Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nobody Asked Me

I thought I’d throw my own two cents in on this article that appeared in The New York Times. Even if they didn’t ask me for my opinion.

How Air Travel Can Be Made Less Annoying

I’ll quote a part from Patrick Smith , just because I like him and his column, Ask a Pilot. Well, that and the fact that he comes closest to saying what needs to be said.

”Carriers should consolidate flights with bigger aircraft and reduce their dependence on regional jets. At some large airports, regional jets comprise more than 50 percent of the total number of flights. That’s half of all traffic carrying about 20 percent of the passengers. Frequency of flights is a huge selling point for airlines, but in practice it’s an illusion when a high percentage of flights run late.“

I agree -- as far as it goes. Just in case you’re reading this blog and you’re confused about the issue of airport capacity, let me assure you, no one in the industry is confused. All airports have a finite capacity. All parties recognize this fact. It is how that reality is dealt with that is in contention.

Once again, we’ll stick with my standard figure of 60 aircraft per hour per runway. You get one airplane per minute -- either taking off or landing. That works out to 30 arrivals per hour (which have to leave again at some point) and 30 departures per hour. (Even this figure assumes a good airport with high-speed exits off the runways, a good ATC system, etc.) Airlines want to schedule their aircraft as if the airport’s capacity is always 60 aircraft per hour. That way, they sell more seats and make more money.

I want their schedules limited to the average bad-weather capacity of the airport. In other words, something less than 60 airplanes per hour. Each airport will be slightly different in that places like Seattle have more rain and fog than places like Phoenix. And herein lies the fundamental problem.

Who decides the capacity at each airport ? Or any airport ? What are their motivations ? Brand X Airlines want to schedule 40 airplanes per hour, alone. FatChance Airlines already has 30 airplanes scheduled during the same hour. But the capacity (even if the weather is perfect) is only 60 per hour. Who tells them “No”. The airlines aren’t supposed to talk to each other about it. That would be a violation of anti-trust laws (which have been waived on occasion.) The truth is, the airport operator and the FAA could both say “No” but they don’t. At least not often enough.

The FAA has the excuse of deregulation. Nobody deregulated safety -- and I can make a strong case that overwhelming the ATC system because you’ve overscheduled the airport is a detriment to safety -- but we won’t get into that at the moment. Deregulation takes us to the 500-pound gorilla in this conversation. This newspaper article asks the wrong question. None of this matters if the airlines can’t make money. The industry has to be sustainable. And the cold, hard truth is that the passenger airlines are not. They’ll have a good year here or there. But in the long term, they have been losing money since deregulation. We’ve bailed them out, changed this and changed that and still, they consistently lose money.

Deregulation has been a national policy failure. Period. It has cost us jobs, pensions, viability and our world leadership position (if not our sanity.) We’ve fallen from the days of PanAm -- once one of the best known companies in the world -- to arguing about 3 inches of legroom and whether an airline can afford to serve us a bag of peanuts.

We don’t have to return to full-fledged regulation of the industry. But what we’re doing isn’t working. The place to start fixing this mess is in limiting the number of aircraft that can be scheduled at our commercial airports. In other words, it is time we recognize reality and begin implementing common-sense regulations.

By the way, just because it’s The New York Times, don’t turn your brain off.

"The airline industry is suffering through one of its worst summers ever, with travelers pulling back on spending and fuel costs rising."

Fuel cost aren’t rising. Oil had gone from $140 a barrel down to $63. The airline industry still can’t make money. But they can still make flying a miserable experience.

Don Brown
July 30, 2009


Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Once again, truth is stranger than fiction.

Virtual Contrails: Modeling Air Traffic Control Over the Internet

”But this exchange actually took place between two participants in a computer game played over the Internet. Both players are members of VATSIM (Virtual Air Traffic Simulation), a community of aviation enthusiasts who use the Internet to simulate real-life air travel. Though they sound like aviation professionals, neither player may have ever flown a plane or peered down from an air traffic control tower. Rather, they are hobbyists acting out their dreams of flying through the use of specially modified flight simulation programs and VATSIM's online servers. “

While the FAA has had the real controllers locked out of any meaningful participation, MITRE has been taking advantage of the non-real controllers.

Good for VATSIM. Bad FAA.

Don Brown
July 29, 2009


Bad Memories

I am SO glad I no longer have to go work airplanes on days like this.

Here’s the link I use at Weather Underground for the radar loop and display of fronts.

Yes, I do get up early -- sometimes.

Don Brown
July 29, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Real Writer

For those that wonder why I keep Garrison Keillor in my blog this one.

When you’re done, think about the breath and the depth of subjects. Think of the range of emotions he evokes -- all in 800 words or less.

