Monday, April 30, 2007

Schwarzenegger is a Scottish Socialist


All right, I know I’m getting a little close to the edge but I can’t get this one out of my head. I saw this video a few days ago and I can’t even remember on which site I saw it. Anyway, although I found it entertaining, I gave it a pass. It’s a great political commercial. But it’s a quirky idea, so I passed on passing it along to my readers.

And then the bridge caught on fire.

As you all probably know, the truck caught on fire, the bridge (overpass) burned and San Francisco has a world class traffic jam. You might have caught the blurb about Governor Schwarzenegger making all public transportation free of charge in order to help deal with the crisis.

Suddenly, what was a quirky, out-of-left-wing (but interesting) idea is now a reality -- Free public transportation. Watch the video.

Don Brown
April 30, 2007

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Economists


I stumbled onto another interesting site while cruising the web. Well, at least I think it’s interesting. Maybe I’m just turning into an old fogey. Maybe it’s just that I have time to delve into other things besides ATC now. Or maybe, it’s just plain interesting.

Economist’s View

I know, I know. Economics is supposed to be duller than dirt. I remember taking an Economics class in college. I think I dropped it after the second day. Or maybe I just blocked out the memory of it. But for some reason, I now find it interesting.

Much of that interest is due solely to one person -- Paul Krugman. I’m fascinated that a man as smart as he is can bring such a boring subject down to a level that someone like me can understand. And make it interesting. Take this posting form the Economist’s View for example.


Paul Krugman: Gilded Once More

”Consider a head-to-head comparison. We know what John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in Gilded Age America, made in 1894, because ... he had to pay income taxes. ... His return declared an income of $1.25 million, almost 7,000 times the average per capita income ... at the time.

But that makes him a mere piker by modern standards. Last year, ... James Simons, a hedge fund manager, took home $1.7 billion, more than 38,000 times the average income..., and the top 25 combined made $14 billion. ...”


A billion dollars is a lot of money. And power. According to the biography on Wikipedia, John D. Rockefeller “...believed since he was a child that his purpose in life was to make as much money as possible, and then use it wisely to improve the lot of mankind.” That is, arguably, a noble thought. J.D. Rockefeller had many deeds to go with those thoughts. Many of his trusts are still in place, doing good things.

I wonder what Mr. Simons believes in ? Or the guy just below him in the pecking order. And the guy below him. I wonder what J. D. Rockefeller’s competitors -- the ones he drove out of business -- would have done with their fortunes ? Support their church ? Support democracy ? Support the Republican Party ? Support a “swiftboat” campaign in a Presidential race ?

Don Brown
April 29, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

OSHhhhhh


As I was saying, the Bush Administration is gutting the various agencies in the U.S. Government. I was just reading this in The New York Times.

OSHA Leaves Worker Safety in Hands of Industry

”Since George W. Bush became president, OSHA has issued the fewest significant standards in its history, public health experts say. It has imposed only one major safety rule. The only significant health standard it issued was ordered by a federal court.”

I guess we can always hope that a disaster doesn’t strike our town (FEMA) or that we won’t eat any harmful food (FDA) or that an illegal alien doesn’t take our job (Border Patrol) or that our plane isn’t in an accident (FAA) or that our employer doesn’t decide it’s cheaper to have an unsafe workplace (OHSA.)

Sleep tight America (with your YELLOW DHS night light.)



Don Brown
April 26, 2007

A Common Thread


Either the internet has allowed me to to be selective about my news or controllers are getting better at making the news. I’m not really sure which but I am seeing a common thread in the news and it isn’t very pretty. It started off with Lou Dobbs last night.

I’ve been able to watch Lou on a semi-regular basis since I retired. It’s something most people don’t think about. Controllers aren’t able to watch anything on a regular basis. Most of them work a different shift everyday. But anyway, I agree with much of what Lou Dobbs says although he seems to “bang the drum” a little loudly these days. He seems to be outraged on a regular basis, but when you stop and think about it, there is a lot to be outraged about.

