Thursday, May 31, 2007

The High Price of Low Staffing



Funny how an accident tends to get the press’ attention. I want you to pull out your calculator and then go read this story. When you see a sentence like this...

” The controllers worked 17 times more overtime in the eight months after the Aug. 27 accident, in which 49 of the 50 people aboard the flight were killed, than during the eight months before that.”

...I want you to calculate the cost. Assign whatever value you’d like to the controller’s hourly wage. (I bet that will depend on whether or not you’ve booked your summer travel plans on an airplane.) Add it all up.

Whatever the official outcome of the NTSB’s investigation, there’s no doubt that the FAA’s newly discovered sensitivity to staffing was due to the Lexington crash. Think of how much the FAA thought they were saving. Look and see what it really cost them. Don’t forget to add in the cost of the FAA’s internal investigation and the NTSB’s. Those are your tax dollars too. Then there’s the lawsuits. The true cost of this one event won’t be known for years to come. The only thing we know for sure is that the FAA will pay and pay for violating its own staffing rules. You’ll be writing the check.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. All of this has been known for years. It’s one reason the FAA is known as “The Tombstone Agency.” We can’t prevent every accident. We can only do our best, but it has to be our very best. Not some cheap, shortsighted version of our best. The true cost of low staffing doesn’t lie in dollar and cents -- it lies underneath 49 tombstones.

Don Brown
May 31, 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sharing the Flick



I see by the “hit” counter at the bottom of this page that my friend, John Carr, has been plugging my blog again. And I couldn’t be more pleased with the post in which he chose to do so. If I may reflect his praise, I urge you to read his post and download the essay he attached to the blog entry. It was written by a high school junior. That’s right. A kid about the same age as my son. Out of the mouths of babes...

While you’re there, take the time to read John’s post about Memorial Day. You’ll get a glimpse as to why many of us consider John such a great leader. Not only can he out-think me and out-write me (no matter what he says to the contrary) but he also has the capacity to inspire people. So many extraordinary talents in one man. My jealousy is tempered only by my gratitude that he continues to share his gifts with us long after most would have given up.

Thank you, John.

Don Brown
May 30, 2007

Reading Recent History


I just finished the longest book of my life. Actually, it’d more accurate to say I just finished the longest 566 pages of my life. (I’m sure I’m blocking out painful memories of some book read in school.)

A World Transformed by George (H.W.) Bush and Brent Scowcroft. I don’t mean to put off every potential reader -- just those that aren’t seriously into the subject at hand. It’s actually a very good book. It just isn’t very entertaining.

I like reading what I call “recent history” -- history that I somewhat remember. If you remember Tiananmen Square, Solidarity, the falling of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, Desert Storm and the collapse of the Soviet Union -- you might like to read it too. I suspect in a few years college students in American History classes will be complaining about the book because they’ll be required to read it.

The unique aspect of this book is the humanizing effect it has upon the principles -- The President of the United States and his National Security Advisor. It is remarkably candid in many, many instances. It’s refreshingly human to see doubt and worry from two men that were obviously well informed and educated. It is also very hopeful to see America successfully navigate a course through such perilous times, in large part due to the efforts of such thoughtful and dedicated men.

The book is amazingly apolitical. President Bush suffered at the hands of his political enemies as all Presidents do but it is only mentioned in passing. An example of his candidness is his admission that he dwelled on foreign policy (as opposed to domestic) in part because he was better at it than domestic policy. As anyone would expect, the book is somewhat self-serving. The virtual absence of Vice-President Dan Quayle sticks out as an example. But overall, I find the book to be fair.

It’s interesting reading, viewed through the lens of the current Administration occupying The White House. Many of today’s players are there; Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, Powell, Gates and of course, Baker. The book was first published in 1998, before the son was elected President. If you like the subject, it’s a worthwhile read.

Don Brown
May 30, 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Looney Tunes


A few blogs ago, I tried to coax you into reading the excerpt in Time magazine from Al Gore’s new book, The Assault on Reason. If you had (read it) you would have read this.

“In describing the empty chamber the way he did, Byrd invited a specific version of the same general question millions of us have been asking: "Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?" The persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of policy, even in the face of massive and well-understood evidence to the contrary, seems to many Americans to have reached levels that were previously unimaginable.”