Don Brown
July 17, 2009

A Spiral-Bound History

I have no idea why my wife was searching for a spiral-bound notebook. It’s for some project or other she is working on. She found one -- with some of my notes in it.

There weren’t many pages used so she asked me if I wanted to save any of them. And I started reading. (Notes and explanations will be in parentheses.)


Sec(tor) 27 SHINE (the sector number and name) still on BUEC (BackUp Emergency Communication system). UNAMRM Sec(tor) 28 (using frequency) 135.35, intermittent all day. Combine(d sectors) 27 & 28 using 128.75 (on) BUEC. (Transmission “strength and clarity”) Rated “2 by 2”. (“Loud and Clear” is rated as “5 by 5”). Had to terminate training to handle workload. (Traffic was too busy to allow a trainee to work it.) Completely unacceptable situation. LOCUS and LEEON (sector names) later combined to release 135.35 to maintenance. No spare freq(uency). 135.35 has no BUEC. NMAC (Near Mid Air Collision between UNARM & SHINE (sectors). N3355W -- a PA32 & N4488W -- A BE90 at 110 (altitude 11,000 feet.) 2005 UCT (Universal Coordinated Time).

The gist of that was that frequency 135.35 was barely working. In addition, it didn’t have a backup channel (BUEC). In that Atlanta Center didn’t have any spare frequencies to assign to the sector, we were combining two sectors onto one radar scope so that we could use the second sector’s radio frequency to work the traffic normally worked on 135.35. At some point in time, we let two airplanes get too close together (N3355W and N4488W).

I must have been temporarily motivated to take daily notes. Just to show you that it wasn’t all excitement, take a look at the next two notes.


Freq(uencies) at UNARM and SHINE repaired. Nothing of significance happens.


City pairs canceled.

“City pairs” is another one of those FAA programs that is pulled off the shelf whenever traffic increases and headquarters wants to look like it is doing something. For fuel conservation, airlines (actually all jets) want to get as high as possible, as fast as possible. They want to stay there as long as possible and “coast” (pull the power back to idle and glide) down to the airport. For two cities that are relatively close together, this doesn’t make any sense in terms of air traffic control. You fight to get them up into the thick of the enroute traffic, and then, just a few minutes later, you have to fight to get them back down through it all.

It would be like letting someone onto the interstate in Atlanta during rush hour. They want to fight their way through five lanes to get all the way over to the HOV lane for one mile and then fight to get back over to the right to exit. It makes a lot more sense to keep the airplanes under all the traffic. So for cities that are relatively close to each other (say Charlotte and Atlanta), we restrict the airplanes to the lower altitudes. We try not to let the airways get like the Atlanta intestates during rush hour because airplanes don’t have brakes.

Anyway, take note young controllers. You’ll see “city pairs” again in your career. Now, back to our history.

The reason these notes have been tucked away in a safe place (i.e. lost) all these years are because of the events on 3-10-88.

From my days of writing for AVweb: (subscription only. It’s free.)

During this same period I was also helping form the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. At the same time, the FAA was redesigning the airspace on the East Coast. Many of you probably remember this project. It was called the Expanded East Coast Plan. Controllers had a lot of concerns about this plan, mostly in regard to training. Entire Centers were going to change, literally overnight, with completely new airways and procedures. Imagine waking up one morning and discovering every road in your town was different — and you were the deliveryman.

One thing led to another and I wound up being volunteered to represent NATCA for Atlanta Center in a meeting with the Secretary of Transportation and the the FAA Administrator. As you can imagine, that was quite an education. I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say the EECPlan went into effect without our concerns being addressed to our satisfaction.

On the very first day of the Expanded East Coast Plan, about 40 miles from the Maiden ARSR, COA458 and COA703 passed "about 0.6 miles" from each other at Flight Level 350. I loved that "about 0.6 miles" phrase. My sources said it was "about" zero miles and zero feet on the altitude. This was pre-TCAS mind you. You can read the short version on the NTSB website.

It wasn’t every day a grunt controller like me got to talk to the FAA Administrator, much less the Secretary of Transportation. It was even stranger for a grunt controller to predict the location of an accident for them. It was spooky for that prediction to come within “0.6 miles” of coming true. If you didn’t already know (as most of my long-term readers do), that event made me “famous”. That doesn’t necessarily mean “famous” in a good way.

The notes from 3-11-88 were really interesting.

Don Brown
July 27, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thinking While Reading

I recently read an odd little book entitled Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee. Mr. McPhee takes a ride along some of our country’s transportation routes and describes what he finds. Tractor-trailers delivering chemicals, barges on the Mississippi (and its tributaries) and coal trains. (I’ve skipped the canoe trip with Thoreau’s writings because I skipped over it. Strange.)

