Thursday, May 14, 2009

Uber BWG -- Update

About that NMAC over BWG...I have learned that one of the aircraft involved was indeed in a holding pattern for DFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth). I can’t imagine why. I thought it was outrageous when I used to have to hold New York traffic over GSO (Greensboro, NC) -- and that’s 500 miles from New York. From BWG to DFW is closer to 600 miles.

It’s more than just the distance though. Put your thinking cap on. New York is some of the most congested airspace in the world. Not just the airspace at the surrounding airports -- but the airspace in its entirety. You’ve got to fly by Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, etc. There isn’t a lot of empty airspace in which to establish holding patterns (which eat up tons of airspace.) DFW, on the other hand, doesn’t have anything around it. Draw a line between Bowling Green and Dallas and you cross...Memphis ? Little Rock ?

The only thing I figure might have happened would be thunderstorms near DFW. But that is just cause to think even further. Think NextGen. Think CDAs ( Continuos Descent Approaches). The FAA has spent millions (probably billions) over three decades on “flow control”. That is the science (supposedly) of matching the “flow” of aircraft with an airport’s capacity considering the airport’s current and predicted weather conditions. In other words, if DFW is predicted to have thunderstorms impacting operations, Flow Control (aka Air Traffic Control System Command Center) is supposed to match the number of airplanes with the capacity of the system. Either the weather prediction failed or Flow Control failed -- by a large margin. 600 miles worth.

How is NextGen going to change that ? Are our weather prediction capabilities going to improve that much ? The idea is laughable. How about Flow Control’s capabilities ? Now controllers are rolling on the floor laughing. Flow Control has been in existence since the PATCO days. Yet I routinely held New York traffic over Greensboro and the incident we’re discussing is even more appalling.

Don’t forget CDAs. We’re going to save you a ton of fuel by letting you “coast” in your descent...after we get you out of a holding 600 miles from the airport and get you spaced out perfectly while you’re still at your enroute altitude. (If you need details on the concepts see Another Reason CDAs Won’t Work.)

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the answer is as simple as it is obvious . Limit the number of arrival slots at all commercial airports to a workable number. It won’t end delays but it will make them more manageable. NextGen is just another version of the 30 year charade we call Flow Control. We’re just trying to fool ourselves into thinking we can “manage” the overscheduling of airports. There is some good in both (Flow Control and NextGen) but neither will ever address the core problem.

Don Brown
May 14, 2009

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