(emphasis added)

Keeping that quote in mind, I want you to go over to the Air Transport Association’s (ATA) carnival show and watch this cartoon. That’s right. A cartoon. The airlines have taken your money (tickets or taxpayer subsidies, take your pick) and produced a cartoon.

Have you finished watching it ? Good. Now read this -- also from Al Gore’s book.

“The potential for manipulating mass opinions and feelings initially discovered by commercial advertisers is now being even more aggressively exploited by a new generation of media Machiavellis. The combination of ever more sophisticated public opinion sampling techniques and the increasing use of powerful computers to parse and subdivide the American people according to "psychographic" categories that identify their susceptibility to individually tailored appeals has further magnified the power of propagandistic electronic messaging that has created a harsh new reality for the functioning of our democracy.”

Do you remember this quote from the original blog entry ?

”The "well-informed citizenry" is in danger of becoming the "well-amused audience."”

Well ? Were you “well-amused” by the cartoon? I sincerely hope not. I know most of my audience has some connection with aviation and will recognize all the “falsehoods” in the cartoon. For those of you that don’t, let me point out just one, and how manipulative it is. Remember the snooty little (evil) corporate jet that cut in front of all the airliners ? We all know that they don’t get to cut in line. And the ATA didn’t say they get to cut in line. But the message was loud and clear nonetheless wasn’t it ?

Right now you’re saying, “But we’re more sophisticated than that. We’re not going to fall for something that simplistic.” True. The ATA also knows it’s true. So, unless you think the ATA is stupid (and they’re not), you’ve got to ask yourself a question. Who’s the target audience ? And the answer is, people that aren’t as sophisticated as you. I mean, it is a cartoon.

These “media Machiavellis” have targeted a group of voters. An “individually tailored appeal [that] has further magnified the power of propagandistic electronic messaging.” Oh, and by the way, it’s running on TV, where it will find an audience.

And just in case you don’t think you’ve been targeted, think again. I bet you’ll find a video on that page that you will identify with. And I bet it’ll be a lot harder for you to see through the “falsehoods.” These people want your National Airspace System. The only thing that is stopping them is the “target audience”, aka the citizens, aka the voters, aka the taxpayers that own it.

Don Brown
May 26, 2007

Happy Birthday, Duke





The Duke would have been 100 years old today.

There’s no explaining it. He was probably the worst good actor ever. I’m sure we’d find very little to agree on politically. His films are almost corny now. But I still watch his westerns whenever they’re on. It’s an odd term to describe an actor, but when I think of his performances, the word I come up with is “honest.” Like I said, there’s no explaining it. Whatever “it” is, he had it.

Don Brown
May 26, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ex-Staff on Low Staff


Here’s a new wrinkle for you. Ex-controllers telling you how bad it’s getting in the FAA. Wish I’d thought of that.

Retired controllers on TV


Don Brown
May 23, 2007

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Somethin’s Burnin’


And it ain’t love. It’s Georgia. I walked out on the back porch with my morning coffee and started wondering who had lit a fire in their fireplace. It’s been deliciously cool in the mornings here but still...

It turns out it’s smoke from the wildfires in South Georgia and Florida. Whoa ! For those that are geographically challenged, the fires are over 200 miles from Atlanta.

Don Brown
May 22, 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007

Al Gore


Time magazine wrote a very flattering article on Al Gore last week. It’s worth spending a few minutes on if you didn’t read it.

Mr. Gore will have another book out shortly, The Assault on Reason. An excerpt was carried along with the Time article and the book will definitely be on my “to read” list when it comes out. There were a couple of passages that I thought exceptionally insightful in just the excerpt. It's these little gems that make or break a book for me. To find two in just an excerpt bodes well for the book.

The first has to do with the dominance of television in America.

”In the world of television, the massive flows of information are largely in only one direction, which makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation. Individuals receive, but they cannot send. They hear, but they do not speak. The "well-informed citizenry" is in danger of becoming the "well-amused audience."

