Sunday, November 30, 2008

Express Lanes Huh ?

So, how are those “express lanes” working out ? (Click to enlarge)

Just in case you forgot:

Steps proposed to ease air travel congestion

President George W. Bush announced Tuesday that he's expanding the Thanksgiving express lanes this year to include military air corridors in the Midwest, the Southwest and the West Coast. That's in addition to the East Coast corridors, which were also freed up for holiday traffic last year.

That is what the President of the United States was telling you. This is what the nation’s air traffic controllers were telling you.

Doug Church, a spokesman for the air traffic controllers union, said one result of airplanes arriving faster could be more planes circling busy airports and running low on fuel.

"Our point is that they don't have a plan to get them on the ground any faster," Church said. "This plan does nothing to relieve the congestion at the airports that are the traditional hotspots."

JFK has an average delay of 3 hours and 42 minutes as I write this. The FAA -- and the President -- can blame the delays on weather but it misses the point. Or more precisely, it obscures the point. The point is, there is always weather to contend with. In winter there is fog, ice and snow. In summer it’s thunderstorms. You cannot schedule arrivals as if weather won’t ever be a factor and expect the system to function when weather does become a factor.

It’s obvious to controllers. By now, it ought to be obvious to you too.

Don Brown
November 30, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Speaking of Turkeys

I’ve been trying to educate myself on some of the technical aspects of NextGen and I keep stumbling across some confusing pictures. Take this one for example:

I worked as an air traffic controller for 25 years and this picture tells me absolutely nothing. As a matter of fact, this web page from the FAA has a whole series of pictures that tell me absolutely nothing.

Merging and Spacing

I did “merging and spacing” my entire career -- for CLT and ATL. The picture is from a web site about ADS-B -- “A collection of images related to the ADS-B program. “ -- but it could just as well be about radar. Or even non-radar for that matter. It wouldn’t explain those well either.

For more pretty pictures you can visit a different site -- Catchy huh ? This one is more sophisticated because they’re trying to make money as opposed to just spending it. Scroll down to the section entitled "SATELLITE-ENABLED ATM USING ADS-B" and take a look at the graphics. See if you figure out why a “satellite”/“space-based” system needs over 700 Ground Based Transceivers (GBTs) in the United States alone.

While you’re there, let’s think about a different angle. ADS-B is supposed to replace radar. It won’t, but let’s say it does. Let’s say ADS-B lasts 50 years like some of the FAA’s radar sites have. How much will it cost to lease the property and maintain the equipment at 700+ sites ?

That is probably unfair of me in that some of the GBTs will be put on oil rigs. I guess when the oil is gone nobody will want to fly over the Gulf of Mexico.

Don Brown
November 28, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Your Worst Fears

You need to take about 30 minutes out of your holiday celebrations and read a most interesting article at Conde Nast Portfolio:

The End

It will take your breath away.

”To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital—to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t the first clue. “

If this was the only article I had read about our current economic situation, I would have thought someone was pulling my leg. But as my readers know, I keep two blogs in the list to the left and I read them regularly -- Paul Krugman’s and Robert Reich’s.

Robert Reich had this to say back in September:

That's because, when the market was roaring a few years back, many financial players had no idea what they were buying or selling. Worse, they didn't care. Derivatives on derivatives, SIVs, credit default swaps (watch this one!), and of course securities backed by home loans. There seemed no limit to the leverage, the off-balance sheet liabilities, and what credit rating agencies would approve by issuers who paid them to.

Two years ago I asked a hedge fund manager to describe the assets in his fund. He laughed and said he had no idea.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything in Michael Lewis’ article The End. Trust me, you’ll understand enough. As a matter of fact, you’ll come to realize that nobody understands what was happening on Wall Street -- it was all part of the plan.

”Eisman had long subscribed to Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, a newsletter famous in Wall Street circles and obscure outside them. Jim Grant, its editor, had been prophesying doom ever since the great debt cycle began, in the mid-1980s. In late 2006, he decided to investigate these things called C.D.O.’s. Or rather, he had asked his young assistant, Dan Gertner, a chemical engineer with an M.B.A., to see if he could understand them. Gertner went off with the documents that purported to explain C.D.O.’s to potential investors and for several days sweated and groaned and heaved and suffered. “Then he came back,” says Grant, “and said, ‘I can’t figure this thing out.’ And I said, ‘I think we have our story.” “

For me, it all comes down to this: America bet big on deregulation. And we lost. We bet that the “free market” could harness and control old-fashioned greed. And it didn’t. We will now pay the price and there is no one -- absolutely no one -- on the planet that knows what that price will be. My guess is that it will be the Second Great Depression. But what do I know ? I’m just a retired government worker with too much time on my hands. I read too much. Things like:

Robert Reich -- “This is not the Great Depression of the 1930s, but nor is it turning out to be merely a bad recession of the kind we've experienced periodically over the last half century. Call it a Mini Depression.”

