

Three days after the PATCO strike, Lorenzo gets Continental. The deal is approved by the Civil Aeronautics Board, which was busy going out of existence. The CAB ceased to exist on Jan. 1, 1985. That’s the background for today’s lesson.

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

“Sep 24, 1983: Continental Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 and suspended flights. Frank Lorenzo (chairman of the airline and its parent company, Texas Air) announced on Sep 26 that a "new Continental" was resuming operations, on a discount-fare basis, to about a third of the cities formerly served. He offered to rehire 4,200 of the firm's 12,000 employees at salaries below those paid under their union contracts. Continental's pilots and flight attendants began a strike on Oct 1, but failed to shut down the airline. By the end of 1983, the company employed approximately 700 pilots and 800 flight attendants. (See Feb 6, 1984.)“

Two years and two months after buying it, Frank Lorenzo took Continental into bankruptcy. It might make you wonder about his business skills. But there was another agenda at work here. You must remember, the FAA had just broken its union (PATCO.) Businesses had been given the “green light” to break theirs. As the above says, “(See Feb 6, 1984.)”

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

“Feb 6, 1984: FAA conducted an intensive inspection of Continental Airlines, lasting through Mar 9. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) was on strike against Continental (see Sep 24, 1983), and accused it of unsafe practices. The FAA report cited discrepancies but concluded that overall safety was adequate. (Two members of the inspection team later charged that higher officials had altered their report to make it more favorable to the airline; however, an FBI investigation found no basis to prosecute for impropriety.) In Jun 1984 congressional hearings, ALPA charged that FAA was covering up safety violations by Continental, while FAA testified that the airline was safe. (See Mar 18, 1985.) “

I could “see Mar 18, 1985” but let’s cut to the chase. Let’s go to Nov 15, 1987

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

“Nov 15, 1987: A Continental Airlines DC-9 crashed on takeoff at Denver Stapleton airport, killing 28 of the 82 persons on board. The National Transportation Safety Board cited the probable cause of the crash as the captain's failure to have the airplane deiced a second time after a delay before takeoff. Contributing factors listed by the Board included the absence of regulatory or management controls governing operations by newly qualified flightcrew members and the confusion that existed between the flightcrew and air traffic controllers that led to the delay in departure. (See Dec 12, 1985 and Mar 22, 1992.)“

I know you thought you were done but not yet. Remember that real life is complicated. Historians try to cover complicated periods and events to get down the crux of things. But sometimes, the brush is just too broad. For instance, did you really catch the significance of “Contributing factors listed by the Board included the absence of regulatory or management controls governing operations by newly qualified flightcrew members... ?

Regulatory -- FAA, Airline Deregulation
Management -- Frank Lorenzo

The “absence” of those led to the “captain’s failure.” Read this from the NTSB’s report concerning the accident. Sorry for the ALL CAPITALS and the abbreviations. That’s the way the NTSB writes the report. “CAPT” is Captain of the aircraft. “F/O” is the First Officer (or copilot.) “PLT” is pilot.


The Carter Administration deregulated the airline industry. The Reagan Administration declared war on unions. The FAA, which had busted its own union, overruled the concerns of Continental’s pilot union (ALPA) and said “safety was adequate.” Two members of the FAA’s own inspection team make charges serious enough to bring about an FBI investigation. When additional charges of an FAA coverup were made, the FAA still told Congress that Continental was “safe.”

Three years later a Continental DC-9 is upside down in the snow and 28 people are dead. I can’t help but wonder how happy people were with their “cheap” ticket.

The consequences of our actions aren’t always immediately visible. In an endeavor as safe as modern aviation, it can take years to see how a policy plays out. History is being played out -- right now -- in front of your very eyes. The consequences may take years to notice. Or maybe not. But there will be consequences. History is the only guide as to what they may be.

Don Brown
September 24, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bush Does it Again

Saying “we told you so” is getting real old. Even if it’s true and needs to be said.

Analysts at the Government Accountability Office have voted to join a union, a first at the 86-year-old agency.

It seems as if the harder the Republicans try to kill off unions the more people decide they need a union. Maybe one day they’ll just leave well enough alone.

Nah, I don’t really think they will either.

”The GAO is an agency of Congress that audits federal programs and ferrets out waste, fraud and mismanagement in the executive branch. It is widely regarded as a prestigious place to work in Washington and was ranked No. 2 in a "best places to work" index this year. “

If you can imagine how bad your employer must be treating you to form a union at the “No. 2 best place to work” in government you can just imagine how horrible things are at the FAA, which was tied for last place.

It ain’t just us. Read the article. Everybody in government is looking for a union to protect themselves from this Administration. What’s that ? You say you wish you could form a union to protect you and your fellow workers ? That’s right. It is harder in the private sector. It can get you fired (despite what the law says.) Gee...I wonder who made it that way ?

Here’s a history lesson of a different kind. The Taft-Hartley Act. That would be Senator Robert Taft (Republican - Ohio) and Representative Fred Hartley (Republican - New Jersey).

Browse through those links and see what looks familiar.

Don Brown
September 22, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sleepy, Grumpy and Dopey

I was watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night. Former President Bill Clinton was his guest, doing the usual book promotion. President Clinton took the opportunity to express his belief that many members of Congress are sleep deprived.

I thought that an odd subject for an ex-President to talk about. As you can imagine, controllers know a little about sleep deprivation. Everybody knows about the crazy shifts that controllers work, now, thanks to ComAir 5191 crashing at Lexington, KY. The gist of the conversation was, Congressmen -- especially from the west side of the country -- have to commute back and forth from their homes to Washington D.C. One of the reasons they have to go back and forth so much is to raise money for their next election campaign. President Clinton commented about how that makes them edgy. Grumpy (if you will) from lack of sleep. He also made a few other comments about how their lifestyles have changed -- and how that has changed the relationships Congressmen have with each other. Fair enough. But I wanted to go on my own tangent.

