Monday, August 31, 2009

They Shoot Horses Don’t They ?

Think about these quotes in terms of the Press reporting on NextGen -- or almost any issue in air traffic control -- and see if they make sense to you.

”1. It’s easier to research horse-race stuff. To report on policy, a reporter has to master the policy issues fairly well. That’s not easy, especially for journalists who have specialized in up close and personal rather than wonkery — and policy issues change from year to year. ”

”2. It’s easier to write horse-race stuff. Even if you know the policy issues, writing them so you don’t totally lose your audience is really tricky — I’ve spent years trying to learn the craft, and it still often comes out way too dry.”

”3. It’s safer to cover the race. If you cover policy, and go beyond dueling quotes, you have to make some factual assertions — and people who prefer to believe otherwise will get mad.”

That last quote helps explain one of the reasons I never enabled comments on my blog. I know people disagree with me. I went through most of my career with most of the controllers I worked with disagreeing with me. Been there, done that and it takes a lot of time. If some other controller (or whatever) wants to expound on life as they see it, they can get their own blog. It’s free. (However, comments are welcome if you want to email them.)

But back to NextGen. What’s a reporter to do ? I don’t know of any ex-controllers that have become reporters. There’s no way they can get up to speed on NextGen. Besides, it would be hard to get up to speed on something so ill defined -- and doesn’t even exist. So they quote what the FAA tells them, quote what the industry (the guys selling the hardware) tells them and -- if you’re lucky -- quote what NATCA tells them. There you go -- “Fair & Balanced”.

The quotes I started off with have nothing to do with NextGen or ATC. They’re from Paul Krugman’s blog and they are about health care. They echo a theme I noticed not long ago on James Fallows’ blog and have since heard from various sources. The health care debate seems to have made obvious that our current incarnation of “Freedom of the Press” is failing. Part of their job is supposed to be separating fact from fiction. The current setup presents fiction as a balance to the facts. And now you know one of the reasons I read Paul Krugman and James Fallows. (Their blogs have permanent links in the left margin.)

By the way, Professor Krugman does his usual excellent job in today’s New York Times editorial.

The facts are that NextGen is a bad idea. The efficiencies that are likely to be gained from it are not worth the investment. If and when any new runways are built, the current system has the capacity to deal with them. Atlanta and Chicago are proving that everyday. If you watch those airports long enough, you will see that demand will soon outstrip the large capacity increases a new runway provides -- increases that are far beyond any efficiency gains contemplated by NextGen.

ADS-B won’t replace radar. Yes, it will help the helicopter traffic in the Gulf of Mexico. But we’ll still need a radar system for national defense and ADS-B won’t do a thing for LGA. Do we want to implement it for the other advantages it can supply ? Perhaps. If we think it will be worth the money. The problem is that we’re using the promise of things it can’t deliver (curing airline delays) to justify the costs of the system. And that’s fiction.

Let me leave you with one last unoriginal thought. Perhaps -- just maybe -- the lack of government regulation and the Wild-West-Free-Market attitude of the last 30 years hasn’t been any better for the news industry than it has been for airlines, banks and the American worker.

Don Brown
August 31, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Weather Radar Images

It’s raining cats and dogs at my house. That prompted me to look at the radar. That prompted me to write a blog entry.

I took the time to write a formal article for AVweb about the subject a long time ago. I wrote another for this blog. There are new people reading all the time. If you’re one of them -- and you bet your life on a NEXRAD weather radar image -- go read them and I’ll spare everyone else the lectures.

Base reflectivity -- o.5 degrees elevation

Composite reflectivity -- 0.5 and 1.45 degrees elevation

Notice the difference ? (For those not schooled in radar images, look at the southwest portion and notice the purple color in the composite image.)

You too can do this comparison thanks to the magic of the internet and Weather Underground. Not to mention your good-for-nothin’-except-spending-MY-taxes-and tryin’-to-pull-the-plug-on-granny government that built the radar sites. (Sorry ‘bout that. I just get tired of hearing that kind of tripe.) Start at this page. Click on the radar site (the white “+” ) closest to your home. “Click and drag” yourself a “box” around your county or the area you are interested in. (If you mess that up just click on “Full Zoom Out” in the top right corner of the image and try it again.) Once you’ve got the area you want depicted, take a look at the left side of the radar image and notice the thin gray strip that has the vertical writing on it. “ “Advanced Radar Types: CLICK.” Click on that and a whole new world opens up for you. Have fun. (P.S. You can animate the whole thing too.)

Don Brown
August 30, 2009

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Great Comment

I was reading a Paul Krugman blog about an entirely different subject (well, sort of) than what is on my mind today...but it had a comment that pretty well sums things up for me. A Len Kemisky wrote:

”What confuses me is that if ignorance is bliss, why are these people so angry? “

The subject that won’t leave my mind is the folks showing up with guns at these town hall meetings. Especially the one in Arizona. I understand several showed up with guns but Chris Broughton -- along his pastor Steven Anderson -- has become the poster child of the craze due to this story at Talking Points Memo.

I happened to see Mr. Broughton on CNN -- live -- as the meeting was unfolding last Monday. I kept waiting for the story to develop. It seemed as if I was waiting in vain. Who are these people ? Have we gone so far over the edge that we don’t even consider this bizarre -- much less unacceptable ?

Let’s get a few things straight. I’m not a gun nut. I’m not an anti-gun nut. I’ve been around guns my entire life. I’ve got four...make that five (six if you count the pellet gun) my house right now. I just don’t shoot much and I haven’t been hunting in years.

As far as Mr. Broughton and his religion, I grew up Baptist so I feel I have a license to talk about them. Just like people that own guns, in the South, you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting a Baptist. I know they cover the entire spectrum from almost-liberal to the right-wing-looney bin. If you read that TPM story and are shocked about the mixing of politics with religion, you haven’t been to many churches in the South. Or Arizona. Or Colorado Springs, CO. That is where many people get most of their politics. That is what the Republicans refer to as “the base”.

Now, lets get down to it. If you show up at a town hall meeting in America with a loaded gun on display, you’re a nut. I know you might not think you’re a nut -- but trust me -- you are. I’ve seen nuts. I’ve seen nuts with guns. Trust me, you’re a nut. And not the good kind either.

Let me show you. The folks at SASS are (mostly I suspect) the good kind of nuts. They like to play with guns and they like to play dress up. It’s all in good fun. But the fun stops and the serious starts when it comes to gun safety. This is a direct quote from their “Safety Practices”. (a .pdf file)

”Long guns shall have their actions open with chambers and magazines empty and muzzles pointed in a safe direction when transported at a match.“

It’s basic safety that any 14-year-old country boy knows. You don’t carry loaded long guns (i.e. a gun with a long barrel, not a handgun) in a crowd. It’s simply good manners to make it obvious that one isn’t loaded. Mr. Broughton had a magazine in his rifle, leaving me to guess about whether his rifle was loaded or unloaded. The magazine in his left pocket is loaded. No guess work needed. You can see it.

You can come up with two conclusions from all that. Either Chris Broughton is ignorant of gun safety or he wants you to guess whether or not he’s crazy. Crazy or blissfully ignorant is about equally dangerous when it comes to guns. In that he (and his preacher) doesn’t seem happy, I’m going to go with crazy.

