Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Babbitt at Eclat

President Obama’s pick for FAA Administrator, Randy Babbitt, used to run Eclat Consulting. I knew I’d seen that name before, and sure enough, a quick search of the hard drive found four reports from Eclat.

I can’t really recommend any of them unless you’re a serious aviation nerd. Some of them are in the form of slide presentations so they only hit the highlights. However, Mr. Babbitt did actually co-author a couple of pieces in the Aviation Daily Arrivals Articles (a big .pdf file.) The articles are from back in 2004 so they might provide you with some historical perspective also.

I will say that at least one person at Eclat appears to have the Flick. Again, it’s a slide presentation (in the form of a .pdf file) so it’s hard to say what the details were but the highlights were correct.

Airline Strategy Impacts on Airports

Presented by:
Robert A. Hazel


The gist being, no matter how bad the forecast or conditions, people keep forming new airlines, furthering destructive competition.


What I can’t tell from the presentations is whether or not Mr. Hazel recognizes that we need to limit the number of scheduled aircraft at the high-demand airports (slots) or if he is one of those guys that believes satellites will somehow magically create more runway capacity.

Don Brown
March 31, 2009

Krugman on the Cover

For the other Krugman fans out there, Mr. Krugman made the cover of Newsweek this week.

You can see the cover and other photos at this link.

Text only at this link.

The article is more about the man than his ideas. So, unless you’re a fan, you probably won’t care much about it.

Don Brown
March 31, 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

With Friends Like These...

Randy Babbitt already had one strike against him when his name was floated as a possible Administrator of the FAA. After being ignored for the weekend, to wake up and see this, bright and early on Monday morning, doesn’t help.

”The following is a statement by AIA President and CEO Marion Blakey:

Randy Babbitt is an excellent choice to head the Federal Aviation Administration. “

I wonder if the fact that I found it on Fox is a coincidence -- or just more salt in our wounds.

For those just joining this saga, Marion Blakey is the ex-Administrator of the FAA. She is the one that imposed the contract on the nation’s air traffic controllers and cut their pay. The fact that she did it on Labor Day epitomizes her reign at the FAA: petty and vicious. Her endorsement -- as far as controllers are concerned -- is like the kiss of death from the Wicked Witch of the West. I’ll let the fact that she jumped ship from the FAA straight into the arms of the people she was supposed to be regulating speak for itself.

With friends like these, Mr. Babbitt doesn’t need any enemies. Neither does the Obama Administration.

To me, this is the difference between Democrats and Republicans. At least in the last decade. If I was a Republican, I’d toe the party line. It’s the message and party unity that is important. But, it’s that kind of thinking (in my humble opinion) that led us to moral, national and economic disaster. I’m a Democrat and I voice my dissent, even with my own party.

I voted for President Obama and I want him to succeed with all my heart. That goes for Mr. Babbitt too, should he be confirmed. I hate to say it, but this is an inauspicious start. I realize that President Obama has a full plate. An overflowing plate. I think I’m realistic enough that I wasn’t expecting anyone to be named Administrator that would cause me to jump up and down for joy. I was hoping for better than guarded pessimism.

Mr. Babbitt’s union background is obviously welcomed. His career as a pilot underwhelms me but is inevitable. His actions since -- especially his term on the Management Advisory Council -- leave me pessimistic.

Don Brown
March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring is In the Air

Pretty ain’t it ?

You have to take the good with the bad.

Don Brown
March 29, 2009

If a Tree Fell...

I keep checking The New York Times to see what they have to say about the new FAA Administrator. As far as I can tell, they don’t have anything to say about it. They don’t even have the announcement.

Considering that The New York Times is considered the nation’s “paper of record”...is this a bad sign ? I guess the FAA can’t compete with a global economic crisis and “March Madness”.

Don Brown
March 29, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

NextGen -- Picture This

I was just surfing the internet and found the Life magazine archives at Google Images.

Click here for a 1968 shot of LGA.

Tell me what NextGen is going to do for that.

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

”Jun 1, 1969: In response to growing congestion, FAA implemented a rule placing quotas on instrument flight rule (IFR) operations at five of the nation's busiest airports between 6 a.m. and midnight. The rule assigned the following hourly quotas: Kennedy International, 80 (70 for air carriers and supplementals; 5 for scheduled air taxis; 5 for general aviation); O'Hare, 135 (115 for air carriers and supplementals; 10 for scheduled air taxis; 10 for general aviation); La Guardia, 60 (48 for air carriers and supplementals; 6 for scheduled air taxis; 6 for general aviation); Newark, 60 (40 for air carriers and supplementals; 10 for scheduled air taxis; 10 for general aviation); Washington National, 60 (40 for air carriers and supplementals; 8 for scheduled air taxis; 12 for general aviation). The rule did not charge extra sections of scheduled air carrier flights (such as hourly shuttle flights) against the established quotas, except at Kennedy; this airport, however, was permitted 10 extra air carrier operations per hour during the peak traffic period between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.

IFR flights were required to make advanced reservations for each operation. Pilots obtained IFR reservations by contacting the Airport Reservation Office (established May 30, 1969) in Washington, D.C., or any FAA flight service station. Aircraft under visual flight rules (VFR) made arrival reservations in the air when approximately 30 miles from their intended destination. Departure reservations for such aircraft were handled by the air traffic control facilities serving these five high density airports.

Originally implemented for a six-month period, this "High Density Rule" was subsequently extended to Oct 25, 1970. On that date, the hourly limitations on operations were suspended at Newark, where peak operations during fiscal 1970 had averaged 18 less than the assigned quota of 60. At the same time, the quotas were extended for another year at the other four airports. In taking this action, FAA noted that the percentage of aircraft delays at the five airports had decreased substantially since the rule was put into effect.

(Emphasis added)

On Aug 24, 1971, FAA published an amendment extending the High Density Rule until Oct 25, 1972. Flight limitations remained unchanged at La Guardia and Washington National, but at O'Hare and Kennedy the quotas were now in effect only between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. The relaxation was due in part to a decline in aviation activity during a general downturn in the U.S. economy. “

Check out the dates really, really carefully. Massive congestion -- 1968. Slot restrictions -- 1969. Do you still think technology will cure it ? That it will increase capacity ? Defy the laws of physics ? Then check out the date on this entry.

”Jun 1, 1969: The shifting of the New York common IFR room from a manual radar system to a computerized alphanumeric radar system further enhanced the traffic-handling capabilities of the New York terminal area. The semiautomated system permitted an aircraft equipped with a beacon transponder to provide the terminal controller automatically with information on its identity, altitude, range, and bearing. Under the old system, the controller could obtain an aircraft's altitude and identity only through voice contact with the aircraft's pilot. (See Jul 15, 1968.) “

A “computerized alphanumeric radar system“ (imagine how cool that sounded in 1969) didn’t ease the capacity delays at LGA (or anywhere else.) The High Density Rule did. Technology won’t increase runway capacity. Good policy will manage what capacity we have. If you want more runway capacity, build more runways.

Don Brown
March 28, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Still Bird Brained

This is classic FAA. It’s so dumb, it leaves you wondering if you aren’t the one that is missing some piece of the equation.

”WASHINGTON — The federal government plans to block public access to its records of aircraft and bird collisions such as the one that forced a US Airways jet to splashdown in New York's Hudson River in January.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says that the information could mislead the public and its release could prompt some airports and others not to report incidents, but the proposal is drawing sharp criticism from bird safety experts and public records advocates. “

Read the whole article at USA Today. Be sure you catch this part:

”The government estimates that only 20% of incidents involving commercial aircraft are reported under the current system. In 1999, the National Transportation Safety Board urged the FAA to require that pilots report bird collisions to improve the data. The agency refused. “

For those in the know, think ATSAP. Think about what it means to give these fools the keys to the kingdom.