Last night, he ran three stories that struck a chord with me. First, the FDA has known for a long time about the potential for contamination in peanut butter and spinach. A federal agency that knew about a problem but didn’t address it. Gee, where have I heard that before ? Then there was the story about food supplements (specifically vitamin C) that aren’t regulated at all. Did you know China has all but cornered the market on vitamin C ? Anyway, a lack of regulation shouldn’t surprise anyone these days. Next, Lou jumped to one of his favorite subjects: illegal immigration.

This story focused on the fact that the rank-and-file officers of the Border Patrol have lost confidence in their leader; David Aguilar. That of course opened the door for Lou’s other favorite horse to flog, the prosecution of the two Border Patrol agents (Ramos and Compean) that wounded the drug dealer, by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton. Johnny Sutton worked for Alberto Gonzales and (you guessed it) then-Governor George W. Bush, back in Texas. This merry-go-round won’t stop so let me just jump off.

I suspect the story angle about the low morale at the Border Patrol came from the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” survey that just came out. Regardless, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (DHS) ranked 195th out of the 222 government organizations listed. The FAA came in at 204th. I could say a few choice words about that ranking but my buddy John Carr has already taken care of that over at The Main Bang. Allow me to move along.

The next story that came across the internet was an entry from Stephen Barr at The Washington Post. FAA Has Some Unhappy Controllers. He can say that again.

”Only 9.3 percent of the air traffic employees said they trusted FAA management and just 8 percent said they believe that agency executives were honest in how they share information.”

I’m sorry, were we talking about honesty ? How does calling imposed work rules a “contract” translate into “honesty” ? Honestly, these people lie so often you don’t even notice it half the time. Mr. Barr starts his missive with this little tidbit:

"Trust is a big deal, as we all know.

That's why the Federal Aviation Administration is conducting focus groups with employees across the country to find out why they have a problem with management."


We need a focus group to figure out what FAA management should have learned in the first grade ? Controllers know a little about trust. If you want people to trust you, try telling The Truth .

If you’d like to hear more on the subject, run over to The FAA Follies and read “Stack of lies”. Once you’ve read that, make sure you keep scrolling down and read the next story, “Quality individuals.” I don’t think a focus group is going to help the FAA with this problem.

Moving on. The last news I got yesterday was a little more upbeat. Ed Schultz brought his radio program to Chapel Hill, NC to cover a town hall meeting with Presidential candidate John Edwards. Turns out there was a controller in Ed’s audience and his comment made the show. You can listen to it here. I really liked the controller’s “Air Force One” comment but I liked Ed Shcultz’s response better.

I’m not much on listening to talk radio (even progressive talk radio) but Ed sees the same common thread that I do. Business good. Government bad. Cheap labor. Just plain anti-labor. This Administration doesn’t want government to work. In fact, they want to destroy it.

They are destroying the agency that helps keep the food supply safe. They don’t want to increase any regulation, even when public health is at stake. They are destroying the agency that helps guard our borders. They fail to enforce the immigration laws in order to allow the price of labor to drop. But even that isn’t low enough to satisfy the greed. Outsource what we can to China.

George W. Bush didn’t weave this common thread throughout the tapestry of our lives by himself. He had help. A lot of help.

This is what this mutated form of conservatism -- unbalanced and unchecked by Congress or the Judiciary -- has done to our country. On my night stand, there still sits a copy of Paul Krugman’s book "The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century”. Losing our way. Indeed.

Don Brown
April 25, 2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007

And Crop Dusters Too


Just to let you know, I never even thought about these guys. It shows you just how big and diverse “General Aviation” really is. In my 25 years as an air traffic controller, I don’t think I ever worked a crop duster. But the Bush Administration wants to raise the tax on their fuel too.


(scroll down a little after you click the link)
Corn Growers Joins AAAA to Fight FAA User Fees for GA

Don Brown
April 22, 2007

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Other Shoe


Surprise ! The Bush Administration isn’t as dumb as they want you to believe. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey’s plan to charge user fees was met with outrage by anyone that knows anything about aviation -- except for the airlines of course. The airlines are the ones that will make out like bandits so why should they complain ? If all goes accordingly to plan, the airlines will own the taxpayer’s National Airspace System (or at least the keys to it) and they will be able to charge whatever they want, for anyone that wants to use it.

