Monday, July 27, 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

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