It was the coal train that stuck with me. Because coal in the West is lower in sulfur, we’ve switched from high-energy Eastern coal to Western coal. (If you don’t know, America is called the Saudi Arabia of coal.) In order to get the coal to where it is needed, we rely on trains. This story really caught my eye in that the coal train in question was on its way to Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer just down the road from where I live.

The staggering statistics really got my attention. Essentially, there are 35 coal trains -- each over a mile long -- that make a continuous loop between the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Plant Scherer in Juliette, Georgia. The million-ton pile of coal the plant keeps in reserve is roughly equivalent (in terms of power) to a tractor-trailer full of uranium for a nuclear plant.

It sounded like a powerful argument for nuclear power. It bothered me because I don’t like nuclear power. (I don’t like coal power either but I like having power. Ignore the argument for now and lets concentrate on the thinking.) The book would have you equate 35 miles worth of coal trains with one tractor-trailer of uranium. It sounds like a no-brainer. At least until you think about what it takes to get that one load of enriched uranium.

Not to mention, what do you do with the waste ?

A mine for coal or a mine for uranium ? A train for coal or a truck for uranium ? Mountains of coal ash as waste or tons of radioactive waste. That is the “64,000 year half-life” question. Too bad there aren’t any easy answers.

Don Brown
July 25, 2009


No, that isn’t tonight’s numbers for the lottery. It’s a new telephone number, along the lines of 411 for information. 211 is for information also. It’s run by United Way of Georgia and is for information on how to survive poverty in Georgia.

I was riding around looking for something to photograph (I’m still struggling with digital photography) and I was listening to WPBA -- Atlanta’s Public Radio station. They had a program on about Georgia’s mortgage crisis. Georgia’s economy is in the dumps too but the mortgage problem is among the worst in the country. As the program said, Georgia is a “non-traditional” State when it comes to bankruptcy. In short, banks have had their way with the State regulators. Good for mortgage companies. Bad for consumers. And -- as it turns out -- bad for Georgia. Who would have thunk it ?

Anyway, if you find yourself in the ranks of the newly poor, take note. This service was started just for you. It turns out that a lot of people are entering poverty for the first time and they don’t know where to turn. They don’t know who to call for help when they lose their job and can’t pay their mortgage. That, of course, ruins their credit rating which means no one will rent them an apartment. Hopefully they won’t get sick too because I’m sure they lost their health insurance at work (or can’t afford to pay it if they’ve lost their house.)

You’ve probably noticed I haven’t had much to say this week. More precisely, I haven’t had anything new to say. I could say the same old things. Nothing much has changed. A lack of good government -- especially good regulation -- has brought us to the brink of disaster. Recovery will be painful. Many of the newly poor are discovering just how painful. Yet, many of our citizens are stuck in the propaganda of the last 30 years. Government bad. Business good.

”Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

It seems odd to me but it always has. I hope it seems odd to many others now. The government didn’t sell them a sub-prime mortgage. The government didn’t lay them off. The government didn’t gamble away their 401k. And the government didn’t stop paying their health insurance.

But your government -- corrupted and crippled -- failed to properly regulate the businesses involved in those ventures. A business does not establish justice nor insure domestic tranquility. It doesn’t promote the general welfare. A business exists to make money -- to create wealth. That is its function -- a function that has a rightful place in our society. Hopefully, government will soon resume its rightful role in our society; Protecting its citizens.

Don Brown
July 24, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

It’s Official. They’re Desperate

If you’re among the nation’s 14.7 million unemployed -- and you’re under 31 -- you’re eligible to apply to be an air traffic controller. If you’re employed, you’re still eligible. Every American under age 31 is eligible. A word of advice though. Don’t quit your day job to go work for these guys.

Controller Jobs Now Open to the Public

”The public now has the opportunity to apply to become air traffic controllers. The FAA is accepting applications from the general public for trainee air traffic controller positions through July 17, 2009.

The job announcements include vacancies for both Terminal and En Route controller positions throughout the nation.

The opportunity for the general public to apply for entry-level air traffic controller positions does not come along very often.”

Only when the FAA messes up.

I think even I am eligible.

Current and Prior Civilian Air Traffic Controllers Eligible for Transfer or Reinstatement

We are accepting applications from current federal air traffic controllers or individuals previously employed as air traffic controllers who are eligible for transfer from another agency or reinstatement to an FAA air traffic control specialist position. “

When I click on the link provided, I find this:

Vacancy Ann #:AAC-AMH-09-REINST-12643
Who May Apply:Qualified Civil Service Employees
Pay Plan:AT-2152/AG-AG
Appointment Term:Permanent
Job Status:Full-Time
Opening Date:03/02/2009
Salary Range:From $33,700.00 to $33,700.00 USD per year

I don’t even have a job and I don’t think I’d quit it for $33k .