But getting back to the Bush Administration. They have a new offensive underway to convince the general public that they (the general public) are supporting the “rich”, private pilots using the smaller airports. While pretending all the time that they (the Bush Administration) are not (supporting the rich with your taxes.) Expect to see more stories in the press like this one.

Lord have mercy. They even dragged out old Bobby Poole to sell their story. Mr. Privatization himself. He’s the guy that wants to turn your interstate system into a toll road. P.T. Barnum would be proud.

Speaking of circuses, did you know Administrator Blakey owned a PR firm ? Seriously. Blakey and Agnew . Let’s take apart this story she’s trying to sell.

They say airline passengers (that would be you, the hero, the Average Joe) pay too much in airline ticket taxes so that (rich, evil villain, bad guy) private pilots can have their own little airport to play around with. The outrage ! Somebody get a rope !

”"They're making out like bandits," said Bob Poole, director of transportation studies at Southern California's Reason Foundation and author of several studies on air transportation costs. "It's not only that airline passengers are paying more than their fair share, but they're being overtaxed to give private jets a free ride."”

Now hold on a minute there, Bobby Joe. Who’d you say was flying in them -there private jets ? The Free Marketeers ? Ain’t that the same folks that want to buy the interstates so they can get rich charging Average Joe tolls to use a highway that Average Joe already paid taxes to build ? Ain’t that what they call biting the hand that feeds you --the Reason Foundation ? Least ways, I (and folks like me) don’t write checks to fancy think tanks.

I didn’t go to MIT but I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck either. You and Blakey ought to write movies for Hollywood. This plot has more twists (and fiction) than the Martin Scorsese film I watched last night. Poole and Blakey want to privatize the National Airspace System. The first misdirection is user fees. No one in aviation is in favor of user fees except the (mostly bankrupt) airlines. Well, to tell the truth, the airlines don’t really care about user fees but a separate revenue stream would make the privatization go smoother and they do care about that.

Now that everyone is raising such a ruckus about user fees and House Transportation Committee Chairman Oberstar has promised to give the proposal “a decent burial”, Administrator Blakey is going to play the class warfare card and Bobby Poole is going to help. That’s rich.

Mr. Think Tank and Ms. Public Relations are on the side of Average Joe. Sure they are. “Step right up folks and see the 160 year old woman.”

There’s a two-dimensional message in the latest line that Administrator Blakey is feeding the press. First, Average Joe is paying the money so that the fat cats can ride around in their Gulfstreams. That is true. Just not in the way Ms. PR is trying to spin it. (By the way, Administrator Blakey rides around in a Gulfstream herself. Your Gulfstream.) The fact is, it is the tax breaks that allow them such luxury. Average Joe paid the taxes that built the system -- the airports, the navigational aids, the air traffic controllers, etc. -- that the country uses to conduct commerce. If people would just tell him the truth, Average Joe probably wouldn’t have a problem with it. Business (including the aviation business) has been good for America.

The second message is that she wants to put the Airport Improvement Program funds into play and threaten the funds local governments depend on to make their airports run. In other words, if she doesn’t get her way she’ll take her ball and go home. Sorry, it’s not her ball (it’s the taxpayer’s) and she’s going home anyway. Her term is just about up. Oh, and the guys riding around in their own jets (unlike Blakey, they bought theirs) will come out of all this just fine (thank you very much) because they have enough money to build their own airport if need be. They’d probably get a tax break for doing it, to boot.

The only guy that will get hurt is the guy Blakey wants you to think she’s helping; aviation’s version of the Average Joe. The guy that can barely afford to fly and the small business that can barely afford the airplane they’re using to try and cram more productive hours into the day so they can grow.

And there is one other person that will be hurt; You. Smaller airports are basic infrastructure. It’s where pilots learn to fly (providing a labor pool for industry), it’s where your medical tests are gathered to fly to major labs, they are where your last minute Christmas packages are picked up for overnight shipping. It’s where law enforcement bases their smaller aircraft and it’s where air shows are held. I’m not asking you to get sappy about it. Look at the money. The revenue. The tax base. Just air shows alone -- usually a once a year event for an airport -- drew 18 million spectators last year. That is second only to baseball. Small airports are just good business.

