Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kathryn is Clueless Too

I am really starting to wonder how all this works. How does someone that is obviously smart (like Kathryn Wylde) become so misinformed ? Who is she talking to ? What are they telling her ? And how do they convince her to embarrass herself so publicly ?

Kathryn Wylde is President & CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for New York City, the city’s business leadership organization....

An internationally known expert in housing, economic development and urban policy, Wylde serves on a number of boards and advisory groups, ...

From her bio it’s obvious she has no aviation experience -- much less air traffic control experience. So where does she get the conviction to write such a forceful (if clueless) opinion piece ? If someone asked me to write an opinion piece on housing for The Huffington Post I’d have to pass. I don’t know anything about it. Why does Ms. Wylde write one about aviation transportation -- when it’s obvious she doesn’t know anything about it ?

”NextGen is the solution. Using it, pilots will no longer have to fly indirect routes in order to remain within an airport's radar range.”

That’s wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start. We don’t use airport radars (they are known as Airport Surveillance Radars) to track aircraft enroute -- we use Air Route Surveillance Radars. And the placement of those radars has virtually nothing to do with “indirect routes”.

”The problem is that the FAA plans to slowly roll-out this technology at small, low-capacity airports to make sure the technology works properly, even though it has existed for a decade and is being used around the world...

But we need a Broadway debut. NextGen, which will replace old-fashioned air traffic control radar systems with a satellite-based technology similar to a car's GPS, should be implemented as soon as possible at America's busiest airports - those in the New York Tri-state metropolitan area.“

Oh yeah. We don’t need to turn Frankenstein loose in the country to see if he’s going to go berserk. Let’s turn him loose in Times Square and see how that works out.

Lord help. I’m going back to tending my flowers.

Don Brown
June 30, 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I’m Weak Too

It’s nice to know even the smartest of people have the same weaknesses as we mere mortals. Krugman had this to say in a particularly pointed blog entry:

...the people who were Building Red America are looking incredibly absurd.

But I try to limit the potshots, especially in the print column. It’s a limited resource, and the point is to shape policy, not go for entertainment value.

That said, these people did run the country not long ago — and they might again.

I don’t have to limit the potshots -- I have unlimited space -- but I try not to bore you. I don’t find it particularly productive to take the shots (others evidently do) and I have no illusions about my ability to shape policy.

All this is just to say that I passed on making a comment about Robert Poole’s latest fantasy in his ATC Reform News this morning. It’s just too easy -- Pot calls Kettle black. But then I read Krugman. Too bad for Robert Poole.

”At the behest of controllers union NATCA, the non-expert legislators repeated NATCA assertions about the “stability of the system,”—as if any of them knew what that meant. But to serve their constituent labor union, they tried to insert themselves into a process they knew essentially nothing about. “

Mr. Poole is talking about ERAM and the Congressional request to delay its testing. As if Robert Poole knows anything about air traffic control. Talk about a non-expert. At least when compared to me...or about 20-30,000 controllers and ex-controllers. Gee, the next thing you know, legislators will be writing letters and making decisions about economics. Maybe they should listen to the non-controllers and non-economists before they take action. Or not.

By the way, as a writer (non-expert), notice the nice little bit of ambiguity in that sentence -- “as if any of them knew what that meant “. Would “them” be the controllers or the legislators ? But that doesn’t hide the truth. Legislators aren’t experts on air traffic control. Neither is Robert Poole. Air traffic controllers -- ambiguity notwithstanding -- are. It’s hard to believe legislators would listen to -- and act upon -- the advice of the experts. Mr. Poole wants them to listen to the non-experts. After all, look what it did for the economy. Ahem.

Oh, and another thing. Robert Poole is wrong about the National Weather Service meteorologists too. Once again he tries to portray it as the evildoings of the unions. But my readers already know the truth. Too bad truth doesn’t shape policy. Just think-tanks.