Then think NASA ASRS. It has a proven track record. And it works.

BTW, you can thank PATCO.

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

May 7, 1975: FAA and PATCO reached agreement on a two-year contract (signed and effective Jul 8). The contract's 74 articles included a guarantee of controller inclusion in the Aviation Safety Reporting Program (see Apr 8, 1975) and affected such matters as an expansion of familiarization flight privileges (see Aug 14, 1974), working conditions, and career enhancement. (See Mar 17, 1973, and Jul 28-31, 1976.)

Don Brown
March 27, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009

European Antics

This is an interesting (if whacky) article:

EU presses for reduction in air traffic control fees

Interesting: ”The EU is mounting a fresh push to force down air-traffic charges of about €7bn a year in Europe. On a per-flight basis, that's around double the rate in the US, where controllers handle twice as many flights. “

Remember, this is the model some folks tout as the solution to our problems. A model that sounds like it costs twice as much for half the volume. I don’t believe these numbers any more than I believe anyone else’s numbers. It’s still interesting.

Whacky: ”The European Commission, which proposed the law last year, will now draw up specific requirements, such as cutting costs and reducing flight distances by certain percentages. “

You can’t reduce straight-line distances between cities (obviously.) And if you aren’t sending aircraft in a straight line, there’s usually a really good reason for it. Usually, a reason grounded in safety and/or efficiency.

You can make a direct route between any two airports that you want. Say New York to L.A. Or London and Paris for Europe. After that, every other route has to dodge that route. In other words, you can’t run the Paris to London route head on to the London to Paris route. Not unless you think a one lane road can run in both directions -- at the same time.

A lot of people in the world don’t understand this. The kind of people you find sitting on “commissions” instead of in front of radar scopes.

Don Brown
Mach 26, 2009

Billions and Billions

I guess we’ll have to make it “trillions and trillions” now. Obviously, the economic meltdown is going to be one of the biggest news stories of our lives. I’ve just finished a couple of articles -- about the economy -- I believe worthy of your attention. (Thanks Tim.)

The first is by Matt Taibbi, writing for the Rolling Stone. It’s down and dirty. None of the quotes are cleaned up. On the contrary, they’re highlighted. I keep waiting for the piece of journalism that is going to light the fuse on public outrage. This may be the one. It’s probably too lengthy for most Americans, but it certainly hits the right tone.

The Big Takeover

”That guy — the Patient Zero of the global economic meltdown — was one Joseph Cassano, the head of a tiny, 400-person unit within the company called AIG Financial Products, or AIGFP. Cassano, a pudgy, balding Brooklyn College grad with beady eyes and way too much forehead, cut his teeth in the Eighties working for Mike Milken, the granddaddy of modern Wall Street debt alchemists. Milken, who pioneered the creative use of junk bonds, relied on messianic genius and a whole array of insider schemes to evade detection while wreaking financial disaster. Cassano, by contrast, was just a greedy little turd with a knack for selective accounting who ran his scam right out in the open, thanks to Washington's deregulation of the Wall Street casino. "It's all about the regulatory environment," says a government source involved with the AIG bailout. "These guys look for holes in the system, for ways they can do trades without government interference. Whatever is unregulated, all the action is going to pile into that." “

If you younger people don’t recognize the name Michael Milken, you need to spend a few moments reading about him. Maybe they’ll put him back in jail, just on general principles.

The second article is in the Washington Post.

Shining Light on the Bailout Effort

”Anthony S. Barkow, a close friend and former colleague at the U.S. Attorney's Office, said anyone abusing the bailout should fear Barofsky. "When he says he wants to cause pain to the people who committed fraud, he means it," Barkow said. “

You’ll be happy to know that Barofsky works for you.

Don Brown
March 26, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FAA History Lesson -- March 25 (09)

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

”Mar 25-Apr 10, 1970: Some 3,000 air traffic controllers, all members of PATCO, engaged in a "sick- out" strike. All but a few of those involved were en route, rather than terminal, controllers. Some remained absent for a day or two, others for the entire 17-day period. The work stoppage reflected widespread discontent, but its immediate trigger was FAA's decision to ignore PATCO's protests and carry out the involuntary transfer of three controllers from the Baton Rouge combined station-tower. The absentees claimed sick leave, but the Department of Transportation viewed their action as a strike against the U.S. government and hence illegal. The government obtained temporary restraining orders against PATCO. When the union failed to comply with these orders, a show-cause order was obtained against its officers. During the hearing on the show-cause order, PATCO agreed to call off the "sickout." FAA suspended nearly 1,000 controllers and fired 52 for their role in the affair. (See Feb 18, 1970, and Apr 23, 1970.) “

For my new readers, this isn’t the first time I’ve covered this topic. I caution you about drawing too many conclusions from just one history lesson. You might think that having 52 controllers fired would leave a lasting impression on PATCO. And it might have -- if they weren’t all rehired at a later date. Well, except for Mike Rock of course.

Get the Flick has been around for awhile now. There’s no telling what you might find if you start looking. Speaking of which, the search box at the top left of the page next to the “Blogger” icon is the place to start. For instance, if you type in PATCO, it will return this page. Happy hunting.

Don Brown
March 25, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bad Joke

Have you heard the old airline joke ?

Q: How do you make a small fortune in the airline business ?

A: Start with a large fortune.

This article doesn’t provide any surprising news. It just reminds you that airlines are lucky to make money in good times. They don’t make any in bad times.

Report: Airlines to lose $4.7B in 2009

”Describing the outlook for the airline industry as “grim,” the International Air Transport Association on Tuesday sharply revised its 2009 earnings forecast downward, estimating carriers across the globe will combine to lose $4.7 billion.

The newest forecasts are nearly double loss projections issued in December, noting deteriorating conditions in Asia, Europe and Latin America. “

I was watching the TV yesterday and somewhat surprised that they were reporting on airport delays just like normal times. I shouldn’t have been surprised. And neither should you. At the airports that count, the prime hours will have delays as usual. Those are the routes that make money in good times and bad and the airlines won’t cut those schedules. So those delays will stay relatively constant as systemwide delays should drop. Overall, traffic has certainly dropped.

Still, the report says the airlines are still predicting a profit for the year.

”Carriers in North America should see modest profits of $100 million.

Low fuel prices, Bisignani said, are the industry’s saving grace. “

We’ll see.

Don Brown
March 24, 2009

It’s Here !

There’s no need to wait for NextGen to come to America. Head for Europe. NextGen arrived there yesterday.

European air agency launches new control system

”A new air traffic-control system designed to double the number of planes over Europe while cutting flight times and airport congestion was put into operation by the continent's aviation agency Monday. “

I hope you’ll be as amused as I was by the identical talking points used by Eurocontrol and the FAA.

”By increasing the number of flights in the air while reducing wait times over airports, the new technology will save airlines about euro4 billion euros ($5 billion) a year in wasted fuel, according to the agency, Eurocontrol. It is also meant to increase safety.

It will also allow for "continuous descent approaches," a technique whereby the aircraft essentially glide down to the runway from their cruise altitude, rather than face a series of step-down descents and speed changes. Experts say this too would save significant quantities of fuel. “

Even this one is identical.

”Eurocontrol said the new system should be fully operational by 2025. “

If, after reading the article, you have no idea what all the hullabaloo is about...don’t worry. I don’t either.

Don Brown
March 24, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Halaby: Government vs. Private

I’ve tried to rationalize the following excerpt from Crosswinds: An Airman’s Memoir with the fact that times were different. Technology has made great strides since then. But still, it sounds utterly clueless.