In discussing this article with my wife (she’s good about humoring me), my teenage son walked by and heard the name “Al Gore.” “He’s not thinking about running is he ? Doesn’t he know he’ll never get enough votes to win ?” My wife and I had to do a double take. It’s unusual for my son to enter these conversations and it was somewhat shocking to hear someone of such intelligence being so wrong. We both reminded him that Al Gore did in fact get enough votes to win in 2000.

My son’s confusion was quite understandable though. That was half a lifetime ago for him. But it drove home the point Mr. Gore made in the other little gem in the excerpt.

”I authorized the plan and was astonished when three weeks later my lead had increased by exactly 8.5%. Though pleased, of course, for my own campaign, I had a sense of foreboding for what this revealed about our democracy. Clearly, at least to some degree, the "consent of the governed" was becoming a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder. To the extent that money and the clever use of electronic mass media could be used to manipulate the outcome of elections, the role of reason began to diminish.”

If I may be so bold as to add some recommended reading, I’d suggest surfing over to Wikipedia and reading up on a FCC rule that is fading from memory: The Fairness Doctrine. Pay particular attention to the dates mentioned and who was President of the United States at the time. And if that doesn’t drive home the point, perhaps this will.

”In 1984, Limbaugh returned to radio as a talk show host at KFBK in Sacramento, California, where he replaced Morton Downey, Jr.[2] The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine—which had required that stations provide free air time for responses to any controversial opinions that were broadcast—by the FCC in 1987 meant stations could broadcast editorial commentary without having to present opposing views. Daniel Henninger wrote, in a Wall Street Journal editorial, "Ronald Reagan tore down this wall (the Fairness Doctrine) in 1987...and Rush Limbaugh was the first man to proclaim himself liberated from the East Germany of liberal media domination." [9]”

Have you ever wondered about how many times you’ve heard the phrase “liberal media” in the last decade ? Have you ever taken a look at who owns “the media” ? Perhaps you should.

Thank God for the internet. Hey, wait a minute. Al Gore. The Internet. Where have I heard that before ?

Al Gore

“On 19 March 1979, Gore became the first person to appear on C-SPAN, making a speech in the House chambers.[15] In the late 1980s, Gore introduced the Gore Bill, which was later passed as the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991. The bill was one of the most important pieces of legislation directly affecting the expansion of the internet.”

(emphasis added)

Don Brown
May 21, 2007

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ugly II



While playing around earlier with the “Despair, Inc.” web site, I also made today’s poster. It was going to take a little longer to explain it (yes, I know it’s supposed to be self-explanatory) but it turns out I don’t have to. Imagine my surprise when this news story turned up on the web today.


”Hecht has criticised Skyguide's management for authorising the procedure that meant only one controller was effectively on duty after 11pm. The Federal Civil Aviation Office and the Federal Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau also gave the go-ahead.”

Only one controller. A privatized air traffic control system. Is any of this sounding familiar to you ? It should.

If you don’t understand the privatization angle, this “related article” from the opening news story will help.

”The agency has endured some turbulence since its creation in 2001, following the merger of Switzerland's civilian and military air traffic control operations.”

Don Brown
May 15, 2007

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ugly



Ugly doesn’t begin to describe it. It was a tragedy. And it’s best we remember it. Lest we repeat it.

I understand that many people don’t want to face subjects like this. Life is too short. It’s too ugly. I try not to dwell on it but while I was a controller I dared not let myself forget about it. Controller's actions can have consequences far beyond what most people can imagine in their daily lives.

For the controllers out there, this accident occurred at the dawn of the jet age. In response, the FAA instituted the “250 knots below 10,000 feet” rule. You can read about it here.

While you’re at that site, PlaneCrashInfo, you might want to browse around. It’s been up and running for years. I’ve used it as a resource many times when I need some quick information. It’s quite a service its owner is providing.

BTW, the poster was made at “Despair, Inc.” You can make your own.

Don Brown
May 14, 2006

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Weather Radar at ARTCCs


This is a technical article aimed primarily at air traffic controllers in the En Route option. It is my opinion only, based on my experience as a controller at Atlanta ARTCC from 1981-2006. While I will quote several FAA policies and/or orders, don’t confuse my opinion with same. The only interpretation of the rules that counts -- right or wrong -- is the FAA’s.