Let’s think about our Congressional Representatives for a moment. In order to keep it from getting too abstract, let’s look at it from a personal level. I want you to pick someone you know -- someone you think would be a good Congressman (or Congresswoman.) Speaking of which, do you know one ? I mean personally -- like he’s your friend. Why not ? Keep that question in mind and I’ll try to keep on track.

What would you look for in a potential Congressman ? Intelligence would obviously be on the list. Hopefully, honesty and integrity would be too. That’s all well and good but again -- still a little abstract. Would you limit yourself to lawyers ? After all, a Congressman helps write laws so its kind of a natural fit. Do you know any lawyers ? Out of all the lawyers you know, can you pick one that has the qualities you are looking for ? Do you want to limit yourself to just lawyers ? It’s not a disqualification but I don’t think we want to make it a qualification.

Honest, integrity, intelligence. What else ? I’d want at least a certain amount of leadership ability. The ability to manage a staff at a minimum. He or she can’t be an expert in everything and they’ll have to delve into a wide range of issues so I’d think a broad knowledge base would be a bonus. Someone that keeps up with things, that knows what is going on in the country and the world.

Is anybody coming to mind yet ? Remember, I want it to be somebody you know -- personally. Joe, Jim, Bob, Mike, Pat, Susan, David, somebody. Think about it for 2 minutes. Just 2 lousy minutes out of your life. Pick somebody. Pick a name. I’ll wait.

Got a name ? Good. I’m going to say I picked “Bob”. “Bob” is one of the brightest people I know. I couldn’t begin to tell you where he went to college (or even if) much less what he majored in. All I know is he’s smart, he’s capable and I’d trust him with my life. More to the point, I’d trust him with my children’s lives. He’s just a good, solid man. I’m sure you feel the same way about your pick.

So, now, how do we get “Bob” elected ? First, you have to get him to say, “Yes.” Again, lets keep it personal. Imagine walking up to your pick and saying, “Bob (or whoever), I want you to run for Congress.” Now there’s a way to start a conversation. How long would it take before you could convince your “Bob” that you were serious ? It all sounds just a little too unreal doesn’t it ? It shouldn’t.

But back to that getting elected thing. How do you do it ? You don’t have to think about that for more than 2 seconds to realize it will take a minimum of two things -- money and people. “Bob” isn’t a rich man. He’s done well but he’s not rich. Running for office costs money.

The average Congressional campaign cost just over $1 million in 2002.  The average Senate campaign cost over $3 million.

What ? You thought President Clinton was kidding about having to attend fundraisers ? Where is your “Bob” going to get a million dollars ? Every two years ? Remember, the House is up for election every two years. If you believe in your “Bob”, if you want him to go to Washington and be smart and be honest and to do good (like you know he is capable of doing) it’s going to take him more that 2 years. Or, if you decide you know somebody better than “Bob” you’ve still got the same problem -- where do you get a million dollars to get him elected ?

Let me stop and ask you a different question. How many times have you donated money to a political campaign ?

Think about your poor “Bob.” This is (supposedly) a friend of yours. Would you put him on this path ? He’ll spend four nights a week in Washington -- working for you -- and then he’ll fly home Friday night for the weekend. Remember, he needs money to run for office. He doesn’t have friends in Washington. His friends -- the ones that will donate to his campaign -- are back in your state. And while he’s there at home, he’ll have to raise money. How long do you think it’ll be before his wife and kids hate you for getting him elected ? He’s working seven days a week, the phone never stops ringing and everywhere he goes he has to ask for money.

I hope I’ve gone far enough down this path that you’ll be encouraged to follow it a little further. For instance, there are plenty of people in Washington that would be all too willing to throw money at your “Bob”. He could stay in Washington, eat dinner for free and still raise the money he needs to get reelected. All he has to do is listen to them instead of you. If he listens, he won’t have to fly coach when he wants to go back home either. His friends, his real friends -- the ones that will put their money where their mouth is -- will give him a ride back home when he needs it. Besides, they can have a nice chat during the trip and your “Bob” can “listen” a little more.

Each Congressional District has approximately 700,000 people in it. For a dollar a year (times 2 years) we could provide public financing for a House race. $1.4 million dollars.

Public financing of campaigns isn’t a new idea. That doesn’t make it a bad idea. One thing I’m certain of though -- we need a different idea than the one we have. We can choose the people we want to represent us or we can continue letting these guys choose. Personally, I’m tired of Grumpy, Sleepy and Dopey.

If you want some decent people to represent you, then you need to think about the job we’re asking them to do. It’s hard to think of a more important job but we need to think about the details. We’ve thought of the skills they’ll need. At some point, we have to ask what they should be able to reasonably ask of us. What would you want in terms of pay, benefits and perks ? Do you want to pay the mortgage on two houses (one in D.C. and one at home) on $165,200 a year ? Do you want to fly coach every Friday night and Monday morning ? Do you want to attend a fundraiser every other night ? Do you want them to have to hold their hand out everywhere they go, asking for money ?

Keep in mind, your “Bob” may be thinking you’re “Bob.”

Don Brown
September 21, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 20

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

” Sep 20, 1959: FAA commissioned the San Antonio air traffic control center's new building, the first in a program to construct 32 new center facilities. Located in most cases away from airports to permit more space and to withstand nuclear attack on critical target areas, the buildings had an expandable design to facilitate installation and use of the latest equipment. By the end of 1960, 15 of the centers were under construction or completed. ”

The controllers out there will be quick to note a few facts that may escape the “civilians.” First, there is no longer a San Antonio Center. Second, there are no longer 32 Centers. There are now only 20. You’ll hear the term “facility consolidation” often in the coming months. It is nothing new. However, there are many reasons (good reasons) for having many facilities. Withstanding “nuclear attack” was just one of them. Withstanding the forces of nature (wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.) is another. We’ve already covered the reason that so many Centers were being built at the same time.

This is a good lesson to store away in the ole memory bank for future use. When the next “Big One” comes along, you’ll have an idea as to what needs to be done.