”One of our prosafety efforts got me into the most heated and unhappy brawl of my government career -- a decision to reduce the number of air-route traffic-control centers, which provided en route control over regions of the nation’s airspace. The primary motive was economy through higher productivity, but an important by-product was increased safety: By contracting the number of centers, we reduced the number of handoffs required for flights passing from one center’s jurisdiction to another’s -- and thus cut the chances for human error. Our goal was to eliminate eight of the twenty-nine then-existing centers. I went directly to President Kennedy with the plan. “

Perhaps, like most pilots, Mr. Halaby didn’t understand what handoffs really involved. The number of handoffs would not likely be reduced by reducing the number of Centers. Handoffs are made at each sector border -- not Center borders. Sector size is mostly dictated by traffic volume and complexity -- not which control facility happens to own the airspace. Perhaps his concern was the data transfers required between Centers. The same data has to be transferred between each sector but the process is slightly different between Centers. Or perhaps, he was pretty clueless about air traffic control.

Switching gears rapidly, I think it worth noting that the decision for the U.S. Government to build the Supersonic Transport (SST) was made during Halaby’s term. It’s more a social comment on my part. In the age when we have private companies trying to commercialize space, it’s hard to remember that government used to blatantly finance an obviously-commercial development. Anyway, the SST program ate up a lot of Halaby’s time.

That part of the private and government interaction might have changed but this part hasn’t;

” The same night after I turned the FAA over to a new administrator, Juan Trippe called me at home.

“I've prepared a definite offer of employment as a senior officer of Pan Am and I’m putting it in the mail,” he said.“

Mr. Halaby, of course, recognized the conflict of interest. He also recognized the money. He extracted a promise from Trippe that he wouldn’t be lobbying the Federal Government and hired on. Trippe, of course, broke that promise. And Halaby let him. Funny how money can massage the conscience. It’s not so funny how willing rich men are to corrupt.

Having said that, life is full of contradictions. While Mr. Halaby was lobbying...

”It also escapes me how anyone at Pan Am thought the airline could get anything out of either the Johnson or Nixon administrations -- the two greediest since World War II -- without Pan Am officers and Directors making personal political or financial contributions. Trippe wouldn’t and other top officers didn’t, for personal reasons. But it sure as hell cramped Pan Am’s Washington style... “

He turns the thought that regulation kept fares too high on its head too.

”In markets where the CAB controlled the fare structure, we often took a bath. .../... During the twelve months ending June 30, 1970, Pan Am had an operating loss of $8.7 million in the Hawaii market, which was not surprising in the view of an average yield of less than $.035 per passenger mile -- 40 per cent under the average domestic yield. This is what happens when fares are instituted at ridiculously low rates. And such fares result from the irresponsible promises made by airlines when they seek competitive route authority. “

There are many more instances that provide some insights into history. As I said earlier, the book really isn’t that good but I do have to admit I enjoyed it from a historical perspective. It was interesting to see an ex-FAA Administrator making CEO of one of America’s iconic companies. It’s hard to remember that many thought the Boeing 747 was a disaster when it first entered service with Pan Am. The views on airline deregulation are historically interesting...as are the human qualities we exhibit throughout history. Our never-ending ability to be dazzled by technology. Our reluctance to accept the limitations of the same. The constant of greed.

And that’s where I’ll leave the subject. Mr. Halaby averaged $30,000 a year as FAA Administrator until 1965. He left Pan Am, as CEO and Chairman, in 1972 making $127,500 a year. Even though he was forced out by the board of directors in March of 1972, Pan Am continued to pay his salary until December of 1973. Yet, it was the stock options he was due that most concerned Mr. Halaby. There was no word as to what they were worth.

Oh, I just can’t help myself. One last fact. One of the board members for Pan Am when Halaby was kicked out ? Charles Lindberg. No word on how he voted. Mr. Halaby always liked to think that “Slim” voted in his favor.

Don Brown
March 23, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Anger Management

Somehow, I missed out on the herd instinct. I don’t know if it’s a good trait or a bad trait but I know that it is. No Sunday-football sessions with the boys for me. I’d rather watch Fareed on GPS. As a matter of fact, I don’t do the sports thing at all. The Colts are still in Baltimore, Hank Aaron is still the home run king and Dr. J is still the best there ever was -- at least in my world. Whatever.

Accordingly, I’ve been slightly amused with the week’s outburst of anger over the AIG bonuses. I think people are right to be angry. I’m just surprised that it took them so long. We’ve known for almost a year that “Wall Street got drunk” --acting like a bunch of frat boys with their daddy’s credit card on a binge in Las Vegas. With our money.

As usual, the powers that be are trying to channel that anger and keep it under control. That’s understandable. We don’t need any angry-mob scenes. As a matter of fact, we don’t need any theatrics at all. We just need Congress to do their jobs.

First, get off of AIG. It’s just a distraction. They aren’t the only ones to blame in this mess. Most of the smart ones have already bailed out long before now anyway. Second, put the regulations back in place that kept this kind of greed under control. Third, go get our money back.

It’s the last part that is simple. I mean really simple. You don’t need any trials, investigations, recriminations or anything. Manage your anger. It’s as simple as “Sutton's Law”. Go where the money is. I don’t have any problem at all with the idea of taxing AIG’s bonuses at 90%. But why stop there ?

If you want your money back, start with these guys. Even a 90% tax on a billion leaves them with $100,000,000. I think I could manage on a $100 million for a lifetime -- much less a year. Speaking of which, reinstate the estate taxes while you’re at it. The next thing you know, we’ll be paying off our debts and living well. 1945 to 1963 were pretty good years, right ?

Don Brown
March 21, 2009

More Halaby

I didn’t really get to everything I wanted to cover yesterday so I thought I would cover it today. Blogging really is nice -- being able to write about whatever hits you and on your own schedule.

As I pointed out yesterday, Halaby objected to controllers being able to organize. And then he claimed to have been justified when PATCO started running slowdowns. It’s like saying, “I told you the galley slaves would revolt if we gave up our swords.” Evidently, giving up on mistreating their workers never crossed their minds.

”...we still didn’t make enough progress to satisfy either myself or the controllers, who had to run what we gave them. “

”The controllers kept hearing about all the wonderful technical improvements just over the horizon, but they never saw any actually being put into service.“

Much of the section on controllers can be summed up in two words: Yeah and But.

”It is only too true that in major towers at peak periods, controllers are under great stress. But... “

”The wasn’t any doubt that controller workload could be excessive in peak hours at major centers. But... “

After Halaby left, PATCO starting getting its act together.

Eventually the ATCA faded, and it was the PATCO that pulled the horrendous slowdowns and work stoppages that almost brought civil air transportation to a halt in the summer of 1968. (If you didn’t look yesterday, ATCA did “fade”. Take a look at the board. You’ll see a lot of ex-FAA managers that now work for the biggest contractors in ATC.)

For those that don’t remember 1968, I don’t think anything good happened in the entire U.S. during ‘68. It was an ugly year. Vietnam was in full swing with Khe San and the Tet offensive. My Lai. MLK was shot. Bobby Kennedy was killed too. There were riots in Chicago during the Democratic Party Convention. Nixon was nominated for President. Elvis made a comeback.

”Actually, the number of controllers involved was relatively small, but in so complex a system, a platoon of dissidents amounts o a whole division. Airline on-time performance dropped from over 90 per cent to less than 50 per cent, due solely to air-traffic delays.“ (Note: PATCO’s “choir boys” are history worth knowing.)

Hmmm, that’s interesting. An admittedly outdated system with a 90% on-time performance rate. This is just the first article I found for a quick reference to today.

”The DOT's Bureau of Transportation Statistics said the 19 carriers reporting on-time performance recorded an overall on-time arrival rate of 77 percent in January, an improvement over both January 2008's 72.4 percent and December 2008's 65.3 percent.“

I guess that’s enough for today. I read Crosswinds to get a sense of the air traffic system back then. I’d forgotten that Mr. Halaby went on to run Pan Am. That section of the book -- and what it told me of the airline industry -- was almost as interesting. I’ll try to get some comments about it up soon.

