Monday, September 28, 2009

Truth in Time

Justin Fox is the economics columnist for Time magazine. I’ve has a subscription to Time for the better part of 25 years. I still recommend it for those with limited time to keep abreast of the news. Which is just about anybody.

Mr. Fox had a particularly good article last week and I thought I share some of it with you.

”But it's also clear that the authorities--then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, in particular--didn't want to intervene. The Fed and Treasury had taken a lot of flak for their earlier bailouts of Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It was time to let the market work.

Within days of Lehman's failure, it was apparent that the market wasn't up to the task.“

With only a year's history to clarify the situation, it has become stunningly clear that the Free Marketeers were wrong. And yet, they persist.

”"I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system" is how President George W. Bush described it last December.

Mission accomplished--so far, at least. In the face of a financial shock probably worse than the stock-market crash of 1929, massive government intervention averted a second Great Depression. “

And still, the Free Marketers persist. “Just get out of the way and let the market work”, they say. “Too much government”. “Socialists”.

”By leaving financial markets alone, Mellon (Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury) and his kindred spirits at the Fed ushered in an economic collapse that led to permanent government intervention in the financial sector. By intervening, Paulson and his kindred spirits at the Fed seem to have headed off a re-enactment of the New Deal. “

Some might think I’m rooting for the death of the Republican Party. Far from it. I believe in checks and balances. But those checks and balances must be based on reality.

”Obama's talk at the U.N. was well received all over the world, except in the right-wing stratosphere in the United States. There he was accused of selling out America, mounting a coup against the country, siding with dictators, and wishing America would perish. If you heard or read the speech, you would be hard pressed to find a single words that Obama said that fits these descriptions.

But that is the nature of political attacks in America these days. They are totally divorced from reality.“

That was what I heard on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS last Sunday.

The Republican Party is wrong about the economy, foreign affairs and they are wrong about health care too. Think about it for just a minute without distraction. You know that every other civilized country in world has some form of universal health care or insurance. Think about the United Kingdom for a second -- they of the Great Bugaboo for the Republicans -- with a system that really is “socialized medicine”. For argument’s sake, let’s say they are totally misguided socialists that are just flat wrong. So how is it that they live longer than us ? They are more like us than any other nation on Earth -- except maybe the Canadians and the Canadians live longer than the English. Yet we spend twice as much money as the U.K.

Doesn’t that -- in the American way of thinking -- mean that our health care ought to be twice as good as theirs ? That is what the Free Market is all about, right ? You get what you pay for ? Is there anybody that thinks our health care is twice as good ? The situation is actually worse than even that would indicate. The U.K. covers everybody. America doesn’t. The U.K. covers everybody for less than half of what we pay to cover everybody minus 40-50 million citizens. If “socialized medicine” is worse, how come it’s better ?

Let’s think like a dedicated Free Marketeer. You know, the ones that love to talk about efficiency, how the Free Market is the cat’s meow and contract out everything in sight.

Let’s contract out the U.S. health care system to the U.K. Government. We could cover everybody in America and still save a bundle of money. Hey ! If we can contract out the U.S. ATC system to a foreign government we can contract out our health care system, right ?

”In 2004, Airservices was awarded contracts to provide tower air traffic control management for the FAA at towers in Hawaii (John Rogers Field, an Air National Guard airport in Kalaeloa), Keahole-Kona, Lihue and Molokai and at towers in Guam and Saipan - the major airports on these Pacific islands.“

Don Brown
September 28, 2009

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Krugman on Maddow

Here’s what I was looking for when I fell down the rabbit hole chasing the Acorn. The Sarah Palin bit is just a lead-in to the interview. Krugman shows up at about the 2:30 mark.

Don Brown
September 26, 2009


I Love the Internet

Again, I was watching Rachel Maddow. She’s all hot and bothered about the treatment of Acorn -- the group that advocates for poor people. I take note of the guy defending Acorn in the piece -- Professor Peter Dreier. Professor Dreier has an opinion piece at The Huffington Post. In the piece, Professor Dreier gives three examples of media outlets trying to tie President Obama to Acorn. One of those opinion pieces was written by John Fund at The Wall Street Journal.

Obama's Liberal Shock Troops

”Shock Troops”. Lions, Tigers and Bears ! Oh My ! Read it if you must. I went one step further. I looked up John Fund. on Wikipedia.

