Monday, June 30, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- June 30 (08)

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jun 30, 1969: Fiscal year 1969, which ended on this date, saw a dramatic increase in Alaskan air activity following the discovery of oil in the Prudhoe Bay area of the state’s North Slope. The Fairbanks Flight Service Station (FSS), for example, experienced a 325 percent rise in flight services performed. On the North Slope itself, services performed by the Point Barrow FSS rose 500 percent during the period, to 17,221, while the number performed by the Bettles FSS rose 87 percent to 16,168. In order to accommodate this traffic, FAA and oil companies drilling in the area collaborated to bolster the air traffic facilities on the Slope. The oil companies built six new airfields, and both FAA and the companies furnished navaids to serve the area. (See Mar 1, 1968.) “

Never thought about that one did you ?

Don Brown
June 30, 2008

How About Now ?

There was an interesting headline awaiting me this morning...

Air traffic controllers stretched to breaking point: union

Borrrring ! Seriously. How many times can I type it -- how many times can you read it -- before you become immune to it ?

”Airservices Australia is the government-owned corporation that provides air traffic control across the country.

Over the weekend just five sick staff members was all it took to throw the organisation into chaos.

When replacement controllers could not be found, the company had to stop offering its services across southern Queensland, northern New South Wales and Cape York. “

Australia ? What’s this ? I thought the headline was from America. You’re telling me it’s from Australia ? But I thought Australia had it all figured out when it came to air traffic control. I could swear I read that somewhere.

”He added, "There is a mismatch between the needs of what air traffic control is today and the constraints of being part of government bureaucracy."

Twenty-seven nations have privatized their air traffic control systems, he said, among them Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, as well as Great Britain. “

“He” would be Robert Poole of The Reason Foundation and that quote was from the June 11, 2002 issue of The San Francisco Chronicle. I’ll provide several clips from the article but I encourage you to read the whole thing and refresh your memory.

Bush hints at private controllers
New order changes Clinton air traffic plan

”President Bush has taken the first step toward possibly privatizing air traffic control services, a move that delivers on a campaign theme of injecting a business sense into government work but an initiative that infuriates labor leaders.

He made the overture in a little-noticed executive order in which he stripped air traffic control of its "inherently governmental" designation, opening the door to privatization. “

”Labor leaders trace Bush's embrace of air traffic control privatization to the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles think tank that endorses limited government and whose transportation specialist, Robert Poole Jr., was a Bush campaign adviser and present during the White House transition. “

”John Carr, president of the controllers union, said the timing of the Bush order is particularly surprising, coming so soon after the tragedies of Sept. 11, when air traffic controllers played vital roles for maintaining public safety. “

”Phil Boyer, the president of another aviation union, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said, "We're absolutely flabbergasted that the administration thinks that aviation security and safety aren't a government function. This administration's position is particularly incomprehensible at a time when the government is taking airport security functions away from private industry and consolidating homeland security into a huge new department." “

Most of my readers will recognize John Carr from his blog, The Main Bang. Most also know that AOPA isn’t a union but an association.

Let’s review. The Bush Administration came in with a plan to privatize air traffic control (and anything else they could get away with.) They got that plan from Robert Poole at The Reason Foundation. The events of September 11th put a kink in that plan when it was shown in spectacular fashion that air traffic control is about public safety and national security. The failed private security system at airports was scrapped and taken over by the government and thrown in with a dozen other agencies to create the Department of Homeland Security. Pause to remember -- the Bush Administration was against Homeland Security before they were for it. Do you remember the sticking point ? That’s right, unions. The Bush Administration wouldn’t support the idea until Congress agreed to strip all the workers of their collective bargaining rights.

Are you noticing a pattern here ? Let me prove it to you. I had a hunch -- nothing else, just a hunch -- to check out The National Treasury Employees Union’s web site. Today’s issues, right off the front page:

”“Under this administration,” President Kelley said, “the army of federal contractors has grown considerably, as agencies find themselves under pressure to put a variety of jobs—many of which previously have been considered inherently governmental—up for bid to the private sector.” “

What really gets me about it all -- what I find so breathtaking -- is what my mother always referred to as “the unmitigated gall” of these people. Go back through those quotes above if you need to verify this. Robert Poole, of The Reason Foundation, on or before June 11, 2002, was holding up the air traffic control systems of Australia and Switzerland as a model for the United States of America. Not a month later, on July 1, 2002, two commercial aircraft being handled by Switzerland’s air traffic control system collided over Uberlingen. Today, Australia’s air traffic control system is in such disarray that 5 sick controllers can cause large parts of it to collapse. That’s the kind of system we want. Not.

Last minute addition

A sound clip of an interview with Dick Smith, former chairman of Australia’s Civil Aviation Authority and Civil Aviation Safety Authority, is available at this link. It’s very interesting.

Don Brown
June 30, 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Sometimes, you really have to sit back and marvel at how life works out. Over a month ago, I told you about a documentary film I’d seen called The Uprising of ‘34. One of my readers sent a copy of that blog entry to a guy named Frank Beacham. Frank wrote me and asked if he could send me a copy of his book -- Whitewash. I said yes, of course.

As an added little twist, when Frank’s book arrived, I was in the middle of the book you see on the left -- Lies My Teacher Told Me. Well, your teachers didn’t lie about this one. They just didn’t tell you about it. Period.

From the second I picked up Frank Beacham’s book, I couldn’t put it down. I read it is less than 24 hours. These are the opening words from the preface:

What if you awoke one morning and, out of the blue, learned that many of your memories of your childhood were based upon an illusion ? That the pleasant recollections about the quiet community where you spent the first eighteen years of your life were laced with carefully constructed myths. That your hometown was a facade -- like a movie set -- that masked terrible secrets, deep suffering, and unimaginable despair.

I was hooked. I’d had my “out of the blue” moment. It wasn’t as profound -- or as terrible -- as Frank’s but at the time, it was quite the revelation. I was on the phone with my mother, talking about something or other I was doing with the union (NATCA), and my mother blurted out with some exasperation, “Your grandfather was a union man.” I knew this wasn’t a compliment. And in that I was hearing it for the first time -- when I was 28 years old -- I knew something profound had just happened.

I adored my grandfather. He passed away when I was young -- much too young to realize what might lie behind some of his peculiarities. I knew he was a difficult man. He never went to my grandmother’s family functions. And he never went to church with her. For those that grew up in the South, you know how odd that was for the time. Watching The Uprising of ‘34 several years later, my suspicions were stirred. Reading Whitewash pretty much confirmed them.

”Chiquola’s management expressed no remorse for the killings. To the contrary, the company continued its aggressive anti-union stance by promptly banning funerals for the slain workers at any of the mill-owned churches.”

Before I get carried away, it’s important to note that Whitewash isn’t just about the Textile Worker’s Strike of 1934 and the subsequent shootings at Chiquola’s mill in Honea Path, South Carolina. It's also about the Orangeburg, SC Massacre and the birth of a dance called “The Shag” in Myrtle Beach, SC. If those three diverse events leave you scratching your head in puzzlement, you need to read this book.

I was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1958. Although my family moved away, I was raised in other towns in South Carolina and Georgia before moving back to Spartanburg when I was 16 years old. I know South Carolina. I know the South. But I don’t. And neither do you. Even if you were raised here.