Don Brown
March 21, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Najeeb Halaby

Considering the realities of the day, I can’t help but wonder what is going through the minds of my younger readers as they read the name “Najeeb Halaby”. I don’t think many will come up with the “second Administrator of the FAA”. But it’s true. Perhaps even stranger, I’ve taken the time to read his book, Crosswinds: An Airman’s Memoir.

This book won’t be on anyone’s best seller’s list and I’m not trying to get you to read it. Frankly, it’s not that good. But it is educational and, in an ATC-geeky-kind-of-way, interesting.

Mr. Halaby was the FAA Administrator from 1961 to 1965. From 1969 to 1972 he was CEO of Pan Am World Airways. If you look at Mr. Halaby’s Wikipedia entry, you’ll get a whole different lesson about history. Despite both of these remarkable accomplishments (and being a test pilot and being a successful businessman), Mr. Halaby’s entry is consumed with his lineage. That is what happens when your daughter becomes Queen Noor of Jordon.

I’ll limit my comments to the aviation portion of his life. He starts off with;

“My attitude toward air traffic controllers was a carbon copy of how I felt about pilots; tremendous respect for the vast majority of them, sympathy toward their problems, and an intense awareness of their dedication and devotion to their duties. Along with national defense, there is no more important federal job than that of the air-traffic controller. Human lives depend on him. National security rides with him. The economy of the airlines depends on him.”

Yep. Controllers are so important he spent 5 pages out of 356 talking about them. Within those pages, he found time to criticize the Civil Aeronautics Administration men (the agency men that preceded the Federal Aviation Agency) and those “militants” that transformed the Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) into a labor union known as PATCO.

When President Kennedy went to issue Executive Order 10998 that would allow Federal employees to form labor unions, Mr. Halaby fought to have controllers excluded. Some of the language Mr. Halaby used was interesting.

“I believe the job of controller is a calling so high that he must sacrifice some of the normal rights of a private citizen in the area of collective bargaining and unionization. But I also believe that the controller is owed a special set of benefits -- prerogatives, if you will -- for “taking the cloth” as he commits himself to the public service.”

I don’t really think Mr. Halaby understood controllers. What he thought they wanted and what they really wanted were two different things. Take this passage for example.

“We built sixteen new ATC centers, with the personnel literally going from shacks to the most modern industrial structures. Instead of badly ventilated, poorly lit cubbyholes, they got air conditioning, indirect lighting and even snack bars.”

That’s so quaint it’s almost cute. The controllers got snack bars. The equipment demanded air conditioning and indirect lighting. If it hadn’t, the controllers would still have been in shacks.

It’s depressing to see the signs in this book that still persist in the FAA.

”I visited shifts at the busy New York center, for example, and was shocked at their dingy, overcrowded, and almost primitive working conditions. They were using World War II radar to handle six-hundred-mile-an-hour jet traffic.“

Huh. Imagine that. If he was shocked in 1961, I wonder what he’d be now, when he discovered we’re still using the same radar and his new Centers are now discarded, dingy, asbestos-laden relics ?

Don Brown
March 20, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

FAA History Lesson -- March 19 (09)

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

”Mar 1976: Responding to public and congressional concern about near collisions in the air, Administrator John L. McLucas announced a five-point separation assurance program: continued enhancement of ground-based air traffic control; consideration of increased use of Instrument Flight Rules and radar beacon surveillance; possible additional requirements for carriage of radar beacons (transponders) with altitude reporting capability; development of the Beacon Collision Avoidance System (BCAS); and development of Intermittent Positive Control (IPC), which would allow automatic transmission of collision warnings from ground facilities (see Mar 4, 1976).

The inclusion of BCAS represented a milestone in the long search for an airborne collision warning device that had been begun by the Air Transport Association in 1955. FAA began participating in 1959 by sponsoring a government-industry advisory group, but by the early 1970s was under fire for failure to achieve prompt deployment of such a system. At congressional request, the agency in 1972 undertook an evaluation of three forms of Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) developed by Honeywell, McDonnell-Douglas, and RCA. Within FAA, however, opinion tended to favor the BCAS system, which made use of radar transponders and was more compatible with the ground-based air traffic control system.
On Feb 9, 1976, McLucas reported to Senator Howard Cannon that, although Honeywell's system was the best of the three ACAS versions, increased separation assurance could best be achieved by other means,
including development of BCAS. (See Dec 27, 1978.) “

So, if NextGen is like TCAS, you’ll see it implemented (mostly) by 2040 or so. For another frame of reference, PanAm started flying Boeing 707s when we first started working on TCAS. By the time it was fielded, the airlines had been flying Boeing 757s and 767s for a decade.

”Jan 10, 1989: FAA published a rule requiring the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS II) on all airliners with more than 30 passenger seats operating in U.S. airspace (see Mar 18, 1987). The airlines were to phase in TCAS II by Dec 30, 1991. On Apr 9, 1990, however, FAA extended the TCAS II compliance schedule completion date to Dec 30, 1993 (an extension that also applied to wind shear warning equipment: see Sep 22, 1988). The Jan 10, 1989, rule also required turbine-powered commuter aircraft with 10 to 30 passenger seats to install the simpler TCAS I by Feb 9, 1995, a deadline later extended to Dec 31, 1995.”

And NextGen is going to cure that delay you are steaming mad about today... about when Boeing is making 7-12-7s. Or will that be 848s ? Or will Boeing go the way of Douglas ?

Don Brown
March 19, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Yin and Yang

Your Federal Government reached a new low under George W. Bush with the hiring of one Joe Miniace. He was hired for one specific purpose -- to hurt the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. NATCA is the union that represents the nation’s air traffic controllers.

FAA Names New Strategic Labor Relations Head

”WASHINGTON, DC — Administrator Marion C. Blakey today named Joseph Miniace as the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Deputy Assistant Administrator for Strategic Labor Management Relations. As a recognized expert in employee and management relations, Miniace will help advance the FAA’s strategic goal as a governmental leader in personnel and labor management. “

”Miniace comes to the FAA after serving as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) beginning in 1996. At PMA, he championed a ten-year strategic plan that revolutionized the west coast shipping industry, which had been plagued by long-standing labor unrest, excessive work stoppages, and productivity declines. “

In short, Mr. Miniace is a hired gun -- a union buster. (That’s still my favorite cover BTW.)

Yesterday, the FAA announced that Mr. Miniace will become Regional Administrator for the Central Region. This won’t do. Mr. Miniace needs to return to the depths from which he came.

Now would be a good time to reflect upon Mr. Miniace’s and Ms. Blakey’s accomplishments . What did they do for the FAA besides cost it thousands of years worth of irreplaceable experience in air traffic controllers ? And, by the way, what did the FAA do with all that money they supposedly saved ?

On the flip side, take a gander at this story in the Washington Post.

President's Visits Buoy Federal Employees

”Two months into office, Obama has visited seven federal agencies' headquarters, each time appearing with his Cabinet secretaries and addressing workers. As he makes the rounds, Obama is inspiring longtime career employees with his speeches and asking them to be a partner in his agenda to change the culture of Washington.

"There's clearly an excitement and sense that you have a president that is aggressively and optimistically moving forward with making government cool again," said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service. "That's the charge that President Obama said he wants to meet, and across the board federal workers feel that energy and need to perform. . . . That sense of importance and a critical role is something I sense in the federal workforce." “

It’s like a breath of fresh air isn’t it ?

Don Brown
March 18, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Answer is Blowin’ in the Wind

One of my readers (and fellow ATC junkie) sent me a link to a video he made. And best of all, Keith had graciously agreed to share it with everyone. It ties into my theme about NextGen and the limited capacity of our airports.