Here, let’s check his pastor’s blog.

Brother Chris carries an AR to Obama event "because he can"

”Good job, Chris!”

Yep. I’m going with crazy. If you watch the video at the link immediately above, you’ll find out that the whole thing was a publicity stunt. When it hits you that these are reasonably intelligent people, capable of rational thought and with planning skills...I’ll let you decide if that makes them any less crazy or not. It certainly doesn’t make them any less scary.

Let’s sum it up. Crazy preacher man wasn’t able to convince enough people to vote against Obama so he preaches to crazy gun man (and people like him) that he wishes Obama would die and go to Hell. Crazy gun man shows up outside a health-care forum to exercise his Second Amendment right to bear arms and be crazy. Except crazy gun man isn’t insane, he’s in cahoots with crazy radio man trying to generate publicity and get more crazy radio listeners.

Armed and intolerant fundamentalists trying to intimidate the leaders and citizens of the country. Hmmm....why does that sound so familiar ?

I don’t know about y’all but if I saw a guy like this at a rally -- especially one at which the President is attending -- I wouldn’t come within fifty feet of him. No, I’m not sacred that crazy is contagious. I’m not particularly scared of the fact that he’s packing. (We see a lot of that down here in the South.) I just don’t want to block the site line of these guys.

You thought about that didn’t you ? I guess for the folks standing around this guy in Arizona, ignorance really was bliss.

“If you show up at a town hall meeting in America with a loaded gun on display, you’re a nut.”

Maybe I should have gone with "stupid".

Don Brown
August 29, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

Administrative Note 8-29-09

Today’s mention of Hard Landing reminded me that it’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned anything about how Get the Flick is set up.

All links to any books mentioned (there may be a couple of exceptions in older posts) go to my account at Amazon. If you purchase the book, you get the normal price and I get a small (let me emphasize “small”) fee.

In the left margin, you’ll see a widget from LibraryThing. Click on the words “my library” and it takes you to my library at LibraryThing. It contains many of the books I’ve read and a rating for many of them. LibraryThing is just a neat site at which you can build your own virtual library catalogue and see what others have in their libraries. If you click on a book cover, the link takes you to Amazon.

Further down in the left margin, you will see the “carrousel“ widget. That is a selection of the ten most influential books I’ve read lately. I think of these as the “heavy hitters” -- the books that provide a serious education about today’s world. It’s a struggle to limit myself to ten -- but that’s the point.

I don’t care whether you buy books through my links or not. The money is insignificant and unimportant to me. I do care that you read. I hope I am able to provide you with some valuable reading suggestions. Reading is one of the great joys of my life. If I can share that with you, well, that makes the day for me.

Don Brown
August 28, 2009

Teddy’s Legacy Too

In all the commentary I’ve heard about Senator Ted Kennedy this week, there is one portion of his legacy I haven’ t heard mentioned -- The Airline Deregulation Act.

You only get a glimpse of Senator Kennedy’s involvement in Wikipedia’s entry.

”While this initiative was in process, in the follow-on Gerald Ford Administration, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, which had jurisdiction over the antitrust laws, a part of competition law, began 1975 hearings on airline deregulation. Senator Ted Kennedy took the lead in these hearings. This committee was deemed a more friendly forum than what likely would have been the more appropriate venue, the Aviation Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee. “

If, as I suggested, you read Thomas Petzinger’s book Hard Landing, you already know the story. One of Senator Kennedy’s staffers, Phil Bakes, convinced him to support the idea and President Carter -- looking for a quick legislative victory -- signed it.

At the time, it seemed as if everyone was getting what they wanted. Except the unions. Kennedy got a reputation as fighting for the common man through lower air fares. The business crowd was getting rid of government regulation.

That was before Frank Lorenzo. Before a bevy of bankruptcies. Before the ruination of a once-proud and thriving industry.

I don’t hold a grudge about it. Kennedy was still a great Senator. And Carter, while not the greatest President, is perhaps the greatest ex-President. We all make mistakes. But I do think it’s time to fix this one.

(Note: I found in my research that The Middle Seat thought of the same angle.)

Don Brown
August 28, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Answer

There seems to be a new question floating around for the next generation of controllers; “What are you going to do about it ?”. The perception seems to be that this is the beginning of a new era. The controller profession has found the limits of its power. They’ve endured three years of turmoil and trouble. NATCA -- the controller’s union -- will have a new president soon and there is a vote pending on a new contract. Pay has already been decided by arbitration. While there might be a sense of vindication, there is no sense of victory.

So, where do we go from here ? What’s the new strategy ? PATCO went on strike. That didn’t work. NATCA has toyed with various strategies. Like PATCO, some were successful for awhile. Some weren’t. The strike was a disaster. We can argue about right vs. wrong all day but it remains a disaster. It was a disaster for PATCO, for Labor, for the profession and for the country. NATCA has avoided disaster but the last few years have been consumed with surviving instead of winning.

NATCA (and the FAA) are now filled with a new generation of controllers. Like all new generations, they will be filled with new ideas but they don’t know which path will lead to success. I do.

I know that sounds conceited. I guess I’ll just have to live with that. Take note. What you think -- or think of me -- isn’t important. Truth is important. Opinion ? Not so much.

The answer is the same as it has always been -- Safety.

That’s it. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. No grandiose ideas. I’ve said it a hundred times before but like most others, you don’t hear. The answer to all of the controller’s professional problems is in one simple word -- Safety.

The very definition of air traffic control encompasses such a simple concept that most fail to grasp it. Air Traffic Control is the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic. Each word -- each concept -- is there for a reason and in a specific order for a reason. While the people that are controllers are around but for a short time and the technology changes constantly -- these words endure. They are a constant. They have not been improved upon for decades upon decades.

They are the “Faith, Hope and Love” of ATC. And the greatest of these is Safety.

If you will adopt Safety as your professional religion, you will win. If you will adopt that simple definition -- safe, orderly and expeditious -- as your professional creed, you will win. Constantly. If you will adopt “by the book” as your duty -- and not some sort of twisted revenge or weapon -- your profession will thrive. And, most importantly, the people whose lives have been entrusted to you will be safe.

It won’t be easy. Doing the right thing -- for the right reasons -- rarely is.

Don Brown
August 25, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

This is How it Starts

Maybe my timing is just lucky. I don’t know. I woke up way before dawn this morning (an all-too-common occurrence) to see this headline waiting for me at Google News, from The American Thinker: (Please don’t click on it. It only encourages them.)

FAA personnel dragged away to help with Cash For Clunkers

The only other story that carried the same message was from The Washington Times which, as I understand it, is where the story originated.

Immediately prior to this, I was catching up on NATCA’s BBS. As a retired member, I still have access. Now, I’ll admit I don’t keep up with the internal affairs of NATCA as closely as I did when I was still working but...I didn’t see a word about any controllers being shanghaied to work on another project. Trust me, if they had been, they would have said something. LOUD and clear.