Thomas Friedman -- “So, I have a confession and a suggestion. The confession: I go into restaurants these days, look around at the tables often still crowded with young people, and I have this urge to go from table to table and say: “You don’t know me, but I have to tell you that you shouldn’t be here. You should be saving your money. You should be home eating tuna fish.”

Paul Krugman -- ”This is an economic emergency. “

Fareed Zakaria -- ”There is a consensus forming that Washington needs to spend its way out of this recession, to ensure that it doesn't turn into a depression. Economists of both the left and right agree that a massive fiscal stimulus is needed and that for now, we shouldn't be worrying about deficits. But in order to run up these deficits—which could total somewhere between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, or between 7 and 11 percent of GDP—someone has to buy American debt. And the only country that has the cash to do so is China. “

I’ve been watching for months as these very smart people and others have had to adjust and readjust again and again to the latest news. News that many of them were the first to warn us about. As more information came out, the fear has grown. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think anyone is hiding the good news. We can only expect more of the same or -- more likely -- worse.

If you are fortunate enough to be with your family this Thanksgiving, take a good look around the table. They may be the only people you can count on in the near future. I hope you are blessed with a family as wonderful as mine. Count your blessings -- while you still have some.

Don Brown
November 26, 2008

P.S. In researching the above quotes, I noticed Thomas Friedman also steered his readers to Michael Lewis’ article The End in his column from today -- All Fall Down . You really should read it.

P.P.S Thanks to Earth-Bound Misfit for the original steer to The End.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Super Geeky

You may have noticed the name Neil Planzer in the article from CQPolitics I mentioned the other day -- the one listing potential Administrators for the FAA. Mr. Planzer worked for the FAA and now works for Boeing.

One thing always leads to another. I seem to remember that Mr. Planzer had a pretty good reputation among the controllers he worked with. That’s unusual enough in the FAA but I seem to remember someone telling me he was really smart too. That led me to pick a book out of my library and sure enough, Mr. Planzer’s name was mentioned as an FAA liaison. The book is Flight to the Future: Human Factors in Air Traffic Control. Before you click on the link, let me warn you -- it’s super geeky. Seriously, I can’t imagine more than one -- maybe two -- of my readers being interested in it. Not to mention the $50+ price tag. Or the author -- the National Research Council. Okay, I think I made my point.

In the book, I came across this in chapter 12:

”The limited available airspace in regions of high traffic density constrains the kinds of solutions to the problem of increased traffic. The only way to handle still more traffic within the regions that are already congested is to permit each aircraft to occupy less airspace. This means that aircraft will be closer together.

That -- in a nutshell -- is the future. In order to increase capacity, we have to decrease the distance between airplanes. For air traffic controllers, distance is time. And as I’ve noted before, you can’t change time. The runway can only accept so many airplanes per hour and the current ATC system can already exceed that rate. That leads us to the conclusion that the “closer together” the FAA is hanging its hat on for the future is in something besides runway acceptance rates. That would be running airplanes closer together enroute and using parallel runways simultaneously that are too close together for current technology (think of places like San Francisco.) Of course, you have to ask yourself how many properly-spaced runways you could build for the $20+ billion that NextGen will cost.

There is more to NextGen. Watch this video of Mr. Planzer being interviewed on AviationNewsToday back in June. See if you can figure it out. I can’t.

Don Brown
November 24, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sim-ply Stupider

I’m not saying another word. I don’t won’t to spoil the surprise. Go read “Happy Friday !” over at The FAA Follies.

Don Brown
November 22, 2008

Waiting On a Boss

I’ve been racking my brain for weeks, trying to come up with a brilliant nomination to put forth as the next FAA Administrator. I’ve got nothing. It’s sad. That probably ends my life-long fantasy that I’ll be President of the Untied States one day. I can’t even come up with somebody I’d like to see as Administrator.

Regardless, somebody will be the next Administrator. CQPolitics has a list of the likely candidates in this article.

”Insiders seem to be having a hard time deciding where President-elect Barack Obama is likely to get Federal Aviation Administration chief — from inside the airline industry or from Capitol Hill.“

Maybe I’m not the only one that can’t decide. Or maybe -- just maybe -- the job is an impossible one. I don’t really believe that, but it’s something to consider anyway. It is a tough job. It would be nice to have someone that is up to it.

