Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Testing, Testing, 1...2...3...

Just trying out the new machine. It’s the part I hate about a new computer (I suppose everyone does) -- setting the thing up. I’ll also have to get used to a new word processing program. AppleWorks has been replaced by Pages. It seems okay so far...but we’ll see.

Oops. Spoke too soon. The spell checking has changed. Instead of “apple+ =” it is now “apple+;”. I’m sure that makes sense in someone’s world. But not mine. Hey ! There’s no Apple on the Apple key.

By the way, if this is making Microsoft users you know how Apple users feel.

Don Brown
December 31, 2008

Goodbye Faithful Servant

You might think it odd that I feel nostalgic about an email program. If you do, you’ve probably never used Claris Emailer. Folks that don’t know me will be surprised to find out I’m still using a email program first copyrighted in 1995. Folks that do know me (especially those that worked with me) won’t be the least bit surprised. If something works, I stick with it. And boy, does Claris Emailer work.

I’m not about to go counting files but I have dozens of folders with thousands of messages still stored on them. In the “Sent” folder, there are 10,109 messages. I’ve been trying hard to think of what has ever gone wrong with Claris Emailer and I can’t think of anything. As far as I know, it’s never crashed. When you consider the fact that it isn’t even .html compliant, Apple stopped supporting it years ago and the last system it ran on was OS 9 for’s pretty remarkable.

But all good things must come to an end. Santa brought me a brand new Apple laptop. The latest version of the Apple Operating System no longer emulates OS 9, which means Claris Emailer will no longer work. (I’ll probably get a letter telling me how to work around all this. I’m not the only person that thinks Claris Emailer is the greatest email program ever made.) But I’m not handling nearly as much email now that I’m retired. I’ll probably just stick with the email program that comes with the Mac. Besides, I’m using Gmail too.

I could go on but I have a new laptop waiting on me.

Don Brown
December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Home, Sweet Home

Be it ever so humble (or not), there’s no place like home.

No matter how crazy Georgia makes me, I’m always glad to be back here. The pines, the hills, the back roads -- I love them all. Now, if you’ll pardon me, after the eleven hour drive, I’ve got a date with my La-Z-Boy and my TV. I’ll talk to y’all tomorrow.

Don Brown
December 30, 2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008

All For One and a Gas Tax For All

It seems as if I’m not the only one that thinks we need a tax on gasoline. So does Thomas Friedman at The New York Times.

Win, Win, Win, Win, Win ...

”The one where gasoline prices go up, pressure rises for more fuel-efficient cars, then gasoline prices fall and the pressure for low-mileage vehicles vanishes, consumers stop buying those cars, the oil producers celebrate, we remain addicted to oil and prices gradually go up again, petro-dictators get rich, we lose. I’ve already seen this play three times in my life. Trust me: It always ends the same way — badly. “

Mr. Friedman is right, of course. Those of us that have been alive long enough have seen this play out before. There are dozens of excuses to stay addicted to oil but none of them are good ones. The question remains as to whether or not we have the willpower to change.

As I’ve said before, I think the tax should be a big one (phase it in gradually) -- big enough to give us some cushion to raise or lower it as conditions dictate. The important part is to make it big enough to make “home-grown power” attractive and -- most importantly in the short term I think -- big enough to encourage conservation.

Don Brown
December 28, 2008

And Nobody Wrote ?

Too much Christmas cheer ? Asleep at the switch ? Just figured I couldn’t make a mistake ?

The North Pole is at 90 degrees North Latitude. Not zero.

0000/0000 is somewhere west of Africa on the Equator. I’ve known that ever since Cap’n Andy told me the story about plugging all “zeros” into the INS (Inertial Navigation System) just to see what it would do.

I’m going back to drowning my sorrows in Margaritas.

Don Brown (way too close to the Equator)
December 28, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Haste Makes Waste

Hastily making our way to Florida (yuck !), it occurs to me that we’ve turned much of our country into a wasteland. Seriously -- is there anything left to see on the interstate ? Every crossroad looks the same. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Arby’s -- Chevron, Exxon, Shell -- Hampton Inn, Comfort Inn, Motel 6. Toss in KFC, Pizza Hut, whatever. All same-same.

I don’t know about you, but our family can hardly enjoy the Holidays because we’re so rushed to enjoy the Holidays. We all feel compelled to enjoy them with every single one of our friends and families.

I’d love to explore the subject further but I’ve got to get going. Check out time at the Hampton Inn is approaching and I’ve still got to fill the car up at the Exxon station on the corner. Maybe the kids can get some breakfast at the McDonald’s next door. If I can ignore the GPS, the radio, the DVD player and all the billboards -- maybe I can think about it all at 70 miles per hour, as we try to hook up with the rest of our family that is coming back from visiting friends.

Don Brown
December 27, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Must Be a Tower Flower

It’s a cute story...but the guy must be a Tower guy.

What type of aircraft (non-sled) would Santa fly?

”Without fail, on these nights, a phantom flight plan will go through ATC facilities with the call sign SANTA1. The four-letter identifier for this “flight” is something like SLEI or SLED, or once even SR71. The more imaginative of those who put in these flight plans include in the remarks “trailing a flight of eight reindeer, non-standard lighting”, the non-standard being the non-aviation red only Rudolph.“

Every Center controller knows the correct format for entering Santa’s flight plan.

Callsign: SANTA1
Type: H/SLED/I (Heavy/Sled/Inertial Navigation Equipment)
Speed: SC (Speed Classified)
Altitude: 000B175 (From the Ground to 17,500 feet)
Route: 0000/0000..POLAR1..0000/0000 (North Pole, around the world and back)

And just to keep the rookies (and ‘roach controllers) out of trouble...yes, that is a real speed and yes, the Boss will come down to the sector and ask you if you’re stupid or if you just don’t like being a controller. Check the 7110.10 T -- 6-2-1 -d. The Boss doesn’t like getting calls from NORAD. It makes him lose his place on Mine Sweeper.