Just to give you a little perspective, I hired on as an air traffic controller in 1981. The salary (for training !) was $18k a year. According to the handy CPI calculator, $18k then is like $42, 700 now. Trust me, being shorted $9,000 a year adds up. In a hurry. Especially when your 401k tanks.

I hope the connection between not paying for talented controllers and getting desperate for controllers is obvious. Almost as obvious as telling the world that you need to go to a special school to become a controller (and spend tens of thousand of dollars to do so) only to have that blatantly stupid and morally bankrupt policy revealed as the disaster it has always been to the world in such a public manner.

President Obama, Secretary LaHood, Administrator Babbitt -- I fear the only way to turn any of this around is to clean house. Seriously. I’m fat, dumb and happy here in retirement. It doesn’t affect me one way or the other. I even try not to fly. But the FAA’s situation is embarrassing. And we all know that -- in the long term -- it is ultimately dangerous.

If I’m not willing to forgive and forget -- from the outside -- you can be assured that the people on the inside won’t. Some top managers (definitely more than one) need to be held accountable for this mess and that accounting needs to be done in a very public manner. Heads need to roll.

We rebuilt the military after the disaster of Vietnam. We can rebuild the FAA. But first, we must recognize the need to do so. Hopefully, before disaster strikes.

Don Brown
July 17, 2009

ERAM Errors

If you didn’t read the update on ERAM at The FAA Follies yesterday, go there and read it now. In summation, “We’ve got no (backup) plan and we’re sticking to it.”

Don Brown
July 17, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Mouse That Roared

Elizabeth Warren is a mousy-looking woman. There’s no two ways about it. She seems shy and quiet. She certainly looks unassuming. And as far as I’m concerned, she’s the best hope we have for the future of our economy. Watch this first clip from The Daily Show.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Elizabeth Warren Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

If that was the whole interview, I might have forgotten about her. But it wasn’t. And I didn’t. I’ve posted this next video before but I’m posting it again. In it, she comes alive and you see the passion she has -- and the sense of justice. You also get the first clue that there is some steel in her spine.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Elizabeth Warren Pt. 2
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Hopefully you noted that the video was from April of this year.

As I was driving home from Fort Payne yesterday, I was listening to Here and Now on XM Radio. One of the guests was Elizabeth Warren.

Here and Now -- July 15, 2009

How’s the Bank Bailout Working, and What Kind of Help Do Consumers Need?

(While you’re there you might want to listen to the interview with Matt Taibbi too -- Goldman Sachs, the “Bubble Machine”)

I decided to Google her and see where else she has been. Ms. Warren has been busy. I found her in an editorial at The New York Times by Bob Herbert. In it, there is this interesting blurb:

”The proposed agency developed from an idea offered some time ago by Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who currently chairs the Congressional Oversight Panel, which has been monitoring the financial industry bailouts. She is a strong contender to lead the proposed new agency.

Ms. Warren told a Congressional committee last month about the stark difference between the warm and fuzzy advertising approach used by lenders competing for consumer dollars and the treachery that is so often hidden in the fine print.

“Giant lenders compete for business by talking about nominal interest rates, free gifts and warm feelings,” she said, “but the fine print hides the things that really rake in the cash. Today’s business model is about making money through tricks and traps.” “

I like this woman. Heck, even Krugman likes her. There is hope.

Don Brown
July 16, 2009

The FAA Wasn’t Enough

Taking on the FAA wasn’t enough of a challenge for my friend Peter Nesbitt. You remember Peter, my favorite safety guy from Memphis, TN (MEM). Now he wants to take on cancer. He and a team of air traffic controllers have joined with the Lance Armstrong Foundation in finding a cure for cancer. Check it out.

Don Brown
July 16, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

And from Fort Payne, Alabama

Merry Christmas...uh...don’t worry. It’s just a disease I have. Every time I see some words or hear a phrase, a song runs through my mind. It makes me nuts to eat at Ruby Tuesdays just because I can’t stop singing the song. (Who could hang a name on you ?)

Anyway, I am in Fort Payne. No one has mistaken me for Randy Owen since my hair turned gray. Hopefully I’ll be home tomorrow to write something a little more profound. Until them you can read There’s a hole in my airplane (Dear Liza, Dear Liza) for the aviation crowd or a couple of short entries from Krugman.

A trivial but telling example

A $1 trillion bargain

Don Brown
July 14, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Presidential Editorial

Just in case you missed it, the President of the United States had an editorial in The Washington Post yesterday. I hope you will take the time to read it.

