Thursday, July 31, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- July 31 (08)

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

”Jul 31, 1974: A Delta Air Lines DC-9 crashed against a sea wall while making an instrument approach to Logan International Airport in Boston, Mass., with the loss of 89 lives. The National Transportation Safety Board attributed the accident to flight crew error. Although the Board also named "nonstandard" air traffic control service as a contributory factor, a U.S. district court cleared FAA of liability. “

In a rare mistake, the FAA’s historians got the date wrong. This crash occurred in 1973. It’s evident when you start to search for it on a site like

This crash, like so many others, is a chain of mistakes. Everyone takes away something different when they read these reports. In that air traffic control was cited as a contributing factor, I concentrated on that portion.

As Delta Flight 723 was descending, the approach clearance was given by the controller after a delay, because the controller was preoccupied with a potential conflict between two other aircraft. This caused the flight to be poorly positioned for approach. The aircraft passed the Outer Marker at a speed of 385km/h (80km/h too fast) and was 60m above the glide slope. “

We refer to this as “hot and high.” I don’t know if the accident was the one that started talk of “stabilized” approaches but this is the type of accident the safety folks teach.

Many pilots out there still aren’t believers in stabilized approaches. Controllers are taught to vector aircraft far enough out on the localizer that they can be descended to an altitude below the glideslope. This allows the aircraft to be level and join the localizer (the horizontal guidance to the runway) and then capture and follow the glideslope (the vertical guidance to the runway.) That is, unless the pilot requests a vector in closer.


”2. If specifically requested by the pilot, aircraft may be vectored to intercept the final approach course inside the approach gate but no closer than the final approach fix.

b. For a precision approach, at an altitude not above the glideslope/glidepath or below the minimum glideslope intercept altitude specified on the approach procedure chart.“

Pilot after pilot will ask to be vectored “in tight” until some controllers start to believe that all pilots want to be handled this way. If the controller gets distracted (as was the case in this accident) the airplane can wind up too high and in too close to the airport. It makes the pilot’s job difficult as he tries to get down, slow down and capture the localizer and glideslope in rapid succession.

Everyone -- pilots and controllers -- is taught that it’s a very bad idea to “chase” the glideslope. It puts the pilot in the position of descending rapidly (close to the ground) to try and get down to the localizer and then descend gradually on the glideslope beam. It’s just too easy to get below the glideslope at the wrong moment.

On a final note, if you’re interested in this sort of thing, you can usually find a pre-crash picture of an airliner if you have the tail number. Just do a search on it -- N975NE in this case -- and something will usually pop up. Here’s a picture of N975NE in Northeast Airlines’ colors -- before it was sold to Delta.

Don Brown
July 31, 2008


It’s not an exclamation -- it’s a web-based magazine in Australia. And according to Wikipedia, ”It often reports unpopular opinions and breaks stories not found in more mainstream media outlets. “

I guess this headline would be considered “unpopular.”

ATC emerges as a threat to air safety

AirServices Australia is now emerging as a serious threat not just to public safety, but to Australia’s international reputation.

Yep, I’m betting that is pretty unpopular in some circles. It’s amazing how fast your reputation can go international on the internet.

” The chief executive officer of AirServices Australia, Gregg Russell, is blaming everything from "renegade" controllers to head-hunting by overseas countries and union demands for his inability to keep the radar consoles manned.“

And it’s amazing how much we all have in common. Even the excuses.

My friend Bob seems to have enjoyed Australia. The air service ? Not so much. It’s okay. He’s an ex-air traffic controller. He has the flick.

Don Brown
July 31, 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Trick For Truth

The next time you get one of those nasty political emails -- you know the kind I’m talking about -- I want you to reply with a link to this blog post. I want you to send it to all of the people in the recipient list.

If you think I’m trying to pull a fast one, just to increase the traffic to my site, then copy and paste what is below. I don’t care about the traffic. I do care about the truth.

Go to

Click on the “Politics” icon (the American flag)

Click on the “John McCain” link

Count (There are 3 entries on this date, July 30, 2008)

Click on the “Barack Obama” link

Count again (There are 28 entries on this date, July 30, 2008)

Count the number of “False” entries. (Zero about McCain and 17 about Obama on this date, July 30, 2008)

Ask yourself a couple of questions.

What group is lying to you ?

Are you going to help spread lies -- or the truth ?

Don Brown
July 30, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


No, not that GPS. Fareed Zakaria’s GPS (Global Public Square) on CNN. If you’re not watching this program on Sundays (at 1 PM Eastern) you’re missing the boat. I know I’ve criticized CNN in the past about their downhill slide in programming quality. I’ve seen nothing to change my mind about that -- except this show. It’s brilliant.

For the last segment this week, Mr. Zakaria had Joseph Stiglitz, Adrian Wooldridge and Irshad Manji in his round-table discussion. (If you have time, it would be really helpful to click on those links and read at least part of their Wikipedia entries.)

The following aren’t verbatim quotes -- they’re just as close as I can come without watching each a dozen times.

Joseph Stiglitz a leading economist. Referring to the fact that those that knew better didn’t address the lack of regulation in the financial industry -- “There was a party going on and nobody wanted to be a party-pooper.”

Adrian Wooldridge is a writer for The Economist and I take it, one of the proponents of this mindset I found on Wikipedia. ”The Observer's Stefan Stern wrote that "its writers rarely see a political or economic problem that cannot be solved by the trusted three-card trick of privatization, deregulation and liberalization."”.

After being put on the defensive, Mr. Wooldridge allowed that it seemed like, “America has socialism for the rich and free markets for the poor.” If by that he meant that the CEOs walk away with their golden parachutes and the employees are left with empty bank accounts...yeah, it does seem that way.

As far as I was concerned, Irshad Manji stole the show. On the surface, you wouldn’t think Ms. Manji was the intellectual equal of the other guests. From her bio information (see the link above) she certainly isn’t as well educated. But she was better prepared, she spoke better and her ideas had a verbal clarity sorely lacking in the other two guests. (That goes double for Mr. Wooldridge.)

The essence of Barack Obama’s campaign is that he is “transcending the really vulgar polarities of the left and the right.” I’ve been trying to think of a way to say that for a month (without success.) Senator Obama’s patriotism is called into question by the right wing’s attack dogs and he responds by not only refusing to question Senator McCain’s patriotism but pointing out Senator McCain’s long dedication to country. Not only is it the right thing to do, in the process he shows how wrong (and how desperate) those on the far right really are. And that those on the far left are wrong to respond in kind. Simply put, two wrongs don’t might a right.

Ms. Manji also brought up a point that seems to have been lost in all the spin. “The lower levels of violence (in Iraq) have nothing to do with the surge.” The surge didn’t hurt and probably helped. But it was the collective action of the Iraqi people that drove the insurgency out. To be fair, I believe that was part of General Petraeus’ overall strategy. It’s a hard (but important) point to make without sounding like you’re quibbling. Ms. Manji made it and she did it well.

Not to leave the star of the show out, Mr. Zakaria ends the show with a short commentary. This week’s was particularly insightful, pointing out that the argument about government is narrower now. No one is arguing whether we should embrace capitalism or not. Not even the Communists. On the other hand, with the recent financial disasters, no one is making a serious argument opposing government regulation. We are only arguing about the proper balance.

As Mr. Zakaria points out, the old debate now takes place only on the cable-TV shout shows that are “full of sound and fury -- signifying nothing.” A foreign-affairs journalist with a Ph.D. in Government that can disguise an insult by quoting MacBeth. (I missed it. My son had to educate me. Click the last link.) Where else are you going to find that on TV ?

Don Brown
July 29, 2008

Tune In To EAA Radio

It’s that time of year again. The faithful are gathering at the EAA’s Airventure in Oshkosh, WI (OSH) and EAA Radio brings it all to those unfortunate souls (like me) that couldn’t attend this year.

You can listen live.

They have the ATC Hour every morning at 9 AM. Be sure to tune in. They promise to have the archives up at some point in case you miss the live broadcast.

Don Brown
July 29, 2008

No Need to Panic

Some of you have already written me, others have written in over at The FAA Follies. Yes, Todd took his blog down over at Vanity Fair Musings. No, it doesn’t have anything to do the FAA’s manager Mr. Gilding and his attorney’s law firm Curry, Pearson, and Wooten.