Don Brown
December 26, 2008

What a Waste

I really don’t know which is worse -- that the FAA let their building go for so long, or the fact we have to pay for the Inspector General to visit 16 of them just to tell us the obvious.

Report Finds FAA Facilities Deteriorating

”"While the average facility has an expected useful life of approximately 25 to 30 years, 59 percent of FAA facilities are over 30 years old," according to the report from the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. The auditors visited 16 facilities around the country and found "obvious structural deficiencies and maintenance-related issues." Several of the facilities showed damage due to water leaks, mold, outdated heating and air conditioning systems, poor facility design, and general deterioration and disrepair.“

In case they didn’t visit Atlanta Center, left me save us some money. It’s 48 years old. They haven’t all been good years. There’s so much paint on the wallpaper that the weight pulls it down off the walls. There’s water damage throughout and replacing the ceiling tiles to hide the damage doesn’t really help. I wonder if the air intake is still next to the loading dock -- where it sucks the diesel fumes into the control room ? I wonder if the IG looked at the “trailer park” that holds so many of the staff ? I’m thinking trailers don’t have the life expectancy of a regular building. They must be 15-20 years old by now.

I never could figure that out. Atlanta Center’s job is to move airplanes through the system. The controllers were moved into a smaller control room (the old one had asbestos in it) but the rest of the place kept getting larger and larger the whole time I was there. Less controllers. More staff. They’ll probably hire some more staff to tell us how we can get by with less controllers. They’ll probably put them in trailers too.

Don Brown
December 26, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

O Magnum Mysterium

Here’s another song we did last night at midnight Mass. When searching for a nice recording available on the internet, I came across this interesting trick at Youtube. They have a decent recording matched with the sheet music. It ought to make it easy for some choir members to practice at home.

Anyway, set your speakers on stun and enjoy.

O Magnum Mysterium

Here’s the English translation (for those that don’t speak Latin) from Wikipedia.

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Don Brown
Christmas Day, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

How many of my readers do you think have a stock portfolio -- besides the 401K you got when companies did away with pensions ? How many of my readers do you think own a car ?

$700 billion for lawyers, thieves and bankers without any oversight. The automakers ask for money and Bush will give it to them if the union autoworkers agree to work for non-union wages ? I don’t think so, Scooter.

Think about this people. We gave the banking industry hundreds of billions of dollars -- with more promised -- and the banks still don’t want to lend you the money you need to buy a car from the folks that actually work for a living -- making something that you actually need.

If you’re rich, Bush is Santa Claus. If you work for living, he’s Scrooge.

Don Brown
December 24, 2008

Ruth Writes

As I was surfing along this morning, I stumbled onto an editorial and was pleasantly surprised to see it was from Ruth Marlin. Ruth was the previous Executive Vice President for NATCA and she is running for President in NATCA’s next election. She also happens to be a friend.

Lift off for aviation leadership

”During the 2008 winter holiday season, 32 million Americans will travel by air. Eight million will arrive late. Aviation creates more than $1 trillion in economic activity, 12 million jobs and $400 billion in personal earnings. But despite its importance to the economy, the United States is rapidly losing ground as a global leader in aviation at a high cost to our airlines, passengers and economy.“

Don Brown
December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

More on LGA’s Caps

Just in case you’d like to see how the Federal Government operates, this Notice of Proposed Amendments for LGA is a pretty good example. I’ll provide some portions below. You can download the whole document here. Pay particular attention to the “Background” information.

Federal Aviation Administration
[Docket No. FAA-2006-25755]
Operating Limitations at New York Laguardia Airport; Proposed Amendments
AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DOT.
ACTION: Proposed Amendments and Request for Comments

SUMMARY: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has tentatively determined that it is necessary to amend further its December 12, 2006 Order that temporarily caps scheduled operations at New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LaGuardia), pending the implementation of a longer-term regulation to manage congestion at the airport. In particular, we now propose to accept from air carriers voluntary reductions in scheduled operations at the airport to a targeted average of 71 hourly scheduled operations for the duration of the Order. This proposed reduction in flight operations at LaGuardia would not affect the number of unscheduled operations at the airport.

I. Background

As a result of the limited capacity of LaGuardia’s two-runway configuration, the airport cannot accommodate the number of scheduled flights that airlines would like to operate there without causing significant congestion-related delays. This circumstance long ago led the FAA to limit the number of scheduled arrivals and departures at LaGuardia during the peak hours of demand. 1 The FAA ultimately relied on the High Density Rule 2--its initial mechanism to control congestion at LaGuardia--for nearly 40 years. The High Density Rule limited the number of scheduled operations at the airport to 62 per hour.

In a statute enacted in April 2000, Congress began to phase out the High Density Rule at LaGuardia and other airports. 3 Before fully extinguishing the High Density Rule at LaGuardia on January 1, 2007, the statute immediately authorized a number of exemptions from the High Density Rule for specific types of scheduled operations. 4 Demand for exemptions to operate scheduled service at LaGuardia soared. By November 2000, the debilitating delays that resulted from the surging demand required the FAA to roll back and cap the number of scheduled operations at LaGuardia. 5 The FAA did not roll back the scheduled operations to the number that airlines conducted before the surge, instead capping the operations at a more elevated total of 75 hourly departures and arrivals.

In the ensuing years, the FAA examined and proposed various alternatives to the High Density Rule in an effort to control congestion at LaGuardia. 6 When it became apparent that the FAA would not have a replacement rule in place before the High Density Rule expired at LaGuardia, and recognizing that LaGuardia is prone to overscheduling, the FAA proposed and finalized an interim Order that capped the number of operations at the airport until the FAA could finalize a rule. 7 The interim Order, which is the subject of this proposed amendment, retained the cap of 75 hourly scheduled operations that originally took effect in November 2000.