A runway change -- the wind started blowing from a different direction -- causes over an hour of holding at EWR (Newark, NJ). As Keith is walking you through the situation in the video, let this thought stay in the back of your head: How will NextGen increase the capacity in this situation ?

Here’s the first video. You’ll see the link to the second video on the bottom of the screen. Remember to follow the computer cursor (the white arrow) as Keith narrates.

Don Brown
March 17, 2009

Send in the Drones

It happens at every Communicating for Safety (CFS). At least it does for me. A panel that I’m not interested in turns out to be fascinating. This year, it was the panel discussion on UAVs -- Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

The New York Times ran a story about their use in Iraq and Afghanistan today. It seems as if they’ve been wildly successful. It was the same story we got at CFS. As you can imagine, CFS isn’t too concerned with what goes on in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, yes, that does mean that drones and UAVs are being used here in the States.

”And Pentagon officials say the remotely piloted planes, which can beam back live video for up to 22 hours, have done more than any other weapons system to track down insurgents and save American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. “

If you toss out all the military references in that sentence you start to see the civilian attraction for these planes -- “remotely piloted planes, which can beam back live video for up to 22 hours...“ I know many Center controllers are thinking of missions they have worked in the past.

”As the Predator circled at 16,000 feet, the dark band of a river and craggy hills came into view, along with ribbons of farmland.

“We spend 70 to 80 percent of our time doing this, just scanning roads,” said the pilot, Matthew Morrison. “

Circling at 16,000 reminds me of working aerial surveys. As I said in that blog entry, just think of a rolling, air-traffic roadblock. That was the point of the subject at Communicating for Safety. Integrating these airplanes into the National Airspace System is going to be challenging. But ready or not, here they come.

Don Brown
March 17, 2009

Hometown Heroes

All the Archie League Award recipients have returned home and the local press outlets are discovering their stories.

Here’s one from The Roanoke Times.

Don Brown
March 17, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

What He Said

Run over to The FAA Follies and read the good idea Paul Cox has about NextGen, and then, listen to him tell you the same things I tell you about NextGen. He does a better job of it and he’s still a working controller.

I told a rookie controller the other day that a lot of things in life boil down to knowing who to trust. You have to trust somebody in life -- unless you can perform your own hernia surgery, mount your own new tires and build your own water heater. That pretty much sums up this situation with NextGen. Who do you trust ? The guys that are telling you it won’t work -- it can’t deliver what is promised ? Or the folks that are asking you to spend $40 billion dollars. I’ll stand on my record. I know Paul will too. Compare our promises to the FAA’s. Compare our track record. You decide. Who do you trust ?

One point I wanted to make while I was reading Paul’s piece (you can’t cram every point into a blog at once) -- if you take his suggestion to build new runways and/or airports and you don’t regulate their use, we’ll be right back where we are now. New concrete gives us new capacity. But if we allow the users to overschedule the new runways/airports (and they will, in time) then you just wind up with a bigger mess.

You can prove it to yourself, have lots of fun and kill countless hours entertaining yourself while you’re at it. Try your hand at being an air traffic controller. Well, one kind of controller anyway. Try working the final. You can write me nasty hate mail after you’re hooked.

Seriously, it’s as good a depiction of ATC as I’ve seen on the ‘net (and I work real hard at avoiding these time killers.) But if you’re bound and determined to believe that the laws of physics can be defied if you just wish hard enough, you can prove it with this game. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Don Brown
March 16, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

FAA History Lesson -- March 15 (09)

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

”Mar 15, 1981: The labor contract between FAA and PATCO expired. In accordance with Article 75 of the agreement, however, all its provisions but one (immunity under the aviation safety reporting program) remained in force until a new agreement was reached. (See Dec 15, 1980, and Apr 28, 1981.) “

If you’ve been paying attention, there is no comment needed from me. For those that haven’t been paying attention (or the newly hired), the history lesson continues.

From the FAA Historical Chronology Update -- 2008 (.pdf)...

” April 3, 2006: FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) exchanged their final contract proposals. April 6, FAA declared that, as it had reached an impasse with the controllers union after nine months of contract talks, only congressional action could prevent the agency from imposing its latest contract offer without union agreement. April 25, FAA officially ended contract negotiations with NATCA. June 5, FAA announced it would begin imposing its preferred contract terms on the controller work force. Under existing statutory rulings, the agency could impose its contract terms if Congress were to fail to overturn the agency's proposal within a 60-day window. FAA had sent its contract proposal to Congress in April and the deadline for congressional action was June 4. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said that, although the previous contract was officially terminated as of the previous day before, the work and pay rules of that contract would remain in effect while the new rules were phased in. She also commented in a letter to employees that this transition process could take several months. (See November 28, 2005; August 2007.) “

If you use FAA logic, NATCA members should probably be happy. At least this Administration didn’t fire all of them. Of course, you might see it the way controllers see it; the Government really ought to stop signing contracts they don’t intend to honor. If the contract says it will remain in force until a new one is negotiated (and it did), then it remains in force. But it didn’t. The new controllers need to file that piece of information away some place safe so they’ll remember it 20 years down the road.

Don Brown
March 15, 2009

Repo Man -- Aviation Style

After some 30 odd years in aviation, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a similar story.

Foreclosing on a Plane, Then Flying It Away

It’s not exactly the image the upper classes want the peasantry to have of them -- Deadbeats. It must be a sign of the times.

(You might need to register with The New York Times to view the story. I recommend you do so anyway. It’s worth the small effort.)

Don Brown
March 15, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Did Someone Say Dinosaur ?

Jurassic Bark has a good post up from a few days ago.

”A new generation of air traffic controllers are becoming certified with lots of automated equipment to help them do their jobs. However, what happens when the automated equipment fails or fails to perform as expected? “

Indeed. The FAA’s answer to this age-old problem seems to be the classic business response -- the Hamburger Stand Option. If the electricity goes out, or if the computer quits -- just stop selling hamburgers and let your customers go hungry. It’s too expensive to hire only people that can count change (just because they’ve been to college doesn’t mean they can count change) and besides, they’d forget how to do it after a few weeks of being a “mouse-clicking monkey”.

I’ve always wanted the FAA to take the “Waffle House Option”. I don’t think that the entire country is blessed with having a Waffle House on almost every corner so perhaps a few details are in order.

The Waffle House is nothing fancy. And that’s being generous in some cases. But there’s one thing about it -- the Waffle House model works. Walk into any Waffle House and you’ll be on familiar ground. They’re all the same. If you’ll look closely you might notice a few details. At first, you’ll think it’s chaos. The waitresses yell their orders to the cook. (Emphasis on yell.) That is where it starts to get interesting. You’ll notice that the cook doesn’t write down the order and the waitresses don’t give him their written copy. It’s all in his head.

When you think about it, it’s pretty impressive. Try holding “order scrambled, bacon, hash browns scattered, covered and chunked with wheat -- order over easy, sausage, hash browns smothered, covered, chunked, topped and diced with white, times two” in your head along with a half-dozen other orders and Hank wailing on the jukebox. It ain’t easy.

Then, when you get your bill and pay it, you’ll notice something else. All the waitresses can count change. As a matter of fact, most of the time you won’t see a calculator around. They total up the bill -- and calculate the tax -- by using their brains.

Stop and think about how unique that is in our world now. It’s not rocket science. We’re talking grade-school math. But you don’t see anyone doing it anymore -- much less a business that relies on it.

Instead, you see cash registers with pictures on them (for the truly talented) that force their users to adapt to counting change like a computer instead of like a person so that they can’t do it when the machine quits. Of course, it’s not really a problem because if the electricity goes out, the cash drawer won’t open anyway.