Whitewash is about the systematic suppression of the past -- of the truth -- by an entire culture. Bear in mind that it is the same culture that stubbornly clings to the memories of The Old South. The same culture that stills seems to want to fight the Civil War. Yet, it is the same culture that repeatedly warns it’s children, “Those that don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.” Let’s hope not. Because this history is shameful. Which is the reason, I suspect, it’s been buried for so long. You should know it. You should read this book.

Frank’s preferred retailer is Book Locker. You can purchase Whitewash at this link. I personally don’t care where you buy it. I just hope that you do.

Don Brown
June 29, 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008

Corrupting Power

Dan Froomkin of The Washington Post has been outdoing himself this week. I was still mulling over his column from Tuesday and here it is Friday -- and he’s done it again. I guess this is just the price I pay for retirement. I’m in full summertime mode. I work outside from sunup until I’m too tried or it’s too hot and -- I’m done. The rest of the day I’m free to read.

Mr. Frromkin’s articles are lengthy enough but I have time to explore them. I’ve been trying to come up with a way to condense what I’ve found. Obviously, I’m not having much luck. I realize that those who aren’t retired don’t have the same amount of time so I’ll just point you to the articles and let you read what you can.

Tuesday’s article was Battered Congress Syndrome

I found the section entitled “Bush on Trial” most interesting. A military lawyer said this is his closing arguments:

"Sadly, this military commission has no power to do anything to the enablers of torture such as John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Robert Delahunty, Alberto Gonzales, Douglas Feith, David Addington, William Haynes, Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, for the jurisdiction of military commissions is strictly and carefully limited to foreign war criminals, not the home-grown variety. All you can do is to try to send a message, a clear and unmistakable message that the U.S. really doesn't torture, and when we do, we own up to it, and we try to make it right."

Let me pull two names out of that pile for you -- John Yoo and David Addington. They’re the subject of today’s column by Mr. Froomkin.

Contempt of Congress

He (David Addington) and fellow witness John Yoo, the main author of what's become known as the torture memo, offered nothing but non-answers. Their refusal to acknowledge as illegal abhorrent conduct that is beyond the pale even for this administration -- such as torturing a detainee's child or burying a detainee alive -- suggested that their only goal yesterday was to say absolutely nothing of any substance whatsoever, no matter what they were asked. That or their souls are entirely hollow. Or both.

I’ve tried to watch some of the videos cited in Mr. Froomkin’s article but it appears my aging computer is having trouble with YouTube. I’ll point you towards one entitled “7 and a Half Minutes of Torture”. It is Mr. Yoo, talking in circles, trying not to answer a question. From what I’ve been able to watch, Mr. Yoo’s evasiveness is only exceeded by Mr. Addington’s arrogance.

In what you might think is an unrelated matter, I’m providing a link to a floor speech by Senator Chris Dodd. I hope this blog catches you on a Saturday morning with some free time on your hands. Please, if you can, take a few minute out of your weekend -- more if you can spare it -- and watch this speech. I’ve linked the short segment. You can find the full speech in the “related” links on YouTube.

Dodd Fillibusters FISA

If you’ll listen, you’ll hear the connection with the stories above. I’m sure you will see the “push back” from the Administration this weekend if you haven’t already. Judge it for yourself. If you have the time, explore both of Froomkin’s articles and take the time to watch those videos too.

It’s surreal to me -- living in American and listening to talk of revoking habeas corpus, retroactive immunity and legalizing torture. But it’s all too real. Don’t close your eyes. Take a good hard look.

Don Brown
June 27, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

And Another Thing

When I was researching the previous post, I stumbled onto this article in The New York Times from April, 2001:

Growing Old at Air Traffic Control

Pay particular attention to this part and see just how wrong the FAA was.

F.A.A. officials scoff at the idea of a looming controller shortage, asserting that many controllers enjoy the work and will put off retirement for as long as they can.

''We know from history, two-thirds of the controllers do not retire in the first seven years of eligibility,'' said Steven J. Brown, associate administrator for air traffic services for the agency.

The pay is good and the controllers typically have mortgages to pay off or college tuition bills for their children, Mr. Brown said. Senior controllers often earn far more than $100,000 a year, and they have their choice of shifts and vacation time.

There’s a reason The New York Times is known as the nation’s “newspaper of record.”

Here’s something else for the record -- from a NATCA press release on 5-28-08.

”Forced to suffer under the FAA’s imposed work rules since September 2006, twenty controllers have retired from Indianapolis Center in the past two and a half years and not a single retirement was mandatory. “

(Emphasis added)

Or try this one, from NATCA’s testimony at the recent Congressional hearings on controller staffing.

”Nearly 98 percent of retirees since the beginning of FY 2007 left before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56 and 44 percent of FY 2007 retirees left within their first year of eligibility. “

(Emphasis added)

Think about how different things could have been if the FAA (or Congress, or the Administration, or the Public) had listened to NATCA while we still had time to address the coming controller shortage.

Don Brown
June 26, 2008

And I Helped

Having wasted an hour trying to find the original “Shake ‘n Bake” commercial on YouTube, I guess I’ll just have to do without the obscure cultural reference and move on.

The FAA Follies has another update on ERAM that you might want to check out. I get quoted in the post and then the current details follow. As I mentioned earlier, the guys at The FAA Follies are still working at the FAA so they have much better information sources than I.

Having said that, I’d like to call your attention to another factor not mentioned in their blog. Air traffic control is a young man’s game. Once you hit 40, it’s all downhill. I could make several guesses on why this is, but for now, I’ll just ask you to trust me. As you get older (and slower) you depend upon your familiarity with the equipment and your experience to keep up with the younger controllers. If the FAA changes the equipment controllers use, it slows everybody down. The younger controllers adapt faster. The older controllers are lucky if they adapt at all.

ERAM is going to drive some older controllers into retirement. It’s a fact of life in air traffic control. Anytime a new, major change comes along, it drives a few controllers into retirement. If I hadn’t already decided to retire, I’m sure URET would have driven me out. Obviously, the FAA can’t avoid upgrading the ATC system forever. We have to move forward. But it’s hard to imagine a worse time to install ERAM.

Don Brown
June 26, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The End Game

As my readers all know, I recently finished Jean Edward Smith’s biography of FDR. So naturally, this article in The Washington Post caught my eye.

75 Years Later, a Regulator Who Would Make FDR Proud

Bair is everything you'd want in a public servant: thoughtful, practical, independent-minded -- a straight shooter with political savvy who can manage the details of policy without losing sight of the big picture. She's no grandstander, but she isn't shy about going public with concerns if she thinks it will help her inside game. She never forgets that her most important constituency isn't the thousands of banks she regulates but the millions of Americans who use them.

It’s an extraordinary article in that I can’t remember ever seeing such a glowing assessment of a government employee -- much less a regulator -- in many a year. It’s well worth the short time it will take you to read it. Be sure to take note of who brought Ms. Bair to Washington. It might surprise you.

After you read that story, think about the images of the Wall Street suits doing the perp walk yesterday on the evening news. In case you missed it, you can read about it at the Financial Times.

Ex-Bear Stearns fund managers on US charges

What do you think ? Do you think they’ll do any time ? Much less hard time ?