Rebuilding Something Better

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was not expected to restore the economy to full health on its own but to provide the boost necessary to stop the free fall. So far, it has done that. It was, from the start, a two-year program, and it will steadily save and create jobs as it ramps up over this summer and fall. We must let it work the way it's supposed to, with the understanding that in any recession, unemployment tends to recover more slowly than other measures of economic activity.

I think the President has been quite candid about the economy. I recognize that he must balance the need for honesty with the need for hope. While he must warn the country of the seriousness of the situation, he must also give the people hope that we have the capacity to meet the crisis.

It’s easy to criticize his performance. It’s even expected of the Republicans. They are the opposition. That is their job. Even I can provide some criticism.

I think the stimulus package was too small. Mostly, that is because I listen to Paul Krugman. Professor Krugman got to do a little “I Told You So” last week with a piece entitled That ‘30s Show. The stimulus was supposed to create or save 3 1/2 million jobs (and it probably will) but we’ve lost 6-8 million. President Obama compromised on the cost. Some aid to the States was cut from the Bill. California. Enough said.

I think President Obama was wrong to compromise with the Republicans on the stimulus plan. But what do I know ? I’m looking at the here-and-now. Maybe President Obama is looking into the future. The Republican Party, as it stands right now, might turn out like Iran. Look what happened to Iran when we started talking to them instead of talking at them. I can only hope that the Republican Party is no more monolithic than they wanted to make Iran out to be. Who knows ? Maybe there are a few million people that don’t believe the religious clerics and military/industrial complex should be running the country.

Like I said, I hope you’ll take the time to read it. And do me a favor. Try to have just one original thought about the subjects being discussed. Imagine 8 million people unemployed but not worried to death that they’ve lost their health insurance along with their job. Imagine an energy infrastructure that you didn’t have to subsidize with a military budget that is almost half of the entire world’s military budget. . Study up on the budget deficit history. If you’re truly worried about your children and grandchildren’s future when their country owes so much, then I know you’re worried about their health. Taxes won’t kill them. Wars -- over religion, oil or whatever -- will.

Don Brown
June 13, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2009

This Dog Won’t Hunt

I thought some of my readers from the rest of the country might want to see what passes for reasoned discourse in my Congressional District. I received a regular email from my Congressman -- Lynn Westmoreland -- with this title:

”On the trail in search of some doggone stimulus jobs “

It provided a link to this video:

I’m so proud.

By the way, it took me about 5 minutes to find this:

Georgia rolls out first round of stimulus funding

”The Georgia State Transportation Board approved 135 separate economic stimulus projects across the state valued at more than $512 million. They are the first of hundreds of transportation projects throughout Georgia that will begin during the coming year utilizing $932 million in federal stimulus funds designed to create and sustain jobs.“

Meanwhile, Georgia’s unemployment rate reached 9.7%. It lost 211,500 jobs in the last year -- 15,800 in April 2009 alone. I know that most of the unemployed probably agreed with Congressman Westmoreland that they wanted a tax break...just not the kind that comes from being out of work.

To get a true picture of just what Federal stimulus money is doing for Georgia (and many other States) you can read this story from The Macon Telegraph:

Federal stimulus funds prevent deeper state budget cuts

Maybe Congressman Westmoreland should try using his brain instead of a bloodhound. Doggone it.

Don Brown
July 11, 2009

Losing An Aircraft

It doesn’t appear as if this story is interesting enough to make it into the public’s consciousness. Or, more likely, it isn’t understood well enough. But if this story from the BBC is correct, it is really bad news.

”Although Dakar then generated a virtual flight plan for AF 447 (Air France flight 447), the centre had no radio or data contact with the flight.

Crucially, the Dakar centre did not appear to follow standard operating procedures when contact with an inbound aircraft cannot be made.

These procedures state that if contact is not made within three minutes following the estimated time of passing above a transfer point, then the receiving sector should inform the exiting sector so that adequate measures can be taken.

The Dakar shift supervisor only informed Dakar Rescue Control Centre that AF447 was missing at 0741, some 6 hours after generating a virtual flight plan and 5.5 hours after the aircraft should have entered Senegalese controlled airspace. “

Most civilians think air traffic control is nothing more than watching aircraft on radar or through Tower windows and making sure they don’t hit each other. That is just the glamorous part. Just as importantly, controllers are the aviation version of your mother. We’re supposed to watch over the airplanes we’re entrusted with and make sure they get where they are going.

If you’re old enough, think back to a time before kids had cell phones. If your kid went on a trip, the one thing you warned them to do -- over and over again -- was to “call when you get there”. If they didn’t call within a reasonable time of their ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival), Mom started to worry. If she got worried enough, Mom would get on the phone and track them down. If Mom couldn’t find them, she would make Dad get in the car and track them down.