This is how it starts. Some news organization with a bizarre -but-rich founder prints it and the echo chamber starts beating the drum. The next thing you know, even the regular news media is at least talking about it. Even if it is just to debunk the story.

I’ve been reading a lot about these organizations since I retired so the players in the story come as no surprise to me. These are quotes from their respective Wikipedia entries:

The Washington Times

The Washington Times was founded by Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon in 1982..[1] Bo Hi Pak, called Moon's "right-hand man", was the founding president and the founding chairman of the board.[2] In 1996 Moon discussed his reasons for founding the Times in an address to a Unification Church leadership conference, saying "That is why Father has been combining and organizing scholars from all over the world, and also newspaper organizations, in order to make propaganda." [3] In 2002 Moon, who has said that he is the Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ and is fulfilling Jesus' unfinished mission,[4][5] said: "The Washington Times is responsible to let the American people know about God." and "The Washington Times will become the instrument in spreading the truth about God to the world." [6]

The American Thinker

The American Thinker is a daily conservative website dealing with American politics, foreign policy, national security, economics, diplomacy, culture, and military strategy.

Writing in The Nation about what he describes as "a smear campaign" against Barack Obama, Ari Berman says "At the fulcrum of this effort is a little-known blogger from Northbrook, Illinois, named Ed Lasky, whose articles on have done more than anything to give the smear campaign an air of respectability."

I assume there is at least some shred of truth in the original article (maybe not) but I’d bet my retirement check that no controller that is supposed to work your airplane this morning will be issuing checks at the “cash-for-clunkers” program. Speaking of which, it’s interesting watching the same right-wing news mongrels twist themselves into knots over that program. “It’s a disaster” -- until you talk to the local car dealers (you know, the same ones that fund the Chamber of Commerce) and find that they really like “big government” interfering in their lives. They’re selling cars -- and they saw what Big Business did to their fellow dealers.

But back to the stories. Notice that no one actually says “controllers”. They just want you to think it.

”Employees of the FAA's air-traffic-control unit were asked to help... “

”the Obama administration has tapped FAA air traffic control personnel to temporarily help...“

These guys didn’t get to where they are by being stupid. Just misleading.

Don Brown
August 24, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

Do You Hear ?

I saw the most extraordinary piece of news footage on BBC World News America last night. It was about health care and the piece opened up in Moss Point, MS. Watch it for yourself. If your time is limited, at least watch until Ms. Vicky McArthur (the blonde lady sitting in the clinic) is interviewed.

Democrats divided over healthcare

Did you hear what I heard ? Let’s see.

Moss Point, MS -- Mostly white, working class district. While I don’t doubt the accuracy of the BBC as to the district, the city of Moss Point is 70% African-American. You might want to play the video again and take a good look at the crowd. I don’t know how well outsiders can understand the South but I bet you I could find a Moss Point, MS in every State south of the Mason-Dixon. Without breaking a sweat.

Mississippi is the poorest state in America.

The State of Mississippi has the lowest life expectancy in the country.

Ms. Vicky McArthur (I’m unsure of the correct spelling) finds the thought of health care reform “frightening”. I assume you caught the Pavlovian reference to Communism. She’d rather keep what she has -- no job, no health insurance and dependance on private charity -- than trust her Government. Some things are hard to explain.

It is not my intent to demonize Ms. McArthur or ridicule her in any way. She seems like a very nice lady and she is entitled to her opinion. No matter how wrong it is. By the way, I think the reporters and commentators deserve some credit for maintaining their composure in the face of such an astonishing answer.

On a slight tangent, I suppose I should at least acknowledge one extraordinary circumstance here. This area of Mississippi was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. I suppose if any group of people have a right to doubt the ability of the government to address any problem, it is these people. That is the legacy left us by Reagan-era Republicans; Government doesn’t work very well when it’s run by people that don’t want it to work (except when they want to invade another country.)

But back to my point. Ms. McArthur, in her passionate-if-ignorant self denial, will take you down the same path. I don’t know if she knows it (or is concerned about it) but in standing against health insurance reform, she -- and her neighbors attending Congressman Taylor’s town hall meeting -- will ensure that you can’t afford insurance if you lose your job. So you too might sit waiting at a charity’s health clinic.

Don’t think it can happen to you ? That’s what the people showing up at the charity my wife runs thought. Their numbers have swelled (doubled, maybe tripled) since the Great Recession began. Many of the newcomers are white and well dressed. Just like Ms. McArthur. The number one poverty generator my wife sees ? Health problems. Yes, we see the chronic poverty that exists due to other reasons. But the issue that brings down the newly poor is health problems.

Let me throw you a curve ball as I leave. Not only could I easily find a Moss Point, MS in any State in the South, I bet I could find a radio station in each of them -- just like Moss Point’s WBUV. I think you’ll see the connection without my help.

Don Brown
August 21, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ITYS #482

Remember way back in 2006, when I told you this ?

”That way, you can’t track trends over long periods of time. Or if you change the way you grade yourself, you can change your grade. “

Go read The FAA Follies for today.

None Nine in a Million

It’s a trick that never seems to go out of style at the FAA.

(ITYS - I Told You So)

Don Brown
August 19, 2009


You Don’t Say ?

Big news. You’re not going to believe this. A new runway decreases delays.

How a New Runway At O’Hare Makes Travel Easier for All

”The FAA says O’Hare’s maximum capacity before the new runway was 96 arrivals per hour in good weather; that’s now up to 112 per hour with the new runway “

I’m just wondering, does that sound familiar to anyone besides me ?

A chance to help unclog Atlanta

”The airport's capacity in good weather will rise to about 130 arrivals an hour from 98, the FAA's Lentini says. In bad weather, the capacity will increase to about 100 from 68. “

Of course “decrease delays” is really misleading. New runways increase capacity. It’s how you schedule their use that determines delays. The quote about Atlanta is from 2006. The quote about O’Hare is from July of this year. And so is this one:

”In the eight months since a new runway opened at the U.S.’s second-busiest airport, plagued for decades with lengthy flight delays, O’Hare has operated with above-average on-time arrivals—better than Dallas, Atlanta and Denver in 2009, according to O’Hare’s on-time arrival rate improved by 27% so far this year compared with the same period of 2008. That was twice the improvement of any other big U.S. airport.“

You see ? Atlanta is already old hat. In two years (assuming the economy improves), O’Hare will be back in the delay business -- just like Atlanta. And remember when the whole airport at Denver was brand new ?

Before I get too far away from it, take special note of that figure in the quote; ...on-time arrival rate improved by 27%...

Is there anybody that thinks NextGen will come anywhere close to that ?

I didn’t think so.

What was I saying just yesterday ? Oh yeah, it’s the runways, Stupid.

Don Brown
August 19, 2009


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Photo Fun

I could have a lot more fun with the right photos. But for now, these will have to do.

Thanks to Despair, Inc. for such a great service and to the photographers of the United States Air Force Air Mobility Command for taking such great photos. (Click to enlarge.)