”The Board determines that the probable cause of this mid-air collision was...inadequacy of facilities and lack of personnel in air traffic control.

The future may be closer than any of us want to think about.

Don Brown
September 20, 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Oh Happy Day

It’s a gorgeous day. The high temp for the day was 79, the humidity is only 40% and the wind was blowing at about 10-15 mph most of the day. I don’t think we Southerners mention that enough. The heat and humidity of summer are usually accompanied by still air. Or as my grandparents used to say, “not a breath of air.” You not only cook, you get to stew in your own juices -- sweating endlessly but never cooling. But not today. Although it was warm is the sun, it was delightful in the shade.

Marion Blakey is gone, the weather is great -- how could this day get any better ? Well, Paul Krugman could start a blog.

The Conscience of a Liberal.

And he did. It’s a beaut -- right out of the gate.

Introducing This Blog

”Most people assume that this rise in inequality was the result of impersonal forces, like technological change and globalization. But the great reduction of inequality that created middle-class America between 1935 and 1945 was driven by political change;...”

“Political change.” Paul Krugman has a vision of a better America and an ability to explain things that I can only dream of. I hope you’ll enjoy reading his thoughts as much as I do.

Don Brown
September 19,2007

A Moment of Your Time

Sometimes, I can be so incredibly slow. There’s a fight going on and some of you may want in on it. I should have said something earlier.

The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill is winding through Congress. NATCA is asking people to support HR2881 and has (of course) made it easy for you to do so. Just follow the link below and fill out the form.

Union Voice -- HR2881

I realize some might not want to leave their personal information. I did. And I’ve done so many times before on this site. Even if you don’t, it’ll give you a quick overview of the issue and at the very least, you can “cut and paste” the letter into a private e-mail and send it to your own Congressional Representative.

HR2881 is the same bill that AOPA is asking its members to support.

Take a moment of your time. Speak out and be heard. It’s your country.

Don Brown
September 19, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 18, 2007

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

”Sep 18, 1974: Transportation Secretary Claude S. Brinegar announced the Ford Administration's decision not to ask Congress to subsidize the nation's financially troubled flag carriers, Pan American and Trans World Airlines. Instead, the Administration continued to pursue an "action plan" to assist the two airlines through a variety of means that did not involve subsidy or new legislation. Congress, however, passed the International Air Transportation Fair Competitive Practices Act of 1974. As signed on Jan 3, 1975, this law included provisions designed to raise overseas mail rates, require Federal agencies to use U.S. flag carriers whenever possible, and control rebates by shippers and ticket agents. The law mandated negotiations aimed at protecting U.S. flag carriers from discriminatory landing fees and airport charges, and directed the Secretary of Transportation to impose retaliatory fees against the airlines of nations that failed to respond. (See Feb 15, 1980) ”

Don Brown
September 18, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Krugman For Everybody !

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Paul Krugman. Unfortunately, his columns have been hidden behind the firewall at TimesSelect -- the pay portion of The New York Times. That ends tonight.

Times to End Charges on Web Site

This makes a very nice ending to a very nice day. See ya tomorrow.

Don Brown
September 17, 2007

Dilberts at the FAA

Scott Adams is a funny man. A nice man too. Back at the dawn of the internet, he wrote a series of his Dilbert comics on air traffic control. The image that stuck in my mind was the guys installing an old wall clock (an analog one with the “hands”) and calling it a radar. Anyway, I wrote Mr. Adams, thanking him for the laugh and he wrote right back. It’s funny how little things like that stick with you.

I see he hasn’t lost his touch. He’s still nailing the FAA. Of course, it might be your boss too. See if this looks familiar.

Don Brown
September 17, 2007

Can You Feel It ?

As much as I hate summer in Georgia, I love the fall. It’s 12 Noon here, south of Atlanta, Georgia.

Temperature -- 72 degrees
Humidity -- 60 percent
Wind -- From the East at 10 mph
And the sky is BLUE

There’s barely a tinge in any of the foliage but I can feel it. Fall is in the air.

Where’s my hammock ?

Don Brown
September 17, 2007

Mile Markers

It may have escaped your notice. Get the Flick passed 50,000 “hits” the other day. It certainly isn’t earth-shattering news in the world of blogs. Toss in the fact that Get the Flick will be a year old in a few more days and it’s even less impressive.

Be that as it may, I’m having a good time and I thank you for reading. My musings aren’t nearly as exciting as reading about a childish, blonde girl apparently named after a hotel in France...although I’ve often wondered what the mention of her name with the word “naked” in the same sentence would do to the “hit” counter. The internet is indeed a curious place.

But back to the subject at hand. I’m thinking of making a few slight changes to Get the Flick and thought I’d encourage you to throw your two thoughts in for consideration.

For those that haven’t already figured it out, you can e-mail me by looking at the left side of the page and clicking on “View my complete profile”. That will take you to my profile page and you’ll see “Email” on the left side.

Most people that know me know that I always approach change slowly and cautiously. Just something to keep in mind should you decide to write. I wouldn’t want to waste your time. Requests for pictures of Paris Hilton: Naked will not be entertained.

Don Brown
September 17, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 16

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

” Sep 16, 1996: FAA announced the award of a contract to build the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) to a team led by Raytheon (see Dec 13, 1993). Under the contract, the team would develop and install new computers, displays and software for terminal radar approach control facilities (TRACONs). This joint procurement involved new equipment for up to 172 FAA and 199 DOD facilities. On Sep 17, FAA announced that the Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON was now operating an updated Automated Radar Terminal System IIIE (ARTS IIIE), the first of several new ARTS IIIEs that would provide improvements pending STARS implementation. ”