The last little morsel I’d like you to mull over is a very short blog entry from Paul Krugman.

”My second biggest concern is that “Unity” means never having to say you’re sorry: that in the name of putting past partisanship behind us, the next administration will sweep the abuses of the past 8 years under the rug, the same way Bill Clinton did in 1993; the result of that decision was that the very same people responsible for Iran-Contra showed up subverting our democracy all over again. “

I, of course, relate all these issues back to air traffic control. Was there a regulator or any balancing force within the government warning you about the abuses taking place at the FAA ? Will anyone responsible for this mess be taking a “perp walk” on TV ? Or will they just show up later (probably working for a contractor) to damage your aviation system for their personal gain ? Again.

Don Brown
June 25, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- June 24 (08)

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jun 24, 1948: The Soviet Union stopped rail and road traffic between Berlin and the West. The Western Powers began airlifting vital supplies to the beleaguered city. The following month, at the request of the Air Force, CAA dispatched an initial group of 20 volunteer air traffic controllers to Frankfurt and Berlin for duty in the airlift operation. CAA also provided VHF air navigation aids. The Berlin blockade was officially lifted on May 12, 1949. “

Have you ever thought about air traffic control’s contribution to The Berlin Airlift ? If you have the time, you can read the whole story at Wikipedia. If time is limited, here’s the pertinent part.

Runways and weather. Some things never change.

Don Brown
June 24, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- June 23 (08)

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jun 23, 1981: Administrator Helms announced FAA's decision to adopt the Threat Alert and Collision Avoidance System, soon renamed the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS). The TCAS system was an evolutionary improvement of the Beacon Collision Avoidance System (BCAS) that the agency had been developing (see Mar 1976). Like BCAS, TCAS would work in conjunction with the Air Traffic Control Radar Beacon System (ATCRBS) transponder already in wide use. It would also be compatible with the next-generation transponder, originally designated the Discrete Address Beacon System (DABS) and later known as Mode S (see Dec 27, 1978, and Oct 5, 1984).

Two types of the new collision avoidance system were planned. TCAS I, intended for general aviation use, would in its basic form simply alert the pilot to the proximity of another aircraft carrying TCAS I or a conventional ATCRBS transponder. More expensive TCAS I versions would have some ability to provide certain data on the altitude and/or "o'clock" position of threat aircraft. TCAS II would provide more sophisticated advisories, including data on range and bearing of transponder-equipped aircraft. When the transponder aboard the threat aircraft had altitude-reporting capability, TCAS II's advisories would also include altitude data. In the case of two aircraft equipped with TCAS II, coordinated advisories would be provided. TCAS II would suggest vertical escape manuevers. If feasible, the system might be enhanced to include both vertical and horizontal escape manuevers, a version later designated TCAS III. TCAS was expected to overcome a fundamental limitation of BCAS by its ability to operate effectively even in the highest air traffic densities. This modified the need for a new ground-based collision avoidance system, and led to discontinuance of the Automatic Traffic Advisory and Resolution System (ATARS) project, originally known as Intermittent Positive Control (see Mar 4, 1976).

On Nov 13, 1981, FAA announced a contract with Bendix Corporation to provide two TCAS II engineering models to be tested and then enhanced to advise pilots of horizontal escape manuevers. (See Mar 18, 1987.) “

June of 1981. A full five months before I hired on with FAA. I’m now retired -- 27 years later. We still don’t have TCAS III.

If feasible, the system might be enhanced to include both vertical and horizontal escape manuevers, a version later designated TCAS III.

Yep. NextGen is right around the corner. Just you wait (27 years) and see.

”Jan 10, 1989: FAA published a rule requiring the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS II) on all airliners with more than 30 passenger seats operating in U.S. airspace (see Mar 18, 1987). The airlines were to phase in TCAS II by Dec 30, 1991. On Apr 9, 1990, however, FAA extended the TCAS II compliance schedule completion date to Dec 30, 1993 (an extension that also applied to wind shear warning equipment: see Sep 22, 1988). The Jan 10, 1989, rule also required turbine-powered commuter aircraft with 10 to 30 passenger seats to install the simpler TCAS I by Feb 9, 1995, a deadline later extended to Dec 31, 1995. “

Once the FAA decides what NextGen is, it won’t take but, oh...say a dozen years, for them to require it be installed on all commercial aircraft.

Don Brown
June 23, 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I Can’t Make Oshkosh

I can’t remember all the people I’ve told I was going to Oshkosh this year, so I figured this was the easiest way to inform everyone that I can’t make it. I’ve got some family medical problems to deal with (not to worry, nothing serious) and I can’t get away.

Sorry if that puts a crimp in anyone’s plans. I hope I can make it next year.

Don Brown
June 22, 2008

Saturday, June 21, 2008

More On Slots

The New York Times has more on the hearing about slot restrictions at the New York airports today.

Democrats Vow to Block Airport-Slot Sale

But D. J. Gribbin, the department’s general counsel, said that because of the limits on who can fly in and out of the airports, the slots should go to those who would make best use of them, and “we thought the auction mechanism was the best one to identify who values it most.”

I don’t have the time to argue with that statement at the moment. In that I don’t have any time, hopefully you do. Did you do as I suggested before and check out the names in a news story ? Did you check out Mr. D.J. Gribbin when you read his name yesterday ? Nothing says you have to stop with a name. You’re probably already familiar with the Christian Coalition but what do you know about Koch Industries ?

When someone is talking about “best” and “value”, some insight as to how they define the terms can be useful.

Don Brown
June 21, 2008

Friday, June 20, 2008

Slots, Caps and Auctions

The FAA is at it again. Actually, it’s the Bush Administration. But in that enough career bureaucrats within the FAA have surrendered to the Bush ideology, it’s hard to tell the difference.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Flight caps to vanish at O'Hare, but headaches may stick around

” "We don't see a need for the caps at this point," Bobby Sturgell, the top official at the Federal Aviation Administration, said at O'Hare. “

Of course he doesn’t see the need for caps. That’s because his boss tells him he doesn’t see the need. It’s worth remembering that Mr. Sturgell was a naval aviator. Navy pilots know about putting a lot of airplanes in a very confined area -- an aircraft carrier. They also know that airplanes can only land so fast because two can’t land at the same time. Their “runway” has capacity limits just like your runway does. Mr. Sturgell knows this. He just doesn’t “see” this.

Like so much in the Bush Administration, lifting the caps at Chicago O’Hare is exactly the wrong move and exactly the wrong time. If the demand isn’t there to exceed the caps then why remove them ? In a few months (or years), when the demand returns, somebody will have to clean up this mess and restore the caps. It will be just as politically unpopular -- and necessary -- as it always has been. Those of you who read this blog already know this. It’s just one more example of politics trumping policy -- and another example of why Mr. Sturgell should never be confirmed as FAA Administrator.

On to a different verse of the same song from The New York Times:

Debate Over Auctioning of Airport Landing Slots

”Mr. DeCota even questioned whether the Bush administration has the authority to hold the auctions without first getting Congressional approval. “Nowhere in the Federal Aviation Act is there a declaration that slots are property and nowhere is there the authorization to auction or lease slots for monetary compensation there from,” he said. “

The public outcry over delays in New York was so bad that the Bush Administration could no longer deny reality. They bowed to pressure and enforced the landing slot restrictions that have been in place since 1969. But just because they were forced to obey one law doesn’t mean the won’t create another law out of thin air. Mr. DeCota might question whether the Bush Administration has the authority to auction off the landing slots at his airport but surely, by now, no one is surprised by the Bush Administration’s dysfunctional relationship with the law.