I can see why some might jump to that conclusion. There’s the timing. And I’m sure that some have noted that Mr. Pearson works at Phoenix Tower and Todd worked at Phoenix Tracon. I believe those are actually two different facilities but I’m not even going to bother checking it out because it isn’t relevant.

As I noted earlier, Todd had increased his blogging volume substantially after being terminated as an instructor at the FAA Academy. Doing that much writing takes time. It’s more time that many people would think. Todd doesn’t do things halfway. If you were paying attention, you noticed that he put a lot of research into his blog. It takes time to be thorough. Todd simply decided he’d rather spend that time on something other than a failed Administration in it’s last days that has already assured it’s place in the dark chapters of history. In other words, Todd decided to enjoy his retirement. And I say good for him.

I know many of our readers are relatively new to the idea that the FAA bears watching. There’s nothing even remotely new about it. Todd and I have been struggling with the FAA for over two decades. And the struggle began long before we even knew what the FAA was. We came in after the PATCO strike in 1981 and had another union in place (NATCA) by 1987 -- during Reagan’s Administration. That doesn’t just happen. People have to get involved and they have to work. There’s the obligatory blood, sweat and tears that have to be shed. There are families that have to be neglected while the work is done. Money has to be coughed up. And fears have to be conquered.

At the risk of stating what should be really, really obvious -- the FAA is part of the Federal government. That’s THE Federal Government. You know, the world’s only remaining superpower. The one that has all the guns and virtually unlimited resources. The one that can lock you up and let you rot while they debate on whether or not we want to have a Constitution this week. Consider facing that kind of power (and Todd did) or facing some part-time lawyer.

Like I said, Todd just wants to enjoy the fruits of his labor. In my book, he’s earned them and he’s earned the right to enjoy them now. Happy Retirement my friend.

Don Brown
July 29, 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008


Here’s a lesson in negotiations from the other side of the world. Perhaps the fact that it is so far away will allow you to view it dispassionately. Perhaps that will allow us to learn somewhat easier. Perhaps not.

'Renegade' controllers leave pilots flying blind: air chief

”A GROUP of "renegade" air traffic controllers in Melbourne and Brisbane are deliberately closing air space, leaving pilots to fend for themselves on some of the nation's busiest air routes, according to the head of the agency that manages Australia's skies.

The chief executive of Airservices Australia, Greg Russell, said it appeared a massive increase in incidents in which air space sectors had suddenly been left with no air traffic control was linked to an industrial campaign for big wage rises. “

That’s a nice opening shot. Mr. Russell doesn’t accuse the union of anything -- just the “renegades.” I like how “the controllers” are closing the airspace. I would have thought that was a management function. As I said the other day, I don’t know of any other place that “closes” airspace. In America, we combine the airspace -- putting 2,3,4 or 5 sectors together -- and let one controller work it. We then limit the number of airplanes that can fly in that section to keep it manageable. Regardless, both options are management options. Controllers don’t close a sector or design the National Airspace System. Management does. But we all know that these are negotiations and the first casualty of war is the truth.

”Air traffic controllers won the right to unlimited sick leave in the 1990s and are required to give only two hours' notice of their unavailability to work. The rate of absenteeism among air traffic controllers is an average of more than 15 days a year - about three times the national average. “

This tactic is familiar to any American controller. Take a restriction of the job and make it seem like a benefit -- and use it as a weapon. Controllers aren’t allowed to work when medicated. All of those medications that say “May Cause Drowsiness” on the label ? You don’t get to use those while you’re working airplanes. No one wants their aircraft being handled by a guy that “thinks” he is well enough to work. They want the guy that “knows” he is well.

Of course, most of the world’s population has never had to think about the possibility of making a mistake, killing a few hundred people and living with it. To most of the world, working with a cold is simply a fact of life. It shows you’re tough and dedicated to your job. If your nose is clogged up and it makes you sound like Elmer Fudd it’s no big deal. Most people aren’t air traffic controllers. That is what makes it such an effective weapon.

”Mr Russell has refused until now to criticise air traffic controllers or to link their industrial campaign to the spike in uncontrolled sectors.

However, the controllers' certified industrial agreement expires on December 21 and while their union has not yet made a formal log of claims, it has issued a "vision statement" that calls for pay rises ranging from about 30% to 64%.“

Why, those lousy, greedy union bums. Wait a minute -- I’m supposed to be viewing this dispassionately. Besides, it’s not my taxes paying for it. Right ?

Be honest now. Let’s see a show of hands. How many American controllers thought of Marion Blakey when they read that quote ? Just as a note of caution to the Australian controllers; the next thing you know, Mr. Russell will be telling the public you make some outlandish salary. He’ll find the controller that made the most money last year -- ironically, the guy that does answer the phone and does work the overtime and does come to work sick -- and Mr. Russell will add in every single (inflated) “cost” he can think of to make it seem like you make more money than the Prime Minister.

See how easy it is to make readers forget that any pay raises mentioned are just a negotiating position ? What is Airservices Australia’s negotiating position ? What’s their offer ? Funny, the article doesn’t mention that.

The truth is, Airservices Australia doesn’t really have to negotiate. They’ve got the airlines in their pocket, they’ve got the Government backing them up and -- evidently -- they’ve got at least some of the Press on their side too. Isn’t “corporatization” a marvelous tool ? All of the benefits of a business with none of the accountability.

If the Government decides to finish the job and sell off the air traffic control system, maybe they’ll sell it to some sovereign wealth fund from the Middle East. Personally, I think it would be a whole lot easier for the Australian people to pay their controllers enough money to keep them from moving to the Middle East and causing controller shortages at home. But that’s just me.

Don Brown
July 28, 2008

Saturday, July 26, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- July 26 (08)

It’s been a a while since I had a two-for-one. I know we’ve been through a year of FAA history already, but there is so much more.

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

”Jul 26, 1951: The three U.S. armed services agreed to the establishment of Project Lincoln, a study of the air defense program by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (See Apr 10, 1953.) “

Have you ever heard of Lincoln Laboratory ? No ? How about “voice of the internet.” Some egghead had to figure all that out. These were the ones that did it. The lab “also contributes to worldwide communications and civil air traffic control.“ This sentence from Wikipedia really ought to catch your attention;

“A feature of the relationship between Lincoln Lab and MIT is that intellectual property generated at Lincoln is owned by MIT and managed by the MIT Technology Licensing Office (TLO).“

By the way, MIT/Lincoln Laboratory is still involved in air traffic control.

Take Two

”Jul 26, 1988: FAA announced it had awarded IBM a $3.55 billion contract to develop, deploy, and service the Advanced Automation System (AAS). The announcement ended almost four years of competition between IBM and Hughes Aircraft Corp. (See Jul 26, 1985, and Oct 1, 1991.) “

You might think you’ve read that here at Get the Flick before. Actually, you read the 1983 version which included this;

”The new installations were designated the "Host" Computer Systems (HCSs) because of their ability to run the existing 9020 software package with minimum modifications. “

It’s the software package that makes it all go. That’s where most of the $3.55 billion dollars of the Advanced Automation System disappeared down the proverbial rat hole.

To learn more about the current attempt at a new software package , run over to The FAA Follies. You can skip over the first part (if you like) and scan down to the bold header An ERAM update.

Don Brown
July 26, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

Outback Airspace -- Video Version

For the time challenged out there, here’s a 4 minute video explaining the Australian air traffic control crisis. It’s an interview with Dick Smith -- former Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Pilots flying blind -Australian air traffic control shortage

Don Brown
July 25, 2008

Outback Airspace

There is something strange going on in Australia and I’m not sure I can explain it. The most fundamental problem seems to be clear enough -- they’ve run out of air traffic controllers. The reason is the same as ours -- but with a twist. Airservices Australia -- the corporation that runs the air traffic control system -- didn’t hire enough controllers to replace those that are leaving. Many of their controllers are leaving to work in foreign countries. You would think a corporation would understand how competition works.