Don Brown
November 22, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Three New Runways

This ought to help in the future.

New runways open at 3 of nation's busiest airports

”Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's new runway is being especially welcomed because of the region's notoriously wet climate. The airport's third runway will allow planes to take off and land two abreast during inclement weather. The current runways are too close to allow simultaneous operations in foul weather. Airport officials claim the new runway will cut delays in half. “

These three runways give you a good idea on all the little details that can make or break an airport as far as capacity. For example, the new runway at Chicago is only 7,500 feet long. That is really short for a place like ORD and will limit the type of aircraft that can use it. The new runway at Dulles is missing some taxiways -- at the moment.

” However, the new Dulles airport runway may not be of much benefit at the start.

Controller Chris Sutherland, the NATCA representative for the Potomac Consolidated Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), explained that because only one taxiway has been completed, planes that land heading north must roll to a stop, turn around and taxi more than a mile and a half to the taxiway, costing the airlines both time and money.

"Bottom line, the users are going to fight us tooth and nail if we try to land them on that runway out there," Sutherland said. The airport also does not have the technology necessary to use all three parallel runways in inclement weather, he said. “

Still -- all in all -- new runways are good news and CNN did a good job or packing in a lot of information in the article.

Don Brown
November 21, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Simply Stupid

It’s always challenging to simplify aviation matters enough that the general public -- those not involved in aviation -- can understand them. Simplifying complex matters always involves leaving out some piece of the truth -- some subtle, yet important, matter. Nevertheless, I’m going to try again.

I was researching a safety matter at the Memphis Airport (MEM). NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System has a new search page so I started there. I simply entered the identifier for Memphis, TN (MEM) in the location selection and “Go Around” in the “Flight Phase” selection. (It’s a clunky search page but it works.) After skimming through the pages returned, I found what I was looking for -- this report:

ACN: 544969


Anomaly.Conflict : NMAC
(Near Mid Air Collision)


ATC Facility.Procedure Or Policy : MEM.Tower



Right off the bat, I’m leaving out information. That one report is much longer. I can add a little more...


...but at some point it becomes too lengthy to hold everyone’s attention and I have to start explaining things like “GAR” stands for “Go Around”. I might should explain what “Go Around” means if I truly want to get everyone to understand. But we have so much further to go.

The reason I was researching this event is that my friend Peter Nesbitt is still trying to get the procedure that caused this near-catastrophe changed. He was on TV not too long ago. You can watch it here.

Runway Causing Close Calls, Near Misses

”Fast Facts

* Air traffic controllers say a runway at the Memphis Airport is putting your safety at risk, causing flight paths to intersect multiple times a week.
* FAA says the runway is safe, though more than 200 "go-arounds" have been reported this year.
* Cutting the runway from Memphis Airport operations would reduce capacity up to 25 percent. “

That last line is probably the most important one -- “would reduce capacity up to 25 percent .“ This -- in essence -- is the battle. Safety vs. Capacity. At MEM airport, Capacity has been winning for years.

In case Peter’s name sounds familiar, it is because I’ve written about him before.

If the situation sounds familiar -- using perpendicular runways to increase capacity at the expense of safety -- that would be because the FAA was doing the same thing at New York’s JFK. Yes, I wrote about that one too.

If the whole Safety vs. Capacity thing sounds familiar...yes, I wrote about that too. Air Traffic Safety vs. Capacity.

I think I’ve got a pretty good eye for this kind of thing. So take this down and put it away for safe keeping. I think NextGen is nothing more than the next Advanced Automation System-type scandal. NextGen is just a high-tech version of pointing airplanes at each other -- like using perpendicular runways at the same time -- trying to increase capacity while telling yourself that you aren’t decreasing safety. It’s a lie. A $20-50 billion dollar lie. And it is simply stupid.

Don Brown
November 19, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Manic Monday In the Press

Something is up. I’ve learned that the Press starts running stories because they have a nose for news. It’s only logical. They have these things called “sources” and when things start buzzing, they have a pretty good idea that something is about to happen. My guess would be that President-elect Obama is about to name a Secretary of Transportation. It could be something else though. They’re the Press. I’m just an ex-controller turned blogger.

Regardless, it’s time to head for the newspapers.