From the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s web site

FAA's mismanagement of the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) has put the future of Terminal Automation in jeopardy - The STARS program provides a much-needed digital air traffic control system for managing terminal area airspace. But the FAA's deployment continues to be hampered by numerous technological and software problems, resulting in high cost overruns and delays. As a result, the program has been drastically curtailed, with the FAA chopping its budget. Currently, the largest facility to which STARS has been deployed is Philadelphia and it continues to deal with operational problems and failures. STARS has experienced a 7 year delay in deployment and has been reduced from 172 facilities to 47 facilities. In addition, the ASR-11 program (a new digitized radar system that was supposed to be deployed in conjunction with STARS) has been delayed 8 years and was reduced by more than $46 million for FY 2004-05. “

Don Brown
September 16, 2007

Saturday, September 15, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 15

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

”Sep 15, 1928: The Aeronautics Branch published civil aviation accident statistics for the first half of 1928. There was a total of 390 accidents, of which 34 occurred in scheduled flying, 69 in student instruction, 17 in experimental operations, and 270 in miscellaneous flying. Assigned causes blamed pilot error for 43.29 percent of the accidents, engine failure for 16.59 percent, weather for 10.23 percent, and airport or terrain for 8.72 percent. There was a total of 153 fatalities and 276 injuries. Only six of the fatalities occurred in scheduled flying.”

Whenever I write these things I always wind up going off on some tangent (or two.) Nineteen hundred and twenty eight. What the heck was flying back then ? I decided to look and settled on the Sikorsky S-38. It’s maiden flight was in 1928 so it was the “latest-greatest” at the time. I thought this site might give you a feel for the era.

As I was searching around Wikipedia for what was happening in the world of aviation in 1928, I couldn’t help but notice these two blurbs.

”January 6-8 - Lt Christian Schilt makes ten flights in an O2U Corsair to evacuate wounded marines from the besieged village of Quilali, Nicaragua. He is awarded the Medal of Honor.”

”December 12 - Royal Air Force Vickers Victorias evacuate British civilians from Kabul.”

I wonder if, in 80 years, somebody will be saying, “What the heck were the Americans doing in Kabul back in ‘07 ?”

Don Brown
September 15, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mark Your Calendar

This ought to be fun. Hopefully C-SPAN will carry the hearing.

Congressman Jerry F. Costello 12th District, Illinois

For Release: Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Contact: David Gillies: 202-225-5661


Washington - U.S. Congressman Jerry Costello (D-IL), Chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, today issued the following statement in response to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey’s comments yesterday regarding airlines needing to do more to improve scheduling and reduce delays:

“While I wish Administrator Blakey would have made these remarks in January, when they might have had some effect on the summer travel season, I guess they are better late than never. As she also noted, the FAA has all the authority it needs to take action in regard to scheduling and delays, as it has done in the past. I have been making similar points all year, and the Aviation Subcommittee will hold another hearing on aviation consumer issues on September 26. Examining what the airlines are doing to address delays and why the FAA has failed to step in to address the scheduling issue will be a major focus of the hearing.”

Don Brown
September 13, 2007

Heavens to Murgatroyd !

I had decided to give this story a pass -- the constant bad news about the FAA is depressing -- but I decided I couldn’t pass on the title.

” Tricia and Joe Murgatroyd are packing up and moving out. the couple is heading to the east coast for new jobs.

They've been working as trainees at the Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center in Fremont, but after nearly a year the Murgatroyds have had it.”

"”It's pretty sad when people you don't know come up to you and congratulate you for quitting. You should never be congratulated on quitting," said former FAA employee Tricia Murgatroyd.”

Yes, it is pretty sad, Tricia. I hope you won’t think poorly of the controllers congratulating you or of me, for using your good name to promote a sad story.

For those (like me) that don’t know , Murgatroyd is an old English name (like 1371 AD old) from Yorkshire.

Good luck Tricia and Joe. You deserve better from your government. Of course, so do the other controllers at Oakland Center and the taxpayers. Here’s hoping for a better day, someday.

Don Brown
September 13, 2007

Bye-Bye Blakey

Today marks Marion Blakey’s exit as the 15th Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. If she is better remembered than William F. McKee, John H. Schaffer or John L. McLucas, it won’t be because of her accomplishments. She will be remembered by thousands of controllers. She won’t be remembered with fondness.

I suspect history will put her in the category of just another soldier following orders. Those orders came (ostensibly) from President Bush through the Secretary of Transportation. I think it worth noting that the voiding of the contract with air traffic controllers occurred during the absence of a Secretary of Transportation. Norm Mineta -- the only Democrat serving on the Bush Cabinet -- resigned as the Secretary of Transportation on July 7, 2006. The FAA imposed their work rules on September 3, 2006. I wonder if imposing those work rules was an order that Mr. Mineta wasn’t going to carry out. Hopefully, one day, history will tell us.

Regardless, Ms. Blakey did carry them out. She did so in true Republican political fashion. She choose Labor Day as the day to implement them -- a political statement almost as cruel in its symbolism as Ronald Reagan’s speech about “State’s Rights” in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

I guess it will come as no surprise to you that, in imposing those work rules, she broke her word.

You see, two years previously, she had signed a contract -- on behalf of the United States government -- that agreed to a two year extension of the last negotiated contract between the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Federal Aviation Administration. That contract reads in part’ “If negotiations are not completed prior to the expiration date, this Agreement shall remain in full force and effect until a new Agreement is reached.“. You can color it anyway you like but imposing work rules on your workforce isn’t an “Agreement.” The President’s name isn’t on that contract, the Congress’ name isn’t on it -- Marion Blakey’s name is.

There are all sorts of legal arguments that Ms. Blakey can fall back on -- rationalizations and justifications. There always are. They may earn her accolades in the halls of business and a half-million dollar salary in her next career. But in my world -- in the world of air traffic controllers -- your word means something.

Don Brown
September 13, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Believe it or Not

Maybe I should read the news before I pick the day’s history lesson.

Cut delays or else, airlines told

Or I could just stick with being lucky.

While you’re reading the story be sure to click on the link “ON BLAKEY: Departing FAA chief comes under fire”. I haven’t read it yet but I’m sure it will be of interest.