The FAA published a final rule with respect to LaGuardia on October 10, 2008. 8 As a result of the continued and aggravated congestion-related delays at LaGuardia, the rule, in part, reduced the hourly cap on scheduled operations at LaGuardia. In this respect, the rule specifically identified a reduced cap of 71 hourly scheduled operations at LaGuardia from 6:00 a.m. until 9:59 p.m., Eastern Time, effective March 8, 2009. 9 this number is substantially higher than the 62 hourly scheduled operations permitted under the High Density Rule. On December 8, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order staying the effectiveness of the LaGuardia final rule, pending the outcome of litigation over disputed elements of the final rule. 10 The FAA is now proposing this amendment to the LaGuardia Order to reduce scheduled operations to an average of 71 hourly departures and arrivals should carriers currently allocated operating authorizations under the Order choose to voluntarily reduce operations.

The “statute enacted in April 2000” was the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century -- better known as AIR-21. That link to Wikipedia won’t help you much for this subject. It was a big bill that covered a lot of ground. But give credit where credit is due. It contained the provision to do away with the High Density Rule.

As I suggested in my previous post, I thought 71 ops per hour (35-36 arrivals per hour) was a little high for LGA. 75 per hour is better than no caps, 71 is better than 75 and 62 would be even better for controlling delays. Some of you might be interested in knowing where that 71 operations per hour figure came from. That would be MITRE.

In relation to the final rule that is currently stayed, MITRE Corporation’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development modeled the effect of reducing the hourly cap on scheduled operations at LaGuardia from 75 to 71. The MITRE queuing model reflected that the reduction could generate an average delay savings of 41%. 12 The FAA calculated the resulting annual benefit from this delay reduction at LaGuardia to be $178 million. 13

You’ll have to download the document to read the footnotes. I just hope you’re as amazed as I am at how easy it is for the Federal Government to say they’re saving somebody money. Somewhere. Somehow.

Don Brown
December 23, 2008


It only took them 8 years.

Feds to trim LaGuardia flights to cut congestion

”U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced the government will lower the cap on flights at LaGuardia from 75 to 71 per hour. But the cap is strictly voluntary, and requires participation by the three top airlines at the airport -- Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and US Airways.“

Voluntary ? What’s with the “voluntary” part ? Oh well. It’s still a step in the right direction.

Just to refresh your memory, here are the numbers for LGA. Now that we’ve got this part of the equation figured out, compare LGA with JFK’s numbers. Do you see what I see ?

JFK -- IMC with two parallel runways (22L/22R) = 36 Arrivals per hour

LGA -- IMC with two crossing runways (31/04) = 36 Arrivals per hour

No, it doesn’t compute. At least for an ex-Center controller. I’ll ask a few Tower controllers and see if I’m missing something. At the risk of stating the obvious...if you don’t really know something, don’t be afraid to ask the people that do.

Don Brown
December 22, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

He’s Making a List...

If you have time to do some reading this week, I have a recommendation. The New York Times is running a long-term series called “The Reckoning”. It’s a series about how we got into such a major economic crisis.

The article I just finished reading was about Senator Charles Schumer.

A Champion of Wall Street Reaps Benefits

Senator Schumer first came to my attention when I started checking out the slot program in New York -- specifically the slots for Jet Blue at JFK.

” US Senator Charles E. Schumer today welcomed JetBlue Airways, a new, low-fare airline, to the city of Buffalo as the airline began regular service between Buffalo and New York City. Schumer lobbied the Department of Transportation relentlessly on Jet Blue's behalf to obtain 75 precious take-off and landing slots at John F. Kennedy Airport.

Schumer first met JetBlue CEO David Neeleman shortly after his election to the United States Senate in November, 1998. At that meeting, Schumer pledged to work hard to secure the slot exemptions JetBlue needed at JFK. In return, Neeleman made a commitment to fly to one Upstate city on JetBlue's first day of service, as well as two others within their first 18 months of operation.”

As you can see, Senator Schumer doesn’t try to hide the fact he bent the rules to get the slots. He brags about it in a press release. He’ll probably do the same thing when it comes to shilling for Wall Street. Oh, and in case you didn’t know it, Senator Schumer is a Democrat.

As The New York Times series demonstrates, there will be an accounting as to who all got us into this mess. As the failing economy becomes real for more and more people -- when you lose your home instead of watching your neighbor lose his -- there will be a call for blood. After that, there will be a cry of “never again” and we’ll put the regulations back in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Read your history. It was true of the Great Depression. It will be true of this one. Maybe “never again” will be longer than 75 years next time time. Maybe we’ll make it 100 years before we forget and let people dismantle the regulatory system. No, I don’t really thinks so either but there is always hope.

Don Brown
December 22, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Stupid to the Last

It’s hard to believe -- well, maybe it isn’t -- but the FAA, under the Bush Administration, is staying stupid right up until the very end. Read this story from Ed O’Keefe in his column at The Washington Post.

Storm Brewing Between FAA and Weather Service

”The Bush administration seems eager to make a final decision before Inauguration Day, after trying for years to change the FAA's use of government forecasters in an effort to reduce costs and improve efficiency.“

Be sure to check out the comments section. As of this writing, not a single person thinks this is a good idea. I swear, the FAA has an incurable case of stupid. I’m sorry, but this is just incomprehensibly stupid.

First, the local meteorologists do a fantastic job. They save lives. As I wrote in the comment section of The Post, I’ve seen them do it first hand. More than once. Furthermore, the meteorologists were put into the Centers for a reason -- a reason that is perfectly valid today. Anybody remember Southern 242 ?

Second, we’re in a recession headed for a Depression. We’re trying to boost employment through government spending. This midnight maneuver by the Bush Administration is 180 degrees out of whack with what we need to be doing. And it’s dangerous. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

January 20th can’t get here soon enough.

Here’s one other little piece of the puzzle for my readers. The FAA and the NWS are trying to get rid of the local weather guys and do all the work out of Kansas City. The weather guys in Kansas used to work on a little weather project called the Collaborative Convective Forecast Product. The local guys would send in their forecasts, predicting where the thunderstorms were going to be for the day. After collaborating with the airlines, the Kansas City folks would send out their national forecast and the FAA’s Air Traffic System Command Center (aka Flow Control, Central Flow, Command Center) would implement the national air traffic plan for the day. Surprise, surprise ! The collaborative forecast was always more optimistic than the local weatherman’s forecast. And I’ve still got the pictures to prove it.