First, The Washington Post has this story:

FAA Labor Unions Seek  Obama's Help

”In a fact sheet on transportation issues, the Obama campaign criticized the FAA's treatment of the air traffic controllers, citing the agency for "neglecting to treat them with the respect they deserve." The statement also said an Obama administration would direct the new FAA administrator to work cooperatively with controllers' to "restore morale and improve working conditions" a the agency. It doesn't specify an Obama stance on collective bargaining or contract issues. “

Next up is USA Today with this story:

Alternatives to auctioning off New York flight slots

”Earlier this year, the FAA imposed caps or limits on the number of flights that can takeoff or land in any given hour at New York JFK and Newark Liberty. This is not the first time New York airports have endured flight caps. While caps may help reduce delays, limiting the number of flights stifles competition and results in higher airfares and fewer choices for travelers. In addition, over the long term, capping flights will adversely impact businesses, tourism and eventually the entire local economy. “

I’m sure my readers can imagine my comments on that bit of the story. Of course, you don’t have to. You can just read the one I left. I have more comments to make but -- unfortunately -- I don’t have the time. I apologize, but my wife is renovating the house and the leaves are trying to bury my yard. I’ll post more as I find the time.

Don Brown
November 17, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008


I can’t stand it anymore. After a morning spent reading fluff piece after fluff piece (like this one) it’s time to inject some reality.

First the fluff:

"Next-generation technology and modernization of our air traffic control system could save billions of pounds of carbon emissions every year, and United is pleased to partner with the FAA and provide important data from ASPIRE to demonstrate these savings," says Pete McDonald, Chief Administrative Officer -- United Airlines. "New technology will also improve air travel for millions of consumers by reducing delays and ensuring a more consistent travel experience."

It will probably cure dish-pan hands and ring-around-the-collar too. Let’s see what we can expect in the future by reviewing the previous fluff -- the FAA’s fluff.

FAA Completes Deployment of Mission-Essential Conflict Detection Tool

New Technology Saves Industry $600 Million

”Since its inception in 1999 through the end of this summer (2006), URET has shortened routes by 89.5 million nautical miles, for an estimated savings of $626.5 million.“

Now let’s face reality. I really want you to click on the link to Wikipedia and read the whole list for yourself. Keep in mind all that fuel that was saved between 1999 and 2006 -- $625.5 million dollars worth.

Wikipedia - Timeline of airline bankruptcies

”Time line of Chapter 11 filings

* August 11, 2002 - US Airways enters protection
* December 9, 2002 - United Airlines under protection
* March 31, 2003 - US Airways emerges
* April 1, 2003 - Air Canada files
* September 12, 2004 - US Airways re-files for protection
* September 30, 2004 - Air Canada emerges
* December 30, 2004 - Aloha Airlines files
* September 14, 2005 - Northwest Airlines files
* September 14, 2005 - Delta Air Lines files, putting 4 of the top 7 carriers in the United States under bankruptcy protection“

I am truly at a loss for words. What words -- what parable, what analogy, what literary device -- can I use to make the insanity of all this any more obvious ? The airline industry is bleeding billions of dollars -- going from record delays to 9/11 and then back to record delays -- and the FAA is crowing about how much gas they saved. The airlines saved so much money they went bankrupt.

Just as an aside, be sure to take note of United Airlines in that list and remember that Bobby Sturgell (acting FAA Administrator) and Hank Krakowski (COO -- FAA Air Traffic Organization) both worked for United.

Fool me once...shame on you. Fool me a dozen times...When are we ever going to learn ? Do you really think so ? Then tell me what a “ a more consistent travel experience“ is. If your mind fell asleep before you got to that part, go back to the top and start over. Maybe you’ll see that it isn’t just the FAA that is trying to fool you.

Don Brown
November 14, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Change Is Coming to the FAA Too

The new Sheriff isn’t in town yet, but he’s coming. It’s time to get the hell out of Dodge for some.

FAA’s Ballough and Sabatini Heading for Retirement

James Ballough, the FAA’s long-time director of the Flight Standards Service, has announced that he will retire at the end of the year.

In late October, Nick Sabatini, FAA associate administrator for aviation safety, announced his plan to retire in January.

Just in case you’ve forgotten who these two men are...some of us haven’t.

T&I Leaders Challenge FAA Testimony

The Chairman and two Subcommittee Chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure have charged three government officials with presenting “inaccurate and misleading” statements to the Committee during an April 3 hearing.