I guess the best thing I can do is let you read about it yourself. But first, a little background information. Airservices Australia is a government owned corporation. It’s one of the corporatized bodies the conservatives over here always point to as the wave of the future. The organization that represents the controllers is Civil Air. It looks like Civil Air and Airservices have just entered contract negotiations. To me, it looks like Airservices and the airlines are blaming their problems on the controllers. They don’t come right out and say it, but every time Airservices shuts down some airspace because a controller or two calls in sick, the next blurb you see in the paper is the fact that contract negotiations are starting. You’ll see some odd (for Americans) terms. They call it an industrial action as opposed to a job action, sick out or slowdown. According to my sources, there is no industrial action (yet.) Airservices is just out of controllers. It might also be helpful (or at least insightful) to know that Airservices Australia was first run by an ex-FAA guy named Bill Pollard. Mr. Pollard was head of Air Traffic prior to leaving the country.

It’s the shutting down of airspace that I find so disconcerting. It’s just a foreign (no pun intended) concept to me. There is very little uncontrolled airspace in the United States. The thought of air carriers flying around in high altitude airspace without any type of air traffic control is just, well, unthinkable.

I recommend starting with a rather thorough article from The Australian.

It's a jungle up there

”Former CASA chairman Dick Smith says air traffic controllers are right to warn about the danger of passenger jets flying through uncontrolled airspace, describing the practice as "incredibly unsafe". “

For further information, you can check out Civil Air’s web site. The have links to a whole host of articles and other information.

Don Brown
July 25, 2008

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It Must Be a Sign

Last night, as I was making my last round of the internet, I came across the map below at one of the places I visit. (As always, you can click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Immediately afterward, I went to bed, where I picked up the book I’m currently reading -- Lies My Teacher Told Me -- by James W. Loewen. Incredibly (it seemed to me), I started reading exactly the same thing the map was showing me. It must be a sign.

I read:

”Stressing how middle-class we all are is increasingly problematic today, because the proportion of households earning between 75 percent and 125 percent of the median income has fallen steadily since 1967. The Reagan-Bush administrations accelerated this shrinking of the middle class, and most families who left its ranks fell rather than rose. As late as 1970, family incomes in the United States were only slightly less equal than Canada. By 2000, inequality here was much greater than Canada’s; the Untied States was becoming more like Mexico, a very stratified society. The Bush II administration, with its tax cuts aimed at the openly wealthy, continued to increase the gap between the haves and have-nots.“

The key phrase in all that is the U.S. is looking more like Mexico than Canada. If you look at the map, you’ll see the same thing. The map is a representation of the Gini Coefficient. The Gini Coefficient is a mathematical model of wealth/income distribution. You can read more than you ever wanted to know about it at Wikipedia. In short, it shows how much richer the rich are in comparison to the poor in a particular county.

I find it most telling to look at Europe. Their income/wealth inequality is low (very low in Denmark, the little bit of yellow) throughout the continent until you get to the “U.S.A Blue” in Turkey and Iran. I hope you find those comparisons as uncomfortable as I do.

Lies My Teacher Told Me is a criticism of the way we teach history in America. It is a very uncomfortable book to read. The section I’m currently reading is about labor history in America. There’s plenty of history -- it just isn’t taught. I think I’ve made that point before. It’s always uncomfortable to find out your values and outlook on life have been shaped by ignorance. Ignorance is curable. Pick up a good book and read.

We could delve into all sorts of areas to explain the colors on that map -- unions, health care, taxes, public education -- the list is endless. I think I’ll just leave you with a quotation that Mr. Loewen used to start this chapter.

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

Abraham Lincoln

Don Brown
July 24, 2008

Attention Getter

I think I’ve mentioned it before -- Congressmen fly a lot.

FAA investigates emergency landing

”The seven congressmen, all from Texas, were trying to get back in time for a Tuesday night vote on an aviation safety bill when the flight landed without incident, a spokesman for one of the representatives said. “

(Emphasis added)

I think I’ve mentioned that I love irony too.

Don Brown
July 24, 2008

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bermuda Triangle

While I was debating the wisdom of posting anything to do with Bill O'Reilly on my blog...Todd, over at Vanity Fair Musings put it up on his. Once again, it’s a video from our friend Paul at ATCnews. The video begins with Mr.O'Reilly lambasting the FAA in general and Bobby Sturgell in particular. Then it switches to Jay Leno poking fun at the FAA. Frankly, I don’t know which is worse for the FAA -- getting kicked around by a usually-friendly conservative or being the butt of comedian’s jokes. Just click on the Vanity Fair Musings link and you can decide.

On a different subject, this little blurb about Bermuda in The Royal Gazette caught my eye.

Airport's radar out of action for weeks

”Although the Bermuda tower handles arrivals and departures, Bermuda's airspace is handled from the New York Center. Staff claim they have been forced to develop their own contingency plans to get in and out of Bermuda's airspace.

The union said in a statement: "When the radar failed in the past there was a specific set of rules to follow. Now, without the proper tools or reference books to work the airspace in case of a radar outage, the controllers are left to guide planes using common sense and communication with pilots — tools that are useful but not nearly adequate in safely directing air traffic.“

Most probably don’t think about it but the vast majority of the world’s oceanic airspace doesn’t have radar. New York Center works this airspace and I’m just a little curious as to what the specific problem might be. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion...but it’s not enough to share. Perhaps one of my friends in New York Center’s Oceanic Area will write me and clue me in. I used to have friends in the Oceanic Area. But they are probably all like me and retired as fast as they could. Maybe I’ll make some new friends there.

Don Brown
July 23, 2008

Lightning Strikes (Again)

A lightning strike at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) provides us with more news and another opportunity to delve into the issues. Here’s a video from our friends at

Lightning Strike Disables Airport Radar

The local news station -- WCPO -- does a rather nice job of covering the story.

The first thing you probably noticed was the arrival rate at CVG -- 108 per hour. I think you’ll find that a little surprising in that JFK’s best arrival rate is 68 per hour. Or was 68 per hour, I should say. I wonder, how many of you caught that yesterday ? If you’ll look at the chart, you’ll see that JFK can handle 68 arrivals per hour with the runway configuration of: landing RWY 13L and 22L -- departing 13R. Ringing any bells ? No -- really -- do you have The Flick ? Air Traffic Safety vs. Capacity. If you need me to highlight these connections I will. If you’ve got The Flick I’ll move on a little faster.

Where were we ? Oh yes, little ol’ Cincinnati can handle a lot more airplanes than JFK. The next time a politician says something about America’s infrastructure you’ll have an example to think about. Also mentioned in the story was the fact that when the radar site went out, the arrival rate went down to 20 per hour. That leaves the controllers with 88 airplanes that don’t have a place to land. Gee, how many of those do you think JFK can soak up ? Do you have The Flick on that one ? When I said that the number of slots “should be less than the maximum capacity” were you thinking about safety ? Were you thinking about aircraft that might have to divert from other airports for unexpected reasons ?

The story also mentioned that the backup radar was 72 miles away and doesn’t have the weather displayed. It’s too far away to paint half of CVG Approach Control’s airspace and they can’t see the thunderstorm that took out their main radar with a lightning strike. Some backup. But that’s okay says the FAA, because almost no other airport has a decent backup either.

Oh yeah, and it wasn’t the first time lightning had taken out the radar.

You might want to watch that video again and see what other thoughts hit you. Thoughts like, who gave the TV station such detailed information for their report ? Do you think the FAA will try to punish him too ?

Please, get The Flick -- before we run out of time.

Don Brown
July 23, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I was all set to get a new blog up, early this morning. It finally rained last night so I didn’t have to water my flowers. But I made the mistake of checking the news first and I ran into an editorial from Mary Peters -- Secretary of Transportation. Go ahead and read it if you like.

End Gridlock on the Runway

Between writing a comment for it at The Times and playing Mr. Mom, I’m running behind as usual.

As my readers would suspect, Ms. Peter’s editorial is more of the same deregulated, “free market” ideology from the Bush Administration. It’s the same kind of thinking that has led to the financial disaster in the banking industry. It’s not enough that we’ll be bailing out Bear Stearns, IndyMac, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and whoever else collapses. We’ll be bailing out the airline industry too. Or should I say, again ? (Hint: That link is interesting in more ways than one.)

I’ve been over this ground before but I guess it’s time to do it again. I’ve been trying to write a coherent piece that is 650 words or less but until I do, you’ll just have to put up with the blog equivalent of thinking out loud.

Slot controls work. History has proven it over and over again. Just like any other policy, they need to be well thought out and and administered effectively. The current slot restrictions at the New York area airports (EWR, LGA and JFK) aren’t doing the job because they are not restrictive enough.