Don Brown
June 25, 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Escape From New York

I made it out alive. I would tell you the route I took, but somebody would just tell me what I did wrong. I wonder if the GPS in airplanes is as bad as the GPS in cars ? Ours kept trying to send us through Manhattan and the Holland Tunnel. It reminds me of those guys that used to file a direct route right through the final at CLT (Charlotte, NC). It guess that answers my question.

A quick look through the air traffic control news reveals pretty much the same old same-old. Radar is antiquated (evidently airplanes are not) and NextGen/GPS will save us all. If you want to get to the truth of the matter, head on over to The Main Bang and read the document John Carr has posted from 1997. It’s long and complicated but the truth usually is.

1.     Cost Saving Ideas for the FAA
1.1     Rapid Navigation System and En Route Radars Transition:
The transition to a global positioning system (GPS)-based navigation system will significantly reduce the FAA’s maintenance costs after the existing navigation systems are decommissioned.  For decommissioning to occur, however, the FAA and user community must transition to new equipment. Under current planning, the FAA will develop and deploy the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) to replace long range radars, VORs, non-directional beacons (NDBs), and  Category I (CAT I) Integrated Landing Systems (ILSs). Until full transition occurs, the FAA must operate and maintain the old and new equipment.  This section explores potential opportunities to both reduce the cost and implementation schedule of the WAAS system and reduce the time required to decommission.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. It isn’t about saving the users money. It’s about saving the FAA money and creating profits for private businesses.

Pay particular attention to the parts about Long Range Radars (LRRs). Note that this was written well before the 9/11 attacks -- where the FAA and the world learned the importance of those same radars.

Me ? I’ve got to get on the road. See you soon.

Don Brown
June 23, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday On the Island

Not much goin’ on. The party is all over. I never saw the sun.

Apologies to Jimmy. My “Coconut Telegraph” is intermittent at best.

(Yes, that was 25 words or less.)

Don Brown
June 22, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Instant Economics Lesson

If you’re the least bit confused about our current economic situation, you need to read this short blog entry from Paul Krugman. Well, my readers should be reading Krugman anyway but this is a link to share with your friends.

”What I wonder is: if you had polled Americans in 1936-37 about economic policy, what would they have said? I’m pretty sure they would have been very against deficits — yet FDR’s attempt to reduce the deficit was both economically and politically disastrous. “

It’s easy to rail against deficit spending. It’s hard to understand that -- at this time -- it is necessary. True, some people disagree. Some really smart people disagree. That’s life. We have to choose. I choose Krugman and Keynes.

Don Brown
June 19, 2009

Bustin’ Chops

I’m close enough to New York that I can bust the chops of my old friends at AVweb.

FAA Chief Boosts NextGen Budget, Expects Labor Peace Soon

No, one thing doesn’t have anything to do with the other (at least it better not) but this is the part that really got me.

"Babbitt also said that negotiations with the air traffic controllers union, which were stalled and contentious for several years, now are making progress."

(Emphasis added)

Saying the negotiations were “stalled” makes it seem as if there were actually negotiations occurring. The FAA (via the Bush Administration) imposed its work rules. That is when negotiations stopped. The FAA has made a couple of offers since but the offer of your choice of poison isn’t really a negotiation.

The Obama Administration has forced the FAA back to the table (sort of.) I’m not sure I want to call those negotiations but it’s better than before. We’ll see what happens.

After a short dash through Gotham, I’ll be settled in on Long Island for a couple of days. Maybe I’ll have more time to write them.

Don Brown
June 19, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Where Am I ?

Okay, maybe this is a story only knowledge nuts like me can appreciate. Whatever. It’s these kind of little-big details that make the world work.

Study: Economic Value of NOAA’s Geodetic Services at $2.4 Billion

”“For more than 200 years, surveyors, mapping professionals, engineers and many others have used the NSRS (National Spatial Reference System) as the foundation for establishing property boundaries, constructing buildings, roads, bridges and levees, creating accurate maps and charts, and much more,” said John H. Dunnigan, NOAA’s assistant administrator for the National Ocean Service. “The nation is literally built on this framework.” “

And in case you’re wondering, yes, it is tied into air traffic control.