”John Fund (born on April 8, 1957 in Tucson, Arizona) is an American political journalist and columnist for the website of the Wall Street Journal. He also writes for the Journal's Political Diary newsletter and is a senior editor and columnist for The American Spectator. “

Jump to The American Spectator.

”...the magazine is best known for its attacks in the 1990s on Bill Clinton and its "Arkansas Project" to discredit the president, funded by billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and the Bradley Foundation.”

I’m thinking of creating a new blog called “Less than six degrees of separation -- How Richard Mellon Scaife funded the Right". Of course, that would be a disservice to The Bradley Foundation, Coors, Olin, et al. And it’d be too easy.

Jump back to John Fund.

”Fund also collaborated with Rush Limbaugh on “The Way Things Ought to Be”. “

I assume you’re familiar with Rush Limbaugh but I’ll link it anyway.

If you’re like me -- retired with plenty of time on your hands -- you get to read things like this:

(Congressman) King claimed that history showed McCarthy to be "a hero for America".

”60 Minutes has called him (Richard Berman) "the booze and food industries' weapon of mass destruction," and his nickname (from both friends and enemies) is "Dr. Evil", an alias in which he takes pride.“

By the way, if you’re a union member, you need to remember the name Richard Berman because he is trying to do to unions what he did to Acorn.

If you’re wondering how Congressman King and Richard Berman fit into all this, you have to watch the segment from The Rachel Maddow Show.

Don Brown
September 26, 2009


Friday, September 25, 2009

You Have My Attention

I was catching up on The Rachel Maddow when I saw this story:

For those that don’t want to wade through a video, here’s an updated story from CBS News:

Hanged Census Worker Bill Sparkman Was a "Naive" School Teacher

As an (almost) 51-year old, (ex) “Fed” -- this got my attention. And yes, believe it or not, the first thing that crossed my mind was an air traffic control connection. The Lynch ARSR is located a couple of counties away. It’s one of the least reliable radars out there. One of the excuses always given -- through a very long grape vine -- was its inaccessibility and the fact that the locals didn’t like anybody from the Federal government poking around in the back country.

For the non-native readers, these mountains of Kentucky (Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia) have a long history of illicit behavior. From moonshine to marijuana to meth, the widespread poverty breeds it. The only other thing there has ever been in these mountains is coal. And if you know the history of coal, you know why these people don’t trust any outsiders. Believe me, I ‘m not trying to make any excuses for them. I’m just stating the facts.

Don Brown
September 25, 2009

Curious WSJ Article

Take a few moments to read this article for the Wall Street Journal and see what you think.

Air-Traffic Controllers Ratify Labor Pact

I found a couple of things about it to be...well...curious.

”The pact marks a big win for one of the government's highest-profile employee unions, which has had a rocky relationship with successive administrations.“

First, a couple of my operating assumptions. The Wall Street Journal has a reputation as a solid news source (even if their editorial board is whacky.) Having said that, everyone (including me) assumes that Rupert Murdoch will destroy that reputation. In other words, I’m suspicious of anything from the WSJ now so perhaps I’m just being paranoid.

Having said that, I don’t consider this new contract a “big win”. If you’ll remember, I said this on August 17th.

”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”.“

I’m a Labor guy. I’d love to call it a “big win” for NATCA. But I just don’t see it. I see a spilt decision. Which makes me wonder why this reporter (Christopher Conkey) sees it as a “big win”. Or, maybe, calls it a big win would be more appropriate.

And then there’s the last, little blurb. He’s quoting Pat Forrey (President of NATCA) and it goes like this:

”...and keep the current system safe and efficient while we transition" to a new air-traffic control system. “

It all sounded familiar but -- at the same time -- off. You may remember I directed you to the NATCA press release about the subject.

”... and keep the current system safe and efficient while we transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation System.”

(emphasis added to both quotes)

I can’t explain the difference. I can think of reasonable explanations. But as my readers know, there’s a world of difference in the NATCA president talking about the NGATS and a “new air-traffic control system”. I even submit that many of my readers can appreciate the subtlety between saying “NextGen” and “Next Generation Air Transportation System”.

“NextGen” is commonly thought of as ADS-B and other projects on the near horizon.