I hate math but it all boils down to the math so let’s run the numbers. I’ll use JFK (Kennedy International at New York) for an example but the equation works for any airport.

JFK’s arrival rate fluctuates anywhere between 68 arrivals per hour all the way down to 17 per hour. Actually, it can go all the way down to zero per hour if the weather is bad enough. Therein lies the key to understanding the concept. Basing the number of arrival slots on the absolute worst weather imaginable is just as dumb as basing the number of arrivals slots on perfect weather. We need to think in terms of variable weather and what the average airport arrival rate is over the long term. If you would like to make it complicated, you can adjust the average arrival rate by seasons. Assuming winter weather is worse than summer weather (for airplanes, not for people) we could adjust “the number” seasonally. The fundamental principle remains the same -- limit the number of arrival slots to a sustainable rate in variable weather conditions.

Just to add to the confusion factor, the FAA uses two different terms when talking about slot restrictions. There’s the arrival rate per hour and then there is the number of operations per hour. It’s simple to handle if you’ll just keep in mind that an arrival -- sooner or later -- will become a departure. Each -- an arrival or departure -- takes up time on the runway. Each takes up a slot.

Currently, JFK is limited to 81 operations per hour. If we just pick the first number from the JFK arrival rate chart you’ll see that the IFR arrival rate is 38 and the VFR arrival rate is 49. In simple terms, IFR means bad weather and VFR means good weather.

Remembering that arrivals + departures = operations, we get the following numbers.

IFR: 38 + 38 = 76

VFR: 49 + 49 = 98

If the weather is good (VFR) JFK will have 17 unused slots. 98 (VFR slots) minus 81 (actual slot restrictions) equals 17 unused slots. This makes the airlines and the airport operators crazy. That is 17 airplanes per hour that could have been carrying paying passengers and 8 and 1/2 airport landing fees per hour that the airport operator (The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the case of JFK) didn’t get to collect. It’s 8 and 1/2 cities that don’t get hourly service to JFK. As I hope you can readily see, this is where the pressure to increase landing slots comes from. Think of the unused capacity lost. The sheer inefficiency of it. The lost profits. The Horror !

Now that we have the dramatics out of the way, let’s look at the other side of the equation. If the weather is bad (IFR) you have 81 operations per hour scheduled at an airport that can only handle 76 operations -- or less. 81 minus 76 leaves us with 5 airplanes waiting to take off. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that there are actually 2 and 1/2 airplanes trying to land and 2 and 1/2 waiting to take off. But you would be wrong. Airplanes running out of gas -- while airborne -- is bad for business. Arrivals take precedence over departures and if push come to shove (and it always does), the departures will wait while the arrivals use the slots.

But I want to fair about all this. I want to be more than fair. Let’s say we keep 2 arrivals circling in a holding pattern while we use 2 of the 5 slots for departures. Now we’ve got 2 arrivals waiting in the air and 3 departures waiting on the ground. No problem, we’ll just put them in the next hour’s slots. Surely they have enough fuel to hold for an hour or less. The only problem you have is that 81 more operations are scheduled in the next hour for your now-76-operations-per-hour airport. Don’t worry, we’ll get the 2 previously holding in the air on the ground. But at the end of the hour we now have 4 arrivals in the holding pattern -- at best. And if something doesn’t change it will grow to 6 in the next hour, 8 in the next and on and on and on. Not to mention the ( 3+3+3+3 =) 12 departures waiting to take off.

For those that do like math, go back to that JFK arrival rate chart and start running the numbers for all the different runway configurations. Consider the fact that last year the airlines were scheduling over 100 operations per hour during certain periods of time at JFK. Plug that number into the equation and then consider how many passengers were left stranded, the lost productivity and the impact on safety. Then you’ll understand why people in aviation were using the term meltdown. Air traffic controllers had airplanes stacked up in holding patterns like cordwood and the taxiways looked like parking lots. Meanwhile, passengers waited for hours in airplanes with no food, no water and overflowing toilets -- looking for a slot that disappeared into a cloud, a thunderstorm or a fog bank.

Running the numbers is the simple part of the real equation -- the real question. Do you want stable, reliable air service or do you want gridlock ? More airplanes per hour means less reliability. Less airplanes per hour means more of our cities won’t have any service at all. More airplanes per hour means cheaper tickets. Less airplanes means more expensive tickets. It’s a decision that must be weighed and measured. And it must be made.

I know which side I’m on. Safety tips the scale for me every time. Limit operations to the average sustainable IFR rate and accept that we lose some capacity. It keeps the system predictable, it minimizes delays and it enhances safety. It also raises ticket prices. I can accept that. I believe it will help stabilize airline profits. That should help raise the wages of airline employees, and in my book, that’s a good thing. If you’ll think it through, there are a lot of good things that can come from a stable and profitable air transportation system.

Oh, by the way, in case you forgot ? Ms. Peters’ slot auction scheme ? That is what happens when you try to twist the facts to fit your ideology -- you get brainlock.

Don Brown
July 22, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

Flat Amusing

I’ve told you about my friend Bob’s travel-around-the-world blog. Just in case you didn’t notice, the first link in his link list is TheTravelPages. It’s another web site with all of Bob’s travel photos on it.

I was exploring it yesterday and noticed a section called “Flat Stanley”. I’m thinking this is some unheard-of-plain outside of Stanley or some other exotic location. Old dopey me.

If you have a few minutes to kill, watch the slide show -- Flat Stanley. (May not work with older web browsers)

Don Brown
July 21, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- July 21 (08)

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

”Jul 21, 1963: FAA commissioned a new building for the New York air route traffic control center at Islip, N.Y. This new building brought into service the first real-time solid-state computer to be used by the FAA in air traffic control. Formal dedication ceremonies took place Sep 7-8, 1963. The New York center's old building, in use since 1956, had been located at New York International Airport (Idlewild). “

The controllers and staff are still in that very same building. I have to wonder how many of my readers can actually remember 1963. I know I can (barely.) It gets lost in the clutter of today’s news but the FAA’s infrastructure is old. Some of it is really old.

Some people will use this fact to misguide you. The FAA will use it to misguide you. Some of the radars the FAA uses are as old (if not older) than its buildings. They’ll use this fact to let you believe that radar technology is hopelessly outdated. Then, if you’re like me, you’re sitting there watching a program on TV about shooting down a satellite and notice that they’re using radar to do it.

The USS Lake Erie is a warship equipped with the Navy's sophisticated Aegis weaponry, an advanced radar-based defensive system that is normally used against antiship missiles and other threats. This technology was adapted for the satellite shootdown. “

The difference is, of course, that the U.S. Navy isn’t using radar systems built in the 1950’s. The FAA is. Did you ever stop to ask yourself, “Why” ? Both are the U.S. Government. For years, many of the FAA’s managers came from the military -- from Elwood R. Quesda to Robert Sturgell. Why is it that the military can shoot down a satellite and the FAA can only shoot itself in the foot ?

Don Brown
July 21, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- July 20 (08)

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

”Jul 20, 1969: Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., became the first people to land on the Moon, while Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit. Later in the day, Armstrong and then Aldrin became the first to walk on the lunar surface. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Project Apollo achieved five more Moon landings between this date and Dec 11, 1972. “

“If we can send a man to the moon...” It’s hard to believe it’s been 39 years. It’s even harder to believe we haven’t done anything that has surpassed the sheer boldness of it. The Mars rovers are cool but they lack the humanity of manned missions.

Of all the discoveries we made on our voyages to the moon, perhaps none was more important than the emotions this picture represents. To know that Man has witnessed it and to empathize with the emotions it must have stirred. This tiny, blue ball in the endless black. Our home.

Don Brown
July 20, 2008

Saturday, July 19, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- July 19 (08)

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

”Jul 19, 1967: A midair collision near Hendersonville, N.C., between a Piedmont Airlines Boeing 727 and a Cessna 310 killed all 82 people aboard the two aircraft. The fatalities included Secretary-designate of the Navy John T. McNaughton. The National Transportation Safety Board listed the probable cause as the Cessna's deviation from its Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) clearance. The Board could not specifically identify the reason for the Cessna’s deviation; however, it cited the "minimum control procedures” used by FAA in handling the Cessna as a contributory factor in the accident. The Board’s recommendations included improvements to the air traffic control system and more stringent requirements for IFR pilots, including an annual proficiency flight check. “

This accident was “The Big One” in the Area I worked at Atlanta Center. As you can see from the date, it was well before my time. But I worked with many that remembered that day. They passed along some wisdom that you don’t find in any book.

