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

Events

Anomaly.Conflict : NMAC
(Near Mid Air Collision)

Situations

ATC Facility.Procedure Or Policy : MEM.Tower

Narrative

UPON LNDG ON RWY 27 AT MEMPHIS, TN, EXECUTED A REJECTED LNDG (DUE TO A LONG LNDG AND EXITING TFC) ON CLBOUT, (A BEAM RWY 17) RECEIVED AN URGENT CALL FROM TWR TO LEVEL OFF. CAPT TOOK CTL OF ACFT AND DSNDED SLIGHTLY TO AVOID A MIDAIR COLLISION WITH ANOTHER ACFT ON FINAL TO RWY 17, ESTIMATE 300 FT.


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

HAD TWR NOT CALLED US, OR IF WE HAD EXECUTED OUR GAR A FEW SECONDS EARLIER, WE MOST LIKELY WOULD HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN A MID-AIR COLLISION.

...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

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