Even if you don’t agree with all that, you’re stuck with many of those airplanes using the “airline” airports if the smaller airports close. Think about what that will do for airline delays. Blakey is supporting a lose-lose program. Unless you happen to be an airline.

One more thing before I go. An honorable mention to the Air Transport Association’s John Heimlich for the arrogance displayed in this statement:

”"We're not saying money shouldn't be going to those airports," said John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist at the Air Transport Association, a trade group representing the airlines. "We're saying it shouldn't be our money."”

Hate to break it to you Mr. Heimlich but there is no “our money” when it comes to the Air Transport Association. Your group wouldn’t even exist -- your industry wouldn’t even exist -- if it wasn’t for the American taxpayers. From the Post Office saving the airlines with Air Mail to the Department of Defense paying for the R&D at Boeing to launch the jet age, to the bailout of your industry after 9/11 -- the American taxpayer has been real good to you and the people you represent, Mr. Heimlich. They’re the ones paying the taxes when they buy your tickets. You might want to give that some thought. Their goodwill isn’t limitless.

Don Brown
April 18, 2007

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Situation “Normal”


I really hope this one makes Leno, or Letterman or Stewart.

Air traffic controller's 'bathroom break' delays three planes

I can just see the transplant team being told to standby, the only controller available had to go to the john.

”The pilot of the flight carrying lungs to New Jersey was told that there would be a 10-minute wait before the plane could takeoff and did not object, according to Peters.

It would make a great comedy skit.

Peters said that staffing Friday night in the Manchester tower was at its normal level.”

Too bad it’s real life and it’s “normal.” (I told you I have the tendency to take the “funny” out of things.)

”"This controller did what he was trained to do, he followed procedure, and waited until a time that he could leave his position and that the airborne aircraft could be handled by another facility," said Peters, who added that an air traffic manager commended the controller for his performance.”

I hope that controller will remember to take that commendation with him the next time he has to go to the john. He’ll know what to do with it.

So much for the dramatic ending. I just can’t let this go. If you read the article you read the controller had worked 60 ops. Can you imagine working 60 airplanes while you had “to go” ? What ? Working airplanes isn’t tough enough ? The FAA has to make it a little more challenging ?

And then, when you’re done, you have to get back on the frequency and work the folks that were delayed. If I wasn’t sure that these people don’t think I’d think the FAA had come up with a new way to demean their controllers. This isn’t some fly-by-night outfit we’re talking about here folks. This is our government -- The United States of America. This is the way you are treating your employees. This is the way The People’s work is being conducted in your name.

Where’d I put that contact info for my Congressman...?

Don Brown
April 11, 2007

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Taking Our Chances


I just finished Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine. I’m speechless. It’s a good thing my fingers still work.

In short, when it comes to the Bush Administration’s “war on terror”, everything you feared was true is true.

”The Cheney Doctrine released George W. Bush from his area of greatest weakness -- the analytical abilities so prized in America’s professional class -- and freed his decision making to rely on impulse and improvisation to a degree that was without precedent for a modern president. Cheney essentially crafted a platform, an architecture, for Bush to be Bush, while still being President.”

The Cheney Doctrine, i.e. The One Percent Doctrine, states that if there is a one percent chance of a threat to the United States being real, we must act as if the threat was real. In other words, if there is a one percent chance that al Qaeda has a nuclear weapon, we must act as if it were true.

You only have to think of what you as an individual would do if you truly thought that someone was going to harm your family. Would anything be beneath you ? Lying ? Stealing ? Torture ? Murder ? Any thinking adult knows the darkness that lives in the hearts of men. How certain would you have to be to let yourself dive into that darkness in order to save your family ? 50% ? 75% ? 99% ?

How about 1% ? The level of evidence that would compel you to sink to these depths is a one percent chance. Not overwhelming evidence, not even a preponderance of the evidence but simply a one percent chance. Anything just above no chance at all.

The One Percent Doctrine is better than a good book. It’s an important book.

Don Brown
April 10, 2007

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The One That Got Away


You have got to run over to Aero-News Network and listen to this interview with a controller trainee that just quit the FAA.