You see those two holes -- one in North Georgia and one in South Georgia ? They may not mean much to you but they mean everything to Center controllers. All the traffic from the Northeast -- New York, Boston, Washington, Baltimore, etc, etc. -- was going to be routed down over Georgia betting those two holes would be there. When they aren’t, it’s chaos. Guess who got to sort out that chaos ? Me and a couple of hundred other controllers.

Take a look a this -- what the weather was really like.

Do you see any holes ? The only holes out there are in the FAA’s collective head.

Don Brown
December 19, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

World Air Traffic

This is just way too cool. 24 hours of air traffic throughout the world.

For those that want to watch it over and over again with better quality, I’d suggest going to ZHAW and downloading the file (your choice, Windows Media Play or QuickTime.)

Thanks to my buddy, Bill, for pointing it out.

Don Brown
December 17, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Put a Bow On It

Have you been living in a cave for the last 8 years ? Perhaps in a medically-induced coma ? If so, Frank Rich (columnist at the New York Times) had a brief history of the United States under George W. Bush in his column this weekend. He tied it all up in a nice little package. All you have to do is put a bow on it. And before I lose the partisans, it isn’t all about bashing Bush.

Two Cheers for Rod Blagojevich

Regulators had failed to see the iceberg in Enron’s path and so had Enron’s own accountants at Arthur Andersen, a corporate giant whose parallel implosion had its own casualty list of some 80,000 jobs. Despite Bush’s post-Enron call for “a new ethic of personal responsibility in the business community,” the exact opposite has happened in the six years since. Warren Buffett’s warning in 2003 that derivatives were “financial weapons of mass destruction” was politely ignored.

Hey, I said it wasn’t all about bashing him. I didn’t say he didn’t get bashed. It’s not like I can’t say anything nice about the man. Like -- he has pretty good reflexes for an old guy. So much for the “hearts and minds” thing.

I can’t wait to see the history that will be written about this period. To use Mr. Rich’s term, there will be no shortage of national “whipping boys” to go around.

Don Brown
December 15, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Just how crazy do you have to be to stake out a position to the right of Dick Cheney and be willing to risk a world financial collapse defending it ? From the L.A. Times:

"If we don't do this, we will be known as the party of Herbert Hoover forever," Cheney told them, according to a Senate Republican aide, evoking the president whose inaction is widely blamed for helping trigger the Great Depression in the early 1930s.

It’s beyond crazy. It’s foolish. This is from the same story in the L.A. Times about the same subject -- the auto industry bailout.

”One of the leading opponents of the auto bailout, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), said: "Year after year, union bosses have put their interests ahead of the workers they claim to represent. Congress never should have given these unions this much power, and now is the time to fix it."”

Run over to the Earth-bound Misfit to read more, including the thorough cussing these fools deserve.

By the way -- I don’t see it mentioned anywhere else -- Senator Jim Demint has a BMW manufacturing plant in his state. It’s right in the middle of South Carolina’s textile country. I think my readers already know how I feel about the textile industry.

This bailout isn’t about saving General Motors or saving the United Auto Workers. It’s about keeping a million people employed while we’re losing a half million jobs a month in other areas. It’s about trying to keep our economy -- and the world’s -- from falling over the edge into a Depression. These Republican Senators are willing to risk that for their discredited political ideology -- the very same ideology that got us into this mess. Fools.

Don Brown
December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008


My darling wife went and told my friends that I wanted daffodil bulbs for my birthday. It’s true -- I did. I try to plant about 50-100 every year, in the woods that I call my yard. I just finished planting them -- all 541 of them. That doesn’t count the 30 tulips I planted. Nor the 120 irises that I have yet to plant. If you’re nice to me I’ll post some pictures this Spring.

Don Brown
December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Merging Targets

No matter what you read in the coming days, the only failure that mattered in the midair in Brazil, back in 2006, was a failure of Air Traffic Control. It was not the failure of the pilots, the transponder, TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) or anything else. Just air traffic control. On a fundamental level, it was a failure of the air traffic controllers. Having been one, I realize that they may have been victims of their technology and/or their work environment. Be that as it may, the controllers are part of the ATC system.

Much is being made of the transponder failure and the subsequent failure of TCAS. For the general public, this is nothing more than an unfortunate distraction. Airplanes fly everyday without transponders or TCAS and the air traffic control system is still responsible for separating them safely.

Some of procedures we use in air traffic control have -- seemingly -- lost their relevance over time. They seem out of date. They seem quaint. We don’t have time for them. Take this paragraph from the FAA’s Order 7110.65 -- Air Traffic Control:


a. Except while they are established in a holding pattern, apply merging target procedures to all radar identified:

1. Aircraft at 10,000 feet and above.

2. Turbojet aircraft regardless of altitude.

REFERENCE- P/CG Term- Turbojet Aircraft.

3. Presidential aircraft regardless of altitude.

b. Issue traffic information to those aircraft listed in subpara a whose targets appear likely to merge unless the aircraft are separated by more than the appropriate vertical separation minima.

EXAMPLE- "Traffic twelve o'clock, seven miles, eastbound, MD-80, at one seven thousand."

Right now, I’m being cursed by various air traffic controllers because they know what is coming. They will tell you that they don’t have time to apply Merging Target Procedures. I will say that they have a point. Due to the increased accuracy of GPS, targets “merge” constantly now with the “appropriate vertical separation” as they navigate precisely on the center line of the airways they are assigned. If a certain hard-headed safety rep. reminded them that they needed to apply the “merging target procedure” they would rationalize, “Why ? They can see each other on TCAS.”

Going back to the FAA 7110.65 5-1-8, there is another subparagraph:

d. If the pilot requests, vector his/her aircraft to avoid merging with the target of previously issued traffic.

NOTE- Aircraft closure rates are so rapid that when applying merging target procedures, controller issuance of traffic must be commenced in ample time for the pilot to decide if a vector is necessary.

