Friday, November 30, 2007

Would You Like to Fly ?

I’m cursed. There’s no longer any doubt in my mind. No matter what I seem to do, I’m cursed to be in aviation for the rest of my days. First it was pumping gas and washing airplanes. Then it was air traffic control with a side job of photographer -- guessed it -- airplanes. Now, of all things, I’m chasing balloons.

Yep, hot air balloons. My buddy Kyle at SkyBlue Ballooning roped me into it. He told me I was highly qualified -- I know east from west, I know how to talk on a radio and I have a valid driver’s license. Oh yeah, I’m also retired (lots of free time) and I’m heavy enough to hold the crown line.

Seriously, it’s a lot of fun. Every flight is an adventure -- you never know where you’ll wind up. The passengers always have a blast so it makes for a good time for all -- even those of us who are “working.” If you would like to fly give Kyle a click.

Don Brown
November 30, 2007

It’s All Oz

Occasionally I hear from the folks Down Under. When it first happened, I was really surprised. What in the world do I have to say that would be relevant to Australian controllers ? I could start going into details but let’s keep this in general terms. Read this short blog entry from Keeping the Picture. (Does the title sound familiar ?) If you substitute “Georgia” for “Queensland” and “Washington” for “Canberra” you could be talking about America instead of Australia.

In case you’re interested, I found that blog at Civil Air Australia. With this modern day Coconut Telegraph called the internet, we’re more connected than any of us truly understand.

You don’t have to take my word for it, or Keeping the Picture’s word. Take a look at this Australian blog and see if it doesn’t look (and sound) a lot like this American blog.

Now, a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby, is just a click of our virtual ruby slippers away. And it sounds a lot like things do on this side of the rainbow.

The next thing you know, we’ll be speaking the same language -- fair dinkum mate. (Did I get that right ?)

Don Brown
November 30, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 30

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

”Nov 30, 1992: FAA gave a “cure notice” to IBM concerning its development of the Initial Sector Suite System (ISSS), a part of the Advanced Automation System (AAS). The agency stated that unless the company provided a plan to remedy deficiencies within 10 calendar days, the government would withhold progress payments under the contract. Earlier in November, IBM had stated that, because of software difficulties and other problems, the ISSS would not be ready for FAA acceptance until Sep 1994, thus adding another 14 months to an already delayed timetable. Following the cure notice, IBM submitted to FAA an initial and later a final cure plan. FAA’s own steps to remedy the situation included changes in the project’s management structure and an Apr 1 ban on further changes in user requirements for the ISSS. (See Oct 1, 1991, and Dec 13, 1993.)“

In just a few short years the FAA went from visions of glory to dunning their contractors. For my new readers, the quest to automate air traffic control has a long and disastrous history at the FAA. I like to think it is because of a fundamental flaw in intent. Instead of using technology to assist controllers, they keep trying to make it replace controllers. See if you can detect that subtle difference in the history entry from when the FAA announced the program.

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

Jul 26, 1985: FAA announced the award of a contract for replacement of the IBM 9020 computers at the nation's 20 air route traffic control centers (ARTCCs) as part of the agency's Advanced Automation Program. IBM won the replacement contract in a competition with Sperry Corp. under a pair of contracts that had been announced on Sept 22, 1983. The new installations were designated the "Host" Computer Systems (HCSs) because of their ability to run the existing 9020 software package with minimum modifications. Using the IBM 3083-BX1 computer as its key element, the Host system would provide greater speed, reliability, and storage capacity. Each installation would consist of two units, one serving as the primary processor and the other providing support and backup. (See Mar 22, 1983, and May 29, 1987.)

In addition to installing the Host systems at the ARTCCs, IBM agreed to supply the systems to teams working on the other major element of the Advanced Automation Program, the Advanced Automation System (AAS). Under a pair of contracts announced on Aug 16, 1984, IBM and Hughes Aircraft Co. were engaged in a competition to produce the best AAS design (see Jul 26, 1988). Among the key elements of AAS were controller work stations, called "sector suites," that would incorporate new display, communications and processing capabilities. AAS would also include new computer hardware and software to bring the air traffic control system to higher levels of automation. Once the full AAS system was operational, FAA planned to begin the integration of en route and terminal radar control services at the ARTCCs, which would be renamed Area Control Facilities (ACFs) and expanded to handle the new functions (see Apr 19, 1993). Among the planned future enhancements to AAS was Automated En Route Air Traffic Control (AERA), which would automatically examine aircraft flight plans to detect and resolve potential conflicts.

(Emphasis added)

Don Brown
November 30, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Immune to It All

Robert Reich has a new blog entry: Why the Telecoms Shouldn't Get Immunity. I liked it when I read it. I liked it even better when I heard it on Marketplace.

I have mixed emotions about the proper place of corporations in our society. In this you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us climate we’ve created in this country, it seems increasingly difficult to have a reasoned debate. There’s no doubt that corporations have contributed greatly to America’s success. I also don’t think there’s any debate that there has been some abuses. I think Molly Ivins said it best (sorry I can’t find the exact quote) when she pointed out that we don’t just want just any corporation to succeed...we want the honest ones to succeed.

Corporations seemingly want the best of all worlds. They want the rights of humans but then, they want to avoid the responsibilities. While that is an all-to-human trait, the power they have to avoid those responsibilities is definitely super-human.

I wonder if they’ll use more lawyers to seek immunity than they did to question whether it was proper to comply with the government’s request ?

Don Brown
November 29, 2007

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rat vs. Rodent

This will only appeal to a select few, but James Fallows has a blog entry that brought a smile to my face.

I started my illustrious aviation career as a lineboy at Spartanburg Downtown Airport in South Carolina. The job is known by several different titles (lineboy, lineman, aircraft handler, aircraft refueler, etc.) but my favorite was “ramp rat.” It’s the lowest position on the proverbial totem pole at the airport. You refuel aircraft, wash them, drag them in and out of the hanger and whatever other grunt work needs to be done. It was a great job for a teenager. It wasn’t too hard, you got to meet a lot of different people (some important and/or famous people) and it had the “cool factor” of working at the airport. My favorite fringe benefit -- airports are a great place to watch sunsets.

Many a pilot got their start as a lineboy at a general aviation airport. They’d barter their work for flying lessons. I never got the flying bug so I took the money and paid for college. But I did make friends with all the air traffic controllers and the rest (as they say) is history.

Anyway, take a look at the blog and see the differences that can exist in the same job -- the difference between a ramp rat and a ramp rodent.

Don Brown
November 28, 2007

Still No News

As my daughter said last night...

How am I supposed to know what’s going on in the world without The Daily Show ?!!

Jon Stewart and the rest of the late-night comedians were the first casualties of the Writers Guild of America strike. Now, a whole generation of college students is without their generation’s Walter Cronkite of comedy.

If you’re my age or older, you might think that a strange comparison -- Jon Stewart and Walter Cronkite. Trust me, a lot of young people depend on Jon Stewart to separate the wheat from the chaff for them. They are bombarded by information all day. TV, radio, print advertisements and the internet. Jon Stewart is their filter. He’s also funny.

Which brings us back to the people that write the funny words -- the writers. They’re on strike. If you’d like to know why, you can watch this video. Or, for a very lengthy discussion, you can visit Wikipedia.

As I was reading all this, one phrase kept coming to mind -- “intellectual property rights.” The U.S. government beats up China regularly about this issue. I assume that is the entertainment (and computer) industry talking about China stealing their intellectual property. But when it comes to stealing the intelligence of creative people...I’m betting the corporations start singing a different tune.

Another random thought. Have you ever heard of a stupid writer ? Seems like an oxymoron doesn’t it ? Hey, I said it was random didn’t I ?

I’m rooting for the writers.

Don Brown
November 28, 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

And the Winner Is...

If you’ll remember, in “Group Think”, I asked for thoughts on what the FAA would do to make sure they could announce success in curbing delays over the Thanksgiving holiday.

”Will they blame it on the weather ? Will they just say it would have been worse if the President hadn’t acted ? Will they cook the books ? What do you think ? You can send me your guess if you’d like.”

The winner is a tie. Several people guessed “all of the above.”