The interview speaks for itself so I’ll just say this. What a shame, that a fine young man like this has left the profession. I don’t know Brandon Handy but I’d bet money he would have been a fine controller. Articulate, well spoken and obviously intelligent. What a waste.

Don Brown
April 3, 2006

Talking to the TV


Okay, this story doesn’t have anything to do with TVs. It doesn’t have anything to do with talking either. You know how you’re sitting at home watching the TV and you wind up talking back at the person talking on the TV -- who just made some inane comment ? That is what this is about.

The Orlando Sentinel recently ran a story on their front page. Above the fold, even. About controller staffing. Or the lack thereof. You can read it here: Orlando International Airport faces controller shortage

Just in case you’re like me and occasionally miss the obvious, let me toss out a couple of hints to you. Orlando. Airport. Tourism. Mickey Mouse.

Now that I’ve got you steered in the right direction I’ll need to set up the other part of the story. Switch gears. I’ve got a friend (no, really, I do) that lives in another part of the Sunshine State. Cliff is one of those guys that you immediately like the second you shake his hand. You know there’s something substantial and real behind that easy smile. I knew he was somebody you could count on long before he proved it (several times.)

Cliff read the article in the Orlando Sentinel and found himself talking to the TV. The fact that it was a newspaper and we were using e-mail doesn’t change how funny (in a sad sort of way) it was. I asked him if I could steal it and he graciously said yes (told you he was my friend), knowing full well that I would probably take the funny out of it. Humor is not my forte.

If you didn’t click on the link above and read the story, including the comments of the FAA spokeswoman, Kathleen Bergen, this won’t be nearly as much fun. Take the time to read the whole thing.

“FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the slowing of air traffic March 15 -- which she called a "rare" event -- happened after "a couple" of people called in sick and a manager was unable to find anyone else to work. “

Gee, you mean after working 6 day weeks and 10 hour days there’s nobody left to call in for overtime ? Too bad there is that pesky Federal law that prevents controllers from working 7 days a week. I guess the FAA will just have to learn how to count.

”Thunderstorms further complicated matters, she said, making the air-traffic flow more difficult that day.”

Thunderstorms in Orlando ? Who’d a thunk it ? Never mind that the locals set their watches by the afternoon thunderstorms. I guess it’s hard to factor thunderstorms into the staffing equation (that claims to factor in a dozen other items.)

” Currently there are 52 certified controllers to fill the allotted 69 to 85 positions in Orlando, Bergen said.”

What ? How could they run out of controllers with staffing like that ? You mean to tell me they don’t even meet the “new and improved” staffing standard ? Why don’t they just transfer in some controllers from the facilities that are “overstaffed” ? Surely there are some controllers that want to live in a nice city like Orlando, in the Sunshine State. What’s that ? No senior controllers want to bid on the place (or any place) because they have to take a pay cut to transfer ? Who made up that stupid rule ?

It’s time for a reality check folks. Let’s go back to...say, November 28, 2005.

"Statements by FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey and Chief Operating Officer Russ Chew"
Marion C. Blakey, Washington D.C.
November 28, 2005

Now as I am sure you are aware, over the past two months, we’ve witnessed NATCA engage in a multi-million dollar print and television advertising campaign, all designed to scare the American public into believing that America’s aviation system is unsafe and that the system isn’t staffed adequately.

Those claims patently aren’t true … and using aviation safety as a bargaining chip is wrong and irresponsible. When your proposal isn’t reasonable and you don’t have the facts on your side, scare tactics are the next best thing. Unfortunately, these claims also damage the reputation of our controller workforce … a workforce that does an outstanding job day in and day out.


You got your “contract” (that isn’t a contract) Madame Administrator, by imposing it upon your unwilling workforce. What’s your excuse now ?

NATCA continues to highlight gaps in the safety of the system (just as it always has) even though they aren’t in negotiations. And lo and behold, it turns out they were correct. I could spend another thousand words using Ms. Blakey’s own words against her. But I’ll let you -- and history -- be her judge.

Don Brown
April 3, 2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

Public Safety


I’ve tried, the best way I know how, to point out what wonderful public servants we have within the ranks of air traffic controllers. In that I was once a controller myself, I try not to gush about it. I try not to oversell it. I don’t want to sound self-serving. But I don’t want you to miss the point either.