”He (D. J. Gribbin, the general counsel to the United States Department of Transportation) later continued, “Granting slots without market-based mechanisms creates a system where incumbent airlines fight to maintain large shares of the airport traffic and to limit the ability of low-cost carriers to compete.” “

During my career in the FAA, I ran into many situations that this statement epitomizes and I still don’t know how to deal with them. How do you argue with stupid ?

The FAA had to implement slots restrictions because the demand on the airport was too great. But we want to encourage more low-cost carriers to use the airport ? And we are going to do this by forcing them to spend more money -- to pay for a landing slot whose cost has been inflated by an auction ? Turning them into not-so-low-cost carriers ? They are doing away with slot restrictions in Chicago but they expect to auction them off in New York ?

It doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to include the phrase “market-based”. That is the magic incantation that makes everything okay.

Here’s an internet trick for you. Search Google News for +Bush +”Market Based”.

Getting the Flick ?

Don Brown
June 20, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- June 19 (08)

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jun 19, 1987: The Federal Labor Relations Authority certified the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) as the exclusive representative of all GS-2152 series terminal and center controllers whose primary duty was separation of aircraft. The controllers had voted for representation by a margin of 7,494 to 3,275, using mail ballots sent to them on May 6. The Authority had announced the outcome on Jun 11. (See Jul 2, 1982, and May 1, 1989.) “

As all my readers know by now, President Ronald Reagan fired over 11,000 members of PATCO when they went on strike -- August 3, 1981. I walked into Atlanta Center early in 1982 and literally said, “I don’t need a union and don’t want one.” I was wrong. So wrong.

On June 11, 1987 -- the date the ballots were counted -- I was hanging around the MEBA building in Washington, DC, awaiting the outcome. MEBA had shouldered the organizing costs for NATCA. I used the time to fill out my union application. The secretary told me she couldn’t accept any applications until the ballot count was completed. I was standing at her desk -- application in hand -- when the call came in.

I was never elected to anything in NATCA (that I remember anyway) but I was always involved. I was telling a friend just yesterday, if you want to learn how a democracy works, attend a local union meeting. It’s messy. It’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s just plain boring. But you soon learn that your actions count. It’s real easy to sit back and hide in our society -- letting someone else take charge and make decisions. It’s a lot more difficult to blame others when there are only five other people in the room and a decision needs to be made.

Your vote counts. Your voice is heard. You can stand up and lead or you can follow. You can object. You can quit and go home. But whatever you do, you can’t blame it on some faceless “politician.” You were in the room. You had a chance to stand up and be heard. It’s your judgment that is tested. You will live with the consequences of your own actions (or lack thereof.) I wish more people had that experience. I believe our country would be better for it.

Sorry. I didn’t mean to get off on a tangent and I didn’t mean to preach. Helping start NATCA was one of the best decisions I ever made. I didn’t start out my career with that intention and I didn’t know how it would turn out. But I’m glad I did. Happy Birthday NATCA.

Don Brown
June 19, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Know This Tune

I’ve got work to do this morning. (Okay, not work that pays but work all the same.) While I’m busy digging, wander over to NAS Confusion and see if the kid’s stuff doesn’t sound familiar.

”Pilots keep complaining, and then all the traffic gets forced into using only a few available, relatively smooth, altitudes, which makes things very complicated. Speeds get assigned when normally a different altitude would allow normal speeds. The hardest part is all the questions and lack of answers, or lack of good answers, depending on the location. Its hard to get everyone to just be quiet. The turbulence has to go on the back-burner occasionally so we can separate the aircraft first, and then worry about the rides second. “

All that while he gets used to his new day off too. (What ? You think he gets two ?)

Wednesday is the new Monday

Seriously, all my old AVweb fans need to check out this site.

NAS Confusion

Trust me. You’ll like it.

Don Brown
June 18, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- June 17 (08)

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jun 17, 1981: PATCO rejected a Reagan Administration contract proposal as inadequate and broke off informal talks with representatives of FAA. The informal talks, conducted irregularly since the break in formal talks on Apr 28, were held under the aegis of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. (See Jun 18, 1981, and Jun 22, 1981.) “

In case you missed it in last week’s Congressional hearing, the FAA made NATCA an offer to settle their current contract dispute. All indications are that it will be rejected out of hand as nothing more than what it was -- a stunt so that the FAA could testify it was trying to rectify the situation. Make no mistake. The situation is intolerable and something will have to change.

Unless you were in the aviation industry in 1981, you probably don’t remember the build up to the PATCO strike in 1981. Most American woke up on August 3, 1981 and suddenly it was in the news. As you can see from the entries above and below, the strike didn’t “just happen.” There was a long lead up period and it was inevitable that something would happen. Let’s try to learn something so we don’t repeat this particular bit of history.

”Jun 18, 1981: The U.S. District Court rejected a PATCO motion to vacate the injunction restraining the union from engaging in illegal job actions or strikes (see Jun 21, 1978). PATCO moved to have the injunction lifted on the grounds that it had been superceded by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which gave the Federal Labor Relations Authority original jurisdiction in Federal labor-management disputes. (See May 23, 1981, and Jun 17, 1981.) “

”Jun 22, 1981: Department of Transportation and PATCO representatives reached agreement on a tentative new contract after a marathon bargaining session, thus averting a threatened nationwide strike by PATCO-affiliated controllers that had been scheduled to begin at 7 a.m., Monday, Jun 22.

Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis and PATCO President Robert Poli had gone back to the bargaining table Friday evening, Jun 19, at the behest of Representative James J. Howard (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Public Works Committee. The resumption of talks may also have been prompted by a letter to Poli from 36 U.S. Senators, stating that a strike by PATCO "will do nothing to further your goals of increased pay and changes in working conditions." The bargaining sessions, which took place at the offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and were joined in by Federal mediator Kenneth Moffett, lasted more than 25 hours, with the last session running past 3 a.m., Monday. The agreement contained four key provisions, which the Reagan Administration agreed to recommend to Congress:

* A "responsibility" differential that would give controllers 42 hours pay for each normal 40hour week worked.

* An increase in the night differential from 10 to 15 percent of base pay.

* The exclusion of overtime, night differential, and Sunday and holiday pay from the limitations of the Federal pay cap.

* A retraining allowance equivalent to 14 weeks of base pay for controllers who became medically disqualified after five consecutive years of service at the journeyman level or above and who were ineligible for retirment or disability compensation.

The first-year cost of the total package, which included a cost-of-living raise of 4.8 percent due Federal civil service employees in October, came to approximately $40 million or, on the average, $4,000 per controller per year. PATCO had been seeking a package that would have cost the government, initially, in excess of $700 million per year. (See Jun 17, 1981, and Jul 2, 1981.) “

On a side note, today completes one full year of “FAA History Lessons” here at Get the Flick. There are many more lessons to write about. I hope you have enjoyed and learned from the ones so far.

