Saturday, February 28, 2009

False Start

So, I’m reading the latest propaganda from The Reason Foundation and they mention a paper. Now, I know the paper is going to agree with The Reason Foundation but still, you never know what you might learn in these things. So I downloaded the paper and started reading.

Right off the bat, there’s this cool chart. Did you know that, altogether...

Airservices Australia
Nav Canada
Direction des services de la navigation
Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH
Irish Aviation Authority
Luchtverkeersleiding Nederland
Airways Corporation of New Zealand
Air Traffic and Navigation Services Ltd. (South Africa)
Skyguide (Switzerland)
National Air Traffic Services Ltd. (UK)

... employ 11,497 ATCOs (Air Traffic Control Officers) ?

According to this same chart, the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) of the FAA employs 14,930 Air Traffic Controllers.

All told, all of these other organizations run 218 Air Traffic Control Towers. The FAA runs 448. (The Irish Aviation Authority runs 3 Towers.) No word (yet) on the number of Air Traffic Control Centers.

Are you getting the Flick here folks ? Are you sure ? Consider Australia (26 Towers) or Canada (42 Towers). In terms of land mass they are comparable to the United States (448 Towers). We don’t have just the greatest airline-type system in the world, we have the greatest aviation system in the world. Some of our General Aviation airports are busier than their commercial airports. General Aviation is HUGE in the United States compared to the rest of the world. I really don’t believe most Americans realize what an asset the General Aviation industry is, nor why it’s so successful in the States. But back to that paper...

"We find that ANSP (Air Navigation Service Provider) commercialization has generally achieved its objectives. Service quality has improved in most cases. Several ANSPs have successfully modernized workplace technologies. The safety records of ANSP's are not adversely affected by commercialization, and in some cases safety is improved. Costs are generally reduced, sometimes significantly. Other risks of commercialization -- such as erosion of accountability to government, deterioration of labour relations, or worsened relationships between civil and military air traffic controllers -- have not materialized."

I’m guessing the authors don’t read my blog. Or the newspapers.

A shortage of controllers has left large chunks of Australian skies unmonitored, leaving pilots to rely only on radio and visual communication with other pilots to avoid mid-air collisions.

Former CASA chief Dick Smith has described the situation as "incredibly unsafe", saying few other countries in the world would allow passenger jets to fly through uncontrolled airspace.

Airservices has told airlines the incidence of uncontrolled airspace is likely to increase in the months ahead because of an ongoing shortage of controllers.

Qantas has instructed its pilots to avoid uncontrolled airspace where possible, while Jetstar and Virgin also try to avoid it but fly through it more frequently than Qantas. However, international passenger jets fly through it regularly despite warnings by air traffic controllers that foreign pilots have little understanding of safety procedures because they do not have uncontrolled airspace in their own countries.

(Note: The computer filing system at The Australian seems to have melted down. Lots of “404” errors.)

Instead of glossing over it, I won’t you to go back and read the quote from that position paper again. Slowly. Line by line. Think about what it says and what it doesn’t say.

"We find that ANSP (Air Navigation Service Provider) commercialization has generally achieved its objectives."

What were its “objectives” ? There were 10 different ANSPs listed. Did every one of them have the same objectives ?

"Service quality has improved in most cases."

In “most cases” ? You mean like, “not in all cases” ? Like Australia having huge chunks of uncontrolled airspace ? By the way, was that an “objective” or was that just “generally achieved “ ? Can anyone define “service quality” for me ? An image of Lockheed and the Flight Service Stations keeps coming to my mind.

"Several ANSPs have successfully modernized workplace technologies."

Modernized them from what ? The FAA “modernized” the system in Alaska and will tell you that the “Capstone” project improved the accident rate by some ridiculous amount. When you start with no system at all and install one, I guess that qualifies as “modernized”. But what does it mean ? Stone age, industrial age or Buck Rogers ?

I think you’ve got the Flick by now. Carry on. I’m going to go find something a little more interesting to read.

Don Brown
February 28, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009


More cheerleading from the clueless;

”“We don’t want to handle the problem by putting in caps,” said Mr. Coscia, referring to a proposal by the Federal Aviation Administration that would reduce congestion by limiting access to New York City’s air space.

“We want to enhance capacity,” he said. Mr. Coscia said the new system would allow airports to move planes in and out more quickly.“"

I’m told, people in Hell want ice water.

Mr. Coscia is the Chairman of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. Crain’s has the story.

I guess I ought to be used to saying the same thing over and over by now. But I’m not. I understand that air traffic control is rather difficult for outsiders to understand. Airport acceptance rates are not though. You can’t put a gallon and a half of milk in a gallon jug. No matter how bad you want it to fit, it won’t. To keep spilling the milk -- day after day -- isn’t a sign of dogged determination. It’s a sign of stupidity.

Let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say the FAA is wrong too. LGA’s best arrival rate really isn’t 44 an hour. It’s 50. Does Mr. Coscia, the Port Authority, the airlines or anybody argue for a cap of 60 arrivals an hour ? No, they argue for none at all. Do they think LGA could handle 100 per hour ? 200 ? 500 ? There is a limit somewhere, right ?

Look at this from an air traffic control perspective. Let’s say the limit really is 44 arrivals per hour but due to political considerations, we can only get a cap installed of 45 per hour. That means we have to hold one airplane for a few minutes during every arrival push. (I know it’s a dumb scenario but work we me a minute.) Suppose the best cap we could get was 60 per hour. That means controllers would have to find the airspace to hold 16 airplanes. Do you see the difference ? Even a cap that is close to realistic is better than one that isn’t. But we have an entire segment of aviation (the Port Authority isn’t alone) that is arguing for no caps at all. What the heck, let’s hold 100 airplanes in the air. Make it 500. We’ll clog up the entire East coast.