The Atlantic Ocean is a big, empty place. Radar coverage doesn’t exist much beyond 200 miles from land. Aircraft are required to make regular position reports (I believe it’s every 10 degrees of longitude for east/west flights). If an aircraft doesn’t make a position report, the controller is supposed to call the aircraft to get one within a certain period of time. If the controller can’t reach the aircraft, we’re supposed to initiate a search.

This doesn’t apply over just the ocean. And perhaps it will be easier to understand if we use an ordinary transaction here in the States. When an aircraft lands at an uncontrolled airport (an airport without an ATC Tower), the aircraft usually goes below radar coverage at some point. The air traffic controller working the flight will allow the pilot to switch over to the common traffic advisor frequency at some point, usually with an admonishment to cancel his flight plan.

“Cessna 12345, radar service terminated, change to advisory frequency approved, report your cancellation on this frequency or your down time to a Flight Service Station.”

From the time the aircraft is estimated to land at the airport, the pilot has 30 minutes to cancel his flight plan or we’re supposed to come looking for him.

Section 3. Overdue Aircraft


a. Consider an aircraft to be overdue, initiate the procedures stated in this section and issue an ALNOT when neither communications nor radar contact can be established and 30 minutes have passed since:

1. Its ETA over a specified or compulsory reporting point or at a clearance limit in your area.

2. Its clearance void time.

b. If you have reason to believe that an aircraft is overdue prior to 30 minutes, take the appropriate action immediately.

c. The center in whose area the aircraft is first unreported or overdue will make these determinations and takes any subsequent action required.

For those that are confused, the airport is the “clearance limit” in the above.

Suppose the pilot lands long and goes off the end of the runway. No one else is at the airport to see the crash. The pilot is pinned in the airplane and can’t get out. In 10 minutes, the last controller to work the aircraft notices that the pilot hasn’t canceled his flight plan. Usually, it’s just forgetfulness on the pilot’s part. They have a lot on their minds. He’s got to find a place to park, tie the plane down, unload, etc. He probably has to call his mom to let her know he’s arrived safely. But he has to cancel his flight plan.

In 20 minutes, the controller becomes annoyed. Back in my day, the flight progress strip was sitting in the bottom of the strip bay. (I hope -- nay, pray -- that some smart controller is questioning how it works now. How does your relief know 30 minutes has passed ?) Most of us with radar left the data block on the radar scope too. Those are two important reminders, every time a controller scans his work area.

In 30 minutes, it doesn’t matter what the controller thinks or how he feels, he has to initiate search and rescue procedures. The supervisor and Fight Service usually handle this part and it normally starts with calling the local Sheriff, asking him to find the aircraft (using the tail number of the aircraft) on the airport ramp. If the Sheriff doesn’t find the aircraft, we’ll expand the search until we find the airplane. In this case, the Sheriff finds the pilot off the end of the runway, calls the rescue squad which pries him out and takes him to the hospital.

Now, imagine that you’ve crashed in the ocean and you’re bobbing around on the ocean in your life jacket. You cling to the hope that when your pilot doesn’t make his position report, Air Traffic Control will notice that the flight is missing and someone will come rescue you.

”The Dakar shift supervisor only informed Dakar Rescue Control Centre that AF447 was missing at 0741, some 6 hours after generating a virtual flight plan and 5.5 hours after the aircraft should have entered Senegalese controlled airspace.“

Five hours is a long time to wait to be rescued. It’s a really long time for someone to notice that you’re missing. About ten times as long as it should have been.

I don’t hope that this story gets more attention. The aviation professionals know how bad this situation is and I feel certain they will take action. I do hope that some brand new controller (there are so many of them) is reading this and it makes him think.

Overdue aircraft are serious business for a number of reasons. “Lost” aircraft are a disaster waiting to happen. Every time an aircraft is overdue because the speed was entered incorrectly or the flight plan was activated accidentally, degrades the controller’s confidence in the system. This is nothing new. I saw many a controller in my day just throw a strip away on an overdue aircraft because “clerical errors” (if you will) had become so commonplace. Don’t do it. If an aircraft is overdue, inform the supervisor and let him track it down. 99.9% of the time it will be some type of error in the ATC system. But that 0.1% of the time is the reason controllers exist. Be stubborn enough to do your job and save a life.

Don Brown
July 11, 2009

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

NextGen Needling

While we’re on the subject of NextGen, a long-time reader says I’m guilty of not taking on the mythical cost savings of more aircraft on direct routes. I thought I had made that clear. But perhaps it was in a different time and place.

Okay, here’s my favorite story to make the point. Pilots love “shortcuts”. Most controllers love to give them. It makes the pilots feel like they’re special -- that they’re getting something they’re aren’t supposed to get -- and the controllers love getting the positive feedback from the pilots. “Gee buddy, you’re the best controller we’ve talked to all day.” It’s simple human nature -- the kind of human interaction that takes place in any endeavor.