I have to be honest, it looks like the FAA (and the President) dodged a bullet on this one. I’ve got a story or two to tell but getting the data to back them up would be difficult if not impossible. The FAA controls the data.

It appears that General Aviation (GA) took a big hit. While the delays at the major New York metro airports (EWR, LGA and JFK) seemed to be less than an hour, I’m told the departure delays to the surrounding GA airports (TEB, HPN, FRG, MMU) were running up to 2, 3 and even 4 hours.

The arrivals into New York kept the holding patterns in constant use but they moved down through the stacks with few apparent problems. And yes, one of those holding patterns was in the now-famous “express lanes” -- at least at some point in time.

It will be interesting to see if any of the holding pattern delays make it into the news. Controllers used to write the data down, which made it a whole lot easier to remember. It’s all automated now so controllers don’t take note of the holding times like they used to. You might think that’s a good thing and in most aspects I guess it is. It’s just the (ex)safety rep. in me that makes me question whether being less aware of how long an airplane has been in a holding pattern is a good thing.

Don Brown
November 27, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Way Up High

Ah, the joys of retirement. It’s raining (thankfully) so I can’t get to that driveway buried in leaves I was telling you about. But I’m still multi-tasking -- I’m defrosting the downstairs freezer while writing this blog. Speaking of which, let’s get back to that story of Matt Wald’s I was telling you about -- The Art of Air Traffic, in All Its Delicate Flow.

As I said, I like the story. I even like the title. Air traffic control is still as much an art as it is a science. I think that will remain true for decades to come. In addition, Mr. Wald has chosen to do a story on the type of airspace I used to work -- mostly high altitude airspace. You’d be surprised how little your typical airline passenger thinks about this phase of their flight. Most of my non-aviation friends still can’t figure out how I could be an air traffic controller and not work at the airport.

The story starts at the “Command Center.” Controllers have a certain inflection when they say “Command Center.” Sort of like Buzz Lightyear might say it. We’re not being fair. The Air Traffic Control System Command Center (as it is formally known) has an important job. And when it comes to “eye candy”, they’re hard to beat.

” But it was not enough. At noon, the center’s manager, Dan Smiley, called up a computer map of air traffic sectors at and above 24,000 feet. Three sectors were red, indicating saturation, and about 20 more were near-saturation yellow. All were clustered over eastern Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Each long, skinny sector held about as many planes as a single controller could communicate with.”

There are two important items in that quote from Mr. Wald’s story -- “red” sectors and the limits of communication for one controller.

“Red” sectors are just normal sections of airspace (or sectors ) where computer modeling predicts there will be a high level of air traffic. In short, the controller working the sector is about to get busy. Real busy. In a “yellow” sector, he’s just moderately busy. If you want to get down to the real nitty-gritty (I’m talking ATC nerd level) you can read about the Monitor Alert Parameter here. There are two things to know about the Monitor Alert Program. It’s a computer program making an educated guess about future traffic levels and...

”d. The MAP value will be dynamically adjusted to reflect the ability of the functional position to provide air traffic service.”

...the “number” that sets off the alert (changing a sector to “red” or “yellow”) can be adjusted. An educated guess is better than no guess (I guess) but it is far from perfect. Again, kudos to Mr. Wald for the usage of “art” in his story’s title.

The second item from Mr. Wald’s quote concerns frequency congestion -- the sheer limitations of how many people can communicate useful information on one radio frequency. I can spend days talking about this subject (and I have) so let me just quote myself. “ I've said a dozen times, that is the biggest bottleneck in ATC: frequency congestion.” (Note to new readers. The link is to one of my columns on AVweb. You have to join AVweb to read them. It’s quick, easy and painless. Oh yeah, and it’s free.)

On some days, talking to 20 airplanes is a breeze. On others -- with thunderstorms, bumpy rides or when trying to keep the EWR arrivals spaced out at 20 miles in trail while they’re crossing the ORD arrivals that need 60 miles in trail -- talking to 20 airplanes is almost impossible. If the Monitor Alert Parameter for your sector is 20 airplanes...some days it works and some days it doesn’t.

Up to this point, I’ve used over 600 words for this blog entry. Mr. Wald only got 695 words worth of space to tell his story. That’s like trying to talk to 30 airplanes when the ride is bumpy and New York wants 20 miles in trail on the arrivals for JFK, LGA, EWR and TEB -- treat as one airport. It’s a tough job and I sincerely mean it when I say he does it well.

I hope my readers will keep that thought in mind when they’re reading a news story about air traffic control. Space in a newspaper and air time on the television is precious. Where you could spend days talking about the details of a complicated story -- you can’t. The truth can’t be found in a “sound bite”. But a good one can lead you to the truth, just as a bad one can lead you astray.

One final thought for the nerd herd -- the guys that actually read the FAA regulations I point you towards. If you’ll notice, the rules are long on collecting information and short on action. As any controller reading this knows, often, the only action taken when a sector is going red is that the supervisor comes down and says, “You’re going red.” (Gee thanks, Boss.) I’d be willing to bet the FAA is a little better about the record keeping requirements in the orders.

Keep that thought in mind -- Action vs. Data Collection.

”c. When a pattern of alerts is established (i.e., same sector, same time frame, on a daily basis or requirement for additional resources to manage on a routine basis) which requires recurring TM initiatives for resolution, additional analysis will be conducted. The analysis should result in recommendations to address the identified constraint and may include sector design adjustment, flow dispersion, or user operations adjustment. Should the local facility not be able to implement resolution recommendations due to external factors (i.e., lack of equipment, nonconcurrence from other facilities), the local facility will elevate the issue to the responsible Service Area office. “

I’d be willing to bet that a “pattern of alerts” is in the FAA’s data. I also bet the data shows that they haven’t taken any action. Especially when it comes to “user operations adjustment.”

In case it hasn’t dawned on you, the FAA has an incredibly hard time following its own rules. Even the good ones.

Don Brown
November 26, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 26

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

”Nov 26, 1991: Administrator Busey announced a reorganization at FAA headquarters, including:

* A new Assistant Administrator for Information Technology position with responsibility for administrative and operational information resources. The Office of Management Systems at headquarters was abolished and its former director became Acting Deputy for the new Assistant Administrator.

* A new Assistant Administrator for Budget and Accounting position with responsibility for the Office of Budget and the Office of Accounting. These two offices had previously reported to the Associate Administrator for Administration, a position which was abolished.

* Retitling the Executive Director for Acquisition as the Executive Director for Acquisition and Safety Oversight and expanding this position’s responsibilities by the addition of: the Office of Aviation Safety, whose head was retitled an Associate Administrator rather than an Assistant Administrator; and the appraisal functions of the former Deputy Associate Administrator for Appraisal. (See Sep 30, 1991, and Nov 30, 1993.) “

I know. That’s five minutes of your life you’ll never get back. Sorry about that. But as usual, I do have a point. You can’t believe how many times the FAA has rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic. It seems as if every time there is a new sheriff, they rearrange the office chairs. There are dozens and dozens of these type entries in the FAA’s history. The FAA is in the middle of another such move right now -- combining regional offices. And as far as I can tell, none of them have ever accomplished a thing. Kind of like most of the airspace redesign projects I’ve seen.

P.S. Admiral Busey was a honest-to-goodness war hero in Vietnam. If you watch the Military Channel you’ll see a show about his squadron -- The Saints -- sooner or later. It was the same squadron Senator John McCain flew in. Admiral Busey earned the Navy Cross just a couple of months before Senator McCain was shot down.

Don Brown
November26, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gratefully Gray

Sitting in South Florida on Thanksgiving Day, trying to make the best of the situation, I was reading my favorite paper -- ”The Gray Lady” -- The New York Times. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not often I actually get to read the paper itself (just the on-line version) in that there isn’t anyplace remotely close that sells it. The place I was staying was definitely a Wall Street Journal-kind-of place -- they were stacked up in the lobby -- but my brother-in-law had thoughtfully purchased the NYTimes so I’d have something to read. My in-laws are like that. They’re incredibly thoughtful people and I was thankful to be spending time with them, even if it wasn’t in my preferred locale.

