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

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