When USAir first started flying from CLT (Charlotte, NC) to LAX (Los Angeles, CA) non-stop, it was a pretty big deal for the company. That might give you an idea as to how long ago it was. It isn’t a big deal now. It was 10-15 years ago. Anyway, humans being humans, we soon found out that TNP (Twentynine Palms VOR) was stored in the computer. TNP is an arrival fix for LAX. It only took a few seconds longer for one of our short-cut-inclined controllers to clear the airplane direct.

ZTL CENTER -- ”USAir Nine, cleared direct Twentynine Palms, DOWNE4, LAX.”

USA9 -- “USAir Nine, Roger, direct Twentynine Palms. You guys at Atlanta are the greatest.”

Another satisfied customer. Trying to stay on track...let’s think of this in terms of NextGen’s promise. How is NextGen going to improve on that ? From CLT -- direct, a straight line -- clear across the country to LAX. We’ve been doing this kind of stuff for decades, long before most aircraft had advanced navigational capabilities. Heck, when I first hired on -- almost 30 years ago now -- there was a guy nicknamed “Straight Shot”. He’d clear anybody direct anywhere and just put them on a heading (a radar vector) to the fix.

”Delta Twelve, fly heading zero four zero, receiving KENNEBUNK (Kennebunkport, ME) proceed direct KENNEBUNK as previously cleared, London Heathrow.”

It’s rumored that “Straight” put an airplane on a radar vector for Germany one time. All the way across the Atlantic Ocean. And I have no reason to doubt it. But forget the old war stories. The question is, just how much money is NextGen going to save anybody by shortening routes ? The answer is; not much over what is already routinely done.

Okay, I can’t stand it. Go back to the USAir flight to LAX we would clear direct to TNP. Word finally came back to Atlanta Center (it took a few weeks) to stop clearing them direct. It seems that one of them got close to getting into the White Sands Missile Range. You know, the place where they...uh...test missiles.

White Sands Missile Range is still out there. There are artillery ranges all over the county. The military “owns” all sorts of airspace where they practice such things as shooting down airplanes. dropping soldiers from the sky with parachutes and study alien life forms. (Okay, that last one was just for the conspiracy crowd.) The point being, there are places in the country that you can’t fly over so you won’t always be able to go “direct”.

The cost savings promised by NextGen simply aren’t there. They are no different that the projected savings for URET. They are ficticious...falsehoods...outright lies. I’ve written about this before. The fact of the matter is that aircraft aren’t always going to be able to travel in a perfectly straight line. Nor do they always desire to do so. Radar didn’t change that. URET didn’t change it. And neither will NextGen.

Don Brown
July 7, 2009

And On The Third Day...

...I am going to send you to WWVB again.


Are you getting the Flick yet ? I’m glad you come visit my site. I want you to keep coming back. I have things to say but -- right now -- I don’t have anything more important than what is being said at WWVB.

I had a piece almost ready to go. I stopped writing this morning and started reading WWVB. It’s amazing what you can do when money isn’t your prime motivator.

We had some bad storms come through the night before. I’m going to play pick up sticks with some 100 foot loblollies that fell in my friend’s yard. Don’t worry. I’m just picking up the sticks. A tree service will cut up the trees. I might get the piece up this afternoon. Or maybe not.

Don Brown
July 7, 2009

Monday, July 06, 2009

How to Save $20 Billion (or more)

Read this and pay attention.

That is all.

Seriously, we’re done. It’s a brilliant piece. It’s a brilliant series. (I even like the nerdy bit on The Overton Window.) I could go on and on (and probably will later) but there’s no need.

Go read WWVB. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Don Brown
July 6, 2009

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Weekend Reading

Don’t even pause to read anything below this post. I’d rather you go read this:


Go there now. We’ll talk about how brilliant it is later.

Don Brown
July 4, 2009

Friday, July 03, 2009

We Told You So

I really don’t have to say anything else, do I ?

FAA whistle-blower safety warnings found to have merit

”A federal investigation into Federal Aviation Administration employee whistle-blower safety complaints has found more than two dozen to be on the mark, “

”The federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates allegations of reprisal against whistle-blowers, tells CNN it has made a “positive determination” that the FAA improperly responded to 27 current cases of FAA employee whistle-blowers warning of safety violations ranging from airline maintenance concerns to runway and air traffic control issues. “

”“It means that FAA is a very sick agency,” said Tom Devine, legal director of the non-profit Government Accountability Project. “There’s never been an agency that’s had that large of a surge of whistle-blowers whose concerns were vindicated by the government’s official whistle-blower protection office.”“

Be sure to watch the video at the link above.