As I was reading the NYTimes I saw their editorial -- “Congestion Relief.” I was sorely disappointed. Oh well. I was going to write something about it but my new best friend, James Fallows already did so I’ll just direct you there.

In addition, the NYTimes had a story from their aviation reporter, Matthew Wald. It’s a good story that is worth your time. Hopefully, I’ll get to provide more comments later but for now, I’ll just say it’s one of the reasons the NYTimes is my favorite paper -- they’ll cover stories to this depth.

While I was busy at the beach, my driveway was getting buried in leaves. It was a beautiful fall here, with wonderful color.

Perhaps that was because of the drought (or in spite of it) but today -- on this day -- it is gratefully gray. Just like Thanksgiving ought to be. It’s cold, windy and rainy. I enjoy the gray days as much as I enjoy the blue-sky days. Just as I enjoy the sweet sadness of James Taylor as much as the craziness of Jimmy Buffet. Which reminds me of a song. See if it’s in your collection. I’m going to take a nap.

”There’s something about this Sunday
It’s a most peculiar gray.
Strolling down the avenue
That’s known as A-1-A.
I was feeling tired but I got inspired
And I knew that it wouldn’t last long...

Don Brown
November 25, 2007

Idiots in Charge

Every organization has them. Despite the spin, I’ve been assured by everyone I’ve talked to that no matter how great an organization is -- if you look hard enough -- you’ll find a few idiots working in the joint.

It’s not hard to find them in the FAA right now. They’re running the place. The idiots are in charge.

I swear to you, my Mama raised me right. She taught me to be gracious and charitable, to mind my manners and “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Mama never worked for the FAA. And here it is a Sunday too. Lord have mercy.

In the latest incident that has caused me to cuss, the FAA is giving one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet a hard time. It’s a long and convoluted story but I’m going to keep it as short as possible.

Thom is a fine human being with 20+ years as a controller.

He has a heart problem that doesn’t medically disqualify him but required he use a lot of sick leave lately.

Using the sick leave triggered the FAA’s idiots-in-charge program to place him in the “possible sick leave abuser” category. Now he has to have a doctor’s note for any sick leave he uses.

Thom developed allergies. (Gee, I wonder how that could have happened ?) He went to the doctor, got a prescription and got the FAA idiots in charge their precious note. Sick leave approved -- because he can’t take the medicine and work airplanes (or operate heavy machinery, etc.)

Next Sunday -- I say again, (SUNDAY) -- his allergies are acting up, he calls in sick, sick leave approved -- everybody is happy.

Two weeks later, he gets his pay check and the FAA has docked him 8 hours pay. Nobody said a word -- they just changed his sick leave to Absent Without Leave (AWOL.) In case it isn’t obvious, the FAA can’t fire you for being sick. They can fire you for being AWOL.

The FAA’s argument ? Despite being diagnosed with allergies and being given a prescription that says “as needed” and getting the FAA their precious little note like this is grammar school or something...

The FAA wants a doctor’s note every single time he calls in sick. Did I mention this was on a SUNDAY ? It was mentioned to the FAA. Their response ? Go to the emergency room and get a doctor’s note. You can’t make this stuff up. They want a 40-something-year-old professional to go to the emergency room and get a doctor’s note to take some medicine (believe it or not we’re talking about Benadryl here folks) that was already legally prescribed by another doctor for allergies.

Keep in mind what “Option B” is. Come to work SICK and work YOUR airplane. I guess there is an “Option C” too. Come to work medicated and work YOUR airplane. Risk getting fired or risk getting someone killed. These options are brought to you by the Idiots in Charge (IIC) at the FAA.

I know the perfect descriptor for today’s FAA. I realized it well over a year ago. The problem is that it is crude -- some might even say vulgar. I’ve searched for a replacement. Seriously. It seems like a trivial matter but I’ve searched really hard to find another word that carries the exact connotations and I haven’t been able to find one. It really is the perfect word and -- thanks to the internet and The Urban Dictionary -- I can share it with you. (See definition #2 of the following hypertext link.)

The FAA is a $%#@!& outfit.

I hope you’ll forgive me for using such language because -- if she ever figures out how to use the internet -- Mama won’t.

Don Brown
November 25, 2007

Saturday, November 24, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 24

Another “twofer” today because...well, because it’s my blog and I can.

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

”Nov 24, 1971: The first in a series of hijackings involving extortion occurred when a passenger on a flight from Portland to Seattle successfully demanded $200,000 and four parachutes, then parachuted from the rear stairway of the Boeing 727. The hijacker--who used the name Dan Cooper, but became known as D.B. Cooper in the press--was never found. (In Feb 1980, however, tattered bills from his loot were discovered along the Columbia River in Washington.) Another incident involving a demand for ransom and parachutes occurred on Dec 24, 1971, and 17 more extortion attempts on U.S. air carriers were made during the next 6 months. (See Mar 7-9, 1972.) “

And the legend lives on. Speaking of living on...

With the current debate about a “market-based” approach as a cure to over-scheduling the runways by the airlines, this is how complicated it could get. Again, it’s my belief that it’s just a delaying tactic. This could get tied up in courts for years and besides, when you start talking about a place like Atlanta, there is no “market.” The City of Atlanta has a monopoly on commercial airports in Atlanta. They own the only one. Enough. Here’s the history.

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

”Nov 24, 1993: A group of airlines and their trade associations formally asked DOT or FAA to prohibit Los Angeles officials from implementing a plan to deny airlines access to Los Angeles International Airport because of their refusal to pay higher landing fees. On Nov 30 and Dec 1, FAA Administrator David Hinson and DOT Secretary Federico Peña met with airline representatives and Los Angeles city officials to mediate the dispute. As a result, the airlines agreed to pay the higher fees, retroactive to July 1, while planning to pursue the issue through litigation. The airlines subsequently asked DOT to review the increases in accordance with legislation (see Aug 23, 1994) that provided a means of timely resolution of such disputes. On June 30, 1995, DOT ruled that the increases were largely valid but that the airlines were due a partial refund, a decision that remained under appeal at the end of 1996. ”

Don Brown
November 24, 2007

Friday, November 23, 2007


McDonald’s isn’t exactly the place I think of when I need an internet connection but I suppose any port in a storm will do. I swear I don’t know how businessmen get anything done while they’re on the road.

If you’ll remember a few posts ago, I told you about being in a meeting with then-Secretary of Transportation, James Burnley. It was quite an education for a young man (I was still in my twenties at the time.) I remember Secretary Burnley just laying into Congressman Molinari (He had graciously arranged the meeting) for “setting him up” to talk to a bunch of union reps under the guise of safety. Secretary Burnley tried to use that as a pretext to kick us out. I knew you could talk to a bunch of controllers like that and get away with it but I didn’t think you could do it to a Congressman.

Unfortunately for Secretary Burnley, two of us weren’t union “reps”. We were just plain old union members concerned about safety. I heard from the other one today...the other guy that was just a union member. I didn’t talk to him about making him famous in my blog so we’ll just call him “Bill.”

Bill and I have known each other for years. But not until today did I realize that he was “the other guy.” You see, back when all this happened, NATCA was very young. We were just getting started, we weren't “connected”, we didn’t have much money and -- to be honest -- we really didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t even know each other.

We don’t have that problem today. Which brings me around to today. If the Secretary of Transportation pulled a stunt like that today, we’d make her famous.

We were trying to tell Secretary Burnley that the Expanded East Coast Plan (EECP) may or may not have been a decent “plan” but the training to implement the plan was horrible. One of the first assignments a controller is given is a map of their airspace to memorize. Controllers don’t have time to look at a map. They have to have their airspace memorized. The EECP was going to change that airspace overnight. All of it. And there wasn’t going to be any meaningful training on it. It was idiotic and it almost got two plane loads of people killed.

Which begs the question, with the current controller shortage, how will the FAA train it’s controllers on whatever they come up with as the new airspace configuration around New York ? They have to be overwhelmed just trying to train new controllers to be controllers. How will they fit in even more training ? More to the point, will that decrease in safety (no matter how small) be worth whatever gain we’re talking about here ? I can’t tell you what gains we’re talking about because I don’t see any gains. You’ve got to ask yourself a question (or two.) What has changed since the implementation of the Expanded East Coast Plan in 1987 ? What new airports have been built ? What has changed that a new plan will fix ?