Don Brown
August 18, 2009

An Extraordinary Correction

If you’re keeping up with the mid-air collision between the Cherokee Six and the helicopter (an AS 350) over the Hudson River last Saturday, the investigation has taken an extraordinary turn. On Friday, the NTSB issued a press release that included the following statement:

”The Teterboro tower controller, who was engaged in a phone call at the time, did not advise the pilot of the potential traffic conflicts.“

Taking that quote out of context is quite misleading. To be honest, up until this started showing up in the Press, I wasn’t paying that much attention to the story. The aircraft were operating in a VFR corridor, what could be a controller’s involvement is this ? In addition, out of sheer habit, I try to refrain from comment about ongoing accident investigations. First of all, it’s a good policy and second of all, I never wanted to endanger NATCA’s “party status” in the investigation (back when I represented NATCA.) The NTSB invites “parties” with expertise to participate in investigations. For instance, no one knows more about an engine than the manufacturer. The engine manufacturer is normally invited to join the accident investigation to provide their insight. Part of being a “party” is an agreement to keep your mouth shut. It is a system that has worked very well over the years.

Once again, to be honest, when I first heard the controller was engaged in a “non-business-related phone call“ I figured it was the FAA at work. That would be just like them. I was very surprised to hear that -- most-likely irrelevant information -- from the NTSB.

Fortunately for the controller involved, NATCA was paying attention the whole time. The information has been in front of everyone the entire time but it took NATCA to bring it to everyone’s attention. Again, these are direct quotes from the same NTSB press release:

”At 1152:20 the Teterboro controller instructed the pilot to contact Newark on a frequency of 127.85 ;“

”As the Newark controller was providing the suggested heading to the Teterboro controller, the pilot of the airplane was acknowledging the frequency change to the Teterboro controller. “

”The first radar target for the helicopter was detected by Newark radar at about 1152:27, “

The Teterboro controller instructed the pilot to change frequencies at 1152:20, the pilot of the airplane acknowledged the frequency change and the helicopter in question didn’t show up on radar until 1152:27 -- 7 seconds after the airplane pilot was gone.

I hope it strikes you that all that seems a little fuzzy. How does the Newark controller suggest a heading before the the helicopter even appears on radar ? The simple answer is that he doesn’t. Another quote from the press release:

”As noted above, immediately after the Teterboro tower controller instructed the airplane to contact Newark tower on frequency 127.85, the Newark controller called the Teterboro controller to request that they turn the airplane to a heading of 220 degrees (southwest) and transfer communications on the aircraft.“

I’ve tried to explain how critical seconds become in aviation before and this is just another example. Things happen very quickly and simultaneously. You don’t switch an aircraft to another frequency at “1152:20”. You start to switch one. It takes a couple of seconds. Maybe three or four. A couple of other things can happen in those two seconds. Maybe three or four if you’re unlucky. This is already getting too long so let me move on to the point.

NTSB changes key point in Hudson collision report

”Federal safety officials investigating a midair collision over the Hudson River changed their account of the accident on a key point Monday, saying an air tour helicopter struck by a small plane wasn't initially visible on radar to an air traffic controller handling the plane.

The National Transportation Safety Board had previously said the controller failed to warn the plane's pilot of the potential for a collision with several aircraft in its path, including the helicopter, before handing off responsibility for the plane to another airport. “

As I said on my Facebook page last night, I don’t remember that ever happening before. It is, well, extraordinary. But wait, there’s more.

New twist in Hudson River collision investigation

”The board said in a statement Monday that while the controller at Teterboro failed to warn of several aircraft in the path of the single-engine Piper, the tour helicopter wasn't one of the aircraft on the controller's radar screen until seven seconds after the handoff to nearby Newark Liberty International Airport.

The traffic controller's union had been pushing publicly for NTSB to correct the account, an unusual move that caused NTSB to boot the union from the investigation. “

That’s right, NATCA’s actions to defend a controller -- and set the record straight -- cost them their “party” status. It’s a kind of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

There’s no use denying it, this is turning into an awkward situation for all. I hope -- now -- everyone will take a step back, take a deep breath and shut up. My sympathies are obviously with NATCA but I have a tremendous amount of respect for the NTSB. Our relationship is too important to let it be defined by one mistake. So don’t let that happen.

Don Brown
August 18, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Win, Lose or Draw ?

Everyone is still looking at the proposed NATCA contract with the FAA and wondering which way to vote. Due to the arbitration, it will be especially confusing. You see, the subjects that went to arbitration (including pay) are a done deal. The vote for the contract (either Yea or Nay) will have no bearing on the arbitration award. That is the reason it is called binding arbitration. The only thing NATCA members get to vote on now are the working conditions and whatnot spelled out in the rest of the contract proposal.

For a better analysis than I would ever be able to give you on that, go read John Carr’s (R-rated) CONTRACT AND MEDIATION EVALUATION.

”The articles of the collective bargaining agreement you are voting on are fantastic. I should know: the team I was on in 1996-1998 and the team I sent to the table in 2005-2006 wrote most of them. “

While you’re there, you’ll want to read John’s take on the “where-do-we-go-from-here” question. You might be surprised.

”I would suspend the PAC immediately. I would then prepare a motion for consideration at convention in Hawaii to add X% to NATCA dues for the SOLE, EXPRESS PURPOSE of marketing, messaging, public relations, community service, charity and other activities designed to properly place air traffic controllers in their peer groups. This money would be used to build a more professional, cohesive and respected profession, immune to the types of public relations attacks of the last three years. I would spend the money to butress the existing public opinion of air traffic controllers as valued safety professionals. I would keep all NATCA professions in the public eye, whether standing guard in a tower during a storm or presenting Jerry Lewis with a big check at his convention. “

That is from the guy that really got the PAC (Political Action Committee) growing. I’ve always hated the thing but I recognize that it is the way business is conducted in Washington. Having said that, John’s position doesn’t surprise me at all. For those with long memories, it matches much that was in his first campaign for president of NATCA. I know because I was helping a guy run against John. His name was Lee Riley and much of what John was saying was the platform Lee had run on in the election before that one. As I told Lee at the time, “John is stealing your platform.”

I’m sure Lee got many of his ideas from someone else . But he sure was original in when and how he put them together because most folks just thought they were “out there”. I saw a commercial on TV not too long ago with some kid playing with a toy airplane -- at a toy airport. Lee Riley immediately popped into my head because I remember another idea he told me about. Lee would have had a NATCA logo on the side of the Tower -- and the box it came in. Literally.

Fisher-Price Transportation System GeoAir High-Flyin' Airport

He envisioned endorsement deals for NATCA that covered everything from aspirin to binoculars. Most people didn’t get it. They couldn’t understand how much revenue it would generate and how much influence that would give NATCA. Too bad. NATCA could have had its own companion video game to Microsoft Flight Sim X-Gold.

You might wonder what a commercial klutz such as myself (hey, I just linked ads for a children’s play set and a Microsoft product in an ATC blog) would be doing involved with a guy that thinks like this. It’s easy. To get endorsement deals NATCA would need a squeaky-clean image. And for controllers, that means an unimpeachable commitment to safety.

I don’t think having NATCA’s fate (not controllers themselves but the organization) tied more directly to safety would be such a bad thing. Ultimately, it is linked anyway. Or at least I’ve always thought so. The dollar signs seem to help people see it a little easier.