I believe it would be helpful if you would take the time to read an article I wrote that was published on AVweb.

Say Again? #71: Weather Radar

If you’re not already a subscriber to AVweb, you’ll have to join to access the article. It’s free and relatively painless. I also believe it is worthwhile.

It was written for an audience comprised mainly of General Aviation pilots. Controllers should pay particular attention to the final paragraphs. This is the area that I wish to expand upon. I’m not limited by space constraints here on my blog (nor the need to appeal to a commercial audience) so be forewarned, this might get lengthy.

The Quandary

Rightly or wrongly, the flying public expects air traffic controllers to help protect them from dangerous weather. Many pilots believe that includes vectors around thunderstorms. This is what the 7110.65 says about the subject.

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

Weather Information

2-6-4. WEATHER AND CHAFF SERVICES

a. Issue pertinent information on observed/reported weather and chaff areas. When requested by the pilot, provide radar navigational guidance and/or approve deviations around weather or chaff areas.

1. Issue weather and chaff information by defining the area of coverage in terms of azimuth (by referring to the 12-hour clock) and distance from the aircraft or by indicating the general width of the area and the area of coverage in terms of fixes or distance and direction from fixes.

PHRASEOLOGY-
WEATHER/CHAFF AREA BETWEEN (number) O'CLOCK AND (number) O'CLOCK (number) MILES,


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

Pilots, and others unfamiliar with the 7110.65 read that and say “See, you are supposed to tell us about the weather and vector us around it.” It’s quite understandable but it’s also not quite correct. It’d be more accurate to say it’s qualified by the rest of the 7110.65. “Weather and Chaff Services” fall under the heading of “Additional Services”.

ADDITIONAL SERVICES- Advisory information provided by ATC which includes but is not limited to the following:

e. Weather and chaff information.

f. Weather assistance.

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

Furthermore, you need to read this from Chapter 2 of the 7110.65 to have an understanding of a controller’s obligations.

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

2-1-1. ATC SERVICE

The primary purpose of the ATC system is to prevent a collision between aircraft operating in the system and to organize and expedite the flow of traffic. In addition to its primary function, the ATC system has the capability to provide (with certain limitations) additional services. The ability to provide additional services is limited by many factors, such as the volume of traffic, frequency congestion, quality of radar, controller workload, higher priority duties, and the pure physical inability to scan and detect those situations that fall in this category.”

(emphasis added)
======================

You could spend most of your career learning the ins and outs of reading the 7110.65 (and you should.) You could spend another career (if you had the time) on learning the dynamics of a typical thunderstorm. You would still be lacking in knowledge of an atypical one. I don’t know about you, but I could spend a lifetime trying to understand all there is to know about radar and still not get it. All the science and mechanics are simply beyond my capabilities to understand.

The point is that we can’t be experts at all things. We can, however, learn enough to be experts in our field -- Air Traffic Control. We can learn enough to be safe controllers.

Tell Them What You See

I’m going to go into a lot of detail but before I do, I want you to take this one point to heart. Despite lawyers being...well, lawyers...even if weather is unpredictable...even if you’re mechanically challenged like me and radar might as well be magic -- at a minimum -- you can tell a pilot what you see.

"Heavy to Extreme precipitation between ten o'clock and two o'clock, one five miles. Precipitation area is two five miles in diameter."

Even if you think you might be wrong. It falls under the heading of “better safe than sorry.”

Speaking of being wrong, we all know that many times our weather radar is. Wrong, that is. And this is where I want to start. It’s easier to determine if your radar is wrong than it is to determine if it is right. Today is a perfect example. It’s absolutely beautiful outside. Sunny, blue, blue, blue and there’s not a cloud in the sky. It’s a great time to push the WX-1 and WX-3 buttons and get a view of the weather returns from the ARSRs. That’s right, the “old” weather radar.

I bet if I did this at Atlanta Center I’d find a dozen scopes cluttered with “permanent” weather. Which, of course, is the reason many of you don’t trust it and I suspect a fair number of you don’t use it. This problem has led many of us down the wrong path. The weather information derived from the ARSR sites is important. And it should be accurate. If it isn’t, it’s your job to report it. It’s the FAA’s job to fix it.