I’m always somewhat amused at how things are glossed over in these reports full of official-speak. The Cessna 310 made a wrong turn. He went southwest instead of northwest. Why he did it is open to question. The reason no one noticed is that Asheville Approach didn’t have any radar. It wasn’t out of service or anything -- they didn’t have any radar. And assuming Atlanta Center’s radar sites haven’t moved, nobody had a radar site that could see the area in question (immediately east of Asheville.)

82 lives snuffed out in an instant. I assure you the system was considered safe right up until that instant. “Safety was never compromised” right up until it was. Asheville did get their own radar site after this accident. Of course, it doesn’t do the controllers at Atlanta Center any good after the controllers at Asheville go home at 11 PM and don’t come back to 6:30 AM. The controllers at Atlanta Center take over the airspace on the midnight shift. Every night, the Asheville Airport goes right back to July 18, 1967. And it’s “safe”, right until the next July 19, 1967 rolls around.

You can read more about the accident at Wikipedia.

Don Brown
July 19, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cutting It Close

Have I mentioned the connection between safety and regulation, safety and profits and safety and greed lately ?

US Airways pilots: We're pressured to cut fuel

The pilots union for US Airways said Wednesday the airline is pressuring pilots to use less fuel than they feel is safe in order to save money.

[sarcasm]Yeah, right. You know those union guys. Always whining about safety trying to con the rest of us into raising their pay. Everybody knows airline management wouldn’t pressure their employees to cut corners on safety. They’d take the moral high ground and go out of business before they would do that.[/sarcasm]

Passengers on Delta flight describe unscheduled landing at Stuart's Witham Field

With homes in places like Berlin, Norway and Manhattan, most had never even heard of Stuart.

But the 76 passengers of Delta flight 5481 became closely acquainted with Stuart’s Witham Field airport Tuesday afternoon when their Miami-bound plane made an unscheduled landing because stormy weather caused it to circle several Florida airports and burn too much fuel.

After West Palm Beach, the pilot flew north, intending to land at the Vero Beach Municipal Airport, but he decided on Stuart instead after becoming worried the fuel supply was too low, said Mike Moon, airport director.

Moon said it was the only time in his 13 years at the airport that a commercial flight has made such a landing there.

The only time an airplane has too much fuel is when it’s so heavy it can’t take off or land. (Yes, they can be too heavy to land safely.)

Judgment always plays a part in determining safety. What a company executive thinks is too much fuel can be quite different from what a pilot thinks is too much fuel. Even in the best of times, both can judge wrong. It isn’t the best of times. The fear of going bankrupt can influence your judgment. So can the fear of being fired.

On a closing note -- kudos to the FBO -- Stuart Jet Center -- for your act of kindness. I don’t suspect they are making a lot of money these days either.

Passengers crowded the small Stuart Jet Center lobby before their buses arrived. They munched on free food and drinks the center provided. Airport officials said Witham Field does not have commercial airline capabilities and is not authorized to direct a commercial plane with passengers for take-off.

I’ve never heard of them (not unusual) but they sound like a nice outfit.

Don Brown
July 18, 2008

Little Big Man

It’s going to be a busy day for me today. I haven’t steered you towards Robert Reich’s blog lately. Start at the top and go down as far as you have time. Go read it.

I really like the point about big businesses (Bear Sterns, IndyMac, etc.) having s safety net -- and the citizens don’t. Oh, and the bit about bullies.

I’ve got several blogs worth of material. I’ll see if I can get something up this evening.

Don Brown
July 18, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- July 17 (08)

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

”Jul 17, 1996: Trans World Airlines Flight 800 exploded in midair and crashed into the Atlantic off Long Island after taking off from New York Kennedy airport for Paris. All 230 persons aboard the Boeing 747 died. Initial speculation as to the cause focused on terrorism. On the day after the tragedy, FAA confirmed that the security measures announced during the previous summer (see Aug 9, 1995) remained in effect, with some adjustments. On Jul 25, President Clinton announced increased security for air travel. FAA stated that steps would include more intensive screening of passengers on international flights, increased screening of carry-on bags for both international and domestic flights, as well as other actions not disclosed to the public. Clinton also announced that Vice President Gore would head a commission to review aviation security. This White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security was formally established Aug 21, 1996. (See Sep 9, 1996.)

Despite painstaking recovery of the wreckage, the TWA disaster proved difficult to explain. Throughout 1996, the National Transportation Safety Board refused to rule out any of three possible causes: a bomb, a missile, or mechanical failure. As the investigation progressed, however, the possibility of an accidental fuel tank explosion received increased media attention. On Dec 13, 1996, the Board announced a group of recommendations for improving the safety of the 747 fuel system. FAA, which had been conducting a review of 747 safety issues in the wake of the crash, issued on Dec 23 an airworthiness directive requiring inspection of certain wiring in the fuel systems of older 747s. “

On eve of Flight 800 anniversary, new fuel tank rule unveiled

What’s 12 years -- when it comes to safety ?

The government is giving airlines nine years to add the devices to 2,730 Airbus and Boeing large jets built since 1991 that are still flying.

Make that 21 years.

Don Brown
July 12, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Oshkosh Posh

This will be a tricky blog entry. The truth usually is.

It’s almost time for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual Airventure. It’s held every year is Oshkosh, Wisconsin and it is General Aviation’s pilgrimage to the near-holy land. Imagine Woodstock with airplanes. Many do camp out, there’s not a hotel room to be had for miles around and -- on any given day -- there are about 100,000 people gawking at airplanes and having the time of their lives.

For at least one or two of those days, Oshkosh (OSH) becomes the busiest airport in the world. That means, for Tower Controllers (lovingly referred to as “swivel heads”), it is the Super Bowl of ATC. You’ve often heard me say that air traffic controllers can only let one airplane at a time on a runway. During Airventure, the FAA issues all kinds of waivers, issues all sorts of special rules and air traffic controllers put up to three airplanes at a time on the runway. And that doesn’t include the seaplane base, the ultralights or the helicopters. It is the wildest, craziest, most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen (in air traffic control anyway.)

Controllers beg to go to OSH for Airventure. They plan, they plot, they do whatever they think they can get away with to be selected. Except this year. In case you’ve forgotten in the midst of all the feel-good enthusiasm above, the controllers and the FAA are at war with each other. I’m sure the FAA will find somebody to work it -- there’s always somebody willing -- but a lot of controllers that normally go didn’t bid on the job this year.

Whoever winds up working there will be in new digs. The taxpayers have paid for a new air traffic control tower (ATCT) at OSH.

New control tower ready for AirVenture

You may not realize it, but that article is an excellent piece of journalism. I know -- I wasn’t expecting it out of the Appleton Post-Crescent either but it is what it is. Let me show you. (Here’s the tricky part.)

Officials of the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday opened the $6 million, federally funded tower...

You might not think that odd. But the article also contains this piece of information.

Contracted air traffic controllers began operating in the new tower on July 1.

You see, for 51 weeks of the year, a contractor operates the OSH ATCT. The FAA oversees the Tower (from an office far, far away) but the day-to-day operation is managed by a Federal contractor. Unless there’s a brand-spanking-new Tower to be opened with a lot of feel-good publicity attached to it. Then the FAA shows up.

"Miron really pushed to get the tower done, and it's incredible," said Adelman, who will supervise 64 volunteer FAA air traffic controllers from across the country during AirVenture.

In case you were wondering why the contractor doesn’t run the operation during Airventure....

Wittman, which has no scheduled air carriers but caters to several aviation-related businesses, normally has one or two contracted air traffic controllers on duty.

... that’s why. The contractor doesn’t have enough bodies. But the taxpayers do. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking the FAA is really short of controllers. That’s true. But we can still find enough to take over a contract Tower for a really cool event.

"The tower's control room is a little big for two controllers, but it was designed for AirVenture when we have 15 controllers working at one time," Adelman said.

The FAA has enough of your money to splurge on a really nice, big Tower -- for a one week event -- too.