As I’ve pointed out before, these people really aren’t stupid.

June 15, 2000

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and the Queens borough president, Claire Shulman, filed suit on Tuesday against the Department of Transportation in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The suit contends that the government must conduct an environmental impact study before allowing the airlines to add what city officials say could be as many as 500 additional flights a day in and out of La Guardia by the end of the year.

They just think you’re stupid.

“Why certainly, we fly to LaGuardia at 8 AM, Mr. Smith. And at 9 AM, and 10 and 11 AM. We have flights there every hour of the day. “

“Yes sir. Our airplanes are always on time. Except for air traffic delays and weather of course. Because you’re booking 30 days in advance your ticket will only be $899. Would you like to put that on your Master Card, Mr. Smith ?”

“Yes sir, we do serve ice water. Why do you ask ?”

Don Brown
February 26, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Where Angels Fear

As I was strolling through the internet park yesterday, I ran across this blog entry from Matthew Yglesias. Mr. Yglesias is one of the wunderkind of the internet. I hate arguing with people that are smarter than me -- but he asked for it.

”So provisionally I’m on board—we need a Nav Canada for the United States. Or maybe we could team up and have a Nav North America. But if there are readers out there with more intimate knowledge of air traffic management than I have, please do send in some emails with thoughts and links. “

I was doing just that, yesterday, when the local power company pulled the plug. The next thing you know, I’m no longer writing an email -- I’m writing a book. Brevity isn’t my strong suit.

First, let me deal with the privatization (or corporatization) of air traffic control. I would have thought we had learned our lesson. We’re within an inch of nationalizing the banks but we want to privatize the ATC system ? Robert Poole will argue that he’s not trying to sell privatization. Okay. Think Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. They were (supposedly) just GSEs (Government Sponsored Enterprises). There wasn’t supposed to be a government guarantee behind them. But there was -- implicitly. And when trouble hit, that implicit guarantee faced reality. Expensive reality. We bailed them out. Does anyone think ATC would be any different ?

Air Traffic Control, indeed, the whole National Airspace System carries that same implicit government guarantee. Think “too big to fail”.

Moving on to “Market-value runway pricing “. What price LaGuardia ? At 8 AM ? Seriously. Is there any price Delta, American, United, etc. wouldn’t pay for the prime slots at LaGuardia ? Business executives are willing to spend $30 million on their own private jet. Do you think they’ll balk at a $2,000 ticket ? That is all that will happen. The airlines will pay anything because they’ll just pass it along to their customers (businesses) which will just pass it along to theirs. What happened to the Deregulation sales pitch of cheaper tickets ?

Moving on. No one is going to reinvent air traffic control. ATC evolves. Slowly. The FAA may get their ADS-B system but it won’t replace radar. NextGen is just another sales job like URET. URET saved the airlines so much money they went broke. Did I mention it won’t replace radar ?

Hey, the man said he wanted links. Links ? I’ve got links. Lots of links. There’s no need to make you read the whole book. Most of you already have.

P.S. Thanks to “JLW” for the plug in the comments section.

Don Brown
February 25, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

Historically Ironic

It’s Monday. It’s Krugman. Controllers (and many others) should be able to see the irony.

”And once again, long-term government ownership isn’t the goal: like the small banks seized by the F.D.I.C. every week, major banks would be returned to private control as soon as possible. The finance blog Calculated Risk suggests that instead of calling the process nationalization, we should call it “preprivatization.”“

“Preprivatization” -- I think that’s a keeper. We’ve gone from wanting to privatize the air traffic control system to needing to nationalize the banking system. Unbelievable.

Don Brown
February 23, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Historically Significant

In my most humble and amateur opinion, this may be the most significant quote of year;

”It may be necessary to temporarily nationalise some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring.”

Alan Greenspan
February 18, 2009

Alan Greenspan is, of course, the former Federal Reserve Chairman. He made the statement in an interview with with London’s Financial Times.

For those that don’t know, the Financial Times is ”a British international business newspaper. It is a morning daily newspaper published in London and is printed at 24 sites. Its rival is the New York City-based Wall Street Journal. “

At the risk of repeating myself, I must highlight the fact that -- after 30 years of Republicans trying to destroy the government -- we now find ourselves in a position of needing that very same government. I am not at all confident that the bruised and battered professional civil service is up to the task it needs to perform.

I would be remiss in not noting that this previous post had its roots in the same place today’s post does -- with Paul Krugman.

Comrade Greenspan: Seize the economy’s commanding heights!

You don’t have to be a public servant to serve the Public.

(Note: For those that don’t “get” the title...Vladimir Lenin, who used the phrase "commanding heights" to refer to the segments and industries in an economy that effectively control and support the others, such as oil, railroads, banking and steel.“)

Don Brown
February 22, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Still No News

I keep waiting (and waiting) to hear who the next FAA Administrator will be. It seems as even the rumors have dried up. In case you’ve already forgotten some of the names put forward (at various times), here they are:

Robert Herbert

Neil Planzar

Peter A. DeFazio

Jerry F. Costello

Hank Krakowski

Duane Woerth

Randy Babbitt

I’m probably missing one or two. I don’t believe the Congressmen -- DeFazio and Costello -- were ever really interested. At least I can’t imagine that they were. Nobody but the insiders (that doesn’t include me) have ever heard of Herbert, Planzar is probably too smart to take the job and hopefully the President is too smart to let Krakowski have it. That leaves Woerth and Babbitt. I have to be honest, neither one makes me jump up and down for joy. It’s nice that they’re both ex-union guys. That might help solve the labor/management problem. But they’re both pilots and that definitely won’t solve the FAA’s air traffic control system problem.