Not so at the Waffle House. There are some things at the Waffle House that run on electricity but nothing they can’t live without. The grill runs on gas so they keep right on cooking. The waitresses can do the math and count the change. Even the cash drawer will open. They’d make do even if it didn’t. They would just keep writing things down on those yellow notepads and keep slinging hash browns until the cook passed out from the heat. The air-conditioning, lights and waffle irons don’t work when the electricity is out but they can still feed their customers.

As I was saying before I got carried away with the Waffle House, the FAA has been and continues to do a poor job of designing the system to fail gracefully. They are becoming increasingly dependent upon their technology and don’t have what I consider to be a viable plan for operating should the technology fail. Stopping the departures on the ground is a given. But what do you do with the airplanes that are already airborne ? This isn’t an academic question. Failures happen.

It was said before I was a controller and i is still true today. The FAA keeps trying to replace controllers with computers. And they keep failing. When all else fails, the controllers still work. The FAA seems determined to make sure that that part of the system fails too. But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. Take a controller’s word.

Me ? I’ve flung a craving on myself. I’m headed to the Waffle House. Cheesy Eggs & Grits. Yum. Did you know that the Waffle House sells more grits than anybody else in the world ? Not to mention the 495, 264, 367 waffles they’ve sold. Or the 1,173,838,328 orders of hash browns.

Don Brown
March 14, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Picture Pardon

Pardon the less-than-stellar pictures but I’ve got excuses. It hurts more to get on the ground than it used to and I owe a bunch of my friends pictures. If you’ll remember, they’re the ones that gave me all the daffodil bulbs.

Speaking of remembering, the Lenten Rose survived the snow in fine shape.

The tulips are coming out.

And the very first Cherry blossoms (Yoshino Cherries) are starting to show. That means that the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival should be right on time.

Don Brown
March 13, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

ITYS -- Breaking News

Remember I told you so well over a year ago.

”I’ve taken to calling Jon Stewart the smartest man on TV. “

Run -- don’t walk -- over to The Daily Show and watch the interview with Jim Cramer. I believe the “fake” news show has broken the biggest news story of the year.

I’m still listening to the show. The link isn’t up yet but it should be by the time you read this story. I’ll update it, when I can, in the morning. Trust me. This will be THE topic of conversation Friday.

(Edit: Here’s the link for the full show. Comedy Central is milking it for all it’s worth (can’t blame them) so you might just want to visit the site and watch some snippets.)

(Second Edit: This is the first of the unedited videos. If you watch Jon on a regular basis, you know he gets "bleeped" on a regular basis. Warning -- nothing is "bleeped" in these videos. It will take about 45 minutes to watch all three.)

Don Brown
March 12, 2009

The Reason I Read Reich

You will want to read Robert Reich’s blog today.

”The basic idea of Reaganomics was that the economy grows from the top down. Lower taxes on the wealthy make them work harder and invest more, and the benefits trickle down to everyone else. Rarely in economic history has a theory been more tested in the real world and proven so wrong. “

”In 1980, just before the Reagan revolution, the richest 1 percent took home 9 percent of total national income. But by 2007, the richest 1 percent was taking home 22 percent. “

There is more. As I’ve said before, no one is better at grasping the grand scheme of things and boiling it down to a few words that are easily understood. Go read it.

Don Brown
March 12, 2009

FAA History Lesson -- March 12 (09)

One of my readers came up to me at Communicating for Safety and made a simple and salient point. There have been a lot of controllers hired since I last ran my “FAA History Lessons” on a regular basis. There’s not much point in arguing with someone that is right.

Today’s lesson isn’t earth-shattering. It just provides at least one clue to one of today’s burning questions: When are we going to get a new Administrator ? (It took 6 months to find a new one in the middle of Bush Sr.’s term.) As always, there are other lessons to be learned. But that is up to the reader.

In addition, let me take the opportunity to thank all the folks that took the time to introduce themselves and say a nice word about my blog -- Get the Flick. I am most appreciative. And flattered. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy lives to read my ramblings.

Now, without further ado...

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

”Mar 12, 1990: Barry L. Harris became FAA's Deputy Administrator, succeeding Barbara McConnell Barrett (see Apr 1, 1988). President Bush had announced the nomination on Nov 6, 1989. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Harris attended Harvard and Denison Universities and served as an officer in the U.S. Army. His career included positions as assistant city manager for Gloucester, Mass., director of community programs for the Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and work as a writer and producer for the news media. Prior to joining FAA, he was president and chief executive of Alliance Corp., in Portland, Maine, and Community Services, Inc., in Gloucester. Harris had been cochairman of the Bush campaign's state finance committee in Maine, and had served on the campaign's national finance committee. He was an experienced pilot, qualified to fly helicopters as well as piston- and jet-powered fixed wing aircraft.

Harris served as Acting Administrator during the period between the tenures of Administrators Busey and Richards (see Dec 4, 1991, and Jun 27, 1992). He remained as Deputy for the rest of the Bush Administration, resigning effective Jan 20, 1993.“

Don Brown
March 12, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Attention Deficit Democrats

I should probably make more statements like Paul Krugman did yesterday.

"So the fact that Boehner’s idea of economics is completely insane matters."

Here is Congressman Boehner in his own words, if you care to watch.

Video -- Spending Sanity

Now, to find out why those words are insane, do yourself a favor and go read Krugman.

Please keep in mind that it was these types of Republicans that led us to this economic disaster. They didn’t want any government regulators so they didn’t fund them. Less government, to them, meant more profit. And they were right up to a point. The insanity came in when they kept going further and further right. You can see the effects everywhere, from sub-prime mortgages to peanut-processing plants. The government was so hamstrung they couldn’t even catch the blatant crooks, much less the merely careless, unscrupulous and greedy.

I don’t expect the same frat-boy unity out of Democrats that the Republican Party is famous for -- a diversity of ideas is a good thing -- but Democrats really need to get their act together here. Much of America doesn’t understand the economic forces at work today -- much less the theory for curing our ills. The Republicans certainly aren’t going to make it clear. They only have one response to any crisis -- the always popular tax cut. Economic boom ? Cut taxes. Economic crisis ? Cut taxes. It weakens government regulation and strengthens business and brings us right back to where we started.

We either create demand with government spending or the massive layoffs that have been occurring will continue. We’re losing over 600,000 jobs a month. Business -- at the moment -- can’t employ them (hence the layoffs.) The unemployed don’t spend money like the employed which leads to businesses laying off even more people because their products aren’t selling.

If the government doesn’t find a way of employing these people, it has to send them unemployment checks (or some kind of assistance.) We aren’t going to let them starve in the street. In other words, we’re trapped. It costs us to employ them and it costs us not to employ them. It’s a no-brainer. Put them to work.

If we’re smart, we’ll put them to work doing something productive -- building bridges, paving roads or educating our children. Once they’re employed, they start to spend again and businesses respond by hiring again to meet the demand. Once you understand the theory, you can understand that cutting government spending -- at this time -- really is insane. Unless you want people to starve in the street.

There is productive work to be done. I read this in The New York Times last week about spending the stimulus money in New York State.

Of course, every new courthouse or sewer is a potential embarrassment akin to the Bridge to Nowhere. Any political fallout from waste or corruption will settle on Mr. Paterson, who, like all governors distributing stimulus money, must approve each project and certify its legitimacy. And even with $4 billion to spend, there is not enough to go around: local officials have submitted 7,675 projects totaling $41.8 billion, with more coming in each day.

$41 billion worth of projects and only $4 billion to spend. It all sounds like a lot of money. But try sending out 12 million unemployment checks and see what it costs you. Even at only a $100 dollars a month that is $1,200,000,000. A month. And you know you can’t live off $100 a month. At the current rate, we add another million people every two months. Do you see how fast this becomes really expensive ?

Pay attention.

Don Brown
March 11, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ATC Tapes Talk

If you’d like to hear what an inbound push to ORD used to sound like at Chicago Center, you can listen here. LRod has also provided a couple of maps, an explanation and even a transcript of the session.