But getting back to the contract, did NATCA win or lose ? Or was it a draw ? For the issue that NATCA fought the hardest over -- defeating the “B scale” for new hires -- it looks like a win. If you look to the future though, it looks like a loss. Prior to the imposed work rules, controller pay maxed out at $144k. Now, with the arbitration award, the maximum is $114k. (That’s a generalization but it’s as close as I can get in 5,000 words or less.)

It’s hard to think of a $30,000-a-year hit -- especially after a 3 year fight -- as a win. I’m sure -- at first glance -- many in the American public will think it’s a win for themselves. Perhaps it is. If the FAA can still attract the talent it needs -- talent with the proper dedication to safety -- then it will be a win. Or, it could be the beginning of a trend that is a “recipe for an accident”.

Don Brown
August 17, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Which Way Do We Go ?

I’m guessing the spike in blog traffic yesterday was from people looking for news on the NATCA contract arbitration. If so, sorry to disappoint. Yesterday’s decision was mostly about pay (or so everyone thinks) and keeping up with pay never was my thing. Safety was -- and there were enough people looking after pay so that I didn’t have to keep up.

A lot of people have trouble believing that. Well, take a look at the site. Do you think I’m making any money off of it ? (Speaking of which, don’t any of you guys read books ?)

No one seems to be happy about the arbitration panel’s decision. But in the short term, I don’t think there is anything to be done. NATCA is in a very weak position strategically. In the middle of the Great Recession, there won’t be any public sympathy for a highly-paid profession. With so many newly-hired controllers, there isn’t the tight-knit solidarity needed to address the problem. NATCA is in the middle of an election with the current President a very lame duck.

Here ae some selected passages from the Mediation Award (a .pdf file).

”Subsequently, management imposed its own version of all conditions of employment. That so-called “White Book” contained numerous provisions that served, from 2006 to 2009, as the terms and conditions of employment for bargaining unit employees ...“

“...Some provisions addressed work rules related to the daily business of running this highly complex shop. Others were economic take-backs, in the name of fiscal prudence, that constituted unprecedented draconian reductions in compensation, bordering on the unconscionable. “


“Whatever else may be said of the White Book document, it is neither a
“Collective Bargaining Agreement” nor an “Agreement.” The abrupt imposed changes in working conditions from the collectively negotiated Green Books to the unilateral White Book was so profound, and spawned so much hostility and distrust, that the labor-management relationship since has degenerated into a state of dysfunctionality. “


“Notwithstanding the vigorous and extremely fruitful efforts of the
bargainers, however, there remained a small number of Articles where common ground could not be achieved.4 In accordance with the precepts of the MTF agreement, those matters were submitted for final resolution by the Panel. The decision that follows may properly be characterized as a compromise, subject immediately to the caveat that we have not engaged in an exercise of “splitting the baby.” It has not been the goal of this Panel, nor is it our proper function, to somehow achieve mutual happiness – that is rarely the concomitant of a bargaining process. “

We are a long, long way from “mutual happiness”. I don’t know where we’ll go from here. I know where I would go but I’m no longer a controller.

Don Brown
August 14, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I’m A Sap

The family watched “Swing Vote” last night. I used to feel a little sheepish quoting lines from movies. I always thought, surely, I could come up with a better line. Then it dawned on me that Hollywood can afford the best writers in the world -- and I couldn’t.

Anyway, it’s a cute movie -- worth an evening if you haven’t seen it. And it has one killer line towards the end of the movie:

“...If this is one of the richest countries in the world, why is it so many of us can barely afford living here?”

It reminded me of another great line.

”The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Don Brown
August 13, 2009

Go Read The FAA Follies

I might put something else up later, but for now, there’s big doin’s today for NATCA (and maybe you) and you should go read You Don’t Deserve This.

Twenty eight years ago, the PATCO strike ushered in a new -- ugly -- era in labor relations. Today, maybe -- just maybe -- you might see the beginning of a new era.

One way or another, it’s decision day for NATCA and you’ll want to know about it.

Don Brown
August 13, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

About Face, Forward March

For those that dropped the habit of visiting The Main Bang, John put it back up yesterday to publish an endorsement for Ruth Marlin -- from Pat Forrey.

John even says some nice things about Pat. I don’t possess that magical ability of John’s to turn it on, turn it off or turn it around. It’s a curious but an evidently-much-needed ability I’ve seen in politicians before. Oh well, people have always been a mystery to me.

Just so there’s no confusion, I think that John was one of the best presidents NATCA ever had. I think Ruth would be a good one. And I appreciate the fact that Pat and Paul did the best they could under some of the worst circumstances imaginable.

I’ll fight like family with some of the folks in NATCA but at the end of the day, they’re still family.

Don Brown
August 12, 2009

New Controllers Take Heed

As we’ve already discussed this week, I hated midnight shifts and I know how tough they are. I’m sympathetic -- up to a point. That sympathy ends when the stupidity begins.

Without commenting on the merits of this particular case, this is what it can look like when it hits the Press.

Germany Tightens Air Traffic Safety

”DFS's management immediately launched an investigation into the incident—and is not happy about what it discovered. The investigation found that there were four people in the tower at the time—three air traffic controllers and one flight data specialist. Regulations mandate that two flight controllers must be monitoring flights at all times—even in the middle of the night, when traffic is very thin. But the investigation found that there was only one controller at his desk at the time of the incident. “

Don’t think it can’t happen to you. It can. You’ve been given an awesome amount of responsibility and -- for the most part -- your pay and authority will match that responsibility in your career. Act accordingly. Don’t mess it up. All you have is the Public’s trust. Lose it and it will cost you -- and your profession -- dearly.

Don Brown
August 12, 2009

Notice the Difference

Some of you may have noticed that I don’t really involve myself much in the frenzy that occurs immediately after an aircraft accident. A lot of accidents don’t involve air traffic control which limits my interest. But mostly, it’s a habit of waiting for the facts. Most accident investigations are lengthy. A regulatory response to an accident -- if needed -- needs to wait for the facts.

That is all well and good but we do live in the real world and people want answers. Fast. The media tries to fill that desire -- of course. How they do it can provide some real insights into the quality of the publication. Take, for example, the mid-air collision between the helicopter and the aircraft above the Hudson river this weekend. Here’s an article about it from The New York Times. Please read the whole article if you have the time.

Officials Demand Tighter Control, or Even a Ban, of Hudson Air Traffic

”But interviews with aviation experts raised questions about the relevance and practicality of many of the initial suggestions made by the local elected officials.

The F.A.A. has neither the equipment nor personnel to manage the traffic that flies in the unrestricted space up to 1,100 feet above the Hudson in a way that would meaningfully limit accidents, said Barrett Byrnes, who retired last year as a controller at the Kennedy International Airport tower. “

Contrast that with this article from Rubert Murdoch’s rag, the New York Post. To be fair, this an editorial instead of “news”. It is written by, none other than, Robert Poole.


”The Clinton administration tried to make the same reform here, but got shot down by GA and other interest groups.

Depoliticizing air-traffic control would be very positive for air safety. It would speed the introduction and use of better technology like ADS-B, while freeing the FAA to focus on tougher safety regulation.

