Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Silver Lining

But first, the news. Evidently it was a busy news day yesterday. Either that or the midnight shift of the 24/7 news organizations fell asleep.

The main computer system (know as the HOST) at the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center (aka ARTCC or Center) failed yesterday during the evening rush hour. It only lasted about an hour. Of course, an hour in air traffic control (or sitting in an airline seat going nowhere) can seem like an eternity.

I’m particularly interested in the performance of URET during this outage. Any controller that would like to share their thoughts with me can look left, go to the bottom of the “About Me” column, click on the “View my complete profile” link and then click on the “Email” link. (Goodness, the things we do to avoid spam.) I would really, really, really love to hear some honest thoughts from the new controllers and trainees. What was it like switching from URET to Flight Progress Strips for you ?

Moving on to the silver lining.

Instead of watching the sky fall, yesterday, people were watching the market fall. Well, until the afternoon when it rallied. It actually ended up on the plus side. But the talk of a recession dominated the airwaves anyway.

Controllers could always tell when a recession was coming. The corporations started grounding their business jets. The airlines try to hang on longer, but they too start grounding airplanes as a recession takes hold of the economy.

You won't find a better time to impose slot restrictions.

Imposing slot restrictions on commercial airports has numerous implications. I think it would spur a major effort in improving all weather operations. The trick would be to improve IFR operations to nearly the level of VFR operations. It could be something as high tech as synthetic vision to something as low tech as the angled flight deck on an aircraft carrier. If you can’t build another runway to increase capacity -- think LGA -- then the pressure to maximize the capacity you do have will be intense.

There are many, many other implications -- both large and small. You might want to think about them. The operations at airline hubs would probably smooth out. No more max efforts at 8 AM to get all the arrivals in at the same time followed by a lull. I suspect it would lead to more point-to-point flights. Airlines would start looking at other airports for growth.

The biggest implication is the one that worries me the most. Somebody -- some organization -- has to administer the system. The logical organization would be the FAA. The FAA’s poor performance in managing the current system doesn’t make that logic very appealing.

Have I mentioned how important it is to have a good government ?

Don Brown
January 24, 2008

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