Tuesday, January 27, 2009

NextGen This



We keep trying to tell you...this stuff isn’t as easy as the technology salesmen would have you believe.

Airbus A380 is a mixed blessing for LAX

”Every time Qantas lands one of its giant Airbus A380s at LAX, parts of the nation's fourth-busiest airport come to a halt.“

I’ll let the reporter point out the numerous problems with the ground operations (it’s not my forte) but let me draw your attention to this little “gotcha”.

”If an A380 flies into or out of the airport, aircraft behind it must maintain a longer distance because of strong wake turbulence, swirling air that can cause a trailing plane to go out of control. Heavy jets like a 747 must stay at least six miles away, while light planes must maintain a distance of 10 miles. “

We’ve been over this before. Several times. Remember this ?

”If you see a comparison in the press between traffic at Kennedy (JFK) and LaGuardia (LGA), for instance, armed with the knowledge that JFK has many, many more “heavy” aircraft than LGA, you will understand that LGA can handle more airplanes per runway than JFK can. Most of LGA’s arrivals only need three miles of spacing while many of JFK’s will have to be spaced five miles apart. “

Now, with the massive A380, we need a 10 mile gap on the final to prevent a wake turbulence accident. This impressive technological advancement has -- ironically -- given us a diminished runway capacity. NextGen that.

Shall I say it again ?

”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. “

As an aside, does anyone besides me see a parallel in the Obama Administration’s email troubles ? Technology is great. You and I are using it right this second and it is wonderful, marvelous and magnificent. But in air traffic control, it has to work. You can’t tell an airliner full of people, “Turn twenty degrees left, vectors traffic” and have a screen pop up that says “404” or “We encountered a processing error. Please try again in a few minutes.” These are just annoyances that we tolerate in our daily lives because of the marvelous benefits we enjoy from a technology that works most of the time. “Most of the time” isn’t good enough for air traffic control. It isn’t good enough for the White House either. But no one is dying because of it.

Don Brown
January 27, 2009

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