Unless you’re “in the business” you miss the significance of much of it. The information comes in dribs and drabs. It’s hard to piece it together. That is one of the reasons my column on AVweb was so popular. It gave me the forum to stitch it all together for folks. And yes, in case you haven’t heard, I stopped writing for AVweb. Sorry if that disappoints anyone. No drama to impart. AVweb and I are still friends. It was just time to move on.

Back to the story. Let me stitch together a few pieces for you. I call your attention to a previous posting on this blog: NexCon. In it you will read, “At the bottom of the page you’ll find this quote: ““Without NextGen there will be gridlock in the skies.” I’ve got a real problem with the concept of “gridlock in the skies.” While “gridlock in the skies” is theoretically possible it’s almost irrelevant. In air traffic control, gridlock on the ground is the problem. “

I got a nice email from a controller that read it, pointing me towards his own blog: NAS Confusion. Under the post, No Parking Zone, you will find this image. For those that aren’t controllers, an English translation reads: Traffic Management Unit Advisory -- Stop all COA and BTA (particular airlines) departures to Newark, NJ . Don’t let them depart due to “gridlock” at the gates at Newark. (The “gates” are where the aircraft park to let you walk to the terminal.)

In other words, long before the “skies” became “gridlocked”, the gates -- the airport -- became gridlocked.

While you’re at NAS Confusion, you might want to read You just got overrestricted . It’s a good explanation about how we use the system to keep airplanes separated.

I got another email from my “cousin” in Alaska. Knowing him like I do, I know he doesn’t like the spotlight. But we share the same last name and he’s been in the ATC safety business forever. Those of you that can figure out who he is from that info need to shake his hand. He’s one of the best in the business, with a wit sharper than a razor. Don’t be surprised if he uses it to cut you when you shake his hand. He really doesn’t like being the center of attention -- even if he deserves to be.

Anyway, he sent me a NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System alert. ASRS sends these out when they believe a problem is serious enough to need immediate attention. In other words, they don’t wait for their usual analysis and publication schedule. They get it out fast. The gist of the report reads as follows:

“Narrative: FOR THE PAST COUPLE OF MONTHS ACR X HAS BEEN SELF-METERING INTO ATL WITHOUT ADVISING ATC. ACR X DISPATCHERS ARE TELLING ACR X ACFT TO CROSS CERTAIN FIXES AT CERTAIN TIMES, THE ACFT ARE THEN ADJUSTING THEIR SPDS WITHOUT ADVISING ATC.”

Again, a translation into English. Aircraft from a certain company (ACR X) are slowing themselves down or speeding themselves up -- without informing the controllers -- in order to avoid gridlock at their gates. That makes perfect sense from the company’s perspective. If you’ve got a gate tied up and an airplane that needs to use it is inbound, he can slow up, save gas and give the airplane at the gate time to clear the gate.

Let’s think about how this would work with automotive traffic on the interstate. Brand X has a truck that is about 20 minutes out off Atlanta on I-85. The company dispatcher calls up the trucker and says, “Hey Ralph, the loading dock won’t be open for another 25 minutes. Can you slow it down so the parking lot doesn’t get jammed up ?” And Ralph slows down to 45 MPH on I-85 , about 20 minutes out of Atlanta. See the problem ?

Now, imagine your “truck” is an airliner flying at 300 knots and slows down to 250 knots. In a cloud. With no brake lights. Any questions ?

There are two lessons I would like you to take from this. First, there hasn’t been an accident related to this problem. I’m not even aware of an Operational Error (a loss of standard separation) caused by this problem. Yet. The system is incredibly safe because it is so robust. The trick is to keep it that way. Second, I want you to see how complicated it is to keep it that way. You can deduce both (partially) from just looking at how attention is being drawn to the problem.