It's too late for the victims of Saturday's crash, but such changes could prevent many future collisions.

Robert W. Poole Jr. is the director of transportation studies at Reason Foundation. “

You’ve got to hand it to Mr. Poole. I never said he wasn’t talented. He managed to paint President Clinton as a failure, shill for the ATC contractors and call for the privatization of ATC all in a very short space.

A few points. First, it’s GA (general aviation) pilots that are doing the dying so I think it’s safe to assume they’re fairly interested in safety. Second, I have to question the usefulness of ADS-B in this situation. I really don’t know if it would be effective. One thing is for certain though, if the pilot had to have it but couldn’t afford it, he wouldn’t be flying. These libertarian guys confuse me. They don’t want the government in their lives -- unless it’s making them money.

Speaking of which, you have to love this quote from Mr. Poole:

”Nearly all Western nations (including Australia, Canada, the UK and almost all EU members) have separated air-safety regulation from the ATC business, usually divesting ATC as a stand-alone, customer-supported enterprise.“

Funny thing about all those countries, they have universal health care and/or insurance too. I’ll let you ponder that one on your own. For now.

Don Brown
August 12, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Catch Up v8.11.9

It seems that my free, gardening service is popular. Go figure. Let me try to catch up.

I didn’t mean to leave you hanging with the series of blog entries over at WWVB. Here’s #5


And here’s #6:


They’re worth your time to read and consider. If you have some extra time, be sure to check out the links in the articles. There’s a lot of research that has gone into this blog. At first glance, I like the idea of “wayports”.

If you’re a new reader at Get the Flick, I’ll throw out a little hint for you. One of the reasons I like WWVB is the logical, methodical progression of his ideas. I, on the other hand, tend to be random. I write about whatever pops into my head for the day. But my thoughts are connected, however tenuously. For instance, yesterday’s blog was in response to reading a newsletter from Robert Poole. It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned him. But I’ve never said it better than WWVB did.

He's sort of the Baghdad Bob of Boeing ATC.

You’ll get used to my ways and (hopefully) start seeing the connections if you stick around long enough. But even I appreciate the orderliness of WWVB. Enjoy.

Don Brown
August 11, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

He’s Askin’ For It

I tried to let is go. Really. I did. But Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation was just askin’ for it.

”It turns out that controllers like the 2-2-1 schedule, because it gives them super-long weekends. The practice predates NATCA and apparently originated under predecessor union PATCO. And that may well explain why the NTSB’s recommendation has not been followed.“

And Robert Poole "may well" be an idiot.

Look -- nobody in his right mind likes a 2-2-1 (2 nights, 2 days, 1 midnight) shift rotation. For those that don’t know, it’s probably the most common shift rotation at 24-hour ATC facilities.

Assuming you have Saturday and Sunday off (and most controllers don’t), it goes something like this:

Monday -- 4PM to Midnight
Tuesday -- 2 PM to 10 PM
Wednesday -- 8AM to 4 PM
Thursday -- 6AM to 2 PM
Friday -- 11 PM (it’s actually still Thursday night) to 7 AM (Friday morning)
Saturday -- Off (if you don’t get called in for overtime)
Sunday -- Off (if you don’t get assigned overtime)

As awful as that sounds (it’s worse than it sounds, trust me) it’s still the best schedule we’ve found that conforms to job’s requirements. In other words, nobody likes it -- we just can’t seem to come up with anything better.

I worked a 2-2-1 rotation almost my entire career. I believe one year we tried a week of evenings and then 4 day shifts with the last day a midnight shift. It was worse than awful. Some facilities even tried a week of midnights, week of days and a week of evenings. I would have just had to shoot myself.

Mr. Poole sounds like a 3rd-year rookie, “I get a super-long weekend”. Yeah, people (including controllers) think like that when they’re young and stupid. (Mr. Poole is neither one so he "may well" be just another propaganda-spewing mercenary.) It doesn’t take you long to realize that you collapse after the midnight and then sleep until 2 in the afternoon (which is when you’d be getting off work anyway) with the only difference being that you feel like you’ve been hit by a Mack truck (if you worked the midnight). A 2-2-1 shift rotation will kill you. Literally. But so will every other shift rotation.

Robert Poole just doesn’t like controllers. At least not union controllers. (And most controllers are still union.) If this example doesn’t convince you, the rest of his newsletter will. Its okay. The feeling is mutual. And, we beat back his scheme to privatize the air traffic control system. I don’t know if that was worth a lifetime of messed up sleep patterns -- I went to bed at 1 AM and woke up a 5AM, an all too common occurrence even though I’m retired -- but it’s worth something.

Don Brown
August 10, 2009

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Same Color -- Different Bird

I was out driving in the country this morning, trying to relearn photography -- the digital way. I saw this bird about a week ago that was bright yellow. I chase him as an excuse to get out and practice my camera skills. Hey, it’s hot down here and I can photograph birds on a fence from my air-conditioned truck.

Anyway, I ran into a different sort of yellow bird. A bunch of them, actually. The Peach State Airport was hosting a Cub fly-in. There were about 25 Piper Cubs there -- most of them “Cub Yellow”.

Some weren’t yellow. Some weren’t even Cubs.

You can see more pictures at my fan site on Facebook.

Don Brown
August 8, 2009


Friday, August 07, 2009

LGA Confusion

I was catching up on some blog reading when I came across one from NAS Confusion. I’m going to steal one link (of many) to make my point. I want you to think about the promises made with NextGen. Shorter routes. We’re going to make that happen by running airplanes closer together -- using the more precise GPS system to make that happen. Take a look at the picture at this link and tell me if you can still believe in promises being made for NextGen.

You caught the fact that the green line represents the aircraft’s actual route of flight, right ? Not what was filed. Not what the pilots anticipated flying. But what they actually flew. You saw the “loops” in the middle of Pennsylvania and recognized that it was a holding pattern, right ? You noticed all the thunderstorms, right ? You saw that the aircraft flew from DTW to BDL, deviating all over the sky, right ?

Here’s the kicker. It was supposed to land at LGA -- La Guardia, New York, New York.

Be sure to visit NAS Confusion and read his point. And see what the rest of the routes trying to make it into LGA look like.

Don Brown
August 7, 2009


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Same Old Safety Problems

I had a brand new safety rep. write and ask for some advice on doing the job the other day. One of the things I mentioned was the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System (NASA ASRS). It is -- and has been for many years -- a great resource for finding trouble areas.

If you’ll go to the main page at ASRS, you’ll see in the middle blue box, under “quick links”, ASRS Database Online. The search function takes some getting used to. (Okay, a lot of getting used to. It’s pretty awful but it works.) I started by just searching in the “Text” field (after clicking through the “Start Search” button). I started with “ZTL” just to see what was going on at my old stomping grounds (Atlanta Center). I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see that the first report was about the Asheville, NC airport.

Asheville (as we all know) is surrounded by mountains. It’s a “challenging” airport. That’s code for, “If you dot your “i”s and cross your “t”s it is safe. If you don’t, it will kill you.” I’d venture a guess that 90% of Asheville’s (the identifier is AVL) problems occur on the midnight shift with airline-type aircraft.