Full Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar (Minn.), Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.), and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Jerry F. Costello made the charges in a letter sent today. The letter was addressed to three witnesses at the hearing on the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of aircraft inspections: Nicholas A. Sabatini, FAA’s Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety; James J. Ballough, Director of FAA’s Flight Standards Service; and Thomas Stuckey, then Manager of the Flight Standards Division for FAA’s Southwest Region. Stuckey has since been reassigned to other non-safety-related duties in the agency.

If you would like to read the whole letter, you may do so at the same link as above.

”April 7, 2008

Mr. Nicholas A. Sabatini, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, Federal Aviation Administration

Mr. James J. Ballough, Director Flight Standards Service,  Federal Aviation Administration

Mr. Thomas Stuckey, Federal Aviation Administration


Dear Mr. Sabatini, Mr. Ballough, and Mr. Stuckey:

We are deeply disturbed about statements that you made, under oath, to the Committee at our recent hearing on April 3, 2008, on "Critical Lapses in FAA Safety Oversight" on issues involving the so called Customer Service Initiative (CSI). We believe that your testimony conveyed inaccurate and misleading information about whether Aviation Safety Inspectors and Managers in the Flight Standards Service (which Mr. Ballough directs) were ordered to conduct special meetings with all airlines, repair stations and other regulated entities to deliver and discuss the CSI. “

If for some reason, all of this is new to you -- you can read about the whole sorry story at The Dallas Morning News

FAA whistle-blower risked it all to do what's right

Don Brown
November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

“Clients” Equal “Customers” ?

Robert Reich keeps asking important questions on his blog. This is today’s.

”So why, exactly, is the Treasury substituting government bailouts for chapter 11?”

What really got my attention though was this little blurb.

”The Treasury seems to have lost sight of its real client. It's client is not the creditors, shareholders, or executives of any of these firms. Its sole client is the American people. “

Is it just me or did that sound too much like this quote ?

”"If there is a customer, it is the traveling public, not the airline," Oberstar said. “

That one is from Chairman James Oberstar in reference to the FAA’s failed inspections of Southwest Airlines.

I don’t want to fan the flames of fear but I don’t want you to fall asleep at the switch either. As I have tried to make the point over and over in these last two years, there is simply no substitute for good government. We have a financial crisis put together by some of the brightest people on the planet. As smart as they were, they had to hire people even smarter (like math wizards) just to calculate the numbers. Now, you’ve got government employees trying to figure it out and unravel it all. And the whole thing is being overseen by two guys (Treasury Secretary Paulson and Kashkari) that helped create the mess.

Sleep tight America.

I don’t know about you, but January 20th can’t get here soon enough for me.

Oh yeah -- while we’re on the subject -- here’s another question from Professor Reich that will make you think.

”Pardon me for asking, but if a company is too big to fail, maybe – just maybe – it’s too big, period.

We used to have public policies to prevent companies from getting too big. Does anyone remember antitrust laws? “

I remember them. I don’t think the Bush Administration’s Justice Department does though.

Clearing Antitrust Hurdle, Delta Clinches Acquisition of Northwest

I think Professor Reich has a good point. If we have to rescue companies that are “too big to fail”, then why are we making more of them ?

Don Brown
November 12, 2008

Controller Questions

Controllers all get the same questions from wannabe controllers. What’s it like ? How can I prepare ? What kind of facility ? Many of my answers are 27 years old. The Flying Penguin’s are not. If you know anybody with those questions, this post from his site is a good place to start finding answers.

Don Brown
November 12, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008


I was so excited watching GPS with Fareed Zakaria yesterday that I felt like a groupie. In that I refuse to believe I waited until I was 50 years old to become a groupie, we’re going to proceed on the theory that the Global Public Square really is great TV.

The program was centered on Barack Obama’s election as President -- as viewed by several historians. Mr. Zakaria announced the program last week and mentioned Walter Isaacson and his book The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. I’m pretty sure he mentioned his other guests but -- if he did -- their names went right by me. I tell you all this just so you can know how shocked I was (pleasantly shocked) when I turned on the show and saw Robert Caro sitting there.

For other than the very, very few that will remember, Robert Caro wrote The Power Broker -- the very first book I ever reviewed here at Get theFlick. More importantly (for this story) he wrote the three-part series on President Johnson -- The Years of Lyndon Johnson. These four books constitute the greatest books I’ve ever read. I read them all several years ago, yet, I have never seen Mr. Caro interviewed nor even appear on another program. Evidently, he doesn’t get out much. That he chose to do so now -- on this particular program -- says something.

The other historians on the show were Joseph Ellis and Jon Meacham. I don’t believe I’ve read any of Mr. Ellis’ books but I’ve read Mr. Meacham’s Franklin and Winston -- another fine book.

