Friday, October 10, 2008

Dead Wrong

Let’s pick on Newsweek.

”A World War II-era air traffic network that often forces planes to take longer, zigzagging routes is costing U.S. airlines billions of dollars in wasted fuel while an upgrade to a satellite-based system has languished in the planning stages for more than a decade.

The $35 billion plan would replace the current radar system with the kind of GPS technology that has become commonplace in cars and cell phones. Supporters say it would triple air traffic capacity, reduce delays by at least half, improve safety and curb greenhouse gas emissions. “

It’s not really Newsweek, mind you, it’s really The Associated Press. Seriously, the AP article is in Newsweek and 168 other publications (according to Google News.) AP has done an ”analysis”.

”An Associated Press analysis of federal and industry data found that if the new system were already in place, airlines could have saved more than $5 billion in fuel this year alone. “

And if pigs could fly the airlines might be able to figure out how to serve bacon for breakfast instead of those stupid muffins. Hey, it makes as much sense as what they’re saying. Which is to say, it doesn’t make sense at all.

I find these stories so infuriating because they are so far from the truth. And I’m just a guy with a blog. I can’t compete with AP. Quoting Sturgell and Poole about air traffic control is like quoting Paulson and Fuld about home mortgages. Yep, they’re the “experts” all right.

”"The United States has been to the moon and back. I think the public deserves that same level of effort for our national airspace system," Robert Sturgell, the acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said in a recent interview. “

”Robert Poole, an aviation expert with the free market-oriented Reason Foundation, said some legislators are reluctant to vote for a satellite system that would make eliminate hundreds of jobs at radar stations in their districts. “

See how helpful, informative and inspiring those two statements are ? Now you know everything you need to know to make an informed decision about air traffic control. Brought to you by two guys that have never sat behind a radar scope, controlling traffic, in their entire lives.

”The planned satellite-driven network, dubbed NextGen, would save fuel by ditching radar technology that is more than 50 years old and enabling GPS-equipped planes to fly the shortest route between two points: a straight line. “

Right. If the shortest line between Atlanta and JFK is a “straight line” then the shortest route between JFK and Atlanta is a “straight line”. Let’s run airplanes head-to-head with each other. There’s a good idea. Not.

The next time you drive by an airport, zoom in on the GPS in your car and take a look at the airport. Notice that you can see all the runways and taxiways. What you are seeing in your car isn’t even available in most airliners. Think about that and compare it with what this story is trying to sell. Runway incursions are one of the highest threats to your safety right now. There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- that prevents airlines from installing GPS in their airplanes right now. Think about how GPS could enhance a pilot’s awareness as he taxis around at an unfamiliar airport in the dark. But this article isn’t about safety. It isn’t even about saving fuel, money or the planet. It’s about spending money -- $35 billion -- on another pie-in-the-sky boondoggle.

”"GPS might be great to put in your car, too, but it's not going to get you to work any faster unless they open up another lane on the highway. And it's the same in the air," said Doug Church of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “

That’s as close to the truth as this article comes. Doug Church hasn’t ever sat behind a radar scope, controlling airplanes, either. He just listens to those that have. That fact alone makes him more of an expert about air traffic control than anyone else quoted in the article. And in that I know Doug, I know he’d be the first one to tell you he isn’t an expert on air traffic control. These guys are.

Don Brown
October 10, 2008

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