The AVL Tower closes at 11 PM and Atlanta Center takes over the airspace. Airline pilots (most of them) just aren’t used to operating in this type of environment. In the dark. Surrounded by mountains. At least not on the East Coast.

You see, when AVL Tower closes, the place becomes more like an uncontrolled airport out West. Radio and radar coverage are limited. Did I mention the mountains ? If everyone (pilots and controllers) would forget about going direct, fly the airways and fly the approach procedures -- if they’d “think non-radar” -- things would work out just fine. But people don’t do that anymore. And when the radar world -- “I can see them on the scope”/”Follow the magenta line” -- doesn’t work, things start falling apart.

I know all this will just be confusing to the non-aviation readers. Sorry, but there’s nothing to be done about it. The best analogy I can come up with is the difference between driving on the interstate and a dirt road. The airline pilots are on the interstate all day. But at AVL -- when the Tower closes -- you’re on a dirt road. Things get “bumpy”. If you’re mentally prepared for it, dirt roads aren’t a problem. But going from the concrete to dirt at 55 MPH is never a good idea.

Here’s the report “narrative”.


ACN: 833120 


We pushed late for a late evening flight to AVL. I was the pilot flying and the flight was normal until the descent into AVL was initiated. ATC issued a descent to 9,000 FT MSL. I descended to 9,000 FT MSL and did not receive a further clearance for lower. We queried ATC and were handed off to another controller, while still at 9,000 FT, flying through the LOC, and less than 20 miles from the field. The second controller cleared us down to 7,000 FT and gave a vector back to the LOC at approximately 15 miles from the field. I rejoined the LOC and had the runway in sight when we were cleared for the visual approach to Runway 34 in Asheville, still outside the marker. I was in the center of the LOC but well above GS when we decided to execute a go-around. Upon execution of the go-around, the Center Controller who cleared us for the approach informed us that the MVA in the area was 7,000 FT and that he could not vector us for the approach. He cleared us to the OM, Broad River NDB, for the full approach. We completed the procedure turn, and were at the appropriate altitude to continue and complete the approach to a landing. This occurred because ATC coverage and communication were poor, at best. If the first Controller knew that he would not be providing ATC services to the flight all the way until the landing, he should have coordinated with the second Controller prior to handing us off. The first Controller handed us off extremely high and extremely close to the airport. We could not complete the approach from the position that we were handed off from. In clear VMC, calm wind conditions, this resulted in a missed approach. In more challenging conditions, this could easily have contributed to an accident. There should be sort of a plan and realistic expectations when the ZTL controllers are working a late night into AVL when the AVL Tower and Approach Control are closed. Though it is possible that the flight was handled in accordance with applicable regulations, the reality of events shows that safety was clearly degraded.


Here’s the Approach Plate for the ILS34 at AVL. (Click to enlarge.) Note the 6,060 foot obstacle to the NW of BRA. “Mountainous terrain” -- add 2,000 feet and that gives you an MIA of 8,060, round it off -- 8,100 MSL. (I was asked about that just yesterday.)

If you want to search through the NASA ASRS database, you can find a dozen versions of that same story at Asheville. Just go back to the search function and type “AVL” in the “Location” box. Or -- as I’ve always encouraged pilots to do -- type in your home airport’s identifier. You might be surprised about what you can learn.

Don Brown
August 6, 2009


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Nope. It’s Not.

Just me, that is. It’s Krugman and Robert Gibbs (White House Press secretary) too.

A moveable mob ?

”By the way, in addition to reminding me (and everyone else, including Gibbs) of the fake “bourgeois riot” that helped shut down the Florida recount, this reminded me of an incident early in the Iraq occupation. “

Don Brown
August 5, 2009

Third Time’s the Charm

I’m tired of plugging WWVB. Unfortunately (for me, not for you), he won’t stop writing winners.


”If Robert Poole and the NextGen Salesmen are right, they should be able to implement satellite-based procedures that avoid delays during the construction closure. No big deal.

If the runways-as-constraint contingent is right, the fact that runways are the limiting factor will be amply demonstrated when they close JFK's longest runway for months. Major delays.“

In all seriousness, I don’t consider blogging a zero-sum game. The writing at WWVB has been consistently excellent. And the graphics leave my site in the dust. I can live with it. Enjoy.

Don Brown
August 5, 2009


Look Familiar ?

This story was literally the first hit I got on Google when I started my search.

Miami's rent-a-riot

"Nov. 28, 2000 | MIAMI -- On the surface, it looked like the good people of Miami at their worst again. Last week's melee at the county offices here -- followed by the local canvassing board's abrupt cancellation of a hand recount -- had all the trademarks of Miami's notorious tantrum politics”

“But the fact is that the fracas at Miami's recount headquarters was engineered and carried out by Republican Party operatives imported from the heartland, far from South Florida. “

I just wondered if these recent “town hall protests” looked familiar to anyone else besides me. I’m sure the fact that Senator Arlen Specter switched to being a Democrat had nothing to do with his meeting being targeted. Uh huh.

For a slightly different view, watch this short (less than a minute) video of the crowd.

It’s almost like this didn’t happen. Well, that’s “almost”, as in “if you don’t watch anything but Fox News” almost.

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics

” Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed persons has increased by 7.2 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 4.6 percentage points. “

What about health-care insurance for those 7.2 million citizens ? If you believe everything is okay with our health-care insurance system then tell me how it takes care of these people. Not some of them but all of them. Especially the ones that had a “pre-existing condition” prior to being laid off and losing their company-sponsored insurance.

Don Brown
August 5, 2009


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Nailed It !

Jon Stewart is still the smartest man on TV.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Master Rebators - The Crank Cycle
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

Don Brown
August 5, 2009


They Warned Us

President Obama warned us it would get worse before it got better. I warned you that 10% unemployment seems to be some kind of psychological tipping point. Bad news. It’s getting darker. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

April Unemployment

June Unemployment

The good news is that the economy seems to leveling off (if not exactly climbing.) So, rationally, the unemployment situation shouldn’t be too worrying -- it was expected and the underlying conditions are improving. But that reminds me of a saying I learned of in this crisis.

"The markets can remain irrational longer than you can stay solvent.“

(Supposedly, Keynes said it. But I haven’t been able to find it from a reliable source. I did find “There is nothing so disastrous as a rational investment policy in an irrational world “ here. I sure can get off on a tangent...)

Anyway, it was irrational behavior that got us into this mess. If we can keep our wits about us whilst others are losing theirs, we should be all right. Admittedly, a big “if”.

(Oops. Almost forgot. Hat tip to Krugman.)

Don Brown
August 4, 2009


He’s Done it Again

WWVB slices and dices the airline industry (along with the FAA) in his methodical manner.


What we have here is: Airline marketing departments pick departure times, completely and intentionally ignoring airport capacity. They schedule arrivals with no regard to the load at the destination airport. To add insult to injury, the Airline accepts no accountability for missing their scheduled departure; if the system did have a departure gap for them at the scheduled time, and they push off the gate thirty minutes late and miss that gap, it's not the airline's fault. Just ask them. It's not a failure to communicate; it's an intentional, cynical business model.“

And in case you missed yesterday’s post -- PATCO, NATCA, NEXTGEN; SOLDIERS OR ARTIST-CRAFTSMEN? -- it was just as good.