Don Brown
September 12, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 12

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

” Sep 12, 1984: Airline representatives reached agreement on rescheduling flights to avoid congestion during peak hours at six major airports: New York's La Guardia and Kennedy; Newark International; Chicago O'Hare; Atlanta Hartsfield; and Denver Stapleton. The representatives forged the agreement in eight days of intense negotiations with FAA participation and with the understanding that FAA might impose new regulations if no voluntary solution was found. The Civil Aeronautics Board granted immunity from anti-trust laws to those engaged in the talks, and later approved the agreement. Writing to the Air Transport Association on Mar 12, 1985, FAA Administrator Engen cited steps taken to reduce delays and indications that the airlines would not return to excess peak-time operations. Engen therefore stated that the scheduling agreement need not continue beyond Apr 1.

(emphasis added)

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Thanks to Barry (C90) and Mark (ZKC) for their help in picking out today’s lesson. “Reporting live from the Communicating for Safety conference in Atlanta, Georgia, this is....”

Don Brown
September 12, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fear in America

There will be many words written on this day -- 9/11/07. Most, if not all, will be better than mine. My wife questioned whether it was wise on our part, to be hanging around the world’s busiest airport on this day. The fear is in our minds. We’re here anyway.

On trying occasions, I usually turn to Winston Churchill for words of wisdom. He rarely lets me down.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

America has enemies. And it has indeed “stood up” for something in it’s short life. More than once. One of those times was for Mr. Churchill and his countrymen. We did so with much hesitation and much reluctance. At least until another fateful day in history.

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

I think it worth remembering (while we’re remembering) that America and England were once bitter enemies. We slaughtered each other by the thousands -- before we became powerful allies and slaughtered our common enemies by the millions.

We “won” the First World War. It turned out to be a hollow victory. A short time later the world was at war again. This time -- due to the vision of a very few -- we won the peace. We rebuilt the nations of our enemies -- Japan and Germany -- and they are now among our strongest allies.

I have no doubt that we will win the current war (if you can call it that) we find ourselves in. The question I have is, “Will we win the peace ?” We have bungled the war in Iraq. I’m not sure we are doing any better in the “War on Terror.” Even though our military quickly “won” in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is winning the peace that is proving difficult. Without that victory, we will be back at war, time and time again.

“The price of greatness is responsibility.”

America seems all too eager to accept the title of greatness. I have serious doubts about our willingness to accept the responsibility.

”The problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult.”

Don Brown
September 11, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 10

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

”Sep 10, 1976: A British Airways Trident and a Yugoslav DC-9 collided over Zagreb, Yugoslavia, killing all 176 occupants of the two airplanes, a higher toll than in any previous civil midair collision. In May 1977, a Yugoslav court sentenced an air traffic controller to 7 years in prison for negligence in handling the two aircraft, the first known criminal prosecution of a civilian controller for negligent performance of duties.”

Evidently, September isn’t a very good month for air traffic control. I didn’t plan to run two midair collision stories back to back -- it just happened that way. Sometimes, I do have a choice as to what to publish for a certain date in history. That doesn’t mean it’s always a pleasant choice. For instance, look at this other entry for today and think about tomorrow’s date.

”Sep 10, 1960: The Department of Defense conducted Operation Sky-Shield, a giant air defense drill, which necessitated the grounding of all commercial and general aviation aircraft throughout the North American continent for a six-hour period. “

Don Brown
September 10, 2007

Sunday, September 09, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 9

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

”Sep 9, 1969: A midair collision near Fairland, Ind., killed all 83 people aboard the aircraft involved, an Allegheny Airlines DC-9 and a Piper PA-28. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) listed the probable cause as deficiencies of the air traffic control system in a terminal area with mixed instrument flight rules (IFR) and visual flight rules (VFR) traffic. The cited deficiencies included the inadequacy of the see-and-avoid concept under the circumstances, lack of regulations to provide an adequate separation system for mixed VFR/IFR traffic in terminal areas, and the technical limitations of radar in detecting all aircraft. In response to NTSB recommendations, FAA agreed to expedite research into enhancing radar detection through a passive device to be carried by smaller aircraft. Meanwhile, the agency moved toward greatly improved radar detection by requirements for radar beacons (transponders) aboard aircraft in designated terminal areas (see Jun 25, 1970). ”

If you’re thinking that this story sound eerily familiar that would be because it is.

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.

Don Brown
September 9, 2007

Saturday, September 08, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 8

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

” Sep 8, 1993: An administrative law judge recommended that DOT deny the application of Friendship Airlines, later renamed ATX, to operate as an air carrier. The company had been founded by former Texas Air chairman Frank Lorenzo. Although DOT ordered the judge to reopen hearings, he reconfirmed his recommendation on Dec 22. On Apr 5, 1994, DOT rejected the application, citing past safety and regulatory compliance problems experienced by airlines run by Lorenzo. ”

Just in case some of the younger folks out there don’t remember Frank Lorenzo, you really should read up on him. Trust me, he’s one history lesson you don’t ever want to repeat.

”By the mid-1980s, he had acquired a reputation for vicious business practices that were particularly unfair to the labor force. By filing for bankruptcy at different points in his career, he was able to bypass unionized labor and impose harsh working conditions on the employees of his various corporations.”

Sound like anybody you know ?

”I’ve said it on several occasions: I cannot and will not sign a contract we cannot afford. -- Marion Blakey, May 19, 2006

Don Brown
September 8, 2007

Friday, September 07, 2007

She’s Got Legs

I don’t know where the saying comes from but you’ve probably heard news people say it too -- “this story has legs.”

The outgoing FAA Administrator (Marion Blakey) announced she has a new job as head of the AIA, a few days ago. Then she signed a contract with ITT for the new ADS-B system the FAA (via Marion Blakey) has been touting. To the tune of $1.8 billion dollars of taxpayer’s money. Well, ITT is a member of (you guessed it) AIA.

The Daily Koz has picked it up and so has another blog called Jetwhine. The story was first put together by our friends over at The FAA Follies.