It’s Friday and a holiday weekend so traffic at this site and most others will be low. Regardless, here’s a “heads up”. After a 2-3 week drought in ATC-related news, several interesting items came to my attention yesterday. Have fun and be sure to catch up next week when you have the time.

Don Brown
July 3, 2009

Thursday, July 02, 2009

An Unhealthy Dependancy

I found myself lecturing my daughter last night on healthcare and insurance as I was watching the evening news. She returned the favor by lecturing me -- telling me (in effect) that she’s a big girl now and she had given a presentation on the very same subject in college. In other words, “Dad, I love you. Now shut up.” Unlike her, y’all can’t give me “the look”.

Just in case all this isn’t painfully obvious to the next generation, there is a great opportunity for this country to have universal healthcare and/or insurance. You know, just like every other advanced country in the world. You can tell that the climate has changed by yesterday’s news.

Wal-Mart Says It Backs a Mandate on Insurance

”Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, joined hands with a major labor union Tuesday to endorse the idea of requiring large companies to provide health insurance to their workers, a move that gives a boost to President Obama as he is pushing for health legislation on Capitol Hill. “

Don’t worry -- Wal-Mart hasn’t gone all soft on busting unions and whatnot. They just see the writing on the wall like a lot of other companies.

”But as health legislation moves through Congress, representatives of industry are becoming increasingly convinced that they must join forces with the administration to have a seat at the negotiating table.“

Wal-Mart and the rest of the corporations will do whatever they think is in their best corporate interests. That’s what companies do. Those interests don’t always coincide with your interests, your country’s or the world’s.

To make my point, think back to “The New York 11”. They got fired on a flimsy excuse. They got rehired (of course.) But while they were “fired” they -- and their families -- didn’t have any health insurance. It would be better that everyone is assured access to health insurance. Employed, unemployed or “fired”.

If you’re an air traffic controller, a fledgling artist or a Wal-Mart employee, it really isn’t in your best interest to let your employer have a death grip on your health insurance. They’ll just use it to control your behavior.

On a less personal but still important level, corporations will even use your health as a competitive tool. There are all sorts of options available to an entity that puts its profits ahead of your well being. And we all know companies aren’t in business to promote your well being.

Corporate America will make sure that their voice is heard in this debate. Make sure your voice is heard. Write somebody.

Don Brown
July 2, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Enough !

I’ve been good. I haven’t said a word about Michael Jackson’s death. But I’ve had enough of the news coverage. It will have been a week, tomorrow, and I’ve hardly unmuted the TV since it happened. Seriously, I haven’t listened to a word of it. Which means I’ve hardly heard any news at all in the last week. Thankfully there is the BBC. I record BBC World News America every evening and I’ve fast-forwarded through anything to do with Michael Jackson. Which has been blessedly little compared to CNN, et al.

I don’t like him. I don’t dislike him. I don’t even think about him. I simply don’t care. I do care about keeping up with what is going on so I would appreciate it if the TV media would move on. Enough !

In other news, NATCA is in the middle of an election. If they survive that long. Most of the contract negotiations are done with some of the biggest articles going to mediation. I’m not really staying up on either one but The FAA Follies and The Main Bang are if you want details. You would need a scorecard to keep up with all the games that are being played. While entertaining, what matters is results. There haven’t been any winners in this war between the FAA and controllers. Just lots of casualties.

In a sign that things aren’t going to get any better anytime soon, the FAA announced that Rick Ducharme was being made Vice President of En Route and Oceanic Services. He’s been “acting” VP for some time. The selection is now being made permanent. I don’t know a thing about the guy -- except that he seems to be universally despised by the Terminal controllers. That and the fact that he doesn’t have any Enroute experience. Sounds like a perfect candidate for FAA management.

I know that the subtlety will escape some of the non-controllers out there so let me use another of my imperfect analogies: A bone doctor is running the brain surgery unit.

Mr. Ducharme’s “thank you” in the press release is telling:

”“I appreciate Hank and Rick giving me the opportunity." “

That would be Hank Krakowski -- Chief Operation Officer, Air Traffic Organization and Rick Day -- Senior VP, Operations, Air Traffic Organization. That would be the same guys that were in charge during Marion Blakey’s reign. (BTW, check out what she’s up to today.) Mr. Ducharme left the new FAA Administrator, Randy Babbitt, off the thank you list. Again, I don’t know what kind of games might have been played but I do know the result. It’s Mr. Babbitt’s watch and this move will be about as popular as a NMAC (Near Mid Air Collision) is with controllers. We’ve all heard the terms “pilot error” and “controller error”. It’s time for a new one: Administrator error. Welcome to the new FAA, Mr. Babbitt. It’s the same as the old FAA.

Don Brown
July 1, 2009