This is also in Chapter 2 of the 7110.65.


=========================
2-6-4. WEATHER AND CHAFF SERVICES

h. The supervisory traffic management coordinator-in-charge/operations supervisor/controller-in-charge shall verify the digitized radar weather information by the best means available (e.g., pilot reports, local tower personnel, etc.) if the weather data displayed by digitized radar is reported as questionable or erroneous. Errors in weather radar presentation shall be reported to the technical operations technician and the air traffic supervisor shall determine if the digitized radar derived weather data is to be displayed and a NOTAM distributed.
==========================

Fix the Problem

I know many of you have an overwhelming desire to write something bad about the FAA these days. Try this subject. If you think filling out an FAA form is a waste of time (and it’d be hard to argue against it), at least tell your supervisor and then fill out a NASA ASRS form documenting that you told your supervisor about it. The NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System is the best friend controllers ever had. Use it.

Hopefully, some new guy out there is reading this and wondering why the ARSR (that’s Air Route Surveillance Radar) weather display is important. I cringe to think one of them might not even know what I’m talking about. But I know how poor the FAA’s training is on this subject so I’ll explain it a little.

What have you been told is the biggest problem with WARP (NEXRAD) ? The update (refresh) rate, right ? The ARSR weather display doesn’t have that problem. It’s updated every time your traffic is updated. Every 10 seconds or so. Put your thinking cap on because there are several things to notice and I don’t have time to explain everything. At least not in one article.

Your traffic (targets) and WARP (Weather and Radar Processor) update at different rates. That could be important one day. If you’ll use it, your ARSR weather data updates faster and it can complement and enhance what WARP is telling you. If you’re getting a hit on a target (say at 8,000) you know that your ARSR should be able to see any significant precipitation at that altitude. If you’re just using WARP for weather information -- and you work in mountainous terrain like I did -- you can’t be sure that WARP is giving you any information at that altitude. This is just one area where you need to realize how poor the FAA’s training is on this subject. I don’t know the location of the NEXRAD sites covering my airspace. How about you and your airspace ? (Sorry, it’s hard for me to talk in the past tense. Forgive me if I slip up and forget I’m not a controller anymore.)

Here’s something that many old-timers know but don’t really know. The lines on the ARSR weather display (WX-1) radiate outward from the radar site. A picture will make this a lot easier so go to this site. Scroll down to the second image and take a look. (Here’s a viewing hint. If you’ll download the picture to your hard drive and open it with a graphics program you can “zoom in” to see a lot of detail. You can even read the keys in the top left of the frame. Those “NX” keys don’t look like any NEXRAD filters I ever worked with.) Do you see how the lines radiate outward from the radar site in the middle of the screen ? Look west (left) a little. See where another set of lines cross the ones radiating from the center ? That means the precipitation is high enough that a second ARSR site is painting it. It gives you a rough idea on the altitude of the precipitation. If those “crossed” lines start getting closer and closer to the radar site in the center, you know that the precipitation is getting higher and higher (like in a thunderstorm.)

Some of you younger guys might not believe it but some of us used nothing but this display to vector airplanes around thunderstorms. There was a time when controllers could trust their weather radar displays, back before the FAA started doing to AF (Airways Facilities) what they are doing to controllers now. The radar sites used to be kept “tuned up.” In other words, if you had a problem, it’d get fixed in a reasonable time frame. It’s a long story but ask some of the (few) older AF techs about it. Their story will sound familiar. Depressing, but familiar.

Building Trust

Anyway, back to learning about weather radar. It isn’t something you can learn from a book. You have to watch. And you have to watch for years. Whenever you have some thunderstorms, pay attention. See how they move. See how they change. You’ll start to recognize patterns. Pretty soon, you’ll notice the ones that don’t follow a pattern. That is when you know you’re getting somewhere.

If you follow this train of thought, you’ll see the wisdom of having a standard setting for the weather display. I know many controllers want to use the filter keys available with WARP. I played with them for a little bit when they first came out and decided they were “lying” to me. Oh, I’m sure they were accurate -- in a computer-programming geek fashion -- but they weren’t telling me the whole story. And I was used to seeing the whole story before WARP came along.