Don Brown
November 23, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 23

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

”Nov 23, 1959: The Strategic Air Command began using seven special air routes established for its use by FAA to carry out day and night, all-weather, low-altitude training missions. The routes for Operation Oil Burner, code name for these SAC radar bomb runs over simulated targets throughout the country, were laid out to avoid congested population and airport centers to the maximum extent possible. “

Oil burner” is another example of the U.S. Military’s sometimes-playful sense of humor -- in a truth-in-advertising kind of sense. A B-52 flying near tree-top level does indeed burn some “oil.” One of these routes used to run through my airspace and provided an endless source of excitement. One of them once made a NMAC (Near Mid Air Collision) report on my frequency -- they almost hit a hang glider. I don’t know who would have the better story to tell -- the B-52 pilot or the hang glider pilot.

Along the truth-in-advertising line, some of the guys flying the B-52s had the best radio call sign -- DOOM.

Don Brown
November 23, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

His Lips Are Moving

The avalanche of press coverage about President Bush and his “express lanes” in the sky continues. So many little time.

Seriously, I’m really pressed for time.

Read this, if you like, from the aptly named Memphis Commercial Appeal...

More air lanes open to ease holiday flights

...but the only thing I really want you to see is this quote.

”Delays in New York airports account for about 75 percent of the airplane delays across the nation, said Jim Burnley, secretary of Transportation under Reagan.

"This is a novel and unprecedented step," he said. "This is the deepest that any president has delved into aviation issues since Reagan had to face down the air traffic controllers' union in 1981."”

I remember a time when Mr. Burnley delved into aviation -- or should I say, air traffic control. I was there.

Say Again? #61: It's Here!

”As I told you in Say Again? #9: Maiden and Me, predicting bad things is how I got my start in the safety business. In a meeting with the Secretary of Transportation and the FAA Administrator (James Burnley and T. Allan McArtor, respectively), I got a little hot under the collar about the tone of the meeting and I forgot to be intimidated by their titles. I told them what I thought was going to happen and where. And I was right. Well, I was close enough. And speaking of close, so were COA458 and COA703. That earned me a phone call from AT-1, the head of Air Traffic for the FAA (Keith Potts at the time), to apologize for the way we controllers were treated at the meeting. Trust me, when the head of Air Traffic calls the facility to get a rookie controller off the sector for a conversation, it gets the attention of a lot of managers.”

Let me steal an old joke about how to tell when a lawyer is lying.

How can you tell when a controller is telling ”The Truth”?

When he’s got his nose pressed to the glass of his radar scope -- or in a meeting with a bunch of politicians -- trying to keep two airliners from hitting each other.

Don Brown
November 21, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Group Think

Being an ex-controller, you would think I would know how to manage my time better. Oh well. I don’t have enough free time to think this out -- much less write it out -- before Thanksgiving so you will have to do your own thinking.

As I’ve mentioned before (this is me, managing my time by not looking up the blog entry), George W. Bush has made a career out of being underestimated. As President of the United States, he has interjected himself into the airline delay crisis just a few days before Thanksgiving. I’m convinced (and I hope you are convinced) that his announced plan won’t do a thing to lessen delays this week. So, what’s the unannounced plan ?

Seriously. The POTUS doesn’t put his credibility on the line without some solid assurances that his course of action will be successful. When Monday morning comes around (remember, Sunday is as big a travel day as Wednesday) and all the controllers start talking to the Monday-morning quarterbacks, how is the Administration going to sell this turkey ? What will they say as they unfurl the “Mission Accomplished” banner with JFK Tower looming in the background ? (BTW, what’s with the JFK fetish this year ? Why not LGA or EWR or ATL ?)

The weather in Atlanta is supposed to be thunderstorms on Wednesday. For New York, it’s showers. At Chicago it’s snow mixed with rain. It ain’t looking good.

Will they blame it on the weather ? Will they just say it would have been worse if the President hadn’t acted ? Will they cook the books ? What do you think ? You can send me your guess if you’d like. I don’t know what I’d do with it but it might be interesting to see what thoughts are out there. The question has crossed more than one controller’s mind...did it cross yours ?

It shoud have.

Don Brown
November 20, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 20

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

”Nov 20, 1992: FAA outlined the results of a congressionally mandated Aircraft Noise Mitigation Review for the New York metropolitan area within a 55 nautical mile radius of La Guardia airport. The review complemented FAA's work on the environmental impact of the Expanded East Coast plan on New Jersey (see Mar 11, 1991). In conducting the review, FAA held 18 listening sessions in New York and Connecticut. The review team's recommendations, which represented a comprehensive action plan, included: raising certain helicopter flight altitudes; amending flight patterns to allow more flights bound for La Guardia to remain longer over Long Island sound; establishing a second instrument landing system at Stewart Airport, and increasing noise reduction awareness training programs. “

How long do you think it will be before Congress mandates something for today’s noise problems associated with yet another airspace redesign for New York ?

NOISE ABOVE DELAYS BELOW: Why LI may get a break on jet noise

”Officials on Long Island, are relatively unaware of the planned changes or their impact.

"The issue has recently come to our attention," said Justin Meyers, a spokesman for the Town of North Hempstead. "We are currently reaching out to our federal representatives to explore this matter further."

Don Brown
November 20, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 19

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

”Nov 19, 1963: Responding to requests from U.S. and foreign carriers for priority deliveries of the U.S. supersonic transport (SST) when it became available, FAA established a delivery priorities system for the first 70 airliners to come off the production line. The agency stated it was acting as intermediary for the airlines pending final selection of a manufacturer to make the SST available at an early time to the broadest possible market, while maintaining a reasonable balance of distribution been U.S. and foreign carriers. (See Aug 15, 1963, and Jan 15, 1964.)“

My, how things have changed. You have to remember the times. We were headed for the moon. For any nation that could “put a man on the moon”, a supersonic transport was child’s play. It was a time of hope and limitless possibilities. At least it seemed that way -- before that awful day in Dallas.

People of a certain age don’t have to be told this, of course. You see, for them, 1963 stands out just as 2001 will always stand out for this generation. Just as December 7th, 1941 stood out for the generation before.

I was crawling through the rails of the fence that separated our yard from the neighbors. I was just a child at play. But I remember it because I remember the fear on my mother’s face as she ran out of the front door to check on her children. Fear is infectious.

Sometimes, when I’m researching these history lessons, I can’t stop my eyes from wondering to the next entry.

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

”Nov 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and was succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson.“

Don Brown
November 19, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ding !

Folks that know me well know that I’m not a technology wizard. As a matter of fact, a lot of my coworkers thought of me as anti-technology. Never mind that I was the only one shlepping (can a redneck say shlep ?) a laptop back and forth to work everyday. My obsession about non-radar and flight progress strips convinced everyone that I didn’t much care for technology. I like technology just fine -- when it works.

It was working today. I wondered who was ringing my bell -- making the “hit counter” on my site spin like the altimeter on the Space Shuttle. Lo and behold, it was James Fallows. Getting a lot of unexpected visits to your blog is always a good thing. Getting a mention from someone of James Fallows’ caliber is like getting holiday leave on the day before Thanksgiving for a controller. (For the non-controllers, the day before Thanksgiving is normally the busiest day of the year. It’s crazy-busy and you can’t normally get leave.)

My sincere thanks to Mr. Fallows and my thanks to the controllers that will be working the day before, the day of and the day after. I hope the controllers can take heart in the fact that Mr. Fallows wrote about this subject. It’s been my observation that he gets the flick earlier than most. Hopefully, the rest of the media won’t be far behind and we can start rebuilding what is left of the best air traffic control system in the world.

Don Brown
November 18, 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What’d I Say ?

I told you Joe Brancatelli has the flick.

” "This is President Bush saying, 'Let me get out there just days before Thanksgiving and make it look like I'm doing something,'" said Joe Brancatelli, a travel columnist who focuses on how the airlines run their businesses and treat their customers.”