The discussion was thoroughly fascinating and I encourage you to watch or read it.

As if all this wasn’t enough, the final segment of the show was an interview with Brent Scowcroft. As Mr. Zakaria said, it would take too long to detail Mr. Scowcroft’s accomplishments. I’ve read one of his books too -- A World Transformed -- written with the first President Bush, for whom Mr. Scowcroft was the National Security Advisor. It too is worth watching or reading.

The upshot of all this is that this week’s show has given me a certain sense of vindication. It has provided a convergence of sorts. We all know that I’m not the smartest person in room. But to see my favorite author on my favorite TV program talking about my choice for President with such hope -- with an excitement about the possibilities -- it gives me hope that maybe I can at least figure out who is the smartest person in the room. If I can help you do that too, well, that makes the day for me.

JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN LION": I think that Barack Obama has thought about this exact question a lot more than we have.


I asked him what were his favorite books recently, and "The Power Broker" was on the list.

CARO: Good man.

You may have seen something else recently on President-elect Obama’s reading list. The right-wing Republicans passed around a picture of Obama carrying a book -- “a Muslim’s view of a defeated America.” The hate mail was like so many others you saw in this election -- a lie. The picture and the book were real enough. It was the message that was a lie.

The book ? The Post-American World. The author ? Fareed Zakaria.

Good man.

Here’s the lie -- just in case you want to remember who the liars (i.e. the stupid people) in the room are too.

Don Brown
November 10, 2008

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Recess Is Over

The campaign must be over. Everybody and their brother is back to writing aviation stories now that we know Barack Obama will be the next President. If I had to pick the best, I’d pick “Ask the Pilot” by Patrick Smith, over at Salon.

I disagree with some of Mr. Smith’s positions but at least he is being honest -- which is more than I can say for some others.

”We can modernize ATC to our hearts' content -- and we should -- but an airport can only accommodate so many arrivals and departures in a given amount of time.“

This is fundamental. It is bedrock. If anyone out there submits a plan for our aviation system that doesn’t recognize this fundamental fact -- they might was well be lying to you. There is no ATC system in the world that will significantly change the number of aircraft that can use an airport per hour. The only thing that can change that number is more concrete -- more runways. You don’t have to think very far down the road to recognize that there is a limit to the number of runways we can build at any one airport.

I’ve said what I wanted to say about the issue in the past. Evidently, it is important that I keep saying it -- over and over. At least that is what everyone else seems to do.

Let me see if I can rephrase the basics for you one more time. The fundamentals of air traffic control don’t change. The most important fundamental of air traffic control to understand is time. It takes time to talk on the radio. You can only make so many transmissions per minute. You can switch to another communications format -- something like email -- but you’re still limited by time. People can only type so fast too. We cannot significantly change the amount of time an aircraft spends on a runway. We’re stuck with the number of airplanes a runway can handle per unit of time. We can change the number of runways but we cannot change the amount of time. How far apart airplanes are isn’t nearly as significant as the amount of time that distance represents. Time to notice and correct errors. Time to communicate. Time to react. Time for wake turbulence to die down. Time to be careful, thoughtful and safe.

Time is everything. And it’s high time we stop chasing pie-in-the-sky solutions. The basic air traffic control system we have right now can handle the traffic our runways can handle. Actually, it can handle more than the runways can handle. When Atlanta (ATL) added it’s fifth runway the ATC system already in place was able to handle the extra load. ATL went from an arrival rate of 96 an hour to 126 an hour. We didn’t need NextGen, GPS or slot auctions to make that happen. We didn’t need anything new -- except a new runway.

Our air traffic control system is falling apart because we refuse to take care of it. We are too busy trying to replace it with a bunch of gee-whiz equipment that we don’t need. We won’t change the oil and put on a new set of tires because we want that new car with the GPS system and the DVD player. We’ve lost sight of the fact that we don’t need a GPS system to get us to our job -- we already know the way. And we don’t have time to watch the DVD player on the way to work anyway. We just need a reliable transportation system to get us to work.

Don Brown
November 8, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

Cheers for the RAF

I just love stories like this:

Blinded pilot guided to safe landing by RAF after suffering mid-air stroke

Good job, guys.

Don Brown
November 7, 2008

Your Government Failed You

No, this isn’t an account of the Bush Administration. It’s the title of Richard Clarke’s latest book.