Think of a severe thunderstorm in the building stages. On the radar display, it will start out as moderate rain (dark blue/WX-1/radiating lines) and keep building up (literally “up”) through the heavy rain (cyan-checkerboard/WX-3/”H”s) until it reaches the extreme level (light blue/also “H”s.) Now let’s say you’re working in the ultra high sectors and you decide you don’t want to look at all that “clutter.” You just select the highest altitude settings on WARP (I think ours were 350-600) and all that “clutter” disappears. So what happens ? You lose all that “clutter” (that I call information) and pilots start deviating around stuff that you can’t see. You may not see the thunderstorm building but the pilots do. Just because the precipitation hasn’t reached the height that you’ve selected doesn’t mean the clouds haven’t reach that height. Those clouds are bumpy and the pilots know it. They aren’t going to fly through them.

Be honest now, how many times have you seen this happen and the controller working it complains that the weather radar isn’t worth the electricity it costs to display it ? Whereas, if he’d been looking at all the information -- from the ground up -- he would have had 1o-20 minutes warning that that the pilots were going to start deviating. And a pretty good idea on which way they’d go. Another thing while we’re here. The wind blows. At FL350 it can blow real hard. The tops aren’t necessarily where the bottoms (and the precipitation returns) are. In other words, the deviations you observe might not correspond exactly to what you see on the radar in the higher altitudes.

What bothers me most about using the filter keys on WARP is what it does to my observation habits. To sum it up, I’d rather let my brain filter out the information than let the computer do it. I don’t want to try and figure out the differences in the patterns I observe at 000B240, 240B350 and 350B600. I’d rather have all the information -- just one pattern to learn -- in my mental picture and sort it out from there.

I think it’s worth pointing out that there are two unique mindsets at work here. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how to use your ability to observe to help you work your traffic. It’s very helpful if you’ll take the time to learn it but it is actually secondary in terms of importance. The most important part is to keep airplanes out of the thunderstorms.

Working Low

Unfortunately (at least when it comes to thunderstorms), Center controllers spend most of their time working airliners at relatively high altitudes. These aircraft have good weather radar and usually enjoy good visibility at the higher altitudes. It is the common frame of reference for Center controllers. This changes dramatically when we find ourselves on the low sectors.

Many of the airplanes don’t have weather radar. Many times the pilot (and many times it’s a single pilot) doesn’t have good visibility. If you’ve spent most of your career on the high sectors with most of the weather radar information turned off, you won’t have a good idea about how the thunderstorms act. It is proving to be a deadly combination. And there’s one other point we need to return to here...if you’ve been told over and over again that airliners have better weather radar than you do...if you have most of the weather radar information turned off...you simply aren’t in the habit of telling the pilot what you see. It’s a habit you need to have.

I cannot over stress this point. At a minimum (time permitting) you need to tell all pilots what you see. Make it a habit. It’s a good one.

=================
2-6-4. WEATHER AND CHAFF SERVICES

a. Issue pertinent information on observed/reported weather and chaff areas. When requested by the pilot, provide radar navigational guidance and/or approve deviations around weather or chaff areas.
==================

You’ll notice that doesn’t say except airliners. You should tell the airliners what you see. I don’t care how many times they come back with a bored, why-are-you-bothering-me tone, “Yeah, we see it.” It’s the times they don’t see it that count. It doesn’t say except when they’re in VFR conditions. And that brings up another point that we need to stop and discuss.

Center controllers don’t know when pilots are in VFR conditions. You may know that it was VFR five miles back or five minutes before, but you can’t look out the window and tell what kind of weather we’re having at this exact moment. I am dumbfounded at the number of times I’ve seen a controller assume that a C172 cruising along at 5,000 on a VFR summer day was actually in VFR conditions. On the East Coast, even on days without that many clouds, visibility is usually below 10 miles during the summer. Don’t assume a pilot on an IFR flight plan is in VFR conditions. Don’t assume a VFR pilot receiving VFR flight following can see a thunderstorm 20 miles ahead.