Don Brown
June 17, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008


”The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much -- it is whether we provide enough for those who have little. “

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

When I last left the subject, I was halfway through Jean Edward Smith’s biography of FDR. Roosevelt was basking in the glory of the “One Hundred Days”, which is still taught in the history books as one of the greatest legislative accomplishments of all time. From that height, Mr. Smith plunges us into the depths with a chapter entitled Hubris. It highlights a theme that fascinates me. It has been my observation that great men have great faults. Franklin Roosevelt proved himself no different -- on more than one occasion. His attempted “packing” of the Supreme Court, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two and his attempt to purge dissident Democrats from Congress in 1938 were but a few. The latter is only significant in a political context. It’s hard to fathom how a man with such extraordinary political skills could rationalize such a (politically) stupid move. Yet, he did.

I mention this subject only to point to it’s relevance to today. Franklin D. Roosevelt is consistently ranked one of the greatest Presidents of all time -- usually third, behind George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He was a Great Man. He was not -- and never was -- a Saint. I believe we spend far too much time looking for a saint instead of a president.

Mr. Smith’s book will allow you to look at the big picture items like that, if you so choose, but I have to admit I love the delicious details he provides. I did not know of the assassination attempt made in Miami in 1933 -- in the month before Roosevelt assumed office. A woman in the crowd spoiled the assassin's aim when she hit the shooter with her handbag. Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak (who was visiting with Roosevelt) was wounded. Roosevelt made the Secret Service stop the car and load Mayor Cermak into the back seat, where Roosevelt held him all the way to the hospital. Roosevelt knew that his car would be the first out of the crowd and he overruled the Secret Service orders to move out -- not once but twice -- until Mayor Cermak was loaded into the car. Mayor Cermak died from his wounds over two weeks later. The assassin, Giuseppe Zangara, was executed.

Whether you’re looking for the big picture or the little details, ”FDR” is a great book. As to its relevance for today, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

”But while they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings.“

”Here is my principle: Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle.“

”It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach.“

”True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.“

”Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.“

Don Brown
June 16, 2008

Life Equals Contradictions

It’s human nature to make life orderly. It’s a never-ending struggle simply because life is messy. Here’s a good example, spread out over a couple of days worth of news.

First, the FAA’s best known whistleblowers are being honored.

WASHINGTON, DC–Two Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) whistleblowers have received the U.S. Office Special Counsel (OSC) Public Servant Award for 2007. U.S. Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch presented the award June 11 to FAA whistleblowers Charalambe “Bobby” Boutris and Douglas E. Peters, who are FAA aviation safety inspectors in Irving, TX. Disclosures to OSC by Mr. Boutris and Mr. Peters revealed that an FAA official knowingly allowed Southwest Airlines to operate aircraft in unsafe or unairworthy condition.“

Even as one division of the government is honoring these men, another division is punishing them.

”But since they testified on Capitol Hill, the two men said they've lost out on promotions and been excluded from important safety decisions, reports CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes .“

It gets even messier if you remember my earlier post about U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch. It’s enough to make you crazy. Who can you believe ?

The FAA Follies has a good answer to that question in a post entitled (appropriately enough), “Who do you listen to ?”.

In a word -- if you’re the FAA -- it is simply devastating. The FAA Follies lays it out in black and white for all to see. You should check it out.

Don Brown
June 16, 2008

Saturday, June 14, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- June 14

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jun 14, 1985: Two Lebanese Shiite Moslems hijacked a TWA 727 departing Athens and diverted it to Beirut, where additional hijackers joined them. During a two-week confrontation, they demanded the release of Shiite prisoners held by Israel. The hijackers murdered one passenger, a U.S. Navy diver. They released the other 155 hostages (including 39 Americans) in stages, the last being freed on Jun 30. Lebanese authorities held the aircraft in Beirut until Aug 16.

The TWA hijacking and an upsurge in Middle East terrorism prompted a series of U.S. actions. Events included:

* On Jun 18, President Reagan warned travelers of inadequate security measures at Athens airport. This advisory was lifted on Jul 22, after an FAA inspection found improvements.

* On Jun 23, an Air India jet crashed under mysterious circumstances (see entry for this date below).

* On Jun 27, Transportation Secretary Dole urged the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to act immediately to enhance airport security. The ICAO Council met on an accelerated schedule, and on Dec 19 adopted amendments strengthening international security standards and recommended practices.

* On Jul 1, the President suspended airline travel between U.S. and Lebanon.

* During July, FAA issued an emergency regulatory amendment requiring airlines to carry Federal Air Marshals on certain flights. Eight days later, the agency issued another emergency rule that required airlines to expand security training for crew members and to provide a ground security coordinator and an in-flight security coordinator for every flight.

* Between mid-Aug and early Nov, FAA personnel assisted by law enforcement officers from other agencies inspected U.S. air carrier security procedures at 79 foreign airports.

* FAA also issued a number of emergency amendments to the agency-approved security programs of both airlines and airport operators.

On Aug 8, the President signed the International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1985. The Act authorized the use of $5 million from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund for research on and development of airport security devices and explosives detection techniques. It also mandated a system for conducting security assessments at foreign airports, and authorized Federal Air Marshals as a permanent FAA workforce. The agency began hiring additional security inspectors and training them to serve as Air Marshals. FAA also reorganized its Office of Civil Aviation Security to reflect its expanded responsibilities under the Act, creating an International Civil Aviation Security Division and an Intelligence Division. (See Aug 5, 1986.) “

I realize this was a long entry so I’ll just say this. There’s a reason the airline pilot sitting in the left seat is called Captain. Think about being in a foreign land with a multi-million dollar piece of equipment and a few hundred people depending on you. The late Captain John Testrake was in command of TWA 847 that fateful day. He had already earned the title. The rest of the world got an idea of what it meant in the next few, long days. If you don’t remember the story, I urge to find out more about it.

Don Brown
June 14, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- June 13

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jun 13, 1995: FAA unveiled the National Plan for Civil Aviation Human Factors, a joint FAA-DOD-NASA initiative. The Plan outlined a national agenda to eliminate aviation accidents caused by human error. Its elements included: identifying needs and problems involving human performance; guiding research programs to address the human element; involving the nation’s top scientists and aviation professionals; and sharing the resulting information with the aviation community. “

Do you think the FAA had to testify at a Congressional hearing on June 14th ?

For those scratching their heads right now...this week, when the FAA had to testify about controller staffing shortages (and hence controller fatigue), Hank Krakowski announced the FAA would be sponsoring a world conference on fatigue. I would point you towards more information about it but I can’t find any -- on Google or on the FAA’s own website.

It’s a typical FAA maneuver. Whenever the FAA is called on the carpet about the current conditions, they start talking about what they will do in the future. They also do things like slipping a “settlement offer” for NATCA under the door at the last minute so they can tell Congress they’ve made an offer but the union hasn’t responded. (I’ve got a response for them but I can’t print it.) And last, but not least, please note that the FAA sent the new guy -- Hank Krakowski -- to testify. It’s hard to blame the guy that didn’t create the problem and hasn’t been there long enough to figure out who the players are yet.

The current FAA management is pathetic. And they will remain that way until somebody comes along and cleans house.

"I think the stopping point is the White House and the OMB (Office of Management and Budget), frankly," Costello said. "Until it comes down from up top, we're going to be in this holding pattern."

