Monday, May 25, 2009

What Will Randy Do ?

I assume that by now you’ve heard the news that Randy Babbitt has been confirmed as the next Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. It might be a good time to ask yourself what he is going to do. What would you do ?

If you click on that link above, you’ll see that his boss, Transportation Secretary LaHood says he is going to implement NextGen.

"Also last night, the House passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill (H.R.915.). LaHood said, "Moving forward with reauthorization will support our important aviation programs, including aviation safety and NextGen, the FAA's program to modernize our nation's airspace. I urge the Senate to act quickly and look forward to working with Congress on legislation that will continue our progress in improving the safety and efficiency of the U.S. aviation system."

I guess it’s time to face reality -- NextGen is going to happen. Oh well. I tried. It’s not as bad as it might sound though -- in that no one really knows what NextGen will look like. Not to mention, much of it will fail. Here’s a prediction for whatever newly-certified controller might happen to be reading today’s blog. When you retire, you’ll still be using radar. And New York still won’t have enough runways.

Here’s a little obscure piece of the FAA that is waiting on Mr. Babbitt. I got a kick out of the flowery prose but I’ll highlight the important parts so they don’t escape you.

FAA Today -- Friday 5/22/09 (a .pdf file)

Operational Update

Though Atlanta is blessed with an abundance of pavement and a generous swath of airspace, they may be wishing they could trade their skies for New York’s after being laden with low ceilings for the past few days. The Big Apple has been graced with nearly nothing but blue above it for much of the week, though that great expanse of azure has been clouded by quite a few streaks of silver, white, red and whatever other colors airlines are using in their liveries these days.

Volume remains a major contributor to New York’s delays, but wind was also a big source yesterday after it added complexity on both sides of the Hudson. Neither cause compares with Georgia’s clouds, which caused more than a third of the day’s 1,082 system-wide delays and left Atlanta longing for a sky transplant. Volume may surpass those ceilings as the leading cause of delay, however. Approximately 250 delays are probably going to be added to the total for departure delays off JFK and they will most likely show up in N90’s count. Wind was also an issue in the Southeast, while thunderstorms continued to demonstrate their paradoxical affinity for sunny weather with a trip to a state out West with an abundance of it.

Clouds weren’t the only thing filling the skies over the Big Peach. ATL’s traffic count climbed to 2,801 yesterday, an increase of more than 1 percent over last year’s average Thursday. ATL guided all those planes through the clouds with the help of a 94 rate ground delay program that was deemed more predictable than a series of ground stops. The program ran for seven hours, and ATL reported 370 delays. Wind blew through the Brick City, limited the availability of the overflow runway and left EWR in the helpful hands of a 38 rate GDP for nearly 10 hours. EWR reported 253 delays, with 51 falling into the departure bin. So many airplanes couldn’t resist the allure of the Jewel’s twinkle that PHL had to delay 77 of their 1,445 operations for volume. N90’s current volume-driven delays stand at 54, though that number could climb above 300 once JFK’s departure delays are added in. LGA slowed 43 of their 1,164 operations for volume, while wind blew 42 delays into JFK during a 35 rate program. Wind also harassed CLT’s 1,523 operations, and 37 flights were delayed in the Queen City.

Thunderstorms rumbled into the Valley of the Sun, and PHX reported 37 delays.

Just to help you analyze whatever part of that might interest you, take EWR as an example.

”...EWR in the helpful hands of a 38 rate GDP for nearly 10 hours. “

GDP is a “Ground Delay Program”. Keep in mind that ”The Big Apple has been graced with nearly nothing but blue above it... “ and the only problem was wind. If you’ll check out EWR’s capacity, you’ll see that 38 arrivals per hour is the VMC (good weather) rate. Note that the “perfect” weather rate is 48. Conclusion ? Even the “good” weather rate isn’t enough to handle the demand at Newark for 10 hours of the day. Don’t be surprised if even the “perfect” rate wouldn’t be either.

(Hint: Airport Arrival Rates here. Click on the East or West “Directory”. Click on the Center. Then click on the airport. Hey, it’s the government, not Amazon.)

Bearing in mind that we are in the biggest financial downturn since the Great Depression, what do you think will happen to those delay figures when the economy improves ?

I don’t know what Mr. Babbitt will do but what he should do it make it clear that the FAA can’t control delays unless it controls the volume at the major airports. Airport capacity is finite. The demand for that capacity is exceeded everyday, even in bad economic times. Until we face that reality, don’t expect any improvement.

Don Brown
May 25, 2009

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