Being a pilot doesn’t qualify you to run an Air Traffic Control system. Not unless being a controller qualifies you to run an airline. The political reality, however, is that pilots always feel more comfortable with one of their own in charge.

I perceive today’s events as history repeating itself again. We have so many huge problems in this country that the FAA isn’t even on the radar for President Obama. The Press would have you believe that Secretary LaHood will choose the next Administrator. Whatever.

Air traffic is dropping as it always does in a recession. That takes the heat off of the FAA as far as airline delays. Less traffic equals less delays. Always has. Always will. The FAA will languish until the economy picks back up, traffic increases and delays become widespread again. If action isn’t taken while the economy is slow, the FAA won’t be ready for the inevitable traffic increase. But without the public attention of airline delays, it’s hard for the FAA to get the attention (dollars) it needs to build up the system.

What we need to be doing -- right now -- is hiring controllers, training them, and then looking at the future with a critical eye. The FAA may get the funding it needs for NextGen but, if you’ll remember, NextGen requires ADS-B and Performance Based Navigation -- which is a huge investment for each airplane. Forget the technical problems for the moment. The founding principle was to off load much of the cost of the National Airspace System from the Government to private industry. Remember ? Replace expensive radars with “cheap” ADS-B surveillance. That’s “cheap” for the government. Expensive for the aircraft owner. Replace expensive navigational aids with “cheap” GPS. I’m not even going to try to follow the logic that GPS -- much less GPS ramped up to RNP standards -- is cheap for anybody. Even the FAA. It’s definitely not cheap for the aircraft owners.

It all sounded great when business was booming. Now ? Not so much.

There are advantages, to be sure. If you fly into Juneau, Alaska or to a helicopter platform on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico it all seems reasonable and affordable. If you live in San Francisco, you really want to believe that NextGen will allow simultaneous parallel approaches to runways that are only 750 feet apart -- no matter what the weather. Imagine doing this on a foggy night. (Be sure to click on the other perspective while you’re there.)

But in the end, it will be all for naught. Demand will exceed the supply (even an increased supply) of runway slots in places like New York. And without a national policy that recognizes that limit, we’ll be right back to massive delays, bankrupt airlines and a dysfunctional air transportation system.

The technical challenges for the FAA are tough. The political challenges are far tougher. We need somebody equal to the task.

Don Brown
February 20, 2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What Do You Say ?

In case you were wondering why there hasn’t been a blog today...

Take a look at the first photo.

That’s what is left of my friend’s house. What do you say to a guy that has lost his house ? I don’t know either. I just started cleaning up the yard.

Do you see the brick chimney in the upper-right corner ? I found a 40 lbs. piece of it (bricks held together with mortar) about 50 yards from the house. I found a fully intact brick 118 paces (yards) from the house. I have no idea where the roof went.

Everybody is fine. Even the dog and the cat.

It was fascinating to see the things left undamaged. The tin roof over the wood pile. The purple martin gourds. The china cabinet -- unscratched.

I’m bushed. See you tomorrow.

Don Brown
February 19, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Economic Quagmire

Paul Krugman directed his readers to The Baseline Scenario today. I decided to read the Baseline Scenario for 2/9/09. It’s really above my comprehension level but I plodded through it anyway. It’s long and it’s deep but it’s worth the effort if you have the time.

Before I post a couple of quotes, let me tell you my baseline. Human nature is always a factor, no matter how smart or educated the people involved happen to be. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news or risk being labeled a “Chicken Little”, running around saying the sky is falling.

I believe the world’s economic house is on fire and most economists are telling everyone to move calmly and in an orderly fashion to the exits. No one wants to scream, “FIRE ! FIRE ! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES !”

As everyone involved will agree, panic has the potential to turn a bad situation into a disaster. The problem -- as I see it -- is that we need to run in an orderly fashion. That may not be humanly possible. To twist the analogy further, by the time we’re willing to admit the garden hose won’t put out the brush fire...that we’ll have to call the fire department and admit we started the may be too late. Our house might burn down before the fire department can get there.

”First, a substantial fiscal stimulus is already in train. The constraints on this dimension are, first, the ability of the Republican opposition to block legislation in the Senate and, second, the US balance sheet. The US balance sheet is strong relative to most other industrialized countries - private sector holdings of government debt are around 40% of GDP.  But the US authorities also have to worry about increasing Social Security and Medicare payments in the medium term, and so are reluctant to accumulate too much debt.  The underlying problem is that fiscal policy was not sufficiently counter-cyclical during the boom. The federal fiscal stimulus will be helpful, but it will not be enough to prevent a substantial decline or quickly turn around the economy .“

”Looking at the banks more directly, there are no easy answers.  Dramatic bank recapitalization remains controversial because this would imply effective nationalization, which is not appealing to Wall Street (and to many on Main Street).  The original TARP terms from mid-October are no longer available, as they were very generous to banks and there is widespread backlash against bailouts.  Also, the latest Citigroup bailout (from mid-November), recently repeated for Bank of America, is not appealing as an approach for the entire financial system as this was an even worse deal for the taxpayer. A clever financial engineering-type approach of ring-fencing bad assets, with some sort of government guarantee, is unlikely to provide a decisive breakthrough. “