”GPS also will soon supplant passive markers on the ground, which currently determine precise elevations under the North American Vertical Datum (NAVD88). “

If you want to know the height of an obstacle -- or an airport -- these markers provide the reference system.

By the way, I haven’t heard much about the FAA’s “Navigation Reference System”. (Please watch the video...for as long as you can stand it.) You know, the one that was part of High Altitude Redesign program. Somebody write me and tell me how that is going.

Don Brown
June 16, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Landing in the Hudson

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the NTSB animation from the USA1549 ditching in the Hudson River. It does a good job of relaying how many different things where going on at the same time.

Don Brown
June 15 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

More ERAM Press

The Salt Lake Tribune has an article about ERAM up now. Notice all the NetxGen propaganda towards the end of the story -- “WW II-era technology”, “satellite-based system”, etc. It never ends. Say it enough times and maybe it will become true.

Don Brown
June 13, 2009

ERAM Tossed Out With the Trash

Friday is trash day in the news business (not that I’m an expert or anything.)

(Proof that I’m not an expert deleted)

It’s shorter to let The West Wing characters explain it.

Donna: Why do you do it on Friday?

Josh: Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.

A lot fewer people read blogs over the weekend also. My traffic drops by 40% over the typical weekend. However, I don’t think this story will be going away.

Yesterday, the entire Utah Congressional delegation asked the FAA to delay the implementation of ERAM. This is from a letter co-signed by Senators Hatch and Bennett

”It appears that many controllers still have serious concerns with the stability of the system ... Safety concerns demand that ERAM not be implemented until it meets and exceeds the standards of reliability and stability of the system it replaces. Therefore, we respectfully request that you further examine the implementation of the ERAM system and delay implementation until an acceptable level of reliability and stability is maintained and verified.”

As I’ve told my readers before, there is nothing in the ATC system that is more important than the job ERAM is supposed to do. ERAM is supposed to be the brain for the entire ATC system. If it doesn’t work, nothing works. There is no way it will be perfect when the FAA turns it on the first time. It’s that complicated. But is has to function.

There are a million details in this story. The most obvious is that ERAM is being tested at Salt Lake ARTCC -- hence the Utah congressional interest. It’s also being installed and tested at Seattle ARTCC. That is because one of ERAM’s most important functions is transferring information (radar tracks, flight plans, etc.) between facilities. The FAA has to test this transfer of data so the two Centers must share a common boundary.

The biggest detail of all is the workforce. The FAA is going to turn this thing on when their entire workforce has the lowest level of experience in decades. As I said, it won’t be perfect when they first turn it on -- it can’t be -- and they’re expecting a rookie workforce to deal with it. This is not good. But it is going to happen. Sooner or later. There is no other choice. The older controllers have seen computer meltdowns before. They have a chance of dealing with them. The rookies haven’t.

Don Brown
June 13, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

ATC Goes to the ER

It’s not what you think. Actually, it’s rather nice -- and interesting.

Study finds air traffic control tracking method reduces errors in trauma management

”New research published in the June issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons shows that a method used by air traffic controllers tracks patient data more effectively and with fewer errors compared with current hospital methods, primarily the use of clipboards. “

It seems that some motivated people decided to see if another safety-oriented system could improve their safety-oriented system. I’ve heard whispers about this for a few years (mostly in regards to shift work.) I’m glad to hear it seems to be working.

”"For decades, air traffic controllers have managed the complexities of airspace and aircraft handoff with a simple, manual method that has evolved to an efficient and nearly flawless system," says Jason D. Hoskins, MA, of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) in Maryland. "Our study successfully demonstrated that this method translates to trauma management, and results in increased accuracy and awareness of patient recording, tracking and throughput management. We are currently in discussions to test a more mature version of the system in clinic." “

Ironically, the system they’ve developed is based on flight progress strips -- the very system that is been so maligned for so long by people that didn’t know what they were talking about. People that thought efficiency came before safety.