(I didn’t know that bit about Rudy Giuliani . Did you ?)

Come on folks...get the Flick.

Don Brown
August 4, 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

FAA History Lesson -- August 3, 2009

I can’t say they were right. I can’t even say they were smart. But with every year that passes, it gets harder and harder to say the PATCO members were wrong. President Reagan’s star dims more and more as time passes. A large part of that has to do with the plight of the American worker.

Unions took a lot of the blame for America’s ills during Reagan’s term and the subsequent years. Businesses were unleashed to break their unions and the results really weren’t that hard to predict in hindsight. Workers suffered and considering today’s situation, you have to ask yourself who was really to blame.

A more specific lesson is available by looking at the FAA -- then and now. The Agency is still a basket case. Controllers learned something from the PATCO strike even if the FAA didn’t. We didn’t go on strike. We just retired. And it has put the FAA in the same bind as the PATCO strike. They’re short of controllers and the institutional memory of the controller’s profession has taken another devastating blow.

To understand my point, it might help to remember that Christ was once considered a criminal, George Washington a traitor and Joseph Stalin an ally. Time changes the perspective of history. Here’s the FAA perspective from the late 1990s.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Aug 3, 1981: Nearly 12,300 members of the 15,000-member Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) went on strike, beginning at 7 a.m., EST, grounding approximately 35 percent of the nation's 14,200 daily commercial flights. The controllers struck after the failure of eleventh hour negotiations, which began 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug 2, and continued, with one break, past 2 a.m. Monday, Aug 3. Shortly before 11 a.m. on Aug 3, at an impromptu news conference, President Reagan issued the strikers a firm ultimatum: return to work within 48 hours or face permanent dismissal. The government moved swiftly on three fronts -- civil, criminal, and administrative -- to bring the full force of the law to bear on the strikers. In a series of legal steps, Federal officials:

* Asked the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) to decertify PATCO as the bargaining agent for the 17,200 controllers and controller staff members.

* Moved to impound the union's $3.5 million strike fund.

* Filed criminal complaints in Federal courts in eleven cities against twenty-two PATCO officials.

* Sought restraining orders against the strikers in thirty-three courts.

Even before the 7 a.m. walkout, a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia signed an order directing the controllers to return to work. Late in the evening on Aug 3, another judge of the same court found the union in contempt for failing to obey the first order and imposed an accelerating schedule of fines totaling $4.7 million if the controllers failed to report to work ($250,000 for Tuesday, August 4; $500,000 for Wednesday; $1 million a day for the next four days). That judge also fined PATCO President Robert Poli $1,000 a day for each day the strike continued, through Sunday, Aug 9. Approximately 875 controllers returned to work during the 48 hour grace period granted. After expiration of the grace period, about 11,400 controllers were dismissed. Most of those fired appealed the action, and 440 were eventually reinstated as a result of their appeals.

The strike and dismissals drastically curtailed FAA’s controller workforce. According to DOT’s FY1982 annual report, the firings reduced the number of controllers at the full performance or developmental level from about 16,375 to about 4,200. To keep the airways open, approximately 3,000 ATC supervisory personnel worked at controlling traffic. FAA assigned assistants to support the controllers, and accelerated the hiring and training of new air traffic personnel. Military controllers arrived at FAA facilities soon after the strike began, and about 800 were ultimately assigned to the agency. The combined force was sufficiently large to handle traffic without activating the National Air Traffic Control Contingency Plan, which called for FAA itself to establish rigid, severely curtailed airline schedules and to prescribe routes and altitudes.

The day the strike began, FAA adopted Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 44, establishing provisions for implementing an interim air traffic control operations plan (see Feb 18, 1982). That plan allowed FAA, among others things, to limit the number of aircraft in the national airspace system. Hence, on Aug 5, the agency implemented a plan dubbed "Flow Control 50," whereby air carriers were required to cancel approximately 50 percent of their scheduled peak-hour flights at 22 major airports. FAA maintained an en route horizontal spacing between aircraft under instrument flight rules of up to 30 miles. Aircraft were kept on the ground, as necessary, to maintain this spacing. FAA gave priority to medical emergency flights, Presidential flights, flights transporting critical FAA employees, and flights dictated by military necessity. General aviation flights operated under the severest restrictions. Aircraft with a gross takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds or less were prohibited from flying under instrument flight rules; moreover, aircraft flying under visual flight rules were prohibited from entering terminal control areas. Other general aviation aircraft were served, as conditons permitted, on a first-come-first-served basis. (See Jul 2, 1981, and Sep 4, 1981.) “

Don Brown
August 3, 2009


I Hate It When He Does That

Senator Charles Schumer is a pretty big name in the Senate. I don’t follow him that closely but I see him often enough to know he has a knack for getting in front of the cameras. And I also know he’s been an ally on some controller issues.

That’s why I hate it when he gets in the paper with a story like this;

Schumer urges FAA to tackle NYC airline delays

It seems pretty innocuous, I know. A politician pushing for better service in his State. That’s true -- until you realize Senator Schumer helped create the problem. It even says so right on his own web page.

”US Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that JetBlue Airways will add two new flights to its daily service to Buffalo from John F. Kennedy airport starting May 4. Schumer got JetBlue to begin serving Buffalo in 2000 in exchange for securing landing rights at John F. Kennedy airport for the low cost airline. JetBlue currently has five daily flights from JFK to Buffalo. “

You see, back then, Senator Schumer was just doing what politicians do. He was securing service for his constituents. But he was able to push hard enough to bend the rules. The rules that were there trying to control the congestion.

”For its base, JetBlue chose John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), which was further from Manhattan than LaGuardia but still busier than the out-of-the way airports favored by Southwest. In September 1999, the Department of Transportation awarded JetBlue 75 takeoff and landing slots at JFK. The carrier received an exemption allowing it operate there between the peak hours of 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Neeleman observed that the non-peak hours were quite suitable for quick turnarounds.)

Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had pledged to press for better air service to upstate New York in his election campaign, helped JetBlue finagle the slots. “

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t go around the rules that prevent congestion and then complain about the congestion. Senator Schumer probably believes (like many people) that better technology will make all this go away but it won’t. A 100-car parking lot will only hold 100 cars. All the technology in the world won’t change it.

In case all this sounds familiar, it should. Real familiar.

I hate it when I have to point out that a guy that is supposed to be on my side is wrong, but I have to call them like I see them. And I really hate it when it makes me look like I’m defending Marion Blakey.

”Schumer, as he has before, blamed the Bush administration's FAA administrator, Marian (sic) Blakey, who served from 2002 to 2007, saying she doled out new technologies to other airports before giving them to New York's. “

I’m not defending her. Still, NYC isn’t the place to run technological experiments. And, yes, I’ve said that before too.

You see, the basics of these issues don’t change. The New York Metro airports reached their capacity a long, long time ago. Over 40 years ago to be exact. All we’ve been doing since then is fighting over what is available. Don’t expect that to change.

Don Brown
August 3, 2009