For those of you that are aghast that I would violate the speak-no-evil-about-Oshkosh rule, let me elaborate. I love Oshkosh. I fully support what OSH is about. I believe Oshkosh is worth every penny of taxpayer dollars the FAA pours into it.

My goodwill is tempered by the shabby treatment of air traffic controllers. Your air traffic controllers have been without a contract for over 682 days. They are being used and abused. They are leaving the profession in record numbers because of it. And yet, the ones that are still left continue to do their best to keep you safe.

I’ve warned my readers before -- the controller’s goodwill won’t last forever. Neither will mine.

Aviation’s movers and shakers will all be at OSH this year -- just like every year. I want the aviation community to start making some noise. I want this thing settled. I know my readers and I know what kind of clout they have -- financial, political and moral. The controllers have made their case. They have spoken the truth and they’ve been patient. It’s time the aviation community started using their clout to correct this wrong.

It’s time for another truth.

You are their boss. Not the FAA, not the DOT and not George W. Bush. You. You are the taxpayers -- you are the citizens. I know you’ve hired/elected these other people to take care of the country for you. It’s time to either wade in, take action and clean up this mess or it’s time to approve of this Administration’s actions by your silence -- and accept the consequences.

Don Brown
July 16, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dead Bang -- More Musings

My friend, John Carr, has taken his famous blog -- The Main Bang -- off the air (so to speak.) I don’t know why and he asked that we don’t ask. I’m never one to pry (and don’t particularly like priers) so that’s that. I hope all is well and I hope he’ll be back one day. (Stating the obvious -- there will be a lot more dead links on my site.)

On the other hand, the FAA has ensured another will take his place. As predicted, Todd has a lot more free time on his hands these days (courtesy of the FAA) and he’s putting it to good use. He has been adding many more posts to his blog -- Vanity Fair Musings.

I don’t think I will hurt Todd’s feelings by saying the neither he nor I have the gift of gab that John has. But we’ve each been able to hold our own and make a contribution all these years. If you take the time to look, you’ll notice a substantial amount of research that Todd has already done in the last few days. I, personally, am looking forward to hearing more from him. Todd worked as an Approach Controller. I was an EnRoute (or Center) Controller. It will be nice to have his additional expertise and attention in the blogosphere.

As the days slip by and events unfold, I want you to keep in mind that none of us -- John, Todd and I -- had to retire. We left because we wanted out of the FAA. We loved being air traffic controllers as much as we hated working for the FAA. I suspect that, in no time at all, Todd will be hearing from ex-FAA managers, reporters and policy wonks too -- all seeking his opinion on how we can build a better FAA and a better National Airspace System.

It all reminds me of a saying by a different (and better) politician from Texas. One the Bush Administration seems to have never heard.

Don Brown
July 15, 2008

Hey ! Dummy !

By now, everyone has seen the cover -- a caricature of Barack Obama and his wife on the cover of The New Yorker. Here we go again -- another tempest in a teapot. I thought it was funny. I’m vaguely familiar with The New Yorker so I didn’t think they meant any harm and -- besides -- I know a lot of people that want to believe it is literally true. Please note that I didn’t say they believe it -- they just want to believe it.

You might think I know these people because of where I live but I see a lot of the same sentiment online. I know some other people that were relieved when Hillary Clinton didn’t win the Democratic nomination. They believed that this campaign wouldn’t get so nasty if the hate-Clinton crowd didn’t have a Clinton in the race. Trust me, they’ll blame Clinton anyway and they now have some fresh meat to gnaw on.

The best headline I saw on the cover calamity was in the Los Angeles Times.

Barack Obama magazine flap shows an irony deficiency

”It seemed fairly obvious to me, my 8-year-old and, likely, the majority of readers of one of America's finest magazines that the cover drawing by Barry Blitt was a parody. In other words (for those still struggling with the concept), the joke was not on the Obamas but on the knuckle-walkers who would do them harm by trying to turn a couple of fresh-scrubbed Harvard Law grads into something foreign and scary.“

Now there’s a slick way to insult everybody. Those that are smart enough to figure out that they aren’t being called “knuckle-walkers” -- that instead, they are being manipulated by the “knuckle-walkers” -- will be smart enough to realize that their intelligence level is being compared to that of an 8 year old. That ought to win some friends and influence people.

Of course, then there’s the rest of the headlines for the day...

Bush Acts on Drilling, Challenging Democrats

“For years, my administration has been calling on Congress to expand domestic oil production,” Mr. Bush said in a brief Rose Garden appearance in which he sought to saddle his party’s opponents with responsibility for gasoline prices exceeding $4 per gallon. “Unfortunately, Democrats on Capitol Hill have rejected virtually every proposal, and now Americans are paying at the pump.”

Anybody think you’re being manipulated with that one ? Everything I’ve read says we can’t drill our way out of the energy crisis. It won’t do a thing to lower gas prices. And if it was such an obviously-needed change of policy then why didn’t the Republicans change it when they controlled the Congress and the White House for 6 years ? I think we ought to designate the OCS and ANWR a “strategic reserve” and get focused on the fact that our dependence on oil is a strategic weakness.

'Air Panic: FAA woos teen controllers as mid-air crashes loom'

Now, there’s a doozy. Fortunately, it’s just Ben Mutzabaugh mocking a headline from the New York Post in his blog on USA Today.

Unfortunately, there are still 700,000 people a day that buy Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, 14,000,000 a week that listen to Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News is still the top-ranked news channel. An appreciation of irony isn’t the only area in which we are deficient.

Don Brown
July 15, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Faith and Fear -- Restored

Yesterday -- Sunday -- I watched Fareed Zakaria’s show on CNN again: GPS -- Global Public Square. The show is only six weeks old but Mr. Zakaria is already making a name for himself. Already, his guests have included Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice and Gordon Brown -- the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister. I don’t want to turn this entry into a review of the show -- but it’s a great show. I first discovered Mr. Zakaria on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He’s a regular (and charming) guest on The Daily Show. His show, GPS, is as serious as The Daily Show is amusing.

Mr. Zakaria’s first guest yesterday was Barack Obama. Senator Obama has been taking a lot of hits in the Press lately. He’s made a couple of votes in the Senate which I found disappointing. It’s to be expected, as he “moves towards the center” for the general election, but it was disappointing nevertheless.

After watching the interview, my faith in Senator Obama has been restored. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Senator Obama is a skillful orator. That, in of itself, is a refreshing change from the Current Occupant. The oratory wasn’t on display yesterday. Instead, Senator Obama had the hesitant, awkward rhythm that is forced upon people as they try to answer a difficult question without making a misstep that will come back to bite them at a later date. Despite that, Senator Obama gave thoughtful, intelligent and insightful answers. Best of all, Mr. Zakaria allowed him to answer his questions fully. Mr. Zakaria challenged Senator Obama’s answers on a couple of occasions but he didn’t interrupt him to do so, and once asked, he allowed the Senator to answer. How refreshing.

Mr. Zakaria’s second group of guests were all economists: Jeff Sachs, Larry Summers and Paul Krugman. Can you say “Wow !” about a group of economists ? Oh well, they’re impressive but they were depressing. In an odd way, they sounded more political than the previous guest -- the politician. In short, there isn’t any really good economic news and we’ll be very, very lucky if things don’t get very, very ugly.

I believe that is why they were all couching their words as carefully as a politician. In economics, their words count and they don’t want to fan the flames of any panic. Everyone that reads my blog knows I’m crazy about Krugman. He tried to put the best face on it yesterday -- noting that some of our best economic policies were created during a crisis. That sounded slightly positive and hopeful. But then you realize the crisis he was talking about was the Great Depression. That’s...well, depressing. And scary.

I keep Paul Krugman’s blog listed in the links section for a reason. You might want to check out his blog entry from yesterday. Not only is it a valuable history lesson, you might notice a theme you see in this blog on a regular basis.

Don Brown
July 14, 2008

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Debating Disaster

Pay attention. This is another “We Told You So” moment. It’s relatively easy to piece together but you do need to piece it together so that you understand the full implications.

Three days ago, on July 9th, I posted an entry about a near mid air collision at JFK airport. I included the link to this story:

Flights Get Close at J.F.K., Reviving a Runway Debate

The debate is over using two separate runways at JFK simultaneously. The runways are perpendicular to each other. They do no physically overlap but their flight paths do. You can see how close they are for yourself here. It’s the runway on the bottom of the frame (the south side) labeled 22L-4R. The FAA says the procedure is safe. The controllers know that it isn’t. There is only one reason for the debate -- using this dangerous procedure increases the capacity at the airport.