Don Brown
June 13, 2008

We Have A Winner

If you’ve been on vacation and missed all the Congressional hearings on controller staffing, I have the story for you.

Go straight to the Louisville- Courier Journal and read James R. Carroll’s excellent coverage of the hearing.

FAA trying to restart labor talks, official says

If the thought hasn’t already crossed your mind, let me put it there. Louisville has had excellent coverage of the FAA since their next-door neighbor suffered through an unfortunate event. They have found the same motivation that many controllers have found at one time or another.

When you’ve witnessed an accident -- when it becomes personal -- you find the motivation to work longer, to try harder. It changes your perspective. If you’ll read closely, you’ll notice it too.

Don Brown
June 13, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Do You Have The Flick ?

"I looked into it and came to the conclusion that if we did not restore a fair negotiation procedure, it would threaten agency morale and effectiveness. (The FAA's authority) denies air traffic controllers and all other FAA employees the opportunity to engage in and conclude negotiations in good faith."

Senator Barack Obama
January 2006

Double check that date. January 2006. Here it is, June 2008 and where do we stand ? The FAA imposed its work rules on September 3, 2006. Over 1,000 controllers have left and only a handful had reached mandatory retirement. By now you should have seen yesterday’s hearing or at least read the summaries in the news. It appears to me that Senator Obama has the flick. And he’s had it for over two years.

Just in case you think this is about just air traffic controllers...

The Obama legislation was spurred by the ongoing contract negotiations between the FAA and the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS), the union that represents FAA systems specialists and safety inspectors, ...”

As was mentioned in the hearing yesterday, NATCA is just the 500 pound gorilla in this fight. There are many other union members suffering right along with air traffic controllers. This announcement should come as no surprise.

Air Traffic Controllers Announce Support for Obama's Presidential Campaign

I’ll be voting for someone that has the flick -- Barack Obama.

Don Brown
June 12, 2008

Controller Staffing Hearing -- Video

As promised, here’s the link to the video of yesterday’s hearing.

Air Traffic Control Facility Staffing

Click on the ”Video of Hearing” link at the bottom of the orange frame. When the video comes up, fast forward to the 22 minute mark and you’ll see Chairman Costello start the hearing. Enjoy.

Don Brown
June 12, 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Add the Attaboy

It’s tough getting old and forgetful. I apologize for my lack of manners.

To Don Chapman (PHL), Steve Wallace (ZMA) and Mel Davis (SCT),

I just wanted to say you made your profession proud today. Thank you all for a job well done.

To the rest of the world,

If and when you get a chance to watch today’s hearing, pay attention to these men. You’ll note, as I did, that they come from all corners of this country -- each with problems unique to their facilities. You’ll see their answers are honest and forthright. And I’ll bet it was the first time any of them have given testimony in a congressional hearing. Compare the answers you heard from the controllers with the answers you heard from the others. As I’ve said before, I’ll put controllers up against anybody in a truth-tellin’ contest.

Don Brown
June 11, 2008

You Heard the Man

For those of you that watched the hearing, you heard what Chairman Costello said, call your Senators and tell them to pass S1300.

It’s one thing when I tell you to do it but it’s quite another when a Congressman -- the Chairman of a Subcommittee -- is telling you to do it.

To find your Senators and their contact information go here and select your State in the top, right-hand corner. Send an email tonight. Call tomorrow. You heard the man. Do something.

I’ll have a link to the video of the hearing when it becomes available (and I find it) and I’m sure I’ll have some comments at that time. For now, let me say I appreciate the effort Chairman Oberstar made to get to the hearing (he had a busy and successful day.) I think he was trying to give controllers the hope to hang on that they so desperately need. It was a good effort but I’m not sure it was enough. As the hearing demonstrated, with every controller that retires or quits, the situation grows more desperate. Every single day counts. Tell your Senators they need to act and they need to act now.

Don Brown
June 11, 2008

House Hearings -- Flash

This is what happens when you go on vacation and just skim through the backlog, trying to catch up. I missed a bombshell post from my fellow controllers at The Potomac Current and Undertow.

I don’t want to steal their thunder but I do want to compel you to take the time to read the post and try to understand it all. I transcribed a segment on the .pdf file offered on their site just to grab your attention. (I still can’t figure out why I can “cut and paste” some .pdf files but not others.)

”House Republicans have let us know that in addition to the usual suspects (GAO, IG, NATCA), there will probably be testimony from individual controllers who will say that they have been forced to work overtime, 7 days a week for the past couple of years, etc. House Rs have asked us if we would like to identify and request testimony from other individual controllers that we believe can articulately support our efforts to recruit, train, retain, etc. controllers. Do you know if we have anyone like that ?”

In that nobody appeared on the witness list, I guess they couldn’t find anybody. But don’t let that stop you from reading the .pdf file (it’s of an FAA email.) The kicker is where (what group) the FAA was looking for potential witnesses.

As I said yesterday (before I read any of this), history might be made today.

The Potomac Current and Undertow has written out the score card so you can tell who all the players are. It may take some time, but it will be time well spent.

Don Brown
June 11, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Notice to Airmen

Here’s the scoop. On Wednesday, June 11, 2008 at 2 PM, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will hold a hearing on air traffic control facility staffing.

The schedules on Capitol Hill are always in flux so events are always subject to change. But for right now, you can go to this page and check the schedule. Currently, “Air Traffic Control Facility Staffing” is about the eighth from the top. You can click on that link and download a .pdf file for the full background on the hearing. Also, on the same page provided by the link, you’ll see a green button in the top left quadrant of the page that says “Live Webcast”. I’m pretty sure that will be the button to click at 2 PM on Wednesday to watch the hearing.

As I said, things change. Hearings start late. I’ll keep you up to date as best I can. I haven’t heard anything about C-SPAN covering the event and didn’t see anything on their website.

I don’t have any inside information to pass along to you -- just the general consensus. Every air traffic controller in America will be watching this hearing very closely. Their patience is wearing thin. If these hearings don’t produce any hope, expect those “sitting on the fence” to jump. Decisions will be made. Controllers that can, will stay or retire based on what they see in these hearings. Supervisors will decide to stand up to FAA upper management or continue to cower in fear, based on what they see in these hearings. Trainees will decide to stay or quit and find a decent career elsewhere.

I sense that tomorrow will be a turning point. It’s nothing but a feeling -- instinct -- but I’ve had to trust my feeling on more than one occasion. I don’t expect any action will be taken -- it’s a hearing -- but I think history will be made. The stage will be set.

Worthy of note, the first panel will be the regular bigwigs but the second panel will be three air traffic controllers. No one else, just the NATCA Facility Representatives from Philadelphia, Southern California TRACON and Miami Center.

Don Brown
June 10, 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008

Turn Out the Lights

Speaking of retirements, will the last controller leaving the FAA please be sure to turn out the lights ?

From my buddy Todd’s blog -- Vanity Fair Musings

A total of 2,687 controllers and trainees have left their jobs – through retirement, resignations, transfers to other FAA jobs and other reasons – from Sept. 3, 2006 (the day the FAA imposed work and pay rules) through March 31, 2008. That’s nearly 20 percent of the workforce.