First, somebody had to notice the problem. It probably happened several times before someone figured out how it became a problem. A controller probably noticed an airplane being overtaken by the aircraft behind. He may or may not have had time to figure out why but I assure he fixed the immediate problem. He would have assigned speeds to both aircraft. Then one day, the right combination of people got together and had an extra moment to figure it out. A controller had the time to ask “Why did you slow down ?” and the pilot said “Our company asked us to because our gate is still occupied.” More questions and an explanation probably followed. Then whomever (probably a controller), took the time to fill out a safety report and sent it to NASA ASRS. The good folks at NASA ASRS recognized it as a serious problem and sent out their alert.

This could have taken weeks if not months. As a matter of fact, I heard of a similar situation occurring before I retired, four months ago. I’d heard through the safety jungle drums that a another outfit was doing the same thing. Supposedly, their dispatchers were trying to “meter” their flights by asking the pilots to fly at various speeds so as to space out their arrivals the way they wanted them to arrive at the gates.

Can you see the problem ? Brand X has one plan, Brand Y has another and nobody bothered telling the controllers -- the guys that are supposed to implement The Plan. The controllers with The Plan are supposed to integrate Brands A through Z, yet “X” and “Y” (and probably “L” and “N,O,P”) aren’t playing from the same page. Instead of playing beautiful music together we’re making a bunch of noise and yelling at each other.

Where’s the conductor ? Well, she’s a little busy right now. After telling the first chairs they were a bunch of spoiled prima donnas, they up and retired. She didn’t bother filling their slots because she’s not about to pay anybody else what she was paying the first chairs (the ungrateful bums.) She’s now finding out that virtuosos don’t grow on trees and you can’t grow one overnight even if they did. So right at the moment, she's explaining to her benefactors why there are so many empty chairs in the orchestra and the music sounds a little “off.” (Wait until they peek behind the curtain and find out that half the lighting and sound technicians are gone too.)

You can read about it over at The Main Bang.

”While Blakey was furiously at work bailing water on her Titanic with a teaspoon nobody within lying distance was buying any of it.  She was there to talk FAA Reauthorization but she spent most of her speech doing political damage control and trying to salvage the tattered remains of her term.  She failed miserably on both counts.  The Administrator was also obviously trying to scuttle the boat, so to speak, laying blame in equal measure around the room in anticipation of the collapse of the national airspace system her appalling policies and dreadful decisions have almost certainly guaranteed.”


I hope by now some of you are scratching your head and wondering about why a single little glitch in the National Airspace System is having to run through the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System to get solved. It’s an awfully convoluted, time-consuming procedure to solve such a simple problem. Actually, it’s much simpler than you might think.

This is straight from “the book”.

====================


5-3-3. Additional Reports

a. The following reports should be made to ATC or FSS facilities without a specific ATC request:

1. At all times.

(e) Change in the average true airspeed (at cruising altitude) when it varies by 5 percent or 10 knots (whichever is greater) from that filed in the flight plan.

====================

It sounds so simple doesn’t it ? How does it go so wrong ?

It’s just plain old, everyday human nature. We focus on what we consider to be the “big problems” and forget to take care of the details. When the “big problem” in your life is how you’re going to pay your bills after your pay is cut, you find it difficult to pay attention to the details. When your company is fighting for its survival in the new business environment, it’s hard to find time to deal with the details. When your priority is a political ideology, the day to day details seem unimportant by comparison.

They aren’t. If you fail to take care of the details in this business you’ll have a bigger problem than bills, profits or ideology.

To focus on the details you need competent, motivated people. That usually translates into “well paid.” You also need a stable business environment. Or at least an environment that doesn’t promote destructive competition like the current one. And last but not least, you need a good leader. One that can leave the political ideology at the door and focus on the Public's safety.

If your government loses focus and pays more attention to politics than public safety...If business fails to remember that their profits depend on their customer’s safety -- don’t panic just yet. The pilots are still focused. Their lives (and yours) depend on them staying focused. And the individual controllers, God bless ‘em, they’ll do everything within their power to make sure a disaster doesn’t happen on their watch. The system uses this last line of defense -- self-preservation and fear of failure -- to ensure public safety. The powers that be use it to abuse the system and their employees.

If doesn’t matter how many pay cuts and abuses people suffer, they’ll do everything within their power to make sure nobody dies. FAA Administrator Blakey isn’t the first Administrator to count on that simple fact. Sadly, she probably won’t be the last.

Don Brown
April 2, 2007