The incident in question made headlines in all the aviation media. This quote from AVweb’s coverage was typical -- typical FAA.

”FAA spokesman Jim Peters told The Associated Press, in a story published Tuesday, that radar data show that the aircraft came no closer than 300 feet vertically and a half-mile horizontally, and there was no potential for conflict. “

Now we move from three days ago to yesterday.

2nd Landing Problem Spurs Change at J.F.K.

”After the second time in a week in which an unexpected move by a pilot at Kennedy International Airport brought planes close together in flight, the Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday that it was altering a procedure for using perpendicular runways simultaneously.“

In less than one week, the FAA went from claiming “ there was no potential for conflict “ to changing the procedure. Keep in mind that yesterday’s incident wasn't the “2nd” such incident -- it was just the second in one week. As I told you on July 9th, there was already an animation available on the web from a previous incident last year. And that incident wasn’t the first. This dangerous procedure has been brought to the FAA’s attention numerous times and the FAA has insisted over and over again that it was safe.

Today, I’ve been shown a way to view yesterday’s incident. But you’ll have to work for it. First, open up this link to Airport Monitor in a new window so that you can refer back to the following instructions.

(Be patient. It’s JAVA and it can be slow to load)

Once you have the page open, you’ll see a tool bar near the top where you can enter a date and time. Enter July 11, 2008, 13 hours, 20 minutes. Look to the right of that box and click on the green “start” button. You can use your mouse to scroll over and click on each individual airplane. The information for the flight you click on will be displayed in the box on the right side of the screen. COM1520 should appear on the northwest side of the airport. The other airplane you’re looking for is DAL123. You should find it a few miles northeast of the airport, headed southwest towards the airport for a landing on runway 22L. Don’t be distracted by the airplane southwest of the airport headed to the northeast. That’s N5369F and he’s at 7,000 feet -- well above the other two.

When DAL123 aborts his landing on runway 22L and keeps flying, he is pointed right at COM1520 taking off on runway 13R.

You can listen to the audio of this incident at this link from Live ATC. I know listening to ATC recordings is difficult for non-aviation people. The incident is several minutes into the file (slightly over halfway through) and you can use the time to acclimate your hearing to the radio transmissions. You’re listening for the callsigns “Comair fifteen twenty” and “Delta one twenty three”.

In that this post is now getting lengthy, I’ll leave more commentary for another day. After you get through witnessing the reality of the situation with your own eyes and ears, I urge you to read an editorial from Acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell that appeared on the same day as this latest incident -- July 11, 2008.

The FAA: We're Safe, Getting Safer

”The record shows that the Federal Aviation Administration constantly pushes for the highest possible level of safety...”

Mr. Sturgell has either lost the flick or he’s lying to you. Take your pick. In air traffic control, either one is just as likely to get someone killed.

Don Brown
July 12, 2008

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dionne Does It Again

E. J. Dionne Jr. has written another marvelous editorial in The Washington Post.

Capitalism's Reality Check

” The biggest political story of 2008 is getting little coverage. It involves the collapse of assumptions that have dominated our economic debate for three decades.“

In short -- Franklin D. Roosevelt was right. Ronald Reagan was wrong. It’s been my belief that FDR saved capitalism from itself. Revisit 1929. Capitalism had failed. The Great Depression drove the countries of the world to look at other political systems. Socialism grew by leaps and bounds. Communism -- for a time -- looked like a viable alternative. FDR didn’t let America dump capitalism. He just regulated it.

I thought it was all rather simple to see. We won. We became a superpower. We became the world’s largest economy. We became the envy of the world.

Now, you have to look no further than the aviation industry to see what went wrong. The airlines couldn’t raise ticket prices before oil prices started rising because of the destructive competition of deregulation. They are now in dire straits.

Airline CEOs ask customers to lobby Congress on oil

"Executives said in their letter long established regulations to control speculators have weakened or been removed. "We believe that restoring and enforcing these limits, along with several other modest measures, will provide more disclosure, transparency and sound market oversight," the CEOs wrote."

(Emphasis added)

Like I’ve said before, I enjoy irony. I guess the airline executives ought to know what “weakened” or “removed” regulations can do to an industry.

Getting back to Dionne’s editorial, there was another line that jumped out at me.

”Mobile capital and the threat of moving a plant abroad give employers a huge advantage in negotiations with employees. "If you're dealing with someone and you can pick up and leave and he can't, you have the advantage." “

That probably doesn’t hit you like it hits me. But you’ve probably never been in negotiations with the Federal government. The balance of power between a union and the Federal government is laughable. PATCO found that out -- the hard way -- in 1981. The only thing a Federal employees union has going for it is the citizen’s sense of fairness. Private employees dealing with a multi-national corporation don’t even have that. A strike isn’t much of a threat to a company that is moving its operations overseas. The goodwill of the citizens of one country aren’t much of an obstacle when the corporation is moving to another.

Perhaps you were paying attention this week when I told you Todd was threatened with being fired for having a blog. Think about the implications of that in terms of free speech. If the Government (for whom Todd used to work) had made that threat, the free-speech implications would have been clear. But this was a private company that made the threat. Only, that private company works for the Government. To a lot of people, free speech is some vague concept. Maybe they’ll pay attention when they realize that the combination of Government and corporate power can be used to cut their paycheck too.

As you watch the financial market drop today, as we ponder another bailout for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as the airline CEOs beg you to pressure Congress to save them -- maybe, just maybe -- the citizens of this country will realize the balance of power between them and corporations has tilted too far. Maybe they’ll recognize that financial panics are nothing new and the can be controlled or at least contained. Notice the large gap between 1937 and 1973.

Smart, prudent, effective regulation can make the difference. It can tame the wild swings of “the market” while still allowing innovation and entrepreneurship. Good government can provide the stability needed to foster an industry like aviation and improve our transportation infrastructure. Targeted government funding in research can change our world for the better -- creating new markets and prosperity in the process.

Hopefully we can rediscover this knowledge before we have another Depression. Don’t depend on the “smart money” to see it for you. They might be blinded by their profits or they just might not see it at all.

Take a look at this from Ron Chernow’s book Titan.

For all his financial savvy , Senior was democratically dragged down in the crash along with lesser mortals and saw his rump fortune of $25 million dollars dwindle to a mere $7 million, prompting grandson Winthrop to exclaim, “For grandfather that was being practically broke !”

“Senior” is, of course, John D. Rockefeller and “the crash” was the stock market crash of 1929. Senior had already given the vast majority of his money to Junior -- some $500 million dollars. Give or take a few million.

What the average citizen has at risk and what the wealthy have at risk are two different things entirely. You might not have a million (or a billion) dollars at risk but they don’t have their home and their children’s future at risk. Somehow they’ll manage on the few million they have left. How about you ?

Don Brown
July 11, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

BBC In the Tower

A fun video of a BBC reporter in the Tower simulator.

Don Brown
July 10, 2008

Fast and Furious

The stories are coming too fast to pick apart. You’ll just have to read them and draw you own conclusions.

Newark air traffic controller cites retaliation by FAA

” Jim Mitchell, an OSC spokesman, said the agency typically does not discuss cases until they have been reviewed. Overall, however, he said there have been 36 whistle-blower complaints filed by FAA employees this fiscal year, up from just 11 last year. “

Flights Get Close at J.F.K., Reviving a Runway Debate

”“They’re rolling the dice,” said Barrett Byrnes, president of the union chapter at the Kennedy tower. But the F.A.A. said that the operations are not a hazard. “

If you keep rolling the dice, sooner or later they come “snake eyes”. And just in case the details of this near miss sound familiar, your memory is still working. Here’s the animation of a mirror image from a few months ago. This is me, avoiding all the fun I could have with the word “CRAPS !”.

And finally, here’s an interesting video from AVweb. Just in case you thought controllers have a dull job. As you’re watching it, remind yourself to ask, what about all the other airplanes the controller is working during this distraction ? TCAS in a MOA. Might as well try dodging a Sidewinder.

Don Brown
July 9, 2008

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

When the Same Means Worse

Scott McCartney of The Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece in his column -- The Middle Seat -- yesterday.