Oh yes, boys and girls. I still carry a place in my heart for flight progress strips and I still believe URET was a mistake. Take a good look around you the next time you’re in the control room. How many could work without URET ? Even worse, how many think they could ? (Sorry for the “inside baseball”, non-Center controller readers.) You know it will happen one day. Maybe one day soon.

Don Brown
June 12, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Speaking of Health Care

Here’s a good story from Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times. I bet it’s a whole lot closer to the truth than anything you’ll see from any “interest group”. By the way, for disclosure, my health insurance seems to be getting better and better. I used to pay some ridiculously low co-pay for medicine. One or two dollars. Occasionally $5 or so. Suddenly, I haven’t paid anything for the last few prescriptions.

Am I being cynical ? Or is this really part of the propaganda war to keep a national health care plan (insurance or system) out of the United States ?

Don Brown
June 11, 2009

No News

Sometimes, no news isn’t good news...it’s just no news. The FAA and NATCA are in double-secret semi-negotiations over a non-contract and Congress is trying to make out like they don’t know that regional carriers aren’t main-line airlines. Or, to put it another way, Congress wants you to believe you get what you don’t pay for. You’ll get the same level of safety from a $20,000 -a-year pilot as you will from a $200,000-a-year pilot. That’s almost as good as those telling America’s uninsured that they’ll be better off with no health care than they would with government health care.

But I digress. Today’s no-news is buried in Aviation Daily and the Federal Register. According to Aviation Daily,

”In separate Federal Register notices published June 5, the FAA invited comment on its proposed extension, which extends peak-hour caps that otherwise would expire on Oct. 24 of this year. “

The peak-hour caps are (of course) at New York’s airports. I’d quote more from the story but I assume Aviation Daily would rather you pay for it. And at $1,725 a subscription (I don’t know if that is for a year or what. You tell me.), I assume they take the copyright laws seriously. If you have the time, you can teach yourself how to use the Federal Register. You might learn why businesses pay Aviation Daily so much to read it for them.

Back in the day, I taught myself to read FAA documents that were just as complicated. I’m just not that motivated anymore. I mean, I already know the FAA sets the number of slots at New York’s airports too high. I also know that, at $500,000 per slot, the pressure to keep the number of slots too high will ensure they continue to stay too high. (I’m just picking that statistic to make a point. The economic impact of each slot is huge -- however you measure it.) If you need to prove it to yourself, I’m just pointing out the tools you can use.

Me ? I’m going back to planting flowers. And when I visit New York this summer, I’ll drive. Does anybody know where I can pick up some yellow Torenia on the south side of Atlanta ? I think they would look good in some pots on my freshly-painted deck.

Don Brown
June 11, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009

Better Dead Than Red

If you don’t remember the slogan that is the title of this blog entry, I’ve got a book you need to read. It’s called The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made, and it’s about the formation of our foreign policy after World War II. It’s lengthy, it’s deep and it’s enlightening.

Without going into any details about the book (for the moment) let’s take a really broad look at our history with Russia. We bought a bunch of land from them (Alaska) in 1867, we invaded them (on behalf of the losing side in their civil war) in 1919, they became our allies in 1942 and finally became the lead boogeyman -- The Reds -- in the late 1940s. “Red” was spit from the mouths of right-wingers much like “liberal” was in the last decade and “socialist” is now -- hence the title of this entry; better dead than red.

There’s something in The Wise Men for everyone, but if I had to sum it up, I would say it’s about nuance. Subtlety. The world is complicated yet we all insist on trying to simplify matters (just like I’m trying to do right now) so that we can help others understand a situation. Yet, in doing so, we destroy any chance of conveying the nuances that are needed for true understanding.