” Brancatelli dismissed the Federal Aviation Administration's announcement Thursday that it will help head off flight delays by imposing a special holiday moratorium on most airport maintenance projects, saying it is a standard procedure that should be done anyway, just as highway departments routinely halt road construction over holidays.

You can read it for yourself if you’d like, in The Chicago Tribune”.

Don Brown
November 17, 2007

Friday, November 16, 2007

Air Traffic for Dummies

It’s unbelievable. President Bush announces he’s going to open up some military airspace -- over the ocean -- to cure airport delays and the Press just passes it on. Google News lists 993 stories covering it so far. And as far as I can tell, not one of them seriously questioned the premise.

The Associated Press did manage to work in the real problem -- at the bottom of the page.

'Express Lanes' to Ease Air Congestion

”Bush acknowledged these short-term steps "do not cure the underlying problem: In certain parts of our country, the demand for air service exceeds the available supply. As a result, airlines are scheduling more arrivals and departures than airports can possibly handle."

(Emphasis added)

If you can’t figure out how adding two “express lanes” into the mall parking lot on the day after Thanksgiving is going to help you find a (nonexistent) parking aren’t the only one. I guess knowing you are in the “express lane” will somehow make the wait seem better than if you were waiting in the regular lane.

Oh well. I guess I should be used to all this by now. Just so my non-controller readers will know...

The military airspace referred to -- according to the controllers that work it -- has always been opened to civilian traffic during the holidays. If there is a thunderstorm (not likely in late November) over the land routes the airspace will come in handy. Otherwise, the only thing it will be good for is extra holding patterns.

There’s one other thought I want to leave you with. Go to your favorite media source and see how they covered the story. As you’re reading, scan for one word -- the most important word -- Safety. I bet you don’t find it. I haven’t.

Don Brown
November 16, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Freedom’s Just Another Word

Four days ago I read a commentary in The New York Times by Frank Rich: The Coup at Home. (You'll have to navigate from the columnist's page to the article.)

I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind so I thought I’d share it with you. It’s harsh. It’s partisan. But what if it’s true ?

”The Bush years have brought an even more effective assault on those institutions from within. While the public has not erupted in riots, the executive branch has subverted the rule of law in often secretive increments. The results amount to a quiet coup, ultimately more insidious than a blatant putsch like General Musharraf’s.”

Don Brown
November 15, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 15

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.) “

In my opinion, this was another airline deregulation induced disaster. You can check out the NTSB summary and find out the First Officer had 36 hours of experience in a jet. That was more time than the Captain had as a Captain though. And it goes downhill from there.

Instead of the note, “(See Dec 12, 1985 and Mar 22, 1992.)”, I think it should say, “See Aug 6 1981” and keep going. I’ll put some emphasis in the following because it’s sure to get lengthy.

”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) “

”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.)“

”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.) “

”Mar 18, 1985: FAA began an in-depth inspection of Continental Airlines that lasted through Apr 26. This was the second special inspection of Continental (see Feb 6, 1984) since the Air Line Pilots Association began a strike against it. On Jun 11, 1985, FAA announced that the airline continued to operate in basic accordance with safety regulations. In Mar 1986, however, Continental paid a $402,000 penalty for violations uncovered by FAA during its 1984 and 1985 inspections. Meanwhile, the flight attendants and mechanics ended their strike against Continental in Apr 1985, and a bankruptcy court resolved the pilots strike during that October by ordering a back-to-work plan. On Jun 30, 1986, the court approved a plan allowing Continental to end its bankruptcy within sixty days. (See Sep 24, 1983 and Dec 3, 1990.) “

” Feb 1, 1987: The Texas Air holding corporation merged New York Air and People Express into Continental Airlines. “

” Apr 18, 1990: A Federal bankruptcy judge removed Eastern Air Lines from the control of Texas Air Chairman Frank Lorenzo and placed it in the hands of special trustee, Martin Shugrue. Eastern had lost more than $1 billion since it filed for Chapter 11 protection on Mar 9, 1989. On Aug 9, 1990, Scandinavian Airline System bought Lorenzo's interests in Continental Airline Holdings (formerly known as Texas Air Corporation), which owned Eastern and Continental airlines. Besides stepping down as chairman of Continental Airlines Holdings, Lorenzo agreed not to work for a Continental competitor for seven years, although this stipulation was later dropped as part of a legal settlement. (See Mar 4, 1989, and Jan 18, 1991.) “

”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.“

In case it hasn’t dawned on you, should our ATC system suffer a similar accident (God forbid), somebody else will be dissecting our history a decade later.

Don Brown
November 15, 2007

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Explaining Airline Delays -- Eureka !

While reading in bed last night, I had a “Eureka ! moment” about airline delays. I won’t bother you with all the details about how I got there -- about Bush being from Texas and Cheney being from Texas but having to move to Wyoming to get around the Constitution so we could have two oil men from Texas running the White House...

The point is that people (including myself) often overlook the obvious. We overlook what is right in front of us.

I’ve quoted plenty of statements from various people claiming we can improve the efficiency of the ATC system and lessen the delays at our airports. Controllers (including myself) just can’t understand why people don’t understand that it isn’t possible. It’s obvious to us that you can only put so many airplanes on one runway during any period of time. It’s obvious to us because we see it all the time and we watch the clock all the time. Air traffic control is all about timing. Time, timing and time.

Go to and you’ll see what I mean. Each video (conveniently) has a timer on it. Watch the clock while you watch an airplane take off or land.

Try this video of aircraft taking off. Time it. When you hear the controller say “cleared for takeoff”, note the time. When the aircraft leaves the ground, see how much time has elapsed. I count from 40 seconds to 1 minute.

Or watch this video of an aircraft landing. From crossing the runway threshold to turning onto a taxiway takes a full minute.

Right at a minute for a takeoff and a minute for landing. How many airplanes do you think can use a runway in an hour ? If you can only have one airplane using the runway at a time (and that’s the rules) then it’s about 60, right ? Imagine if it was foggy. Or rainy. Or snowy. How many airplanes could use the runway in an hour ?

You’ll notice that both of those videos are from foreign countries. And it will hit you that it doesn’t matter. It’s the same the world over. You can not shorten the amount of time an aircraft has to be on the runway no matter what. A “space-based” air traffic control system won’t change it, a “market-based” system won’t change it and redesigning airspace won’t change it. This is what controllers mean when they say “ you can’t defy the laws of physics.” A 60-airplane-per hour airport can only handle 60 airplanes per hour.

Understand ?

I’ll flesh all this out and wrap it in a nice pretty bow for you soon but I wanted to get it out in the blogosphere so others can latch on to it. I know a guy that could make a great video that would make it all really easy to understand. ( Are you out there Paul ?) I’m betting he can even find a better video of wake turbulence so that John Q. Public can understand how that affects the amount of time a runway is unusable for other aircraft also.

Don Brown
November 14, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 14

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

”Nov 14, 1996: FAA announced its decision to issue a rulemaking proposal to require retrofit of fire detection and suppression equipment on some 2,800 older commercial aircraft that did not currently carry this equipment in inaccessible cargo compartments. This proposal, which grew out of concerns following a ValuJet crash (see May 11, 1996), was subsequently issued on Jun 10, 1997. On Dec 12, 1996, meanwhile, a group of the nation’s largest airlines announced that they would voluntarily install fire detection systems in cargo holds that lacked the equipment.“

Once again, the FAA earns it’s nickname -- The Tombstone Agency. Check out the dates very carefully. And the language -- detection vs. suppression. Here’s some language for you: Congressional Oversight.

John J. Duncan, Jr., Tennessee, Chairman
Subcommittee on Aviation


”After several fires aboard aircraft and well before the ValuJet accident, the NTSB had recommended that a fire detection system be required in aircraft cargo holds. However, the FAA decided not to accept the recommendation. Instead, the FAA felt it was enough to seal the cargo holds and thereby smother any fire that might occur.

    Sealing oxygen out of the cargo hold may work to suppress a fire in most cases, but, as we now know, this is not entirely true when oxygen generators are placed in these holds.

    The FAA has now decided that smoke detectors and fire suppression systems should be placed in cargo holds. In fact, the agency issued a press release in November announcing that they would issue a rule on this, but as of this morning they have not actually issued the rule or proposed a rule, so the subcommittee is concerned about this.