No Excuses

As I mentioned earlier, many controllers want to tell you that airliners have better radar than controllers do. Before NEXRAD, I would have agreed. (Note: You still had to tell them what you saw.) Now, you (the controller) have better weather radar data than they do. But, but, but.....But WHAT ? NEXRAD is what the National Weather Service uses. It’s their product. (That’s important. Pay attention. It’s a NWS product, not an FAA product.) It was specifically designed for weather. NEXRAD is the finest weather radar available. So what’s the excuse now for controllers that don’t want to trust their weather radar display ?

Here, let me give you a couple. It updates slowly. That’s true. Depending upon your NEXRAD coverage and how fast a line of thunderstorms is moving, it can be a real problem. The ARSR weather data doesn’t have that problem. Turn it on. Problem solved. Next excuse.

A lot of pilots have their own NEXRAD display now. Why should we have to tell them what we see when they’re looking at the same data ? You mean that same data that other controllers don’t want to trust ? Seriously, we can’t have it both ways. You can’t tell a pilot to bet his life on the same data that you aren’t willing to trust. Some pilots have NEXRAD, some have their own weather radar and some even have both. They still don’t have all the data that you have available to you. You have the NEXRAD mosaic and the ARSR mosaic. There’s not a pilot in the sky that has those tools. Except through you. Tell them what you see.

That is enough to chew on for now. We’ll get to the second part -- When requested by the pilot, provide radar navigational guidance and/or approve deviations around weather or chaff areas. -- at a later date.

(Note: For those NATCA members that would like to discuss this article, please see the topic that will be started on natca.net. For others, go back to the top of the page and click on “View my complete profile.” You’ll see a link to my e-mail address when you click on that link.)

Don Brown
May 9, 2007

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Picture’s Worth


If you’re a man that doesn’t let other people see you cry, don’t click on this link until you’re alone.

Unfortunately, young Christian Golczynski is about to become a very famous boy. Fortunately, Aaron Thompson was there to take the photograph. I’m sure Mr. Thompson never dreamed he’d take the most famous photograph of the Iraq War in Lewisburg, TN. But he did.

There aren’t enough words to ever sum up the power of this photograph. I won’t even try.

Rest in peace Staff Sergeant Marc Golczynski.

Don Brown
May 6, 2007

Thursday, May 03, 2007

I’m Not the Only One


Funny how things work out. I stumble on to what I think is a pretty dull subject and -- lo and behold -- it turns out I’m not alone. I had no idea I was just joining a trend in progress.

Blogging economists draw cyber-crowds

It’s a good article. It also gives you some good insights as to why I blog.

Don Brown
May 3, 2007

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Roosting Chickens


If you were paying attention -- before I started this blog -- you know that the FAA’s Flight Service Stations (FSS) were contracted out on October 3, 2005. FSSes are an integral part of the National Airspace System. For the average citizen, they’re just a part of the public safety machinery hidden from view. For pilots, especially General Aviation pilots, they were front and center.

FSSes handle many critical safety functions, from providing aviation weather briefings to disseminating information about equipment outages to handling the data for flight plans. They’re like the Swiss Army knife of Air Traffic Control. They do a lot of things and when push comes to shove, they can even save your life.

In the biggest contracting out of Government services to date, Lockheed Martin took over the FSSes and has been “improving” them ever since. Typically, for a while at least, they seemed to be doing a good job. But on May 15, 2006, the first bad news appeared. AVweb reported that the savings that were supposed to accompany the contracting out (because business can do it better) were revised downward -- by half a billion dollars. It was supposed to save you -- the taxpayer -- $2.2 billion. Now the FAA was guessing the savings were going to be $1.7 billion. Over 10 years. If they were off by a half billion the first year, how far off do you think they’ll be for the next 9 years ?

The real cost, however, is just now showing up. Not cost in dollars and cents, but cost in service. And safety. Take a look at these letters to AVweb . Scroll down to “Consolidated FSS QOTW” (Question of the Week.) “...Awful...” “...Plummeted...” “...Shocked...” Not exactly the words you want to hear when it comes to safety.

Just in case somebody wants to tell you that no one saw this coming...

”"I've got a pit in my stomach the size of Texas that this is going to be the largest fiasco any federal agency has ever seen," said Kate Breen, president of the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS).”

That quote was published in AVweb on October 10, 2005. The chickens have come home to roost.

Don Brown
May 1, 2007