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

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