    The airlines also announced last December that they would voluntarily install smoke detectors in their cargo holds, but it is my understanding that not a great deal of progress has been made on this thus far.

    So I think it is accurate to say that airline passengers have really no more protection from cargo fires than they had a year ago before the ValuJet accident. However, since we announced this hearing a few weeks ago, there has been a good deal of activity, not only in the media but at the FAA and among the airlines. “

Don Brown
November 14 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Bleeding Edge

I and several other people in BlogLand have been trying to inform our readers of the horrors occurring in the FAA. You might think “horror” is too strong a word. Well, I want you to read an article from The Washington Post and see for yourself if the word fits. Here’s a selected statement to put you in the correct frame of mind.

”While the forum participants agreed they need to better inform students about opportunities in government and help them pay for their educations, Stier said the university leaders also think the government has to speed up hiring and become more competitive with the private sector. “

(emphasis added)

You’ve got to ask yourself, “Is cutting trainee’s pay 30% any way to become more competitive ?” Air traffic controllers do important work. Real important. But I can’t look dispassionately at the profession. I don’t want to look dispassionately at it.

I can look at the rest of government a little less passionately. The Press is starting to look at the future of government service. This isn’t the first story I’ve seen on the subject and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Because controllers can retire earlier (actually they’re forced out) than their other counterparts in government, the controllers are on the leading edge of this retirement wave. You’ve got to wonder, if this is how our leaders respond to a small portion of the government bleeding workers, how are they going to handle things with civil service really starts to hemorrhage ?

See what you think. Compare today’s reality in the FAA with the what is waiting in the future. Read the article.

Graduating to Public Service

Don Brown
November 13, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 12

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

”Nov 12, 1976: The U.S. Civil Service Commission, in a reversal of a position taken earlier, announced its support for upgrading air traffic controllers at 8 of the nation's busiest air traffic control facilities from GS-13 to GS-14. The Commission also approved the upgrading of controllers of lower grades at approximately 23 other installations, but insisted on downgradings at a few facilities. PATCO continued to demand better terms, backing its position with the threat of renewed slowdowns. On Jan 13, 1977, the Commission dropped its insistence on downgradings and approved promotions at some 45 facilities, including the GS-14 level at 8 locations. (See Mar 15, 1978.) “

I think it should be obvious that we should expect a radicalized controller workforce for at least the next decade. If you’ve learned anything from this blog, FAA Follies, The Main Bang or Vanity Fair Musings it is that controllers have every right to be upset. The junior controllers will quickly outnumber the senior controllers that haven’t been able to retire yet. The difference in attitude will have a large effect also. The senior guys will (for the most part) just try to keep their heads down until they can retire. The younger controllers will be impatient (as younger people are) and will insist on rapid changes.

Hang on to your seat. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Don Brown
November 12, 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Joe Brancatelli still has the flick but I lost it for a moment. Joe’s recent article ”The Chaos at Kennedy“ was from his column ”Seat 2B that appears in Conde Nast Portfolio. It was reprinted in The Washington Post.

Sorry for the bum steer. Turn right heading two zero zero, join the localizer, maintain three thousand until CORVT, cleared ILS runway two two right JFK.

(You watch. Now the boys at New York Tracon will write, telling me that I’m the chaos at Kennedy.)

Don Brown
November 10, 2007

Friday, November 09, 2007

Did You Forget ?

Did you forget about FEMA’s fake press briefing after the California wildfires ? The Washington Post didn’t.

FEMA Press Secretary Directed Fake News Briefing, Inquiry Finds

FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison evidently forgot about the history of the Bush Administration.

"Those are career people. They should have stepped up and said something, they really should have. But their bosses said 'Do this,' and they did it -- some reluctantly, but there's no excuses for that," Paulison said. He called the impact on FEMA's credibility "devastating."

In a normal world, I’d agree with Mr. Paulison. But this isn’t a normal world. This is Bush World. Government employees that blow the whistle on the Bush Administration get fired. Just ask General Shinseki.

You can’t have it both ways Mr. Paulison. You can’t fire government employees for speaking the truth as they know it and then turn around and expect them to protect you from yourself.

And that goes for you too, Joe Public.

Don Brown
November 9, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 9

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

”Nov 9-10, 1965: New York's La Guardia and John F. Kennedy airports were forced to shut down when the overloading of a switch at an electrical generating plant in Ontario, Canada, set off a chain reaction that caused a massive power failure in the northeast, blacking out for 13 hours or longer an 80,000-squaremile area. The power failure hit during the evening rush hour, but several factors combined to head off disaster: clear weather, a moonlit night, and the fact that FAA's air route traffic control centers in the blacked out area continued to operate. Relying on secondary commercial suppliers, the ARTCCs guided aircraft to Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, and other airports not affected by the failure.

Prior to the blackout, the agency had believed that a standby engine generator was not as desirable as a second source of commercial power when two or more such sources were available, for the simultaneous loss of multiple sources was considered highly improbable. The power failure, however, demonstrated the need for generators at individual facilities. On Mar 2, 1966, FAA announced a program to install standby engine generators to power essential services at 50 airports in the contiguous United States. The 50 airports, chosen on the basis of their activity and location, would receive standby engine generators capable of powering a control tower, airport surveillance radar, approach-light system, instrument landing system, and runway lights on the primary runway.

The following year, FAA began planning a similar program for the air route traffic control centers. Over the past three years, ARTCCs had suffered more than 1,300 power failures lasting long enough to impair the operational use of critical equipment. Recognizing that power loss would be a potentially more serious safety threat in the future due to increased reliance on automation, FAA planned to equip all 20 centers in the contiguous U.S. with adequate auxiliary power sources and uninterruptible power units. (See Jun 27, 1969.) “

Don Brown
November 9, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Can I Help ?

I was reading John Carr’s latest post over at The Main Bang this morning and thought to myself, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The FAA is (once again) redesigning airspace and the citizens that live under the airspace are (once again) suing the FAA.

I know that some find the “FAA History Lessons” that I regularly post on my blog rather dull but there is a method to my maddening dullness. We really aren’t dealing with anything new here. Even the rationales aren’t new...”new procedures reduced traffic congestion”...”increase the capacity”...” complaints of increased noise...”

Perhaps the information below will help the public debate. It is available (free) at the link posted. (Hint: You can do your own research for your own interests.) Try not to be lulled into a stupor by it’s dullness because I’ve saved one really important lesson for the last part. The FAA is (once again) failing to the learn the lessons of it’s own history.

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

”Jun 25, 1970: FAA introduced major changes in the New York Metropolitan Area's air traffic patterns and procedures. Known as New York Metroplex, the new procedures reduced traffic congestion in and around New York airports, and accelerated the movement of aircraft along major northsouth routes. Under Metroplex, primary holding patterns, or arrival fixes, for area airports were moved farther out from the center of the city. This enabled FAA to add five new en route corridors, with the following results: the number of departure routes increased significantly, traffic distribution improved, bottlenecks were reduced, and crisscrossing of incoming and outgoing flight corridors was minimized. The introduction of the new procedures, first scheduled for Apr 2, 1970, but delayed by a postal employees strike and then the air traffic controllers strike, was made possible by the presence of the New York common IFR room (see Jul 15, 1968), which gave the New York area a greater and more flexible traffic handling capability than the older, unintegrated terminal control system. (See Jan 15, 1969.) “

“Feb 12, 1987: FAA initiated Phase 1 of the Expanded East Coast Plan (EECP) to help increase the capacity of the National Airspace System (see Aug 21, 1986). The plan had been originally intended to relieve traffic congestion in the New York and Washington, D.C., areas through the more effective use of airspace, but was expanded to cover the airspace from Maine to Florida and west to Chicago. The EECP: created new departure and arrival routes; established separate paths and altitudes for jets and slower propeller aircraft; set up new city-pair routes; and used new traffic management techniques to increase airport departure flows and reduce holding procedures. The agency initiated Phase II of plan on Nov 19. That phase involved a realignment of the northwest departure quadrant from the New York Metropolitan area. The agency also increased the number of westbound high-altitude, routes from one to four to expedite traffic flows to Chicago, Detroit, and the west coast. The final phase of the EECP, implemented on Mar 10, 1988, was designed to improve traffic flow from the New York area to the northeast, and involved changes affecting the airspace in New England, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. (See Aug 25, 1988.) “

“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.) “

“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. In a response to another congressional action, FAA on Oct 28 announced a series of public meetings in New York and Connecticut as part of an Aircraft Noise Mitigation Review for the New York metropolitan area (see Nov 20, 1992). On Nov 12, 1992, FAA released a Draft Environmental Impact Statment (DEIS) on the EECP's effects on New Jersey. The agency scheduled public hearings and gathered public views on the DEIS during a comment period that was subsequently extended until Nov 23, 1993. (See Oct 31, 1995.) “

We suffer through all this fuss because we (once again) refuse to learn this simple lesson. It isn’t the airspace. It’s the airports.

