Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cui Bono ?

I could stay on this kick for a good long while. If you bothered to go to that “Airport Capacity Benchmark 2004” link I provided, you could have picked up a bonus -- the Airport Capacity Benchmark for 2001. I know, I know -- that’s what you have me for.

The link for the entire report downloads a broken file (in case somebody at the FAA might want to fix it) so I had to be content with downloading individual reports. Let’s stick with JFK in that everybody seems stuck on that airport this year.

For JFK in 2001:

• The current capacity benchmark at John F. Kennedy International Airport is 88-98 flights per hour in good weather.

• Current capacity falls to 71 flights (or fewer) per hour in adverse weather conditions, which may include poor visibility, unfavorable winds or heavy precipitation.

Just for comparison...which the FAA says you shouldn’t do because the methodology has changed...which they change on a regular basis so you can’t track trends...but their reports are junk anyway as discussed previously....

Good weather capacity at JFK 2001 -- 88-98 flights per hour.

Good weather capacity at JFK 2004 -- 75-87 flights per hour.

Bad weather capacity at JFK 2001 -- 71 or less flights per hour.

Bad weather capacity at JFK 2004 -- 67 or less flights per hour.

So, it would appear that capacity at JFK is actually declining. Isn’t that interesting ? Technology had 3 years to boost capacity yet it didn’t. What happened ? Let’s see.

The report goes on to say:

• In 2000, almost 4% of all flights at Kennedy experienced significant levels of delay (more than 15 minutes).

• Periods of excess arrival and departure demand can be handled efficiently during good weather conditions, but cannot be sustained in adverse weather.

• In adverse weather, scheduled traffic exceeds capacity for more than 5 hours in the day.

• On adverse weather days, about 9% of the flights are delayed significantly (more than 15 minutes). “

• Technology and procedural improvements are expected to improve Kennedy’s good weather capacity benchmark by 2% (to 90-100 flights per hour) over the next 10 years.

• The adverse weather capacity benchmark will increase by 3% (to 73 flights per hour.

That is a good place to pause. Bad weather capacity will increase by 3%. But it didn’t. It declined. It decreased from 71 to 67. That math genius tells me that is a 5.4% decrease. And while we’re having fun with numbers, I want to emphasize this point. Look at the number of airplanes we’re talking about here folks. It’s 1, 2, 3 maybe 4 per hour. We’re talking about billions of dollars to get 2 more airplanes per hour on the runway.

Let’s move on.

• These capacity increases could be brought about as a result of:

– ADS-B/CDTI (with LAAS), which provides a cockpit display of the location of other aircraft and will help the pilot maintain the desired separation more precisely.

– FMS/RNAV Routes, which allow a more consistent flow of aircraft to the runway. – Precision Runway Monitor (PRM) – allows use of independent arrivals for some parallel runway configuration. These benefits are not reflected in the benchmark value, however, since they apply to different runway configurations than those identified for the optimum and reduced rates.

• Demand at Kennedy is projected to grow by 18% over the next decade indicating that delays are expected to increase in the future.

Right off the bat it’s “could be”. ADS-B is going to save the day -- 7 years ago in 2001. CDTI (I had never even heard the term and I’ve only been retired 13 months) sounds great but depends on equipping the entire fleet to get a couple more airplanes per hour on the runway. Let me ask the question -- Then what ?

Let’s say we can accomplish all this. Using technology, we can get the bad weather arrival rate up to good weather arrival rate. Then what ? Technology will give you a 3% increase (2 airplanes) per hour and demand is expected to increase 18% in the same time frame -- 10 years ? Is that worth $20-40 billion ? Atlanta’s new runway cost over a billion dollars but that will handle around 60 airplanes per hour. At even half that rate it’s a better bargain than ADS-B/CDTI.

Are you getting the flick yet ? You need to ask the age-old question -- Cui Bono ? To Whose Benefit ? Who benefits from a $20+ billion dollar, government-mandated program ? Even if it works, the runways will still be overscheduled. There will still be delays. It will still snow and snow plows will still have to clear the runway. Thunderstorms will still occur and nobody is flying through one of those -- ADS-B or no ADS-B. There will still be delays.

I’ve already established for you that there is a finite capacity to runways. Even if NextGen --ADS-B/CDTI/GPS/etc.-- works, you still run into that brick wall -- finite runway capacity. Then what ?

Why spend $20+ billion on NextGen instead of runways ? Cui Bono ? Did the paving contractors forget to send in their campaign contribution ?

Don Brown
December 20, 2007

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