”If, by good fortune, the US and global recession is already at its deepest - as some in the private sector now hold - then we face a tough situation but the difficulties are manageable. However, our baseline view remains that the real economy is not yet stabilized, and hence we will see worse outcomes in Q1 and Q2 of 2009 than currently expected by the consensus.  Such outcomes are not yet reflected in asset prices, and the problems for banks - and the implications for fiscal sustainability - around the world will mount.  We will need to readdress the need to fully recapitalize the banks, but really making progress with this depends on a political willingness to take on the powerful banking lobby. “

As I said earlier, this is much deeper that you will read in a newspaper column or a normal blog. And as simple as this explanation is (in comparison to the problem) it is still above my head. On the other hand, I know how the government reacts to a crisis. The people in charge don’t want to let on just how bad the situation is for fear of creating panic or -- worse -- being blamed for the crisis. Unfortunately, the only way to build the political will needed to address the problem is to educate the public as to just how bad the situation really is.

Trying to convince the taxpayers that we need to spend $ 3 trillion (my arbitrary figure) is tough when most are still warm and cozy in their homes. It will be a whole lot easier when 25 million (versus the current 11+ million unemployed) are standing in a soup line -- cold and hungry. And it will be too late. All the water in the world won’t do you any good after your house has burnt down.

Don Brown
February 17, 2009

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Sea Too

First it was satellites bumping into each other. Now it’s submarines.

Nuclear submarines collide in Atlantic

”A Royal Navy nuclear submarine and a French vessel have been damaged in a collision deep below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant, which were carrying nuclear missiles on routine patrols, are reported to have collided while submerged on 3 or 4 February. Between them they had about 250 sailors on board. “

If satellites and submarines can bump into each other purely by chance, it ought to make you glad we have an air traffic control system to keep the airplanes separated. Of course, nobody said either accident was purely chance did they ? The conspiracy crowd must be having a field day.

Don Brown
February 16, 2009

“We Won” -- Again

President Obama was criticized roundly for his remark to the Republicans that “I won”. The criticism was mostly from (of course) Republicans. Although you’d never know it by listening to them, it needs to be said again. President Obama won (again.) The $800 billion dollar stimulus package was passed by Congress.

Frank Rich at The New York Times hammers the point home much better than I ever could.

”The stimulus opponents, egged on by all the media murmurings about Obama “losing control,” also thought they had a sure thing. Their TV advantage added to their complacency. As the liberal blog ThinkProgress reported, G.O.P. members of Congress wildly outnumbered Democrats as guests on all cable news networks, not just Fox News, in the three days of intense debate about the House stimulus bill. They started pounding in their slogans relentlessly. The bill was not a stimulus package but an orgy of pork spending. The ensuing deficit would amount to “generational theft.” F.D.R.’s New Deal had been an abject failure. “

I recommend reading the whole editorial for some clear thinking on the matter. I only used the quote that included FDR for purposes of continuity.

As my readers know, Franklin Roosevelt is my favorite President. There is a large effort to revise the history of FDR by (who else ?) the Republicans. They seem to be masters at making some people forget the obvious. Talk about an “I won” moment -- FDR won four elections as President. Whatever the revisionists say, they can’t change that fact. FDR was immensely popular with the American people. True, there was a large group that hated FDR. There’s a large group of people that listen to Rush Limbaugh everyday. I suspect the two groups would have a lot in common -- besides being on the wrong side of history.

Much of the revisionist history goes like this; “FDR’s spending programs didn’t end the Depression.” To which I always ask, “What did ?” The usual answer is “World War II.” Okay, we’ll let that rest for just a second while I make a point that is often left out of the debate these days.

Accept for the moment that FDR’s New Deal didn’t end the Depression. What it did do -- and again, history is clear on this -- is employ people. FDR gave the people jobs -- and hope. Millions of them. Much of the work done in this period still stands today -- including LGA airport. In other words, we can employ people in worthwhile endeavours if we so desire. Or we can just send them unemployment checks. I would pick the job option. I think most other Americans would too. (I’m assuming “let them starve” is not a viable option.)

Now, let’s get back to what ended the Depression. Was it the New Deal or World War II ? If you’ll look at the root issue, you’ll find they are one and the same -- government spending. I mentioned this to my son last night as I drove him back to college. He’s going to do a double take if he reads Paul Krugman today.

”If you want to see what it really takes to boot the economy out of a debt trap, look at the large public works program, otherwise known as World War II, that ended the Great Depression. The war didn’t just lead to full employment. It also led to rapidly rising incomes and substantial inflation, all with virtually no borrowing by the private sector.“

I have no idea what our future holds. I don’t know if President Obama will turn out to be a good President or not. You certainly don’t want to bet our country’s future on my knowledge of economics. But I can read. And I can think. So can you. I think I’d rather pay for a civilian-oriented stimulus package rather than a military one. Somehow, I don’t think a World War III would end well. For anybody.

When you look at history and see what is at stake, should the world sink into another Depression, a trillion dollars seems like a bargain. I think we won this round. All of us -- including the Republicans. Let’s hope we can keep winning.

Don Brown
February 16, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Picture Perfect Day

While I was in the yard working yesterday, I heard the sandhill cranes flying overhead, headed back North. There are usually several flocks, and it was a pretty sky, so I rushed back down the hill to get my camera.

I missed the cranes but I remembered I had promised my readers some pictures of the new daffodils. They’re just starting to bloom, so I started wandering the yard.

A red-shouldered hawk flew by.