It’s interesting. The are worse things that Marion Blakey has done during her tenure at the FAA. Things that will have a much longer and more damaging effect on the organization charged with ensuring air safety. The willful destruction of the controller workforce being one of the worst. But if this is the story that causes the public to lift up the corner of the rug to see what has been swept under it...I hope those “legs” start walking.

Don Brown
September 7, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 7

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

”Sep 7, 1993: Vice President Albert Gore released the report of the National Performance Review, a study of the operations of the Federal government that Gore had led during the past six months. The report made recommendations intended to streamline government and make it more cost beneficial. Proposals concerning aviation included: terminating Federal grant funding for FAA higher education programs; cutting Essential Air Service subsidies; increasing FAA fees for inspection of foreign repair facilities; and contracting for the operation of low activity (Level 1) air traffic control facilities. The report’s most far reaching recommendation concerning FAA was its proposal for creating a government-owned corporation to provide air traffic control services (see Jan 6 and May 3, 1994). ”

(emphasis in the original publication)

I imagine this piece of history might shock a few of the younger controllers. Yes, it was a Democratic administration that started contracting out Towers and tried to “corporatize” the FAA. I thought they were wrong then and I think the Republican administration is wrong now. Interestingly, Congress has pretty much stayed consistent in its opposition too (after contracting out the Level I towers), even though control the House and the Senate has changed parties on occasion.

If you’d like to read about USATS -- that was the name of the proposed corporation -- you can start with this press release from the NBAA. They’ve stayed consistent in their opposition too.

Don Brown
September 7, 2007

Thursday, September 06, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 6

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

”Sep 6, 1990: A new Air Force One made its maiden voyage. The specially designed Boeing 747, and its identical backup plane, replaced two twenty-year-old Boeing 707s.”

It seems as if every air traffic controller has an Air Force One story. It’s hard to beat the “cool factor” of being a controller. The first time you ever work the flight it hits you -- this isn’t an ordinary job.

Oh well. Did you know you can buy a stamp with Air Force One on it ? Marine One too. The things I find out, writing for you...

Don Brown
September 6, 2007

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


There’s no other word for it. This is insane.

As most of you know, I retired from Atlanta Center less than a year ago. We were short-staffed then and had been for years. I remember how often we ran out of controllers when staffing was at 400 controllers. Running record traffic with less than 300 is just plain insane.

Here’s the press release from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.



CONTACT:     Calvin Phillips, NATCA facility representative at Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center, 770-210-7754 

HAMPTON, Ga. – Six air traffic control errors in a five-day period last week and another error earlier this week at the Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center – the world’s busiest facility – have alarmed controllers who are working record amounts of air traffic with an all-time low number of experienced controllers on staff. 

Six-day work weeks and 10-hour days (normal days are eight-hour shifts) for Atlanta Center controllers are becoming increasingly common. “We are stretched thin, stressed out, overworked and unhappy,” said Atlanta Center NATCA Facility Representative Calvin Phillips. “Those of us who can retire are doing so at the earliest possible minute and those of us who can’t are counting down the minutes until we can.” 

The rash of errors occurred from August 27-31. An operational error is defined as two aircraft coming closer than Federal Aviation Administration minimum separation rules allow. Another type of error is known as an operational deviation, which occurs when an air traffic controller allows an aircraft to enter another controller’s airspace without coordination. Both types of errors represent serious air safety incidents. Four of the errors involved trainees. Another involved an FAA supervisor with less than one year’s experience who was working a control position to cover for short staffing.  

In one case, a recently certified controller operating a very busy high altitude sector that feeds Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was working Atlanta-bound commercial airliners in a holding pattern over Rome, Ga. The overworked, inexperienced controller descended the wrong aircraft, issuing a clearance meant for a lower aircraft to one holding several thousand feet higher in the stack. The aircraft descended through several others holding lower in the pattern.  

In another error, two trainees were working a very busy north departure rush out of Atlanta. Both failed to detect that one of the targets on their radar scope had disappeared as they issued a climb clearance to an outbound commercial airliner. The airliner climbed through the traffic. Last Friday, Aug. 31, a trainee working a sector where training was being conducted for a second trainee, made a mistake in judgment that allowed two aircraft to lose separation.  

Atlanta Center is responsible for the safe flow of air traffic in over 104,000 square miles of airspace encompassing parts of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, including all of the aircraft landing and departing Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson and Charlotte’s Douglas International. In 2006, the facility handled over 3.125 million aircraft. The facility is divided into seven areas of specialization and operates 45 sectors.  

Before the FAA imposed work rules and pay cuts on controllers one year ago, Atlanta Center was authorized by the FAA to have 444 controllers on staff as a minimum safe staffing level. But last March, without any justification or research to back it up other than budgetary goals, the FAA threw out the authorized level and slashed it by 30 percent to create the low end of a new “range” of desired staffing levels. Meanwhile, traffic has continued to exceed three million operations and is projected to rise every year for the next 20 years.  

Currently, Atlanta has 314 fully certified controllers on staff, but 20 of these employees are medically restricted from duty, leaving 294 experienced controllers to do the work of 444, operating 45 sectors in seven areas, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. These same 294 controllers are also responsible for the on-the-job training of the 124 trainees assigned to the facility. Since the FAA imposed its work rules and pay cuts one year ago, the facility has lost 34 controllers to retirement and another nine have left their jobs to take FAA management positions. NATCA projects that actual losses for Atlanta for the next three years will average over 35 experienced controllers per year, forcing inexperienced, newly-certified controllers and trainees to work more and more sectors alone to cover for staffing shortages.”

Don Brown
September 5, 2007

The Tragedy Lingers Still

In Switzerland yesterday, a court handed down guilty verdicts to four employees of Skyguide, the Swiss company that runs the air traffic control system in that country.

Court finds four Skyguide employees guilty

”Three of eight defendants were handed suspended 12-month prison sentences on Tuesday, while the fourth was fined SFr13,500. The crash over southern Germany left 71 people, mostly children, dead.
The agency was responsible for the airspace on July 1, 2002 when a Bashkirian Airlines plane collided with a DHL cargo jet near the town of Überlingen. The two cargo pilots and everyone on the passenger plane, including a large group of Russian schoolchildren on a holiday trip to Spain, were killed.”