I don’t know if there is a similar section in the Brazilian air traffic control manual. But after reading through the accident report (a 6+ meg .pdf file), I can tell you that ATC was the only entity that was aware of -- and charged with -- keeping those two airplanes apart. Without a traffic call to alert the pilots of the other's presence -- without a transponder to alert the TCAS system of the other aircraft’s presence -- the only entity aware of the two aircrafts’ proximity to each other was the ATC system. And it failed.

Don Brown
December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Map Makers

Here’s an oddball story that most people never think about in terms of air traffic control.

MAPPS Applauds FAA Approval of Training Tool to Improve Air Traffic Control Management of Aerial Survey Flights

”"MAPPS has, for several years, advocated such a training tool to help improve access to airspace and foster cooperation between aerial survey operators and air traffic controllers so that our members' vital missions can be carried out in a safe, efficient, and cost effective manner, " said MAPPS Executive Director John Palatiello. “

It’s really just a press release so it’s all fluff. But if you never think about these things, it will give you some insight as to some of the oddball missions air traffic controllers work. Trust me, aerial survey flights are a pain. Necessary -- but they’re still a pain. Back and forth. Back and forth. All day long. They’re like a flying roadblock.

One new pain is GPS. Well, make it people’s reaction to GPS. Flight plans are supposed to be filed with navigational aids as reference points. With the advent of GPS, pilots started filing Lat/Longs -- and nobody bothered stopping them. I know, there is someone reading this that doesn’t believe me.

Check out the AIM 5-1-8

c. Direct Flights

1. All or any portions of the route which will not be flown on the radials or courses of established airways or routes, such as direct route flights, must be defined by indicating the radio fixes over which the flight will pass. Fixes selected to define the route shall be those over which the position of the aircraft can be accurately determined. Such fixes automatically become compulsory reporting points for the flight, unless advised otherwise by ATC. Only those navigational aids established for use in a particular structure; i.e., in the low or high structures, may be used to define the en route phase of a direct flight within that altitude structure.

While eggheads and engineers dream of all this gee-whiz stuff it is things like that section of the AIM that make things work. Let me show you. I’m going on a trip today. I’m not flying -- but let’s pretend I am.

My destination is 3217/8326. That’s not very helpful without a GPS in your hand now is it ?

My destination is 51A. That’s even less useful -- unless you happen to be an air traffic controller that works that airport everyday. I’m pretty sure it’s in Atlanta Center (my old place of employment) but I couldn’t tell you where it was.

But I do know where Macon, Georgia is. And so does every controller within 300 miles of it. They even know the identifier for the “navigational aid” -- MCN. If you tell them that you’re going to the MCN156026 (that’s 26 miles southeast of MCN on a 156 degree bearing for you non-aviation folks) then they’ll be able to “see” (in their mental map) where you are going.

I would tie all that together for you (just think of a flight plan full of GPS coordinates) but I’ve got to get ready to go. Wish me luck. I haven’t been to Hawkinsville in 30-40 years. (Dang I hate saying “40 years ago.”)

Don Brown
December 9, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Krugman, Collapse and Slot Auctions

As I idle my hours away in retirement, I have the luxury of reading a lot and allowing myself to wander wherever my whim carries me. I started off this morning with slot auctions at the New York airports. It puzzles (bothers) me that, with the economy is such perilous shape, this seems to be a priority of the Bush Administration.

U.S. to Auction Slots Soon at New York City Airports

At the end of that article I saw this:

”What is being auctioned is the right to land, or take off, within a half-hour period for 10 years. The reserve price — below which the slot will not be sold — is $10,000 for peak hours and $100 for off-peak, but the president of the auction company, Lawrence M. Ausubel of Power Auctions, said that those numbers were likely to be “well exceeded.” “

You know me -- I was left wondering who Lawrence M. Ausubel is. Turns out he’s a economics professor at the University of Maryland. It appears he’s a kind of Auctions-R-Us industry. That led me to this article in Newsweek:

Gaming The Financial System

”For the past month, they've been spending several very real hours each week hunched in front of computers, competing against each other to sell make-believe assets to a make-believe U.S. Treasury Department, played by Maryland economics professors Peter Cramton and Larry Ausubel.

What's the point of this little academic role playing game? The professors wanted to prove that a relatively obscure financial transaction known as a reverse auction might just be the best way to implement the $700 billion rescue plan Congress passed Oct. 3. “

So the guy with the idea for reverse auctions at the Treasury Department (that has since been dropped) is running the auction for landing slots in New York. In addition, the article goes on to make the assertion that one reason the reverse-auction idea was dropped is that it might actually reveal the truth. A very scary truth.

”"The danger of the reverse auction is its exact purpose, that it would find the price of these securities," says Jerry Driscoll, a former vice president of the Dallas Federal Reserve and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “

In case I haven’t made it plain before, anything that says “Cato Institute” (or American Enterprise Institute or Heritage Foundation) is automatically suspect in my opinion. Mr. Driscoll goes on to say;

"The auction would likely have worked with deadly efficiency, and that probably made a lot of people nervous."

In other words, if we actually peeked under the bed, we would find out that there was indeed a monster lurking there. Others have been peeking under the bed. While reading that article at Newsweek, I saw they had done an interview with Paul Krugman . I’ll read anything by Krugman so I clicked on it. (As always, it’s important to note the dates on these articles. Particularly this one -- Dec. 3, 2008.)

Question: ”You say in the book that the world economy is not in a depression and probably won't fall into a depression, though you're a little unsure on that. How has your level of certainty changed in the intervening weeks?

Answer: The last few weeks have been terrible. This was a book written after Lehman, so we knew the world was in big trouble, but what we've seen in the last couple of weeks has been awesomely bad. Things are falling fast. We're probably losing jobs at a rate of 350,000 to 400,000 a month. If you had asked me even three months ago about the chances we'd go above 10 percent unemployment, I'd have said pretty small, but now I'd say one in three. “

On Friday, December 5th, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a loss of 533,000 jobs in November. The good news is that Krugman knows the monster is under the bed. The bad news is that it is bigger than he thinks.