George Kennan -- the least likable (in my opinion) but most-enlightened of The Wise Men -- wrote: “It (a democracy) soon becomes a victim of its own propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value, which distorts its own vision of everything else. Its enemy becomes the embodiment of all evil. Its own side, on the other hand, is the center of all virtue.” If you think about our involvement in Afghanistan -- the difference between the mujahideen, the Taliban and the terrorists -- you begin to understand the truth in the statement.

If Afghanistan doesn’t interest you, how about “Big Oil” ? This paragraph reads like filler in the book but I found it very enlightening.

”McCloy was disturbed that Dulles seemed so panicky and uninformed. But in fact, Dulles’ ignorance about developments in the Middle East was not so surprising. Ever since World War II, the U.S. government had preferred to leave Middle East diplomacy to the oil companies and the bankers who financed Big Oil -- now chief among them John McCloy.“

It was simple really. America needed cheap oil. American politicians needed Jewish voters. Our politics are pro-Israeli. Our money is pro-Arab (as long as they have oil.) So much truth in such a little space. But perhaps “truth” is the wrong word. “Reality” might be a better choice. If you will take the time to read John McCloy’s Wikipedia entry (you can skim the bomb-the-Auschwitz-rail-lines ax grinding) you’ll get a feeling for the depth of this book. The breadth of his career is stunning and he is only one of the six “Wise Men”. (Just a bit of trivia for the younger readers; McCloy picked Henry Kissinger out of the foreign affairs herd and boosted his career.)

It’s a bit of a slog to get through the book but there’s no two ways about it, it’s interesting reading.

”Kennan began to feel more like a Janus than a Cassandra, casting his wary glances both at the anti-Communist zealots in his audience as well as the naive Soviet sympathizers. He was particularly anxious that a distinction be made between socialism and Sovietism, the latter being the true danger. It is important, he explained, “to distinguish what is indeed progressive social doctrine from the rivalry of a foreign political machine which has appropriated and abused the slogans of socialism.” “

Like I said, nuance. You might want to keep that in mind when listening to today’s public discourse and you hear words like “socialist”, “terrorist” and "Islamofascist". In addition to “wise men”, the world still contains men like Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy. And we still elect them.

Don Brown
June 8, 2009

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Here We Go Again

Sound familiar ?

”The claims by Mr. Monteleon, 64, a 40-year veteran of the aviation industry who joined the F.A.A. in 1997, rely mostly on documents he himself wrote when the events occurred, and his memory. Thus they are difficult for outsiders to evaluate. But they echo a previous case of inspectors who were penalized by their supervisors who overruled them in favor of the airline.

In 2008, two F.A.A. inspectors assigned to Southwest Airlines testified before Congress that their managers had let Southwest fly its Boeing 737’s without inspections for cracks that the safety agency required. Office managers referred to the airline as the regulatory agency’s “customer.” Top F.A.A. officials eventually conceded that the inspectors were right and the middle managers were wrong.“

You can read the whole story, by Matthew Wald, in The New York Times.

Inspector Predicted Problems a Year Before Buffalo Crash

Don Brown
June 3, 2009

Ferguson vs. Krugman

Fareed Zakaria is still doing a marvelous job with his Sunday afternoon show GPS. This week, in addition to Henry Kissenger, he had Niall Ferguson on the show, talking about the economy. Mr. Ferguson is a noted historian and his latest book is The Ascent of Money. The Ascent of Money is the second book I’ve read by Mr. Ferguson and it, unlike Empire, was written for the general public. Don’t get my wrong, Empire was a great book. But unless you’re seriously interested in the subject matter, you aren’t going to read it.

Anyway, my readers know that Paul Krugman is my favorite economist. Niall Ferguson has a taken a couple of jabs at Mr. Krugman lately and he did so again on this edition of GPS.

”ZAKARIA: So, why do 90 percent of economists think things are getting better?