I have mixed emotions about the outcome. The parties responsible need to be held accountable. But in general, I agree with the current worldwide movement to decriminalize aviation accidents. It is a difficult subject and I’ll leave it for another day.

If you aren’t familiar with this accident you can get a bigger perspective about it from the BBC. They have their web page laid out right (and I’m not surprised.) The main story is on the left side of the page and all the previous articles they’ve published on the story are listed (with links) down the right side of the page. Just reading the headlines of the links pretty well tells the story.

Mid-air disaster claims 71 lives

Crash pilots given conflicting orders

Jet crash controller 'overburdened

There are more links. Many more. This tragedy just goes on and on and on. The BBC is to be commended for such excellent work.

This tragedy started when the controller working these two airplanes lost The Flick. For whatever reasons, he didn’t see the traffic in his mind and notice that he had two airplanes coming together. It is the fundamental skill that separates controllers from the rest of the world. Because it is such a rare skill, the rest of the world tries to minimize replace marginalize it. And I know -- with every fiber of my being -- that these efforts are grossly misguided.

The technology failed this controller. His government failed him. His management failed him. Even his fellow controller failed him. He had nothing left to rely on but his mind and that failed him too. He lost the flick.

He paid for it with his life. The father of some of the victims in the crash murdered him. It’s just one tragedy after another.

This accident is a textbook case about all the things that can go wrong in air traffic control. I urge you to learn everything you can about it. Take the lessons to heart and hopefully, we’ll avoid any other tragedies.

Here’s one place to start.

Say Again? #57: Überlingen

Don Brown
September 5, 2007

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Which Is It ?

If you feel confused about the current mess that is air travel, you may forgive yourself. Just look at this press release from the FAA.


Washington Headquarters Press Release
For Immediate Release

Release No. AOC 30-06
October 30, 2006
Contact: Tammy Jones
Phone: (202) 267-3476

FAA Completes Deployment of Mission-Essential Conflict Detection Tool

New Technology Saves Industry $600 Million

"... Data from URET-equipped centers show that controllers are more likely to assign pilots direct routings, resulting in reduced flight times and fuel savings, by allowing aircraft to fly at more fuel-efficient altitudes and wind-optimal routes. Since its inception in 1999 through the end of this summer, URET has shortened routes by 89.5 million nautical miles, for an estimated savings of $626.5 million."


Almost one year ago, the FAA -- your government -- is telling you that they’ve saved the airlines around $600 million dollars with some gee-whiz gizmo that enables them to fly more direct routes (yes, the same thing they say about NextGen) and that it results in “reduced flight times.”

Not even a year later, they’re telling you this.

Jet lags soar - Delays nationwide up 19% over summer

”On Friday the Federal Aviation Administration announced that delays were up nationwide 19 percent this summer. Last year was the worst year in the history of aviation for delays. Plus, those FAA figures take into account only delays caused by weather, lack of airspace and airport problems.

Airline-caused delays, such as lack of planes or scheduling mishaps, are not included in the numbers.”

Which is it ? Shorter flight times or record delays ? Is it both ? It could be. The sad truth is that you don’t know. The FAA has been cooking the books for so long that nobody knows. The way the FAA calculates the “savings” from URET is nothing more than a bad joke. Controllers have used URET to issue more shortcuts. It hasn’t done a thing for delays. Getting a short cut to a holding pattern doesn’t really help matters does it ? It certainly doesn’t “save” any time -- or money.

ADS-B, NextGen, etc. won’t change the situation. Finding a politically feasible way of limiting the number of aircraft scheduled to use an airport per hour will. The solution I propose is based strictly on safety.

Three days ago I told you about the rule in force at Washington National Airport that limits IFR traffic to 60 aircraft per hour. If you’ll look at this data, you’ll see that the IFR rate -- the real rate -- at the airport hasn’t changed in 40 years. Without a new runway -- without any more pavement -- that rate never will change.

I propose limiting all scheduled traffic to the IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) acceptance rate of the particular airport. Each airport is different but the rates are well known. In general, one runway can handle 60 IFR aircraft per hour -- 30 arrivals and 30 departures.

To get an idea on how many operations an airport can handle you can look at this tutorial from NASA. You’ll see that NASA is using the FAA’s data.

”The FAA includes over 20 different runway layouts in their advisory materials. There are 4 basic runway configurations with the rest being variations of the original patterns. The basic runway configurations are the following:

A) single runway

This is the simplest of the 4 basic configurations. It is one runway optimally positioned for prevailing winds,noise, land use and other determining factors. During VFR (visual flight rules) conditions, this one runway should accommodate up to 99 light aircraft operations per hour. While under IFR (instrument flight rules) conditions,it would accommodate between 42 to 53 operations per hour depending on the mix of traffic and navigational aids available at that airport.”

The truth is out there. It’s just a matter of finding it. And getting the FAA to stick to it.

Don Brown
September 4, 2007

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Fair Is Fair

The big battle being fought in Washington over the FAA Reauthorization is about who pays the bill. The Air Transport Association (i.e. The Big Airlines) have been pulling out all the stops to make sure everybody pays their “fair share.” I’ve written about it before and even provided a link to their cartoon. Oh yes, a cartoon. When I said “all the stops” I meant all the stops.

Take a look at all these statements.

Statement of James C. May, President and CEO Air Transport Association of America, Inc. before the Subcommittee on Aviation: “Equity – Will assure that each user pays its fair share but no more, unlike today where airlines pay for 94 percent of Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF) revenues but only account for 69 percent of all flights.”

”They want everyone to pay their fair share," ATA spokesman Dave Castelveter said.”

JIM MAY, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: The people we are focusing on are the corporate executives, movie stars and others. That portion of the aviation community is not paying their fair share, if you will, which should be roughly 16 percent of the overall use of the system.