I’ve had the time to follow all this and what I’ve seen -- week after dreadful week -- is that the predictions get perceptively worse each week. No one wants to be accused of stoking fears and causing a panic. So everyone has couched their language. They rang the alarm bell, but ever so softly. They’ll ring it louder now -- after the smoke is obvious from the other side of town.

The truly alarming fact is that no one really knows what is happening. I believe Paul Krugman (and some others) are trying to be as truthful as possible -- and I have great faith in their intellectual capabilities. But if they can’t get ahead of this crisis -- and it seems as if they can’t -- we’re in real trouble. If you and I -- the average Americans -- see that the best minds can’t unravel this knot we’ve tied our economy in, then we’re talking about a total collapse of confidence in our economic system.

The fact that our President is arranging landing-slot auctions and signing executive orders about NextGen -- for an industry that will be the first to fold in a recession much less a Depression -- doesn’t inspire me with confidence. How about you ? I think he’s lost the flick. Assuming he wasn’t a 7UP to start with. The danger of a Depression is out there. And it is all too real.

Don Brown
December 8, 2008

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Sunday Reading

Assuming you have some time to read this Sunday, take a look at this article in Vanity Fair about the midair collision in Brazil a couple of years ago.

The Devil at 37,000 Feet

Yes, Vanity Fair. It’s actually pretty good. If nothing else, you get to see a great picture of Kate Winslet by Steven Meisel in the margin.

Don Brown
December 6, 2008


It’s been awhile since I dove into the FAA’s history book but the recent ground breaking of the FAA’s new Air Traffic Control System Command Center got me thinking. How old is the current Command Center ?

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Apr 15, 1994: FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC) officially began operations in its new facility at Herndon, Va. The ATCSCC had moved from FAA Headquarters because of size and technological constraints (see Apr 27, 1970). “

Fourteen years old. Hmmm. Let’s compare that with your average Air Route Traffic Control Center.

”Oct 9, 1960: FAA commissioned the Oakland air traffic control center's new building, followed by the Atlanta center's new building on Oct 15. “

So the FAA replaces the one building that is 14 years old instead of the 20 buildings that are 48 (or so) years old. I see the FAA still has its priorities. And they’re still wrong.

You may have noticed a lot of talk in the Press about rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. Without delving too far into the economics of it all, the Government needs to get money into the economy to stave off a Depression and it needs to do it fast. We don’t want to just throw the money away (kind of like they’re doing with the banking industry), we want to have something to show for it. What we need is what Paul Krugman refers to in this blog as “shovel-ready” projects.

I bet the FAA doesn’t have any “shovel-ready” plans for replacing their main operations buildings -- the ARTCCs -- that are almost 50 years old. They do (obviously) have a plan to replace their Taj Mahal.

I hope all this makes you curious as to why a lame-duck President, that seems to have withdrawn from the limelight, decided to sign an executive order rushing NextGen out the door with only two months left in his term.

Don Brown
December 6, 2008

Friday, December 05, 2008

Look ! Up In the Sky ! It’s a...

No it’s not Superman. It’s just a message from the Potomac Current and Undertow to the FAA. You've got to love these guys.

I’ll have more to say later. For now, go take a look.

Don Brown
December 5, 2008

Psssst ! Hey Kid !

Have I got a deal for you ! If the FAA’s latest media blitz about NextGen reminds you of a street vendor in New York City trying to sell you something, You might want to listen to the little voice inside that is telling you it’s too good to be true.

Being retired, I forget that there is a whole new generation of controllers out there that hasn’t seen the FAA at work. They’re too busy trying to figure out how to survive on their 30 percent pay cut to realize that the FAA has tried to sell the public a nice shiny package with a brick wrapped inside before. I stumbled on this article from Baseline today. I think I’ve read it before but it’s well worth reading again -- or for the first time for the new guys. See if this doesn’t sound familiar.

The Ugly History of Tool Development at the FAA

”Certainly the Federal Aviation Administration's Advanced Automation System (AAS) project dwarfs even the largest corporate information technology fiascoes in terms of dollars wasted. Kmart's $130 million write-off last year on its supply chain systems is chump change compared to the AAS. The FAA ultimately declared that $1.5 billion worth of hardware and software out of the $2.6 billion spent was useless.“

That ought to give you some perspective on the relative size of the failure. There once was a time -- before the current banking failures -- when a billion dollars was big money.

”The AAS was supposed to provide a complete overhaul of the nation's major air traffic control computer systems, from new tools and displays for controllers to improved communication equipment and a revamped core computer network. It didn't even come close. “

Does that sound like NextGen ? ERAM ?

”Here's how the General Accounting Office put it: "FAA did not recognize the technical complexity of the effort, realistically estimate the resources required, adequately oversee its contractors' activities, or effectively control system requirements." “

Sounding familiar yet ?

”Things did not start out well for AAS, which was conceived in 1981, at about the time that the Reagan administration broke a strike by air traffic controllers and fired more than 11,000 of them.“

How about the timing ? How many controllers have retired from the FAA in the last few years ?

”The overambitious agenda was aggravated by excessive faith in new technologies.“

Can you say ADS-B ?

”Robert Britcher, now a systems engineering professor at Johns Hopkins University who worked on AAS for IBM and wrote about it in his book, "The Limits of Software: People, Projects, and Perspective," from which comes the quotation about the project's place in the history of work. He says that in contrast to the FAA's first, punch-card-driven air traffic control computer systems—where the difficulty of the job was clearly recognized—IBM and the FAA approached AAS as if it ought to be relatively easy, thanks to object-oriented programming languages, modern development tools and distributed systems. “

I knew there was a reason that book (The Limits of Software) was on my reading list. It didn’t look exciting enough for anyone to buy it as a gift. I guess I’ll have to order it myself. Maybe you should too. Do you think anyone in the FAA’s NextGen office has read it ?

Don Brown
December 5, 2008

Reich is Wrong

Okay, he was right but he said one thing that I thought was wrong. In this column, he pointed out (correctly) that “The Big Three” automakers won’t make fuel efficient cars as long as gas is under $2 a gallon. That, I believe, is correct. But in the next breath, he said raising the gas tax was politically impossible. He may be right -- but it’s wrong.