“Dec 30, 1963: FAA made public a study completed for the agency by a private research firm with the cooperation of the Air Transport Association. The study concluded that airport surface congestion was the principal cause of airport delays, a finding that corroborated an Aug 1962 FAA staff study. The firm found that runways, taxiways, ramp space, and gate positions were inadequate for modern-day air traffic, particularly during the evening rush hour. Only about one in five flights encountered delay, however, and significant delays were concentrated within a relatively few large airports. “

”Jun 1, 1969: In response to growing congestion, FAA implemented a rule placing quotas on instrument flight rule (IFR) operations at five of the nation's busiest airports between 6 a.m. and midnight. The rule assigned the following hourly quotas: Kennedy International, 80 (70 for air carriers and supplementals; 5 for scheduled air taxis; 5 for general aviation); O'Hare, 135 (115 for air carriers and supplementals; 10 for scheduled air taxis; 10 for general aviation); La Guardia, 60 (48 for air carriers and supplementals; 6 for scheduled air taxis; 6 for general aviation); Newark, 60 (40 for air carriers and supplementals; 10 for scheduled air taxis; 10 for general aviation); Washington National, 60 (40 for air carriers and supplementals; 8 for scheduled air taxis; 12 for general aviation). The rule did not charge extra sections of scheduled air carrier flights (such as hourly shuttle flights) against the established quotas, except at Kennedy; this airport, however, was permitted 10 extra air carrier operations per hour during the peak traffic period between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. ...

... In taking this action, FAA noted that the percentage of aircraft delays at the five airports had decreased substantially since the rule was put into effect.

Think about it. Less airplanes equals less congestion equals less delays. It also negates the rationale the FAA uses to redesign the airspace. Honesty won’t let me leave you with the impression that airspace never needs to be redesigned. It does. Occasionally. But redesigning airspace isn’t a substitute for runways -- or a rational public policy limiting the number of scheduled flights to the airport’s capacity to handle them.

Don Brown
November 8, 2007

Brancatelli Has The Flick

Joe Brancatelli over at The Washington Post has the most accurate (and rational) analysis on the current airline delay situation that I’ve seen so far.

The Chaos at Kennedy
Who's to blame for the astounding delays at New York's busiest airport?

“What the airlines want - other than billions of dollars of new public spending lavished on their pet airport and infrastructure projects - is to be left alone to do virtually nothing at all about the chaos at Kennedy.”

If you’re a controller, leave Mr. Brancatelli a note in the “comments” section and let him know he’s got The Flick.

Don Brown
November 8, 2007

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Invention of the Year

It’s time (pardon the pun) for one of my favorite issues of Time each year: Invention of the Year.

I don’t feel like an idiot for not buying the iPhone (yes, it’s the Invention of the Year) but I do for not buying Apple stock when I was telling everybody else to buy it. That was back when it was around $50 a share. It’s at $186 a share today.

Oh well. Be sure to check out the full list of inventions. I want the HortiBot. That way I won’t feel guilty about dodging my weeding duties to write my blog.

Don Brown
November 6, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 6

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

”Nov 6, 1970: FAA established a national en route air traffic training program for beginning center controllers. The program, an outgrowth of a Corson Committee recommendation (see Jan 29, 1970), used the FAA Academy for qualification training and FAA facilities for proficiency training. Its objectives included shortening the training, reducing the high attrition rate among trainees, and making more efficient use of resources. Training was conducted in three phases. The first phase, indoctrination and precontrol, took place at an en route facility and covered noncontrol duties. The second, control, was conducted at the FAA Academy and consisted of a nine-week non-radar and radar control procedures course. The final phase, sector qualification, took place at an en route facility. Previously, controller trainees had been sent directly to the FAA Academy for a nine-week indoctrination course, and then to the centers for on-the-job training running from two to three years. “

“Its objectives included shortening the training, reducing the high attrition rate among trainees, and making more efficient use of resources.” Sound familiar ? History often does.

For instance, take the Corson Committee recommendations mentioned above.

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

”Jan 29, 1970: The Air Traffic Controller Career Committee (popularly known as the Corson Committee) submitted its report to Secretary of Transportation John Volpe. The report's recommendations included:

*Reduce the overtime work required of controllers in high-density areas.

*Reduce the consecutive hours spent by controllers in operational positions to two, and the total hours per day on such positions to six.

*Detail qualified journeyman controllers to high-density facilities with critical manpower shortages.

*Develop a more mobile controller work force so that the needs of the system, rather than the preferences of controllers, determine assignments.

*Develop incentives to attract the most talented controllers to the most difficult positions.

*Pay special rates for employment in facilities located in high-cost-of-living areas.

*Accelerate and improve training of developmental controllers.

*Seek legislation providing for the early retirement of controllers who attain a certain age and cannot be retained or reassigned to less arduous duty--e.g., retirement at age 50 after 20 years of ATC service with 50 percent of high-three average salary.

*Designate a single official immediately responsible to the FAA Administrator to handle all relationships with employee organizations at the national level.

A number of the committee's recommendations, including detailing journeyman controllers to facilities with critical manpower shortages, and providing developmental controllers with "update" training, received immediate attention. In addition, FAA appointed a Director of Labor Relations on Mar 23, 1970. The agency established nine groups to consider the remaining recommendations and develop programs for their implementation. (See Aug 8, 1969, Mar 25-Apr 14, 1970, Nov 6, 1970, and May 16, 1972.) “

Does any of that sound familiar to you ? For any controllers that have ever read their union contract -- the real one, not the current Imposed Work Rules -- I bet several sound familiar. These history lessons detail how things get done. Why things are the way they are and how we got here.

If you’re a smart CTI graduate and you learned anything in college, you’ll remember how to do research. It shouldn’t take you two minutes to find this page.

”Abstract : The report presents recommendations as to what needs be done with respect to manning the air traffic system, improving working conditions, bettering the controller's career, and improving employee-management relations. The recommendations are neither novel nor unexpected. There is an especial need for expeditious consideration of those recommendations designed to resolve the employee-management relations problems which threaten the system.

Sound familiar ? Everyone needs to learn from the history but if you’re a new hire in the FAA, you’ll be the one that has to live (or should I say re-live ?) it. You need to have some perspective on all this. Figure out who was President at the time. Find out why Nixon, grain shipments and PATCO were all part of the same puzzle. Here’s a hint: MEBA. Find out about “Operation Air Safety.” You can do it in a tenth of the time it took me. You have the internet. I had to go to a library (usually more than one) and look at microfiche. That and hang out at the bar (usually more than one) listening to guys like John Leyden and John Thornton (look them up if you don’t know) as they tried to educate us about what we faced.

Get busy. It isn’t going to get any better unless you make it better.

Don Brown
November 6, 2007

Monday, November 05, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- November 5

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

”Nov 5, 1962: FAA announced acceptance of a design concept for a standard air traffic control tower. Prepared by the New York architectural firm I. M. Pei and Associates, the concept featured a free-standing tower providing greater visibility from the cab, improved space for operating radio and radar equipment, and a better environment for air traffic control personnel. Acceptance of the Pei design was recommended by FAA engineers and the agency's Design Advisory Committee, a group of citizens prominent in the fields of architecture or design. (See Dec 14, 1964.) “

Those were the days. I don’t remember them of course. It was almost 20 years before I hired on with the FAA and besides, I worked in a Center my entire career. I visited a lot of Towers but I never worked in one.

