Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wiggle, Evade and Dodge (or Air Traffic for Dummies II)

"These Holiday Express lanes in the sky will give airlines the wiggle room they need to avoid backups, evade weather, and dodge delays,” Secretary Peters said."

So, now they’re “Holiday” express lanes. I can’t wait for the acronym-crazy FAA to fully embrace that one -- HEL. But let’s focus on the Wiggle, Evade and Dodge.

I’m confused about the Secretary’s announcement..

” She said the new measures developed at the direction of President Bush this fall include an agreement to cap hourly operations at JFK International Airport, plans for hourly limits at Newark and capacity improvements for the region, and were based on input from a multi-month process that involved airlines, airports and consumer advocates.”

Is it an “agreement” or a regulation ? Is it enforceable ? Who signed their names on the proverbial dotted line ? Some might think I’m quibbling but I’ve watched these people call their imposed work rules for air traffic controllers a “contract” for over a year and I assure you, no controller has agreed to this “contact” much less signed it. Wiggle, Evade and Dodge.

Speaking of controllers, I assume you noticed their absence in this latest “agreement” ? “...based on input from a multi-month process that involved airlines, airports and consumer advocates.” Don’t you think it just a little bit odd ? The people that actually have to make HEL work -- the controllers -- aren’t consulted ? In this case, I’d be happy if the Secretary Peters would consult with the FAA.

” “These new measures will cut delays, protect consumer choice, support New York’s economy, and allow for new flights as we bring new capacity online,” Secretary Peters said.”

“New capacity” huh ? I wonder where that is coming from ? That doesn’t agree with what I was reading this morning -- another long, boring FAA report: “Airport Capacity Benchmark 2004”. The casual reader will NOT be interested in downloading this report. It is 5+megs of the most confusing charts you would ever want to see and is chock full of evasions, caveats and obfuscation. Wiggle, Evade and Dodge.

Buried in the section on JFK airport is this:

”NEW YORK – New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) Benchmark Results

• The capacity benchmark for New York John F. Kennedy International Airport today is 75-87 flights per hour (arrivals and departures) in Optimum weather. The benchmark remains the same in Marginal conditions.

• The benchmark rate decreases slightly to 64-67 flights per hour in IFR conditions, for the most commonly used runway configuration in these conditions. Throughput may be less when ceiling and visibility are low, or when other runway configurations are in use due to wind direction or for noise abatement.”

One page further down is this little tidbit:

”Planned Improvements at JFK are not expected to affect the benchmark rates.“

Interpretation. Secretary Peters (holding a really big hammer) has convinced the airlines to limit the number of operations at JFK to 82-83 operations per hour. Delays will go down during good weather. In that 82-83 flights an hour still exceeds the bad weather capacity (IFR -- Instrument Flight Rules) of 64-67 flights per hour, when the weather worsens the delays will start piling up and the airlines will still blame the weather just like they do now. Despite what Secretary Peters might want you to believe, it still comes down to the runways. If you want more capacity, build a runway. Even the FAA says so. On page 11 of that benchmark report.

”For those airports operating close to capacity, technological and procedural changes could have a significant impact in improving the capacity benchmark. In general, the greatest benefit is derived from adding a new runway.”

I know what you’re saying, “But Don, it says right there, “...technological and procedural changes could have a significant impact...”” Yep. You see, I read things differently than most people. Let me dissect it for you so you can have the flick too.

First off, it says “could”. It doesn’t say “will.” It’s saying, “well...maybe.” When you read these things, always look for “and.” For instance: “...technological and procedural changes”. There is a reason it doesn’t say, “Technological changes will improve capacity.” You think I’m just picking nits don’t you ? I’m not. Let me show you.

On the same page, the report also says this: “CEFR will increase the benchmark capacity in Marginal conditions.” That sounds great. There’s no Wiggle, Evade and Dodge in that sentence. But what is CEFR ? See page 4.

”CDTI -Enhanced Flight Rules (CEFR) allows suitably equipped aircraft to maintain visual separation from other aircraft and continue visual approaches even in Marginal weather conditions.”

Okay. What is CDTI ? See the note at the bottom of the page.

”Cockpit Display of Traffic Information”

Okay. So if the airplane is equipped with CDTI and if the crew is rated for CEFR...”CEFR will increase the benchmark capacity in Marginal conditions.” And then it hits you -- you didn’t look up “Marginal”. Most people give up. I don’t. I look it up. Besides, the section on JFK (quoted above) says: “The benchmark remains the same in Marginal conditions.“ Does your head hurt yet ?

I’ll spare you another agonizing wild goose chase. Here’s the part that throws the whole report into question.

”For the purpose of this analysis, it was assumed that all aircraft at these 35 airports will be suitably equipped [with CDTI] by 2013; actual equipage will probably be less.“

I assume their assumption is incorrect also. Wiggle, Evade and Dodge.

Don Brown
December 20, 2007

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