”There was a government reform movement in the early twentieth century that aimed to end corruption and to professionalize civil service and public administration. It was known as the Good Government Movement, and its advocates were called Goo Goos. It’s time to bring back the Goo Goos, not just to end corruption but to restore professionalism in public administration and end the practice of using government as a political whipping boy, limiting it effectiveness and then complaining about how it can’t get anything done.”

Mr. Clarke’s book contains the theme that I see repeated in much of my reading these days. When you believe that “government is the problem”, government doesn’t tend to work well. Contracting out the government’s legitimate functions doesn’t help. It just winds up hurting you -- that would be “you” the citizens -- in the end. It does wind up making somebody rich. Which means they got rich at your -- and your government's -- expense. But it winds up hurting your country through incompetence, poor decisions and misguided decisions.

Your Government Failed You takes you through much of the military and national security history of the recent past. Richard Clarke started working for the State Department in 1973. He is most famous for his work in counter-terrorism on the National Security Council under President Clinton. Some of the inside details he provides are juicy and some are shocking. But the real message of the book is much like the message I try to get across in this blog: Government is important. How well our government works -- or doesn’t work -- counts.

You can’t make government work better by demonizing it. You can’t put your half-wit cousin in charge of the sewer system and expect the toilets to flush. You can’t put some political hack in charge of FEMA and expect it to work. You can’t put some ideologue in a Cabinet position and expect the department to function well.

Your Government Failed You is a good book and well worth your time. If , like me, you worked for the government during these years, I bet you find yourself nodding your head while reading it. There were so many times I found that I could just take out the words like “State Department”, substitute “FAA” and the statement would still ring true.

”Riddled with inexperienced political appointees and private sector contractors doing jobs typically performed by career staff, the department ranked thirty-sixth out of thirty-six federal agencies...”

See what I mean ? Mr. Clarke could have been talking about the FAA. Unfortunately, he’s talking about the Department of Homeland Security. And I hope it hits you, he could have been talking about almost any department under the Bush Administration.

Don Brown
November 7, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Take a Day

Take a day just to try and let it all sink in. The enormity of it all. You’ll read enough and hear enough that I really don’t need to add to it. Historic, game-changing, monumental -- the wordsmiths will scratch their heads long and hard to find the perfect word. And one of them will.

Senator Obama won and he won big. The Democrats won and they won big. Take a day to celebrate. (Or cry in your beer should that be the case.) Tomorrow, it will be time to get back to the hard work of Government.

Don Brown
November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Something to Think About

Last month, I casually dismissed Colin Powell’s endorsement of Senator Barack Obama in favor of telling you about Fareed Zakaria’s endorsement of Senator Obama. This week, Fareed Zakaria turned it all around on me by giving over the final segment of his show -- GPS -- to General Powell.

It is a powerful message -- something to think about if you are headed to the polls today.

My computer is so old that it will barely run the video. If you have the same problem, you can see General Powell on YouTube and you can view the picture he refers to at The New Yorker.

Don Brown
November 4, 2008

Monday, November 03, 2008

Deregulation Isn’t Done

In all the hoopla over the election, you may have missed this important piece from R. Jeffery Smith in the Washington Post.

A Last Push To Deregulate
White House to Ease Many Rules

”The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms. “

I worry that voters may have this vision of a remorseful Republican Party -- realizing that their deregulation agenda caused a world-wide economic crisis -- that has learned its lesson, seen the light and has recommitted itself to improving its citizens lives by focusing on making the government work well.

It hasn’t. And it won’t.

”"They want these rules to continue to have an impact long after they leave office," said Matthew Madia, a regulatory expert at OMB Watch, a nonprofit group critical of what it calls the Bush administration's penchant for deregulating in areas where industry wants more freedom. He called the coming deluge "a last-minute assault on the public . . . happening on multiple fronts."“

It is a difficult task to convince the average American citizen, who is detached from day-to-day government, that their government can take on human-like qualities. It’s hard to believe that your government can be petty and vindictive. Until you realize that this Administration does things like imposing a “contract” upon air traffic controllers on Labor Day. I mean really, if you were looking at that as an Administrator would you have done it ? Or would you have said, “This looks bad, we’ll wait a couple of more days just to avoid the appearance of being vindictive.” And that is the precisely the point. They are smart people and they knew what it would look like. They wanted it to look that way.

The Bush Administration was sending a message. It is a message that they believe in -- right down to their very core -- and nothing like a little world-wide economic crisis is going to change their minds. They are ideologues.

When I started writing this blog entry, I intended to make the case that the Republican Party will not change their ideology. If they lose this election -- and I believe they will -- they still won’t change. It turns out that I don’t have to make that case. Paul Krugman does it for me. And for you.