The crocus is blooming too.

Even the flag looked nice.

It was a picture perfect day.

Oh yeah, the daffodils.

Don Brown
February 13, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Space Traffic Control ?

I really don’t like the term “satellite-based” as it is used to sell NextGen. It just seems too close to the spiel a used-car salesman might use to convince you to buy a junker. “Would you just look at those racing stripes ? This car looks fast standing still.”

Perhaps then you can understand my perverse pleasure in this story:

US, Russian satellites collide in space

”Before the latest incident, there were over 300,000 orbital objects measuring between 1 and 10 centimeters (0.4 and four inches) in diameter and "billions" of smaller pieces, according to a report issued last year by an international monitoring group called the Space Security Index.

Travelling at speeds that can reach many thousands of kilometers (miles) per hour, the tiniest debris can damage or destroy a spacecraft worth billions of dollars. “

So much for the Big Sky Space Theory. We earth-bound controllers refer to a “debris field” as an “aluminum shower”. What’s left of the “objects” shows up as hundreds of little specks -- like aluminum rain -- on the radar scope. I’m guessing an aluminum shower moving at 30,000 miles per hour might present a few long term “challenges” for the space industry. The image of a giant shotgun blast speeding toward billion-dollar birds comes to my mind.

Don’t worry. We’ll be able to watch it all with our “antiquated ground-based radar technology.”

Don Brown
February 12, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

FAA Hacks Hacked

Just in case you’re an air traffic controller (or ex-controller) and I am you’re only source of news...

”Last week, the FAA administrative computer server was hacked. Among the 48 breached files were two that contained the names and Social Security numbers of more than 45,000 employees -- almost the entire staff -- who were on the agency's rolls the first week of February 2006.. “

That is from The Washington Post.

Now, for the non-FAA folks out there -- in all seriousness -- tell me, is it just me ?

FAA Notifies Employees of Personal Identity Breach

”The agency is also providing a toll-free number and information on the employee website for those who believe they may be affected by the breach. “

If you were reading this on the FAA’s web site, wouldn’t you expect to see that “toll-free number” listed in the notification ? Or at least a hyper-link to “the employee website” ? It might be hard to believe, but some of us that retired after “February 2006” don’t know where “the employee website” is located. Some of them don’t even use the internet.


February 2009 Privacy Breach

It is blank. I kid you not. Welcome to the world of the FAA.

(Update: The link above was fixed by the FAA to show the February update. The screen shot below (unchanged) shows the Aministrator's message from January 23 -- as was shown when this post was written on February 11.)

Sleep tight America.

Don Brown
February 11, 2008

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


As the world’s economy sends an S.O.S. to the United States Congress, the Congress has replied with an S.O.S. of their own -- Same Old Stupidity.

I’m in a bit of a rush this morning so I’ll keep it short. We need a stimulus package to put people back to work . Any kind of work. I don’t care if it’s laying sod or manufacturing condoms. It’s either that or we pay 11 million (and rising) to stay home and collect unemployment. Pick your poison.

Here’s an interesting article for some background.

Wrong Harry
Four million jobs in two years? FDR did it in two months.

”President Obama's $825 billion economic-stimulus package needs a lot less PWA and a lot more CWA.

The PWA was the Public Works Administration, led by Harold Ickes Sr. The CWA was the Civil Works Administration, led by Harry Hopkins. Both were New Deal agencies created in 1933 to get Americans quickly back to work at a time when unemployment reached 25 percent, its highest point in U.S. history. The PWA failed. The CWA succeeded. “

Read it. Think. Decide if you want a stimulus bill now to avoid double digit unemployment of if you want a PWA/CWA after millions more are on the street and standing in line for the soup kitchen.

Then write your Senators and tell them what you’ve decided.

(Addition: Thanks to E-BM for the chart. Learn more about it here.)

Don Brown
February 10, 2009

Sunday, February 08, 2009

FAA History -- February 8 (‘09)

From the Update to FAA Historical Chronology: Civil Aviation and the Federal Government, 1926-1996...

”February 8, 2004: FAA's new ATO officially began operations. The fundamental realignment gave the ATO responsibility for providing air traffic services, research and acquisition, as well as for the free flight organizations. The change came after a decades- long attempt by previous administrations, Congress, and FAA to improve the delivery of air traffic services by adopting business-like practices. (See November 18, 2004.)“

Let’s be honest. Besides the imposition of new work rules on controllers -- something that has cost the FAA thousands of years worth of controller experience -- what has changed in your interaction with the FAA in the last five years ? How have you, the supposed customer, been treated ? Any better ?

The FAA’s history is littered with these types of administrative changes. Some might have even been necessary. The fundamental fact remains that the public’s interaction with the FAA hasn’t really changed for the better. The contracting out of FSS has been a disaster and Free Flight remains a folly. The FAA is a cliché -- the Titanic upon which management continually rearranges the deck chairs.

The FAA has become a joke. A bad one. And until you see heads rolling in the aisles at 800 Independence Avenue, nothing will change.

Don Brown
February 8, 2009

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Small Men

I spent much of yesterday watching the Senate in action on CSPAN 2. It wasn’t pretty. They were trying to pass a massive stimulus Bill -- around $800 billion dollars -- to (hopefully) save the economy.

Once again, I’m thankful for my experience in the democracy of a union. If you’ve ever participated in the democratic process of writing a law, regulation, policy or rule you quickly realize it is a much tougher job than the history books depict. It is a long and agonizing process. It is boring to watch (most of the time.) There are pitfalls galore.