Of the 1,417 retirements since Oct. 1, 2006, only 30 (2.1 percent) reached the mandatory retirement age of 56.

30 out of 1,417.

1,387 controllers walked away from a good salary -- long before they had to -- because the FAA is such a lousy employer. I know what it cost me in terms of money. As large as that figure is, it’s not nearly as much as it’s going to cost you -- the taxpayer. Todd has word from Asheville, NC -- an airport in my old airspace. It was once a paradise for air traffic controllers. I know, I bid on it. Check it out.

Don Brown
June 9, 2008

Page Turner

Just in case you didn’t remember, my buddy Bob Page and his family have started their trip around the world. Bob was an air traffic controller and so was his wife Susan. The emphasis on “was” is because today is Susan’s official retirement day. If you would like to add your congratulations on a job well done, you can do so at:

Atlanta to Atlanta: Around the World by the Book

(It’s the same deal as my blog. Click the “view my complete profile” link and you’ll see the “Email” link.)

Or you can just follow along as Bob blogs about the trip. Be sure to pay close attention. Bob is a clever fellow who delights in playing with words. (Does the phrase “by the book” sound familiar ? Book -- Pages ?)

I hope my fellow controllers around the world will take whatever opportunities that may present themselves to express their congratulations as the Pages make their way around the globe, turning the page to a new chapter in their lives.

Don Brown
June 9, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- June 8-14

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jun 8-14, 1983: A Joint System Program Office (JSPO) representing the National Weather Service, FAA, and the Air Force awarded two competitive contracts to develop pre-production models of the Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD). The contracts would remain in effect until July 1986, after which one of the firms would be selected for production. NEXRAD would have the ability to "see" inside storms and measure the velocity and direction of wind-driven precipitation and other particles suspended in the air. The system was based on the Doppler effect, which permits an object's speed and direction to be determined by the lengths or frequency of the light, sound, or radio waves it emits.

The U.S. government had been investigating the potential of Doppler radar since the 1950s. In Apr 1977, joint NEXRAD testing was begun by the Air Force and the Commerce Department's National Weather Service. FAA formally joined the program in Dec 1977, due to the tests' success and perhaps also the crash of a DC-9 in a thunderstorm (see Apr 4, 1977). In Aug 1979, the Departments of Commerce, Transportation, and Defense formed a Joint System Program Office with the goal of developing a national network of NEXRAD radars and processing equipment. The Commerce Department, which planned to buy and operate most of the radars, was given the lead role (see Feb 28, 1994).

Initially, NEXRAD had been intended to cover both en route and airport needs, but Project JAWS (see May 15-Aug 13, 1982) produced data on wind shear microbursts that prompted FAA to conclude that separate airport systems would be needed. To learn more about how Doppler radar could by applied to the low-level wind shear hazard, FAA conducted Project CLAWS (for classify, locate, and avoid wind shear) in the Denver area from Jul 7 to Aug 13, 1984. FAA contracted with the National Center for Atmospheric Research to provide daily microburst forecasts, Doppler radar surveillance, and real-time advisories of microburst activities. During CLAWS, pilots gave detailed feedback on the effectiveness of the system. On Sep 16, 1985, FAA signed an agreement with the Commerce Department under which FAA would contract with the Sperry and Raytheon corporations to identify how NEXRAD systems would need to be modified to develop terminal Doppler radar. (See Aug 2, 1985.) ”

I think I’ve said enough about the safety problems of interpreting NEXRAD data in the past and I’m sure that I will do so again in the future. For today, I’d like for you to think about the things that our government does to promote commerce. As I’m sure you noticed, NEXRAD was a joint effort between Commerce, Transportation and Defense. Some people probably haven’t thought of the National Weather Service being within the Department of Commerce but once you do, it makes a lot of sense. Agriculture, forestry, touches everything -- especially commerce. Think about how these national systems promote commerce. Think about who would do them -- nationwide -- if the government didn’t.

And in case you didn’t remember the events of April 4, 1977...

”Apr 4, 1977: A Southern Airways DC-9 crashed near New Hope, Ga. The pilot attempted an emergency landing on a highway, but the aircraft broke apart and caught fire. The accident killed 62 of the 85 persons aboard, as well as 8 persons on the ground. In addition, one passenger and one person injured on the ground died about a month later. The National Transportation Safety Board cited the probable cause of the crash as the total and unique loss of thrust after the engines ingested massive amounts of water and hail as the aircraft penetrated an area of severe thunderstorms. As contributory causes, the NTSB listed: failure of the airline's dispatch system to provide up-to-date severe weather data; the captain's reliance on airborne weather radar to enter a thunderstorm area; and FAA's lack of a system for disseminating real-time hazardous weather warnings. (See May 19, 1977.) “

Don Brown
June 9, 2008

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bonus -- Balloon Pics

My loving wife is a woman of many talents. While I was working, she was taking pictures. Enjoy.

(If you’ll look real close between the van and the trailer -- I’m the guy in the hat.)

Don Brown
June 8, 2008

Can I Go Back ?

After a tiring (but fun) trip to Helen I was looking forward to a lazy Sunday back at home. It was hot for Helen this week. The highs were in the high 80s to low 90s. With two flights scheduled each day (7 AM and 7 PM) I was getting a work out -- and so was the shower.

I just looked at the thermometer here at home and it said 100. Can I go back to the mountains ?

Although I didn’t get any blogs done I did manage to finish FDR while I was in Helen. It’s an excellent book and I found it particularly relevant to the circumstances of today. I’ll have more to say at a later date as I’m sure it well take me a few days to formulate the words needed to say what I want said. My problem is that I think I’ve run out of books. Well, at least until next week -- Father’s Day.

I finally got around to taking my first balloon ride while I was in Helen. I made two important discoveries. Floating in a balloon over the mountains is incredibly beautiful and it turns out that hay fever is called “hay” fever for a reason. We (that would be my pilot Kyle and I) landed in a hay field and I thought I’d cough and/or sneeze my brains out before we got packed up. I’ve had allergies for a long time but I’m never had such a large reaction to a particular pollen before. No matter, it went away as fast as it came on.

For those that find themselves wondering about landing sites for hot air balloons, you just never know. On pleasure flights, the majority of the time you can find a good, accessible spot. For the two guys in the race this year, it got a little ugly. You can read about it here and see some good pictures.

Things here at Get the Flick should return to normal tomorrow.

Don Brown
June 8, 2008

Friday, June 06, 2008

Hello Helen

Sorry to leave you hanging. I’m up in Helen, GA chasing balloons. The internet access is worse than expected and I’m busier than expected. I guess I need to revise my expectations. I might get a post in here or there but I might not.

For those that don’t know, Helen is Georgia’s version of a German/Swiss alpine village. This is the 35th year for the balloon festival. An alpine village, balloons and mountains. It doesn’t get much prettier than that. I wouldn’t expect too much out of me for a couple of days.

Did I mention all the German beer and the river off the back patio ? Nap time.

Don Brown
June 6, 2008

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

It Makes Sense Now

Let me state right up front that I’m guessing. I don’t know this for a fact. It just fits.

I bumped into a controller friend the other day and he told me a somewhat amusing story about a recent event involving flight plans. A particular vendor that has a flight planning service suddenly stopped putting the equipment suffix in flight plans.