For anyone that has ever run an inbound push to a major airport, it will sound all too familiar. For the rest, it will provide a rare glimpse into the world of air traffic control.


Don Brown
March 10, 2009

Germany Got the Flick

Remember back in the good, old days when the smart guys thought privatizing your country’s air traffic control system was such a smart idea ? You know, back when the brains on Wall Street were “Masters of the Universe” and their enablers controlled Washington ? Back before we were thinking of nationalizing the banks ?

Germany drops plan to privatise air traffic control

"The sources confirmed a report in weekly magazine Der Spiegel which said the cabinet would next week formally abandon the bid, which had already been blocked by President Horst Koehler in 2006."

Better luck next time guys. Yes, there will be a next time. Aviation may be on the ropes for now but it will be back. And someone new will succumb to the greedy dream of owning a toll booth in the sky.

Don Brown
March 10, 2009

Monday, March 09, 2009

It’s Not Exactly Free...

But if you’re interested in the type of aviation that James Fallows sees in his vision of “Free Flight” you’ll probably be interested in this from my old friends at AVweb.

”Startup air taxi ImagineAir flew its first operations in 2007 and in spite of the economic downturn in 2008 doubled its business, flying more than 600 routes between more than 200 airports in the Southeast. Founded in 2005 and operating five Cirrus SR22 GTS aircraft with 15 employees, the Atlanta-based company saw 117 percent more flights year over year from 2007 to 2008. “

Hopefully, the thought occurs to you that this is “NowGen”. No ADS-B needed. Radar works just fine, thank-you-very-much. The difference ? Those “under-used airports”.

Don Brown
March 9, 2009

Dangerous Data

You’ve got to wonder who is financing this research.

Older air traffic controllers perform as well as young on job-related tasks

”On simple cognitive tasks, the older controllers (aged 53 to 64) were similar to the older non-controllers. Compared with their younger peers (aged 20 to 27), the older subjects were slower on simple memory or decision-making tasks that were not directly related to air traffic control. But on the tests that simulated the tasks of an air traffic controller, the older and younger controllers were equally capable. (The older non-controllers had significant deficits, however.) “

I don’t know if my non-controller readers can detect all the flaws in that short statement or not. I know for certain that older controllers can. Having been one, I can tell you with absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever, older controllers become mentally slower. And unlike this study, my data isn’t based on “simulated...tasks “.

The key is in this portion; “older subjects were slower on simple memory or decision-making tasks...“ I don’t care if those tasks were not directly related to air traffic control or not. Those are the capabilities that define who can be an air traffic controller -- or not. Controllers have to memorize a blizzard of information and instant recall is important. One of the first tasks at the FAA Academy is to memorize a map of the airspace -- in one day. And as far as “decision-making tasks” -- that’s all an air traffic controller does all day. Instantaneously. Thousands upon thousands of decisions just as fast as you can make them. “Slower” is not an option.

But slower is what we all become as we get older. And it is progressive. Every year past a controller’s peak (somewhere around age 40) becomes more dangerous. True, older controllers have a treasure chest of experience to rely upon. It is also true that controllers are individuals. Some peak earlier than others. Some don’t slow down as quickly. Having worked with some older controllers that were “grandfathered” in -- in other words, they hired on before the mandatory retirement rule -- I’ve witnessed firsthand what it’s like being in your 60s and working traffic at a very busy air traffic facility. It is not pretty.

I, of course, recommend you read this article. I also hope you’ll keep this in mind as you’re reading it. This idea is dangerous. There are far too many controllers that can’t rein in their outsized egos and want to believe they’ve still “got it.” They’ve been special their entire lives -- possessing a skill that few have -- and they desperately want to believe that they are special still. That they are the one guy that is going to beat the odds. There might be one who is. There are hundreds that believe they are. They aren’t.

This study is like throwing a lifeline to a drowning man. There will be hundreds that will cling to it with a death grip. You might think that I fear what he FAA will do with the data. True, but I have a larger concern.

Take a look at your 401K statement. Chances are, it looks like a disaster. Now, imagine if you were a 54-year-old controller. You’re hard up against a mandatory retirement age of 56 and your retirement just got wiped out. Would you be looking for a lifeline ?

In this respect, controllers are no different than anyone else. Desperate people make bad decisions.

Don Brown
March 9, 2009

Sunday, March 08, 2009


I once read someone long ago refer to Newt Gingrich as a “bomb-thrower” and it stuck with me. Because that is exactly what he does. Case in point:

”The union has stopped 200,000,000 passengers from enjoying more reliable air travel to protect 7,000 obsolete jobs. “


How do you respond to that ? Even the target of this bomb has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. If Newt thinks anything or anybody can replace 7,000 air traffic controllers in the foreseeable future he’s nuts. I can go with that because I think he is nuts. Most people think he’s rational. Most of the time anyway. There are only around 14,000 controllers in the country and Newt thinks he can replace half of them ? Of course, he didn’t say how or when or in what universe did he ? It’s just another bomb and if anybody bothered to ask for an explanation he’d just throw out another one.

”The problems of the Federal Aviation Administration are symptoms of a union-dominated bureaucracy resisting change. “


Huh ? “A union-dominated bureaucracy” ? Do you even know what that is ? I don’t. Remember, the FAA is the outfit that imposed its work rules on its unions. They’ve been in effect for 917 days. How can that be “union-dominated” ? And even if the FAA was a “union-dominated bureaucracy”, isn’t Newt pushing that bureaucracy’s plan -- NextGen ? Is NextGen a “symptom” of this horrible ill ? It’s nuts. There’s no logic in his words. Newt doesn’t even make sense. It must be time for another bomb.

”If we implemented a space-based GPS-style air traffic system we would get 40% more air travel with one-half the bureaucrats. “

“GPS-style” ? What is that ? GPS has been out there for years. Virtually all the General Aviation airplanes have it. The only planes that don’t are some of the airliners. I’ve got five bucks that says Newt doesn’t even know this. Now what’s this “40% more air travel with one-half the bureaucrats“ business ? I know, you’re catching on now and realize that Newt strings together a bunch of buzzwords that sound good but don’t actually mean anything. He says in one place “you cut the number of unionized air-traffic controllers by 7,000“ but in another place he says “one-half the bureaucrats .“ Which is it ? Union controllers or bureaucrats ? Those are two different groups, right Newt ? How about the “40% more air travel” ? Hey, I can get you 40% more people through the existing airports. All that takes is bigger airplanes. What’s your idea Newt ?

Below, I’ve provided the quotes I’ve used and the links to them in case you care to read them in context. Let me know if you see any others out there. I’ll be sure to comment on them too. I do, however, have other things to write about than some politician that doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

”One of the projects I’m going to launch — we don’t have a name for it yet — is an air-traffic modernization project... “

”by  Newt Gingrich

6. Implement a space-based, GPS-style air traffic control system.“

You’ve had the idea for over 6 months and still haven’t come up with a name for it ? Some “idea factory” you are.

Don Brown
March 8, 2009

Newt. Again. (From the New York Times Magazine)

”At our first meeting in November, Gingrich laid out for me his latest preoccupation, which, surprisingly, had nothing to do with stimulus or banking. “One of the projects I’m going to launch — we don’t have a name for it yet — is an air-traffic modernization project,” Gingrich told me excitedly. “You can do a space-based air-traffic-control system with half the current number of air-traffic controllers, increase the amount of air traffic in the northeast by 40 percent, allow point-to-point flights without the controllers having to have highways in the sky, and reduce the amount of aviation fuel by 10 percent. So it’s better for the environment, better for the economy. You have far fewer delays in New York, and by the way, you cut the number of unionized air-traffic controllers by 7,000. “


My Plea to Republicans: It's Time for Real Change to Avoid Real Disaster

by  Newt Gingrich

”6. Implement a space-based, GPS-style air traffic control system. The problems of the Federal Aviation Administration are symptoms of a union-dominated bureaucracy resisting change. If we implemented a space-based GPS-style air traffic system we would get 40% more air travel with one-half the bureaucrats. The union has stopped 200,000,000 passengers from enjoying more reliable air travel to protect 7,000 obsolete jobs. This real change would allow the millions of frustrated travelers to have champions in congress trying to help them get places better, safer, faster. “

Saturday, March 07, 2009

BE A SAP -- Join Newt

Step right up folks, be the first to show your fellow airline passengers that you’re totally clueless about air traffic control by sporting one of these spiffy luggage tags.