Having said all that, I was still disappointed by yesterday’s performance. Deeply disappointed. I heard the word “leader” a hundred times yesterday but I saw very little leadership. What I saw was mostly small men trying to manage a crisis that was overwhelming them. A crisis -- that in large part -- they helped create.

Senator Chris Dodd (D -CT), along with Senator Martinez (R-FL), appeared surer of themselves and better prepared than most. That was comforting in that they’re on the Banking Committee. Well, at least until you figured out what they were talking about. It was some kind of amendment to deal with the private mortgage servers (as compared to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) so that they could start renegotiating the terms of mortgage rates with homeowners trying to avoid defaulting on their loans. That makes sense. What didn’t make sense was the statistic I heard in the debate. The private mortgage servers only have 15% of the market. Yet they have 50% of the mortgage defaults.

You might want to keep that statistic in mind when anyone is trying to place the blame for this mess. “The Market” made a lot of money pushing sub-prime mortgages. They knew the mortgages were risky (hence the term sub-prime) but they were making money off of the process of selling loans (instead of the loans themselves) and didn’t care. Greed never goes out of style. For anyone. Senators, Bankers or Citizens.

If you’re like me and you hate math, the numbers in this Bill are truly astounding. I was trying to find a way to make all this comprehensible. The only way I can do it is to get rid of some of the zeros. A trillion dollars (by the time you add up the interest that is what we’re talking about here) is a “1” followed by twelve zeros.


A million dollars is a “1” followed by six zeros.


If you take away 6 zeros from each, you can start to understand the relationship.

If trillion becomes a million, a million becomes 1 dollar. Imagine buying a million dollar home and arguing about a dollar. That’s still too rich for my blood. Take away two more zeros and the relationship becomes $10,000 dollars to a penny.

I know it’s mind-boggling. But it puts some of the arguments in perspective. Arguing about $200 million dollars to sod The Mall in Washington in a trillion dollar Bill is like paying for a $100 dinner and arguing over 2 cents. It is stupid. Don’t get upset about the sod. Get upset that we’ve got ourselves in a situation where $200,000,000 has become almost meaningless. Be upset that some Senator just has to get his “two cents” in when dealing with a crisis of this magnitude.

Speaking of magnitude, I really wonder if our fellow citizens understand it. Perhaps this will help. As I said a few days ago, I try to keep tabs on what Joseph Stiglitz is saying. I realize he isn’t a household name so let me take his bio straight from the latest article.

”Joseph Stiglitz was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001. Under US President Bill Clinton he served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1995- 1997. He was chief economist of the World Bank from 1997-2000 and was a lead author of the 1995 Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He is currently a professor at Columbia University in New York. “

If this quote doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.

”The fact of the matter is, the banks are in very bad shape. The U.S. government has poured in hundreds of billions of dollars to very little effect. It is very clear that the banks have failed. American citizens have become majority owners in a very large number of the major banks. But they have no control. Any system where there is a separation of ownership and control is a recipe for disaster.

Nationalization is the only answer. These banks are effectively bankrupt. “

One of the world’s top economist says the U.S. banks are bankrupt and the government should take them over. We’d better pray that stimulus Bill works. Time and options are running out.

Don Brown
February 7, 2009

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Look What I Found

More history ! (The crowd roars !)

Update to FAA Historical Chronology

Here’s the link to the .pdf file.

From the update...

”February 5, 2003: FAA awarded contracts to ITT Industries, Inc., and Harris Corporation valued at $16 and $21 million, respectively, over a 20-month period for the initial phase of Next Generation Air/Ground Communications (NEXCOM). By integrating data link with digital voice, NEXCOM would make more efficient use of the available frequency spectrum, and accommodate additional air traffic control sectors and new runways to support continued industry growth. The existing air/ground communications system had been used for air traffic control for more than 50 years. (See July 15, 2002; March 18, 2004.) “

”March 18, 2004: FAA canceled the Next Generation Air/Ground Communications (NEXCOM) rapid prototype development contracts with ITT Industries and Harris Corp. FAA previously canceled a full-scale NEXCOM development contract that had not yet been awarded. FAA said it canceled the contracts because there was disagreement on global standards. FAA and EUROCONTROL agreed in 2003 to study what the next- generation air traffic control voice communication system should be. (See February 5, 2003.) “

You see ? History really does repeat itself.

Don Brown
February 5, 2009

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Ramblin’ Wreck

My son is a freshman at Georgia Tech so, naturally, anything to do with Tech attracts my attention these days. This story would have attracted my attention anyway so the inclusion of Georgia Tech is just a bonus.

Continuous Descent Arrivals: Atlanta Flight Test Evaluates Technique For Saving Fuel And Reducing Noise In Airliners

”The changes were part of Georgia Tech’s flight-testing of “continuous descent arrivals,” a procedure designed to save fuel and time while producing environmental benefits by reducing both noise and emissions. Involving more than 600 flights, the Atlanta study was done in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), FedEx and Atlanta’s two dominant air carriers: Delta Air Lines and AirTran Airways.“

Been there. Done that. I think I still have the T-shirt. I wish Professor Clarke the best of luck but I can’t offer him much hope. To understand why, take a look at this part.