My wife and I were driving down the road last month and we went by a gas station advertising regular for a $1.75 a gallon. My wife said she never thought she’d see those prices again (we went to about $4.25 a gallon a few months ago.) I said, “If I was king, I’d raise the gas tax 25 cents a gallon -- today.” And I would.

That is probably one reason we don’t have a king here in the United States. But it presents us with a problem. We’re broke. The only way to get un-broke is to raise taxes to pay our debts. I know the Republican Party has spent the last quarter century telling you that taxes are the root of all evil -- and the Democrats have let them. Taxes aren’t popular. They aren’t supposed to be. But they are necessary if you want roads, bridges, schools and air traffic controllers. If you’re bright enough to read this blog you’re bright enough to know it.

It’s time to grow up, face reality, assume the responsibilities of being an adult and pay our bills. The only question we need to answer is how we would like to pay them. I think a gas tax is a great way to pay them. First, we use too much gas and we know it. The cheaper it is, the more we use. As those “market forces“ the Republicans like to talk about show, if we quit using so much, the price goes down.

It’s already been made abundantly clear that being addicted to oil is not in our national interests. Choking the Earth and fighting wars is part of the cost of oil that never shows up on the books. But it is a cost and it won’t go away until we make it go away. I’d make the tax adjustable. The more the price of gas goes down, the more it gets taxed to keep it at a price that discourages wanton consumption. (Say $3 a gallon for argument’s sake.) If the price goes up, we lower the tax to ease the economic burden on consumers.

To sum it up, I think a gas tax is exactly what we need. Professor Reich may be right -- it may be politically impossible -- but until a few months ago, so was electing a black man to be President. That was the right thing to do and we did it. Maybe we ought to try doing the right thing more often.

Don Brown
December 5, 2008

Thursday, December 04, 2008

ADS-B Intel

Keeping up with technology is not my strong suit. Ask anybody. As a matter of fact, I’m typing this blog on a laptop that is over four years old. (Oh, woe is me.) Some of the stuff I’ve been reading about NextGen just didn’t compute so I thought I’d brush up on the subject a little.

Specifically, I was having trouble understanding the role of the Ground Based Transceivers in ADS-B and how that tied in with a “satellite-based system.” ADS-B is a “line-of-sight” system. It’s refresh cycle is once per second. That means that the airplane’s ADS-B system broadcasts the position of the airplane (and some other stuff) to the rest of the world 60 times a minute. The FAA thinks the greater accuracy that allows (greater than radar) will help run airplanes with less spacing between them, thereby, increasing system capacity.

Where I was getting confused was in the use of this technology over the oceans. If we could get the data relayed through satellites then we would have universal coverage. That would be a huge boost over the oceans where we currently run wide spacing between aircraft because we don’t have radar coverage. But if we have satellites then why do we need Ground Based Transceivers (GBTs) ?

It turns out that sending data via satellites is expensive. Prohibitively so. (It’s probably a slow process too.) We need the line-of-site GBTs to get that greater accuracy (once per second) that the FAA is counting on. That data can be sent through a satellite but it won’t be (very often) because it is so expensive. I understand it’s about $2 per position report to run it through a satellite. That would be $120 per minute if it matched the refresh rates of the GBTs. Oh, and the big catch is that the airlines pay for the satellite transmission. In other words, we won’t get a lot more position reports than we do now (via voice) over the radios. It’s better than not having it but it isn’t to be confused with when the FAA is talking about the fact that ADS-B is more accurate than radar.

Here’s something that is really important to note though. ADS-B is line-of-sight so any other airplane that is within range will receive the signal. In other words, over the middle of the ocean, controllers won’t know where airplanes are with any great accuracy -- they won’t get frequent updates from ADS-B over satellites -- but the pilots will know where the other planes in range are with the same once-per-second accuracy. I see an attempt at “pilot-based separation” in the future. How about you ? (I won’t go off on a tangent here but let me just say I’d pay good money to watch that goat rope.)

Here’s another tidbit I’ve learned about ADS-B. There are currently no examples of reduced separation using ADS-B over land with GBTs. The standard separation being used is five miles -- the same as radar. And there aren’t any known studies to demonstrate that the separation can be safely reduced. That’s according to the guys involved in the Capstone program in Alaska.

According to the guys involved in the experiment being run by UPS at Louisville, the controllers don’t even use ADS-B targets. In other words, the targets they use for separation on their radar scopes are the same old radar targets they’ve always used. The only ones using the ADS-B targets are the pilots, and the last one of those I talked to (at Communicating for Safety) said they are still “a long way” from using them to separate themselves.

Now keep in mind, the FAA’s whole rationale for spending $20-50 billion on NextGen is that by running airplanes closer together we can increase the capacity of the system. I still say it won’t matter because I believe the limiting factor is the runways. My point today is that the more I find out about NextGen, the less there is to like. If there is some grand vision -- some future ATC nirvana -- I don’t see it. And it’s guys like me that will have to make it work. What I see -- what I still see -- is a sales job. There are some really interesting individual components of NextGen. But a system that will significantly increase the capacity of the National Airspace System? I don’t see it.

The two-dollar-position reports (above) reminded me of a story. Way back before radar, the FAA did not have a lot of direct radio communications in the enroute environment. Position reports were made through a company called ARINC that had a nation-wide radio communications system. The FAA had very specific guidelines as to when controllers were allowed to use the service because it cost a nickel every time a controller used it to send a message to a pilot.

A controller noticed he had two airplanes due over the same fix at exactly the same time. They were also last reported at the same altitude. One was IFR but the other was VFR. The controller didn’t call the pilots and warn them of each other because he was not responsible for separating the two aircraft (the VFR flight was operating under “see and avoid”) and the FAA’s rule prohibited using the radio system for traffic advisories because they cost a nickel apiece. It was simply too expensive. Those two airplanes hit each other over the Grand Canyon in 1956. I wonder how expensive that was ?