In that it was so long ago (to some anyway), I’m guessing many of you haven’t heard of I.M. Pei. He was one of the most famous architects in the world. Between that fact and this statement, “a better environment for air traffic control personnel”, I was struck by the contrast between then and now.




But it wasn’t just that entry that made me notice the difference. There were more things happening on this date in the FAA’s history.

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

”Nov 5, 1966: A two-day exercise designated Metro Air Support '66 began as a demonstration of aviation's ability to provide emergency access and logistic support to a city center. The first major operation of its kind, it involved more than 200 airplanes, helicopters, and Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) aircraft.

FAA was a key participant in planning the exercise, and a number of airlines cooperated by flying supplies from distant points to airports in the New York City vicinity. The key operation involved airlifting supplies from the fringes of the city to its center, which was accomplished by helicopters and STOL aircraft. The exercise had its headquarters at a pier on the Hudson River, and one of its objectives was to encourage the development of waterfront locations for STOL ground facilities. (See Apr 1966 and Jun 30, 1968.) “

Be honest, did you think of Hurricane Katrina too ? Do you remember how the New Orleans airport looked like the world’s largest heliport and that the air traffic controllers made it work without the benefit of “a two-day exercise” or any other kind of training ? I bet every air traffic controller in the country thought of it.

It’s the difference between being on the inside of government and being on the outside. Even those that are too young to remember can recognize the difference. There was once a time in this country when our leaders actually tried to make the government work. It’s incredibly difficult work -- making government work -- but there have been instances in our past where we were successful. With good leadership, the government actually made the lives of our citizens better. It was done by people committed to their jobs and led by people that believed in the power of the government to improve their country.

Compare that to the current Administration. Compare that to this famous statement by President Bush’s personal hero and the icon of the Republican right wing:

“Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem."

History provides us with the clarity of hindsight. In the future -- when the next disaster strikes -- who do you want to see riding over the hill to save the day ? The 7th Cavalry or Blackwater ? You’d better hope it’s the Cavalry. They’re here to protect you. Blackwater is there to protect whoever pays them. There’s a big difference. Ask the Iraqis.

Don Brown
November 5, 2007

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Praying for Rain

Things are getting desperate down here in Georgia. The drought still lingers and Atlanta is running out of water. The Georgia Baptist Convention has asked its members to pray for rain today.

I grew up Baptist so I realize that they are seldom at a loss for words...but I thought I’d offer these up anyway.

43. For Rain

O God, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all those who seek thy kingdom and its righteousness all things necessary to sustain their life: Send us, we entreat thee, in this time of need, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth, to our comfort and to thy honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Anytime you might need a good prayer, The Book of Common Prayer is a good place to look. Most of them can be found in Prayers and Thanksgivings but there are others throughout the book.

Don Brown
November 4, 2007

Another Fox

Fear not America. The Press has finally awakened from their nap. The L.A. Times has a story demonstrating that Nancy Nord is just another fox guarding the hen house -- in this case, the Consumer Product Safety Commission hen house.

Speaking of the Press, as I noted earlier, I’ve given up on CNN. I’ve taken to recording BBC World News America and I have to say it’s a refreshing change. One of the first stories I saw was the coverage of President Bush speaking at The Heritage Foundation . Instead of the usual American version of, “The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank”, the BBC actually provided a little analysis. What a concept.

Of course, with an hour long news program you actually have a few minutes for some analysis. They even spent about 10 minutes on Pakistan. An ally that provides the gateway to Afghanistan, is 97% Muslim and is on the verge of imploding. Oh yeah, and unlike Iran or Iraq, they actually do have the bomb. Sounds like something we might want to analyze.

You might want to give BBC World News America a try. I like it and I haven’t heard the first word about Britney Spears yet.

Don Brown
November 4, 2007

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Privatization -- Top Secret

Pssst! Hey buddy, you want a nice spy ? We got A-Number-One-good-time spies.

Honestly folks, did we fall Through the Looking Glass ? I felt kind of goofy when it dawned on me that the only logical explanation for the Bush Administration’s actions regarding the FAA was that they intended to privatize air traffic control. But privatized spies ? I would have laughed at that one myself.

Blackwater's Owner Has Spies for Hire

Ex-U.S. Operatives Dot Firm's Roster “

This isn’t funny. It’s scary. It’s insane scary.

Don Brown
November 3, 2007

Backdoor Privatization

The Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS) is the union representing the electronic wizards of air traffic control. These guys perform the maintenance and certify that everything will work as advertised. Radars, radios, telecommunications -- these are the guys that make it all work. The mechanics (and a lot more) of ATC if you will. Pilots depend on controllers. Controllers depend on the members of PASS.

Tom Brantley, the president of PASS, testified recently on Capitol Hill. You should read his testimony. a .pdf file) I’ll hit the highlights for you.

”According to the FAA, ADS-B is “the future of air traffic control.”

“It is our understanding of the FAA’s plans that with the implementation of this system, ADS-B, unlike our current radar systems, will not be certified and all maintenance will be the responsibility of the contractor. “

“PASS is especially disturbed by the elimination of FAA certification of the system, the decrease in system redundancy and the FAA’s troubled history of contract management. “

“According to the agency, since ADS-B will result in more accurate tracking, aircraft will be able to fly safely with less distance between them, thus allowing for an increase in airspace capacity. The FAA predicts that the ADS-B technology will also allow air traffic controllers to better manage the air traffic at congested airports.”

“Certification is the process in which a certificated FAA technician checks and tests systems or pieces of equipment on a periodic basis in order to ensure that the systems or pieces of equipment can be safely returned to service and not negatively impact any aspect of the NAS. According to the FAA’s own order, “Certification is a quality control method used by the ATO [Air Traffic Organization] to ensure NAS facilities are providing their advertised service. The ATO employee’s independent discretionary judgment about the provision of advertised services, the need to separate profit motivations from operational decisions, and the desire to minimize liability, make the regulatory function of certification and oversight of the NAS an inherently governmental function.” Since certification is an inherently governmental function, it can only be accomplished by FAA employees. “

“Further changes the agency has made to its own orders reveal the agency’s true intentions of taking FAA employees out of the process.”

“It should also be noted that this new interpretation of the agency’s certification criteria would apply not only to ADS-B but also to any system or service that is not owned by the FAA—any future contract awarded by the FAA that provides for vendor-owned equipment or services would be barred from the FAA certification program. In addition, the pilot programs contained in the Senate’s version of the reauthorization bill that would turn over ownership, maintenance and operation of airports to entities other than the FAA would also place the systems and services used or provided by those airports in a category of being prohibited from the FAA’s certification program.”

”Clearly, the agency’s ill-advised goal is to turn over as much of the NAS as possible to the private sector.

Gettin’ the Flick ? There’s more. A lot more. As I said, you should really read it all for yourself. It’s only 8 pages. You might spot something that I didn’t. Something like this:

”According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the “the ADS-B rollout will allow the agency to remove 50 percent of its current secondary radars, saving money in the program’s baseline.” Full implementation of ADS-B would mean that the primary radar would be eliminated and 50 percent of secondary radars would also be removed. The FAA considers providing backup for half of ADS-B users sufficient, but PASS questions the consequences of such a drastic cut in redundancy, literally moving almost entirely to a satellite-based system. Furthermore, if the ADS-B technology truly allows for the reduction of space between aircraft, what happens if ADS-B fails and aircraft are forced to switch to secondary radar, which requires more space between aircraft in order to ensure safety?“

PASS has the flick. Do you ?

In case it hasn’t hit you, this is the reason that the Bush Administration and its corporate masters try to eliminate unions like NATCA and PASS. They know where the bodies are buried and can blow the whistle when needed. Most Americans don’t have any idea how the National Airspace System works, anymore than I can tell you how the internet works. Unions, civil servants and an independent Press are all part of the checks and balances in our system of governing ourselves as a nation.

It’s simple really. We can govern ourselves or we can continue to let the power of corporations grow unchecked and be governed by them. We’ve tried that before. Trust me. You won’t like it.

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go;
I owe my soul to the company store.

Don Brown
November 3, 2007