”“Imagine a line of aircraft descending through a long tube that’s fixed laterally and limited vertically to be within a narrow band,” explained Clarke. “If each airplane were like a ball with a different coefficient of friction, then when you put the balls in the tube at equal intervals, they would begin to catch up with one another. The ball with the lower coefficient would tend to catch up with the ball with a higher coefficient. That’s something that we have to work very hard to avoid.” “

That is a good summation of the problem being addressed. The key is in understanding the airspace design that flows from however you intend to implement this program. “...a long tube that’s fixed laterally and limited vertically.” That “tube” will drive the design for the rest of your airspace. It will determine the actions the controller working that airspace will take and where aircraft operating around Atlanta -- aircraft not using the “tube” -- will be routed around that same tube. Form follows function.

That is all well and good. Until you need to move the “tube”. You can understand this by reading a linked article found (conveniently) on the same page.

Mathematician Calms The Skies With Turbulence Detection Algorithm

”A mathematician developed a system that creates a three-dimensional view of turbulence and transmits it to airliner cockpits. The new algorithm analyzes data gathered by Next Generation Doppler Radars and sends a real-time readout of turbulence every five minutes, covering an area up to one hundred miles out in front of a speeding plane. “

Cool stuff. Now imagine if this new radar showed an area of turbulence in that same “tube” of airspace from the previous article. It’s a no-brainer. Aircraft won’t be flying in the “tube”. But your airspace is designed around the “tube”. And in that we’re all shooting for NextGen, that means we’re running airplanes tighter -- closer together -- so we can improve the efficiency of the system. That means there is a whole different stream of airplanes (actually several different streams) really close to the “tube”. Do you see the problem ? And turbulence isn’t nearly as difficult to deal with as thunderstorms.

It might interest non-controllers to know that most of Atlanta Center’s arrival sectors are shaped like funnels (think both laterally and vertically.) They aren’t as precise (or efficient) as a “tube” but they are a lot more flexible. The only real choke point is where the “funnel” looks like a “tube” -- right at the spout.

If you’d like to read more on the basics of airspace design I’d recommend an article I wrote for AVweb, long ago: Say Again #19: ATC 302 — The Hub

If you’re in a rush, skip down to the section entitled “Airspace Modeling”.

”For those of you who are remembering to think in three dimensions you'll realize that the pieces of pie are actually more like funnels. I'd explain that there ain't no such thing as "funnel pie" but I think I lost the Yankees with the "Pi-R-squared" joke. Anyway, the departure sectors "funnel" the departures out from the airport and the arrival sectors "funnel" the arrivals in.“

Don Brown
February 4, 2009

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

It’s Always Something

The folks at Quiet Rockland sent me a link to an FAA “interview” with Hank Krakowski, the FAA’s current Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the Air Traffic Organization (ATO). The FAA and their acronyms. And their PR stunts. (sigh) I guess that means Mr. Krakowski is a FAACOOATO -- some sort of bird you find only in Washington.

Yes, that was childish. Nor more so than this “interview” where a the FAA spends who-knows-how-much taxpayer money to create expensive, yet, incredibly ineffective propaganda. No one believes a word that is said.

You can waste your time watching the video if you like (I wouldn’t recommend it) but I, of course, already did. In the middle of it, Mr. Krakowski blithely states that “radar is going away”. Or something very close to that. I’m not watching the video again to make sure I got the quote exactly right. There are limits. (By the way, he said the VORs and the ILSs are going away too.)

Now, with all due respect to Mr. Krakowski’s flying and COOing ability, that statement makes me wonder if he knows what air traffic controllers do. Much less how they do it. I don’t know if he has been listening to Mr. Poole or if Mr. Poole has been listening to Mr. Krakowski or if this is just a monumental example of the hazards of group think.

Okay. Before I hit you with the facts, I need for you to get your mind right. Clear your head and answer these questions calmly, clearly and simply. They aren’t trick questions. You know the answers answer. The obvious answer is the correct answer.

What government entity first funded and fielded radar ? The military.
What government entity first launched a satellite ? The military.
What government entity fielded GPS ? The military.

Are you getting the Flick yet ? The military is a major player in virtually everything. Certainly air traffic control and aviation. Let’s see what the military has to say about radar “going away”.

(You can read this document as .html or download the .pdf file.)

FAA’s “Surveillance/Positioning Backup Strategy Alternatives Analysis”

”Paper No.: 08-003 July 15, 2008“

”Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) will be the means of cooperative surveillance in the future, “

The key phrase here is “cooperative surveillance”. The hijackers on 9/11 were “uncooperative”. So are drug smugglers, other crooks and invaders. Radar detects objects -- cooperative or not. ADS-B only detects ADS-B equipped vehicles with a functioning electrical system.

”The “Surveillance/Positioning Backup Strategy Alternatives Analysis” Report (referred to herein as the Report) was developed assuming a fully functioning ADS-B capability as described in “Final Program Requirements for Surveillance and Broadcast Services.”1 Several key assumptions were made to determine a mitigation strategy:

d. “Primary radar” will be used “to mitigate single-aircraft avionics failures” in most terminal airspace. “

Mr. Krakowski’s claim that radar will “go away” is shot down within the first few paragraphs. This section also points to the Achilles heel of ADS-B. If a single airplane has an equipment failure -- if the equipment that sends a signal to air traffic control fails -- the aircraft disappears from the ADS-B system. It just drops off the controller’s scope. The aircraft becomes the proverbial “loose cannon”, invisibly careening through the National Airspace System at 500 mph.

”The Report recommended that the FAA retain approximately one-half of the Secondary Radar network as the backup strategy for ADS-B. “

Notice the difference: “Primary radar” and “Secondary Radar”. Not only will primary radar (the raw electronic signal that bounces off of an airplane and back to the radar dish) be required as a backup, but so will secondary radar. That is the part of the radar system that sends an interrogation signal to an aircraft and the transponder on the aircraft replies with the aircraft’s identification and altitude.