Flying Was Supposed to Be Better This Summer. It's Not

As far as I’m concerned, the important part was near the bottom.

”Recognizing that problems in New York cascade across the country, the FAA appointed a "czar" to oversee New York operations, forced airlines to reduce flights at peak periods at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, and created new routes for airplanes to ease congested skies.

Despite the caps on peak-hour flights, LaGuardia saw more flights scheduled in June than last year because airlines simply spread flights out more instead of lumping them as heavily in peak hours. The traffic jam hasn't eased. “

This highlights the fallacy of the Bush Administration’s desire to auction of the landing slots in New York. Even with the price of jet fuel causing airlines to pull out of dozens of markets -- they’ll never pull out of New York. No matter what the price. New York and a few other major airports are the real money-makers.

I’ll have to be honest, I thought the price of fuel would ease the congestion somewhat in New York. Assuming Mr. McCartney’s statistics are correct, that hasn’t happened. The delays are close to being the same and that is bad news.

The delays at Chicago on the other hand, increased as expected.

”At Chicago's O'Hare Airport, a major hub for both American and United, only 55% of June flights were on time, compared with 65% last year “

If you’ll remember, the FAA lifted the caps at Chicago recently. Supposedly, the demand wasn’t there to justify the slots. Not only was the FAA wrong, as I’ve explained before, their logic is flawed.

Taking this theme back to LaGuardia (LGA), the capacity at LGA hasn’t changed. Nor is it likely to in the foreseeable future. The typical IFR arrival rate at LGA is 30 arrivals per hour. The best VFR (good weather) arrival rate is 44 arrivals per hour. A quick check of tells the tale. As you can see from the charts, the arrival demand stays above 30 per hour from 8 AM to 6 PM. It’s the same old story. If the weather is VFR, you have a chance of running a smooth operation. If the weather isn’t, you’ll have delays. How bad the delays gets depends on how bad the weather gets.

If airlines will fly into LGA no matter what the cost, deciding what is an acceptable level of delays becomes a political question. If the country will tolerate 50% delays, leave the number of slots where the are. If not, lower the number of slots. I still believe the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority had the right idea in their testimony.

”The High Density Rule is an IFR rule. Its limits were set to assure efficient operations in IFR conditions. We believe that the limits on National need to remain close to that number in order to avoid the congestion and assure the reliability, particularly in poor weather, that we have come to value so much. One need only look to the airports where the High Density Rule was in place and then lifted, i.e., LaGuardia and O'Hare Airports, for examples of where demand will quickly outstrip capacity and diminish dependability to the point that the government has had to reassert controls. “

You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s two lists for you. One from NATCA and one from Forbes. Find LGA and then find Washington National (not IAD but DCA) on the lists. Notice the difference and ask yourself why. Ask yourself who you would rather have fighting for you -- Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority or the Port Authority Of New York & New Jersey ?

Don Brown
July 9, 2008

Monday, July 07, 2008

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Note: The following post is one that I had discarded over a month ago. I didn’t think it was one of my better ones and, besides, John Carr had already covered the subject before I got it done. And then I read today’s post from my friend Todd over at Vanity Fair Musings.

Todd is one of those guys that pays attention. I’ve got a paper he wrote over a decade ago, downstairs, buried in a file cabinet. It’s a “white paper” of sorts, arguing against NATCA’s support of corporatization under the Clinton Administration. NATCA listened to the dissent and changed its position. The FAA -- currently -- is too stupid to listen to dissent.

Read Todd’s post for July 6, 2008. Skip over the part about me and read about the FAA being stupid -- again. Then you can read what I wrote below, if you have the time.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

You really have to wonder about the leadership of the FAA. They really don’t seem to get it. Let me see if I can help them. You can follow along if you like.

Mr. Robert Sturgell
Acting Administrator
Federal Aviation Administration
Washington, DC

Mr. Sturgell,

Please forgive the informal nature of this letter. I mean you no disrespect. I simply don’t want the importance of the message to be lost in formalities.

Your managers are being stupid. There’s this thing called the internet and on the internet you can find these things called blogs. There are millions of blogs covering hundreds of thousands of topics. Think of them as books -- or magazines -- that can be published almost instantly by anyone that has a computer. They are deceptively simple and can be deceptively powerful.

Some blogs get thousands of readers every day. The vast majority however, hardly get any notice at all. Take this one for instance.


This is typical of most blogs. It’s a diary of some guy’s life and it’s as boring as it can be to most people. He doesn’t even write on a regular basis. Nobody but his relatives reads it. You can look at the “comments” section and you’ll see most entries generate a big, fat zero. The blog is all over the place -- rodeo, babies, RV’ing. Nobody cares and nobody reads it. Until your managers go and do something stupid to attract attention to it.

There’s no other word for it Robert. It’s just plain stupidity to tell a guy with a blog that you’re firing him for having a blog. It gets the blog world in an uproar and turns a nobody into a celebrity. It forces guys like me to read it and the next thing you know the whole blog world is picking gold nuggets out of a pile of rocks. Things like this.

I hear this is happening in the field too, the "dumming down" of training. There is no other way the faa can get CPC's in the glass houses or on chairs in front of scopes without short shifting the training process.“

I took some surveys last night, and this is my fault for not keeping good records, but I was contemplating the last time a student failed out of here on the final "personal valuation" known here as the PV. The number we came up with was, at least six classes ago. “

At the end of my twelve minute presentation I was offered a position as a class room instructor. Hmmmm, let me think about that for just a second, no thanks. First, you have to tow the party (faa) line and not say anything derogatory about the faa. I could not hold those thoughts in. If I liked the faa I would still be vectoring and telling pilots where to go. Second, you cannot venture one inch outside of the written text. This sacred text written by people with masters and phd's out the ying-yang, but not one of these writers have spoken to a real airplane. “

It appears, from rumors only, sorry folks, no facts here, that the faa wants to increase output from the academy in 08 and their answer is running a third shift. My first thought was this had to come from some idiot that never worked a mid shift in their miserable life. The faa also wants to add another lab with the toy airplanes and one more computer lab, probably the small less user friendly one, no doubt. I wonder, does any type of learning institute anywhere include a midnight to 0800am for classroom instruction and practical labs. “

He has a point Mr. Sturgell. Nobody does training on the midnight shift -- unless they’re desperate. And we know you’re not desperate (because you’ve told us you aren’t.) So, it just makes you look stupid. But don’t forget the important part -- the reason I’m writing this letter. If your managers hadn’t been stupid we would have never known about this blog. But now that we do, thousands of people are going to read this:

Said faa employee, told someone up the food chain that instructors were planning to tell students how to file for back pay over their newly acquired per-deim. Well that set off a chain reaction that had us in a large room the next day having the law set down to us. Here are some things that were said that I can remember, "We are here to serve the faa." " We are here at the faa's whim and can be fired at a moment's notice." "We cannot talk or tell or inform any student about NATCA." "The faa is our customer." "If a student should ask us anything about the faa, we should tell them to ask the faa.”

That little blurb -- that would have gone unnoticed -- will now be seen by thousands of controllers who will ensure that it is seen by thousands and thousands of other people. You may not realize it but there is a growing list of blogs written by controllers.

The Main Bang
The FAA Follies
Vanity Fair Musings
The Potomac Current and Undertow
Truth Hurts
NAS Confusion
We, the PEOPLE !!

You might think I put those in random order but I didn’t. I know you’re a busy man so if you don’t have enough time to look at them all, you need to look at the first and last. The first is John Carr. You know him and you know he’s no dummy. You also know he can crank out a post a day in his sleep. The last is Howie Barte. Howie has been chewing on the FAA’s tail for 30 years or more. Think about that Robert -- 30 years. PATCO, the strike, NATCA, retirement -- and he’s still at it. He’s probably going to write me and tell me it’s been 38 years and 176 days. He’s like that. He’s absolutely relentless.

The point, Robert, is that you can’t “win.” There will always be a John Carr or a Howie Barte or a “Dave.” There’s something else you should notice (and probably have.) John, Howie, “Dave” and I are all retired. We actually care about our country, civil service and (believe it or not) the FAA. You can either accept the criticism -- accept that there will always be dissent and that it can be useful -- or you can continue to let your managers try to silence the critics. And make you look stupid in the process.

Don Brown
July 7, 2008