Don Brown
December 4, 2008

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

It’s Still the Runways

The title says it all.

FAA: Sunday Third Worst For Delays

Thanksgiving express lanes, slot auctions, NextGen. Bah ! Humbug.

Don Brown
December 3, 2008


BEB over at The FAA Follies has been having a really good week with his writing. Today’s post is about something that has been going on for years in the FAA. Most managers in the FAA (not all) are barely qualified to work traffic. It was that way most of my career. The problem is, it’s getting worse. Take a look.

Many, many pilots assumed when they heard a voice change -- when a new controller started talking on the same frequency -- that it was a supervisor. It’s possible, but highly unlikely. Most supervisors are sitting at their desks (doing something or other) and aren’t even close to a radar scope -- much less wearing a headset.

The voice change pilots normally hear is a controller taking over from a trainee. And trust me, trainees hate it when an instructor has to take charge. They hate it almost as much as a certified controller would hate a supervisor talking on his frequency. Seeing as the supervisor probably isn’t even certified on the position, the supervisor isn’t real eager to start talking either.

Don Brown
December 3, 2008

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Your Vote Matters

Yesterday, I was reading that President Bush was starting his “victory lap”. He’s taking a few tours to point out the accomplishments of his Presidency -- before historians start defining it by its failures. I got a chuckle out of the part that said he didn’t want to be defined by the Iraq War. Not a problem. He'll be defined by the Iraq War and the “Crash of 2008” and a bunch of other failures.

No failure stands out in my mind more than his failure to run the Government. I’m not talking about the big decisions that define history. I’m talking about the little day-to-day decisions that make the government run. He put a bunch of ideologues in charge and let them run amok.

The Washington Post had a story about yet another one -- Elaine Chow at the Labor Department.

Labor Dept. Accused of Straying From Enforcement

”The next labor secretary will be taking charge of an agency widely criticized for walking away from its regulatory function across a range of issues, including wage and hour law and workplace safety. “

Shocked, I’m telling you. I’m just shocked. The number of dead miners doubled, funding was cut for OSHA and the GAO calls their investigations “inadequate”. Who would have expected such behavior out of a Heritage Foundation alumni ? George Bush would have. That is the reason he hired her.

Certainly by now you have to understand that this behavior is deliberate. George Bush has been quite effective at running the government (into the ground.) It’s just that his policies have led to one disaster after another.

”One area where the department became a more rigorous enforcer was in the oversight of labor unions, critics say. New rules required more rigorous financial reports from about 20,000 union locals.

The Bush administration said the reporting requirements better informed workers how unions spent their money. Critics differed. The administration "used that as a tool to weaken and discredit organized labor," Lilly said.“

President Bush would have you believe he is ideologically opposed to regulation. Yet he willfully uses it to weaken unions. He’s not opposed to regulations. He’s opposed to unions. Actions speak louder than words.

The Bush Administration uses this as another wedge issue -- an Us vs. Them issue. Saxby Chambliss is marching to the exact same beat. He’s in a runoff for the Senate today. If you live here in Georgia, you get to say “Yea” or “Nay”.

I think there is something wrong in a country where an airline can go into bankruptcy to default on its pensions and, yet, I get to keep my frequent flier miles. Sorry for the literary whiplash but I want to get your attention. Think on that a minute. Suppose your airline went bankrupt and your frequent flier miles disappeared. Then the airline came out of bankruptcy but your frequent flier miles didn’t. Would you fly on them again ? Turn it around and imagine it was your pension that disappeared. It’s not hard see how twisted our priorities have become is it ?

This is the kind of country that George W. Bush has left us. It is the kind of country that Saxby Chambliss believes in. Businesses first, people second.

I said “no thanks”. I voted for Jim Martin. I hope you will too.

Don Brown
December 2, 2008

Monday, December 01, 2008

This Just In...

The main reason I enjoy reading Robert Reich so much is that he’s brilliant but he speaks plainly. He seems to have a rare ability to get to the heart of complicated matters and explain them in way that I can understand.

Others, including myself, have been dancing around the issue. We’ve all been afraid to say the “D” word -- even as we watch the economy continue it’s slide. Everyone keeps creeping closer and closer to saying we’re in one -- a Depression -- but no one is willing to say it. Until now.

The Great Crash of 2008

”If this isn't a Great Crash I don't know how to define one. Stocks were down another 7 percent today. Since the peak of last year, major stock indexes have dropped 47 percent. We're in range of the Great Crash of 1929.“

I suspect it will be a whole lot easier to write about aviation in the near future. There won’t be much. And just a word of warning in case I haven’t made it plain before. Depressions don’t come about overnight. Despite history’s focus on “The Crash”, it’s actually a long slide.

The Great Depression

”The Great Depression was not a sudden, total collapse. The stock market turned upward in early 1930, returning to early 1929 levels by April, though still almost 30 percent below the peak of September 1929. Together, government and business actually spent more in the first half of 1930 than in the corresponding period of the previous year. But consumers, many of whom had suffered severe losses in the stock market the previous year, cut back their expenditures by ten percent, and a severe drought ravaged the agricultural heartland of the USA beginning in the summer of 1930.

In early 1930, credit was ample and available at low rates, but people were reluctant to add new debt by borrowing. By May 1930, auto sales had declined to below the levels of 1928. Prices in general began to decline, but wages held steady in 1930, then began to drop in 1931. Conditions were worst in farming areas, where commodity prices plunged, and in mining and logging areas, where unemployment was high and there were few other jobs. The decline in the American economy was the factor that pulled down most other countries at first, then internal weaknesses or strengths in each country made conditions worse or better. Frantic attempts to shore up the economies of individual nations through protectionist policies, such as the 1930 U.S. Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and retaliatory tariffs in other countries, exacerbated the collapse in global trade. By late in 1930, a steady decline set in which reached bottom by March 1933. “

We’ll see how much we’ve really learned from history.

Don Brown
December 1, 2008

More Foolishness

There’s a blog up today at The FAA Follies that you need to read.

Contracting out…

Don Brown
December 1, 2008