”The JPDO-sponsored NGATS Institute SatNav Backup Study and JPDO involvement in the National Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Architecture both indicate that positioning/navigation accuracy and robustness requirements will require a “complementary” PNT system (or systems) based on phenomenology that is dissimilar to Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) – candidates include eLORAN and advanced Inertial Reference Units. “

Don’t you love governmentese ? Put simply, with ADS-B, the FAA plans to run aircraft so close to each other that they will need a system to backup the primary GPS navigation system. Any disaster that takes out the GPS system will likely take out any other GNSS system (the Russian’s GPS system and/or Galileo, the European Union’s proposed GPS system.) Believe it or not, all that “phenomenology” boils down to sunspots. The GPS signal is a weak signal that is susceptible to sunspots (not to mention intentional jamming.) We need a backup that uses a different technology -- eLORAN.

Something else that most people don’t think about. That would be a radar navigation system. We tend to think of radar as a tool air traffic controllers use to keep airplanes separated. But in fact, we use it as a navigation system constantly.

“Fly heading three three zero radar vectors ILS runway two four.”
“Turn left, heading two seven zero, radar vector to the Asheville airport.”

Anybody remember GCAs ? Radar navigation.

Let me quote one more part of this report and I’ll let you go.

”a. FAA could use DoD/DHS non-cooperative air domain surveillance information as a backup strategy for a variety of ADS-B outages.

b. DoD/DHS may not be interested in continuing to use/fund FAA-operated primary long- range (en route) radars.

c. Alternative means of detection emerge. For example, electromagnetic sensors used by DOC/NOAA to detect weather phenomena might be leveraged to detect objects flying in U.S. airspace. “

I’m telling you, this all would be funny if it wasn’t so expensively sad. I wonder if the FAA guys know that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Weather Service) is using FAA radar to get weather information ?

Let me sum it all up for those that are lost. The FAA wants to use ADS-B as part of NextGen. In order to do that, they need a backup for air traffic control surveillance and a back up for the primary navigation system. The FAA says radar will “go away”, knowing full well that somebody in the Federal government will have to have a radar system to serve as a backup to ADS-B and for national defense. The FAA, the DOD, Homeland Security and lo -- even the National Weather Service -- are supposed to flight amongst themselves to see who will pay for the radar. Think of the stupidity in all this. It isn’t even their money. It’s all the taxpayer’s money.

Keep in mind that all this fuss is to test an unproven theory that says if we run aircraft closer together we can handle more airplanes in the National Airspace System. Unfortunately that does nothing for runway capacity. We’ll have a really expensive system that can deliver 100 airplanes an hour to a runway that can only handle 60 airplanes an hour, even under the best of conditions. You realize we’ve already got one of those, right, Hank ?

And while I’ve got your attention...any truth to the rumor that you’ll be the next FAA Administrator ?

Don Brown
February 3, 2009

Monday, February 02, 2009

Reason Repeat

Here we go again...

”Yet ADS-B is supposed to be one of the main building blocks for NextGen’s replacement of costly ground-based radar with GPS-based navigation and surveillance.“

That is just one line out of the Reason Foundation’s ATC Reform News. Mr. Robert Poole has been kindly sending me the newsletter since our last, little exchange. In other words, I’m on his mailing list now. But I digress.

Back to ADS-B replacing radar. It can’t. And it won’t. Anybody that knows anything about Air Traffic Control realizes this. If you don’t know this, you can read everything I’ve written about ADS-B and then you will.

Even if the FAA could shut off all the radar feeds (it won’t) to its facilities, the Department of Defense would still have to maintain a radar network for defense purposes. We learned a very hard lesson on 9/11. The Department of Defense needs radar coverage of our country’s interior -- not just our borders. So, in effect, Mr. Poole (and the FAA) are asking taxpayers to fund a radar network and ADS-B. Yet, he wants you to think that we’ll be saving money by replacing that “costly ground-based radar” with ADS-B.

The rest of Mr. Poole’s newsletter is peppered with equally loaded language and dubious arguments. But I did learn something hopeful.

”Portions of the FAA (and presumably industry) committed to the “installed legacy infrastructure” (which some have termed the FAA’s “radar mafia”); “

I didn’t know there was a “radar mafia” inside the FAA. I thought Blakey and Sturgell had silenced all dissent. Please, Mr. Poole, tell me more. Tell me that rational people have hope. Tell me the FAA is looking at replacing the ARSR-1s, 2s and 3s (maybe even the 4s) with new, superior models. Something like...

...the ARSR-4 is more reliable, easier to maintain, and increases the radar coverage area from 200 to 250 nautical miles. This three-dimensional, solid state, unattended, long rang surveillance radar has an operational frequency range of 1215-1400 MHz and uses dual-channel frequency hopping technology for long-range and anti-jam search and tracking, and is capable of detecting small objects by minimizing clutter, weather, and multipath effects.

It’s amazing what they can do with technology these days. Did you know ?

ARSR-4 also satisfies DOD specific requirements for providing height data on surveillance targets.  The ARSR-4 outputs weather intensity contour data formatted in up to six levels of intensity.

Amazing. The ability to detect small objects (did someone say birds ?), determine the height of the object and six intensities of weather. Who would have thought such an “antiquated” technology could be so useful ? Oh yeah -- me, the “radar mafia”, the Department of Defense and those safety-flogging union guys.

(I’m sure issue 59 of the ATC Reform News will be up on this web page sooner or later.)

Don Brown
February 2, 2009