”You might think, perhaps hope, that Republicans will engage in some soul-searching, that they’ll ask themselves whether and how they lost touch with the national mainstream. But my prediction is that this won’t happen any time soon.

Instead, the Republican rump, the party that’s left after the election, will be the party that attends Sarah Palin’s rallies, where crowds chant “Vote McCain, not Hussein!” It will be the party of Saxby Chambliss, the senator from Georgia, who, observing large-scale early voting by African-Americans, warns his supporters that “the other folks are voting.” It will be the party that harbors menacing fantasies about Barack Obama’s Marxist — or was that Islamic? — roots. “

I recommend you read the whole editorial -- The Republican Rump.

After you read it, be sure to go vote.

Don Brown
November 3, 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Today’s blog will make a lot more sense if you regularly read the materials I suggest. I’ll try to make it so as those that don’t can at least follow along. But the real beauty is seeing how all the pieces come together for the prepared -- and fall apart for those that aren’t.

First, you would need to have read Paul Krugman’s column Friday: “When Consumers Capitulate”. (It’s probably behind the firewall now. Take a few moments to sign up at the Times. It’s worth it.) In short, one of the few things the American ( and World) economy had going for it was consumer spending -- even though we were spending money we didn’t have. Money obtained by refinancing our homes to pay off credit cards so we could continue to spend money we didn’t have.

That all went bust along with the housing bubble and now economists use words like “terrified” and the U.S. Treasury Secretary converts to Socialism overnight -- government ownership of a major percentage of our private banking system.

If you’ve heard it once these last few weeks you’ve heard it a thousand times -- “this is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression”. Not surprisingly, everyone is looking back to the Great Depression to see what worked and what didn’t. If you’ve read anything about the Great Depression (oh, I don’t know, something like “FDR”) you would know that FDR put millions to work by building America’s infrastructure. That might fill in the spaces between the lines for you when Professor Krugman says this:

”The ongoing efforts to bail out the financial system, even if they work, won’t do more than slightly mitigate the problem. Maybe some consumers will be able to keep their credit cards, but as we’ve seen, Americans were overextended even before banks started cutting them off.

No, what the economy needs now is something to take the place of retrenching consumers. That means a major fiscal stimulus. And this time the stimulus should take the form of actual government spending rather than rebate checks that consumers probably wouldn’t spend.”

Hmmm, a “major fiscal stimulus” that will “take the form of actual government spending “. Like I said, a project for infrastructure. Some of you might have heard of the WPA. -- the Works Project Administration.

If any of you have read The Power Broker -- one of the first books I ever recommended -- you might be recalling the fact the Robert Moses (and New York City) was one of the main benefactors of the WPA because of the simple fact that he was prepared.

(Pause for a favorite saying -- Chance favors the prepared mind.)

If you didn’t read the book, you can take a shortcut to Wikipedia.

Shortly after President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration, the federal government found itself with millions of New Deal tax dollars to spend, yet states and cities had few projects ready. Moses was one of the few local officials who had projects planned and prepared. For that reason, New York City could count on Moses to deliver to it Works Progress Administration (WPA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and other depression-era funding.

Right now, you might want to switch into aviation mode and ask yourself what “projects” the FAA has “planned and prepared”. The disappointing answer is “NextGen” (or as I refer to is “NexCon”). Two seconds later it hits you that even NextGen itself isn’t really defined. It’s more of a collection of ideas, fantasy and pork-barrel projects than it is a plan. Regardless, I would write President Obama and warn him not to waste our money on it.

Amazing how fast you can go from aviation to politics isn’t it ? Am I being presumptuous by saying President Obama ? I don’t think so. I’m trying to get you to think. What is John McCain saying in these last few days of desperation ? That he would freeze government spending (except for NASA when he’s in Florida). That is exactly the wrong plan at exactly the wrong time according to the people I try to get you to read -- and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

”When even the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board says Congress should pass a stimulus package we know we're in trouble. “

”America needs a comprehensive stimulus package, but it should be voted on by the next Congress under a new Administration. And it should be part of a broader jobs strategy that would include rebuilding the nation's crumbling infrastructure, funding alternative sources of energy, and creating tax incentives for businesses that generate new jobs. “

Robert Reich and Paul Krugman don’t always agree with each other. But when they, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve and history are all on the same page you might want to pay attention.

Chance favors the prepared mind -- and crushes the unprepared. On this issue, John McCain is like the FAA -- unprepared.

Don Brown
November 1, 2008