Okay, I get it. The ATA wants everybody to pay their fair share when it comes to the National Airspace System. Except themselves.

”The ATA's proposal also exempts airlines from paying taxes on the first 250 miles of any domestic flight, which the group said was designed to help small communities. While JetBlue acknowledged it benefits from that proposal, the company does not endorse it since shuttles between New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C., also are exempt.”

Whoops. Read the article for yourself.

JetBlue Disputes Peers on FAA Proposal

Don Brown
September 2, 2007

Saturday, September 01, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- September 1

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

” Sep 1, 1966 A voluntary agreement effective this date limited operations at Washington National Airport to a maximum of 60 Instrument Flight Rules operations per hour--40 for air carriers and 20 for general aviation. If air carrier IFR operations dropped below 40 per hour, general aviation would assume the unused “slots.” The agreement had been reached between FAA and the aviation groups using the airport, and approved by CAB. The need to limit operations at Washington National had risen from crowded condititions in the terminal buildings and on the runways, and from the rise in noise complaints since the introduction of jets into the airport. On Jul 1, 1966, FAA had issued a new operating policy, to be effective Aug 7, 1966, which required flights originating or departing from National to land on their first stop within a radius of 500 miles from Washington, D.C. This would have reduced the 650-mile radius agreed to in Apr by the airlines serving National (see Apr 24, 1966, and May 26, 1981). Shrinking the perimeter served by National, FAA had calculated, would have reduced the flow of passenger traffic through the terminal from 22,000 people daily to a manageable 18,000. FAA decided, however, to drop the more restrictive perimeter rule in favor of a rule limiting operations at National to 60 per hour. The quota rule was never issued because the airport users’ voluntary agreement made it unnecessary. With FAA's and CAB's blessing, a scheduling committee composed of representatives of carriers serving the airport was constituted to distribute slots among its membership. The agreement formally expired on Dec 1, 1966, but its terms were continued in force voluntarily. (See Spring 1967 and Jun 1, 1969.) ”

”Spring, 1967: Scheduled air-taxi operators agreed to limit their operations at Washington National Airport to a maximum of eight per hour. (See Sep 1, 1966, and Jun 1, 1969.)

(emphasis added)

We’ll save Jun 1, 1969 for a later date (like Jun 1.)

You might want to ask yourself how this particular airport came to this voluntary agreement way back in 1966. An agreement that, in one form or another, is still in force today. I think the answer lies right across the river from the airport.

Don Brown
September 1, 2007

Calling Paul Krugman

I don’t get to read Paul Krugman every week. His column is buried in the Times Select section where you have to pay to read his column on line. I like The New York Times and I’ll pick it up if I see it at a newsstand. But that is an uncommon event for those of us down here in the country -- in a “red” county, in a “red” state. I’m tempted to pay for Times Select just so I can read his column. But I keep telling myself I have too much to read already.

I do see a synopsis of some of his articles on Economist’s View occasionally. After all, Mr. Krugman is an economist. What fascinates me about his writing is that he seems to be able to cut through the fog and get to the heart of the matter. The latest piece I was reading was about Hurricane Katrina. But it wasn’t. It was about our government. Including the FAA.

"There’s a powerful political faction in this country that’s determined to draw exactly the wrong lesson from the Katrina debacle — namely, that the government always fails when it attempts to help people..., as if the Bush administration’s practice of appointing incompetent cronies to key positions and refusing to hold them accountable no matter how badly they perform — did I mention that Mr. Chertoff still has his job? — were the way government always works."

Just cut out the Katrina references and you’ll see what I mean.

”There’s a powerful political faction in this country that’s determined to draw exactly the wrong lesson ... — namely, that the government always fails when it attempts to help people..., as if the Bush administration’s practice of appointing incompetent cronies to key positions and refusing to hold them accountable no matter how badly they perform...were the way government always works."

I post history lessons about the FAA on a regular basis here. Perhaps I should go a little deeper and post a few lessons about aviation. America didn’t just wind up being the world’s leader in aviation by default (even if we were the first to fly. The first jet engine for an airplane was invented in England. The jet engine was first put into operation by Germany. The first commercial jet -- the Comet -- was built in England. Perhaps these words from the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission will make my point best.

”Despite its early start, the United States soon lost aeronautical leadership."

”Many aviation leaders in the 1920s believed that federal regulation was necessary to give the public confidence in the safety of air transportation. Opponents of this view included those who distrusted government interference or wished to leave any such regulation to state authorities."

The “opponents” lost. America won. In the process, it not only won the greatest aviation industry in the world, it won the greatest air traffic control system in the world. A system brought to you by good government.

Back to Mr. Krugman.

”Future historians will, without doubt, see Katrina as a turning point. The question is whether it will be seen as the moment when America remembered the importance of good government, or the moment when neglect and obliviousness to the needs of others became the new American way."

A...”moment when America remembered the importance of good government.” I like to think that the people involved in aviation are at least slightly above average as far as intelligence. I pray it doesn’t take a national tragedy to remind us of the importance of good government.

You wouldn’t think it would be a hard lesson to accept. Government intervention and investment brought us the golden age of flying. Airlines made money, the airplanes ran on schedule and aviation workers were well paid. Airports became economic engines that built neighborhoods, built schools and fulfilled dreams. Bad government -- “neglect and obliviousness”-- has brought us bankrupt airlines, endless delays and demoralized aviation workers that can barely pay rent.

The “Free Marketeers” will tell you that airline deregulation has been good for America. They’ll explain how flying is so much cheaper and how much money we’ve all saved. Somehow, I don’t think that their calculations included the cost of all the bankruptcies, the layoffs, the lost pensions -- the pure human misery of it all. Not to mention the tens of billions of dollars the industry has lost. All so you can sit on an airplane going nowhere fast -- with no food, no legroom and overflowing toilets.

I wonder what an economist would say about all that. I wonder what Paul Krugman would say.

Don Brown
September 1, 2007