FERGUSON: Well, of course, they're economists. And they're trapped in Econ 101 land, like that "New York Times" columnist, Paul Krugman, who assured me only a month ago that there would be no upward pressure on interest rates, because there was a massive excess of savings in the world economy.

The Keynesian model actually didn't work terribly well, even when it was popular. And ultimately, it got us into the mess of the 1970s, a mess which, of course, produced double-digit inflation, and then required the Fed to produce double-digit interest rates to bring inflation under control.

So, I think one should take what the economists say with a very large pinch of salt these days. After all, very few of them anticipated this financial crisis, because their wonderful models didn't predict that either.“

Although it motivates some folks, the cat fight between two highly intelligent people isn’t important. The fact that there are serious disagreements is. Unlike most of the left wing vs. right wing sniping you hear regarding Mr. Krugman’s work, Mr. Ferguson’s objections (I believe) are non-political. Regardless, I find the disagreement between an economist and a historian -- about the future of the economy -- interesting and I thought you might too.

I am, however, not thrilled about the predictions of either.

FERGUSON: Well, I mean, I'm not sure that the fate of General Motors can be regarded as good news. But then, I'm from Britain, where we tried to take over the automobile industry in the 1970s, and that didn't end too well.

But the green shoots that are out there seem to me like tiny little weeds in the garden. And what's coming, it seems to me, in terms of the fiscal crisis of the United States, is a far bigger and far worse story. I think all talk of recovery or of end of the recession is wishful non-thinking.

Mr. Krugman, on numerous occasions, has warned that we are repeating the steps that led to Japan’s “Lost Decade”, in which there was very little growth in GDP for 10 years.

If you put their two viewpoints together, it spells trouble -- no matter how you look at it. I left out a piece of the puzzle though when I failed to quote the entire title of Mr. Ferguson’s book: Empire. The full title is Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power . I can never listen to Mr. Ferguson without thinking of that book.

Most Americans are uncomfortable with the thought that we’re an empire. Regardless, we’re the ones with the 11 aircraft carriers and the rest of military force to match them. We, just like the British before us, are the world’s de facto “policeman”. We ensure that the sea lanes stay open which ensures free trade. And whether you like or condone “globalization”, the cheap oil that allows us to live our lifestyles still has to traverse the Strait of Hormuz.

A “Lost Decade” for America would have implications far beyond having a hard time finding a job.

Don Brown
June 3, 2009

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Remember Molly ?

In order to understand my point, you have to understand the time frame.

”You know, when a bleeding heart liberal like me has to sit around lecturing a Republican administration on fiscal responsibility, we're in a sorry pass. I watch the entire corporate and financial structure of this country running around raising money like crazy for the re-election of George W. Bush, and I am reminded once more that capitalism will destroy itself if you let it. “

Do you remember anyone telling you about how serious the financial crisis we were headed for was going to be ? Or that we were even headed for one ? Do you remember 2004 ? Howard Dean ended his Presidential bid with a scream. John Kerry was running for President. Abu Ghraib. Ronald Reagan died. SpaceShipOne became one. Some unknown guy named Obama gave the keynote address at the Democratic Convention.

If you didn’t know Molly, you’re too late. I discovered her way too late. She passed away in 2007. That was before Wall Street crashed. You might not know it from what she wrote (below) but Molly wasn’t a economics reporter. She was a editorial writer. I keep looking for one particular quote from Molly that I read years ago. It was something about wanting honest businessmen to succeed instead of the crooks. It frustrates me that I can’t find it, but it does mean that I run across little gems like this from time to time.

”What we have here is the same thing that happened after the famous S&L deregulation in the 1980s — privatized profit and socialized risk. You may recall that little adventure in deregulation — the universal panacea according to the right — cost the taxpayers half a trillion dollars.

Fannie and Freddie were created by Congress as private companies to encourage home ownership and — in theory, on paper — the taxpayers aren't responsible if they go bust ... but they're literally too big to fail.“

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. You might want to read the whole thing.

Don Brown
June 2, 2009