For those that don’t know, there are various types of navigational equipment on aircraft. (Those that do know this stuff feel free to skip ahead.) Each different type of equipment has its own suffix. The equipment suffix is tacked onto the type aircraft. So when a controller would ask another to “say type aircraft”, the answer always came back as “Cessna three ten slant Alpha”. That would be written on the flight progress strips as “C310/A”. The “slant Alpha” meant that the aircraft was equipped with VOR navigation equipment with DME and his transponder had Mode C capability. Here are some other examples.

B757/F -- A Boeing 757 equipped with a Flight Management System (FMS) that depends on DME for position information.

LR35/I -- A Lear 35 capable of Area Navigation (RNAV) with either LORAN, VOR/DME or an Inertial Navigational System plus Mode C.

C210/G -- a Cessna 210 with Advanced RNAV capability using GPS.

(You can view the whole table here.)

Anyway, for some reason, this vendor suddenly stopped putting an equipment suffix in all the flight plans they submitted to the FAA. As you may have picked up in the discussion, the equipment suffix also tells us what type transponder the aircraft has. No equipment suffix, no transponder. If you don’t have a transponder, the computer doesn’t assign a beacon code.

Cessna one two three four is cleared to Peachtree-Dekalb via depart Hickory direct Sugarloaf Victor two twenty two LOGEN direct, climb and maintain six thousand, squawk....uh....standby. Ask this guy who he filed his flight plan with and find out what his equipment suffix is.

As I said, the problem was finally tracked down to a vendor. It was reported to me that no one in the FAA (even in Washington) could find a telephone number for the vendor to inform them of the error. All anyone could find was an email address. I have to question that too, in that I had a manager call up a DUATS vendor (about a different problem, long ago) while I was standing there listening. Of course, the vendor told us he didn’t have to talk to us and if we had a problem, we needed to call FAA headquarters and have them call. Maybe vendors don’t need to have a telephone number.

Pretty soon, getting any support for air traffic control will be like calling tech support for your computer. “It’s a software problem, call them.” "It’s a modem problem, call them.” “It’s your ISP’s problem, call them.”

Oh well, it’s an amusing story and one I had decided to pass up until I read this today from AINonline:

The new Host systems will automatically assign preferential routes based on the equipment capability contained in an ICAO-filed flight plan, according to the FAA. The first operational use of ERAM, which will make the NAS system ICAO compatible, is scheduled for October at the Salt Lake City ARTCC. “

(Emphasis added)

Like I said, it’s just a guess but I’m betting the two are connected. A vendor’s software suddenly messes up the equipment suffix and a few days later I find that ERAM will assign routes based on the equipment suffix. I could be wrong but it makes sense to me.

In any event, I hope you’re feeling a little uneasy about how software problems make it through the system all the way to the controller. I was reading another variation of this theme today where pilots using NEXRAD weather radar are finally understanding just how much computer programmers working for vendors are massaging the data the pilot depends on to keep them out of thunderstorms. Public information, private vendors, public safety and computer programmers. I’m betting you’ll see more and more of these issues.

Don Brown
June 3, 2008

Monday, June 02, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- June 2

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jun 2, 1994: Administrator Hinson announced that FAA would halt further development of the Microwave Landing System (MLS) for use under the more difficult visibility conditions rated Category 2 and 3 (see Jun 15, 1992). He stated that the agency instead would concentrate on the development of the Global Positioning System, known as GPS (see Feb 17, 1994). On Jun 8, FAA issued a request for proposals for an initial Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) for GPS. The initial WAAS would be a network of 24 ground stations and related communications systems that would enhance the integrity and availability of GPS signals (see entry for Aug 1, 1995). On Jul 16, Administrator Hinson and President Phil Boyer of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association landed at the Frederick, Md., airport using the first FAA-approved public "stand alone" GPS instrument approach. On Oct 17, the Administrator formally offered free use of GPS for 10 years to International Civil Aviation Organization member states, reconfirming a previous verbal offer (see entry for Apr 1, 1991). Other related events during 1994 included FAA’s Dec 8 announcement of approval of GPS as a primary means of navigation for oceanic/remote operations, subject to certain conditions.”

I thought I would try to give you a little perspective about the sales job the FAA is putting on for GPS and ADS-B. Once upon a time, they did the same for the Microwave Landing System (MLS) The great, touted advantage of MLS at the time was the ability of aircraft to fly “curved” approaches -- aircraft didn’t have to “line up” on the single beam a normal Instrument Landing System (ILS) provided. Just like GPS, controllers can envision this being useful but it wouldn’t increase airport capacity. I encourage you to read this link about MLS at Wikipedia.

In order to fully understand the debate, you will also need to understand a little about WAAS and LAAS. I’ll let others tell you about the benefits. I’ll stick to my usual role of pointing out the problems that the hype glosses over.


”Availability is the probability that a navigation system meets the accuracy and integrity requirements. Before the advent of WAAS, GPS could be unavailable for up to a total time of 4 days per year.[citation needed] The WAAS specification mandates availability as 99.999% (five nines) throughout the service area, equivalent to a downtime of just over 5 minutes per year.”

Keep in mind that the availability of these systems is just fancy guess work. Controllers have running jokes about computers quitting. We’d be told no more than 5 minutes per year and then it would quit twice in three months, for 10-20 minutes each time. “Don’t worry guys. After we get through this one we won’t have another one for 20 years.” If you’ll read all the information about these systems, you’ll see that GPS is much easier to jam than the current system of VORs. You’ll also see that sunspot interference is a major concern -- which is one of the reasons that eLORAN is being looked at as a backup.
Speaking of backups...



”Another drawback of LAAS is the potential for a single point of failure. If the GPS system is interfered with it could result in serious problems if there is no backup method to land at the airport. Interference could be certain weather conditions, solar activity or malicious jamming of the GPS signal. It is possible that the FAA or local airports will keep existing ILS equipment to provide a backup in the event that the LAAS system should fail or if GPS is jammed. Requiring backup navigational equipment would seem to negate the justification of cost savings since redundant radios on the aircraft would cost users more than the current system. This also makes frequency management difficult because LAAS shares frequency space with its backup.

In order to mitigate these problems, the resulting national system will likely have LAAS capability at major airports, WAAS capability for the rest of North America with a limited amount of conventional navaids as a national backup.“

GPS, like MLS, sounds great coming out of the FAA’s PR machine. When you start looking at the details, it keeps getting stickier and costlier.

Aircraft conducting WAAS approaches must possess certified GPS receivers, which are much more expensive than commercial units. In 2006, Garmin's least expensive receiver, the GNS 430W, had a suggested retail price of US$10,750 “

The 2004 baseline estimates the final program cost to the US Federal government as over US$3.3 billion when delivered in 2013; more than 3.7 times the original budget and 12 years behind schedule “

It’s real easy to get wrapped up in all these details. The bottom line is the ability to safely put the maximum number of airplanes on the runway per hour and, of course, the bottom line -- money. GPS and ADS-B won’t increase runway usage. Not the ones that count. The ones at the major airports. We already have the technical capability to max out runway capacity. The calculations on cost aren’t nearly as cut and dried as the FAA would have you believe. Radars and ILSes are really expensive to build, maintain and replace. So are satellites and the ground stations needed to make them useful.

Don Brown
June 2, 2008