Just another idea brought to you by that “idea factory”, Newt Gingrich.

While you’re ogling those neato luggage tags, be sure to scroll down and read the “Airline Factoid of the Week”.

”It is well known that of all the delays encountered in the National Airspace System, the most common (about 70 percent) are those caused by weather. In the NextGen system, using advanced probabilistic forecasting techniques and a network-wide shared view of the weather can markedly reduce weather delays.  (Source: Joint Planning and Development Office Report on NextGen)“

Yeah. What they said. “Probabilistic” and all that stuff. I wonder if those “forecasting techniques” will solve stuff like this ?

More Stranded Snowstorm Victims - 8 Hours on the Tarmac at Atlanta's Hartsfield

”ATLANTA, March 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Having your flight canceled because of the snowstorm is bad enough, but imagine having to sit helpless and strapped in, on the tarmac, for as long as 8 hours beforehand.

That's what happened yesterday at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where passengers on dozens of flights were forced to sit on the tarmac for as long as 8 hours waiting for a takeoff that in most cases never happened. “

Is that what NextGen is ? A system that will predict the weather 90 days in advance when you’re trying to save money on your ticket ? “Sorry, can’t sell you a ticket today buddy. It’s going to snow 4 inches in Atlanta, Georgia on March 2nd. We’re going to prevent a traffic jam by refusing to sell tickets.” Or are all those NextGen satellites going to carry lasers that can deice your airplane and zap any thunderstorm dumb enough to wander close to the Atlanta airport ? You just knew all that “Star Wars” stuff would pay off one day didn’t you, Newt ?

Hey, if you want crazy, I can do crazy. I mean, can’t you just taste the deliciously insane irony in all of this ? Newt Gingrich, hero of the right wing and keeper of the Ronald Reagan flame, shilling luggage tags on the internet while pushing a government program to solve a problem that “the market” hasn’t been able to crack since we deregulated it all. A program designed by none other than the FAA -- one of the most incompetent agencies out there in the last few decades. You’d never know that Newt had such faith in the government --what with him and his buddies trying to destroy it for all these years.

What is the world coming to ? The next thing you know old Newt will be pushing bipartisanship.

Oh well. If you really want some cool luggage tags, check these out along with the rest of the swag. They won’t make you any smarter and they won’t make your airplane arrive on time. On the other hand, they won’t make you look stupid. And if there’s a union shop left that makes them, you’ll be helping keep an American union worker employed.

At least until Newt and his buddies kill them off too. Hyperbole ? Think again.

6: Implement a space-based, GPS-style air traffic control system.

The problems of the Federal Aviation Administration are symptoms of a union-dominated bureaucracy resisting change. If we implemented a space-based GPS-style air traffic system we would get 40% more air travel with one-half the bureaucrats. The union has stopped 200,000,000 passengers from enjoying more reliable air travel to protect 7,000 obsolete jobs. This real change would allow the millions of frustrated travelers to have champions in congress trying to help them get places better, safer, faster. “

Yep. Me and ol’ Leroy will be dancin’ for a few more days yet.

Don Brown
March 7, 2009

Do You See ?

How about now ?

Just another foggy-morning visit from my friend.

Scroll over the picture and click to enlarge any of them.

Don Brown
March 7, 2009

Send in the Helicopters

I SAY AGAIN, Global Public Square with Fareed Zakaria is a brilliant show. If you’re not watching it every Sunday you are missing out on a great education. I’m skipping over the part about Afghanistan and Pakistan this week and going right to the part with Martin Wolf and then the interview with Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada.

First, Martin Wolf is the chief economic commentator at London’s Financial Times. There are important subtleties present here. Try to note them. The Financial Times is over a hundred years old. They are pro-business and conservative.

”WOLF: Well, first of all, I think we have to recognize this is a very serious problem we're now in. We are in a major, massive global downturn with a real prospect of getting out of hand.

Everything is going very badly. The shrinkage of world output is terrifying. And I think this is an event which can only now be compared with the '30s.

Everything has turned out worse than anybody expected, even the most pessimistic people a year ago.“

If you think that reads bad, you ought to listen to how bad it sounds.

Notice that this guy -- from the business newspaper in London -- is agreeing with Krugman.

”WOLF: Well, the problem with the stimulus package, in my view, is essentially twofold. First, surprisingly, it's too small. I know $900 billion -- or $800 billion -- sounds like a lot of money. But this is a $14 trillion economy “

Here too:

”WOLF: And so, the government has to spend.

We are in that very rare situation, in my view -- it occurs in the West perhaps once every 70 years. It's a situation described by the famous English economist, John Maynard Keynes. It's a situation of deficient demand.“

Watch the whole thing. Or read it. There is nothing going on, in this world, right now that is more important than this issue. Here’s an incentive for my conservative friends. Mr. Wolf is very critical of how the Obama Administration is handling the situation. And I agree with him.

As to how we prevent it from happening again, we jump to Prime Minister Harper.

”HARPER: No, you don't need to reinvent it (capitalism). And I guess -- I'll be frank, Fareed. Part of my frustration with the current situation is, you know, we've known from the past -- I mean, we knew from the 1920s -- that an unregulated, completely unregulated financial sector would lead to -- would lead to pyramid selling and all kinds of equivalent problems.

So, in a sense, you know, we're going back and relearning some lessons that I thought had already been learned “

Two points of interest. Prime Minister Harper just happens to be an economist, and, Canada hasn’t had a single bank failure. No failures and no bailouts. Not one.

” HARPER: I happen to believe that fiscal stimulus measures right now are essential. I'm not generally a Keynesian. But when you have the kind of drops in economic activity we're having, and interest rates near zero, and financial sectors and the banking sector not translating investments into saving -- or savings into investment -- you have no choice but to have the government move in, absorb those funds and put them to work.

Now, one can criticize, is it fast enough, is it effective, are the long-run benefits sufficient. But I think the fiscal stimulus does have to be done. And obviously, there's going to have to be major, non-market fixes to the financial sector and to the housing sector.

We're just fortunate in Canada, we don't have to do those kinds of policies, because they're fraught with enormous long-run danger in terms of creating moral hazard risks to future economic decisions.

But we haven't had to do that. As you said, we don't have a bank failure in Canada. And we don't have, on the housing side -- we have also regulation on government housing insurance that's prevented subprime type of situation.

We have a cyclical downturn, but nothing that requires major government intervention.“

Seriously folks, you need to watch this interview too. Or read it. (Scroll down to nearly the bottom of the page.)

The fix has always been as simple as you knew it was. We need to keep a tight rein on the banking system. In a word: Regulation. We learned it in 1929, we forgot it in the 90’s and we are going to learn it again today. But the immediate crisis to address is making sure there is something left to fix.

The Noble-Prize-economics guy from The New York Times, the guy from the Financial Times and the economist who happens to be the Canadian Prime Minister all agree. The government has to spend and it has to spend big. Now. Not next month or next year. Now.

President Obama, you need to call Ben Bernanke and tell him to send in the helicopters. (“Helicopter” economic theory here.)

Don Brown
March 7, 2009