Next Generation Air Transportation System“ (despite being where the buzzword “NextGen” comes from) is a much grander concept. Kind of like an internet system for the air with everybody and everything (weather, schedules, positions, runway configurations) are connected over an integrated information system.

(Side note: Check the note on the Wikipedia entry about NGATS: “This article is written like an advertisement. “. You’ve got to love it.)

I’m probably being paranoid. But the difference is curious.

Don Brown
September 25, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

FSS Follow Up

Following up on Tuesday’s post, a reader sent me a link to an interesting blog about the Flight Service fiasco.

Flight Service Sigmet

As you will quickly see, it is mostly historical in nature. So, if you want an learn about how all of this unfolded, you have a place to search through history.

In case it hasn’t dawned on you, the internet may revolutionize the way history is written. I’m not smart enough to say it definitely will, but it may. History used to be written by the victor -- and the people with money to publish books. Now, any retired guy with the time can write a blog. Or edit Wikipedia. It will be interesting to watch.

Don Brown
September 24, 2009

It’s a New, New, New World

For those that haven’t heard, the NATCA membership ratified the contract. We now have a new president (Rinaldi), a new contract and a new FAA Administrator. All of that matters, of course. It matters a lot. But the important relationship is at the bottom of the organizational chart.

That relationship is going to take some time. Think about it. There were a lot of controllers hired over the last 1,116 days. (That’s over 3 years for the numerically challenged folks like me.) There were also a lot of controllers promoted to supervisor during that period. They’ve never had a contract to work with. There will be some older controllers racing to be the first to file a grievance. And after 3 years, there will be some grievances.

Rinaldi and Babbitt will have their hands full just trying to win the peace.

The citizens became a little safer today. Not much, but a little. At least this distraction is behind us. Don’t forget -- there are a lot of rookie controllers out there and the FAA is trying to rush them through training. That, to me, is frighteningly familiar. Actually, I think today’s conditions might be worse. It’d take a month to flesh out that statement that but here are two points:

1) The FAA wasn’t at war with its workforce in 1982. Actually, they couldn’t do enough for you. They’d “won” the war and they needed bodies.

2) The training controllers are receiving is far inferior. And as the saying goes, many of these young controllers don’t know what they don’t know. But they’ll learn. The job -- the fundamentals -- of air traffic control haven’t changed. No matter how hard the FAA wishes they could replace controllers with technology.

Don Brown
September 24, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What’s That Sound ?

It’s the sound of the worm turning.

Airlines as FAA Customers?

”In the free enterprise system which we all enjoy in the U.S., it’s almost an article of faith that profit-driven companies that answer to the bottom line and market forces can deliver goods and services more efficiently than government can. Sometimes that’s true, sometimes it isn’t. A recent example of the latter is the slow speed train wreck of Lockheed-Martin taking over the flight service system. “

I hope I don’t need to remind you that the controllers warned you. And AOPA supported it.

Just in case you think all is well and we’re going to sit around the campfire and sing “Kumbaya”...think again. Everything isn’t turning up roses yet.

FAA receives Armstrong privatization request

”The federal government has taken the first step allowing the city to transfer management of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport into private hands.“

Most folks, however, are starting to get the Flick even if New Orleans is a little behind the times.

”Congress cleared the way for privatizing airport management in 1997. Chicago’s Midway Airport was the first major facility to apply for private status in 2006. The proposal collapsed in April when organizers failed to attract investors for the $2.5 billion endeavor, with the mired economy blamed for the lack of interest. “

Or maybe they just ran out of money.’d that happen ?

Don Brown
September 22, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

TRO #2

Today’s Totally Random Observation comes after listening to this podcast from Marketplace....

Irish cross border for cheap bargains

...and catching some of the movie Patriot Games on the tube last night.

There was a time when the word “terrorist” didn’t necessarily conjure up the image of an Arab/Persian/Muslim. And peace seemed impossible.

I wonder how many of my younger readers remember ”The Troubles”. I know they didn’t grow up thinking that the hatred, the bombings and the killing would go on forever, like I did. Because it didn’t.

Don Brown
September 19, 2009

Three Down

And I don’t have any idea how many more to go. It almost escaped my notice so I assume it did escape yours. Today completes three years for Get the Flick.

If y’all didn’t read it, I wouldn’t write it.

Thanks so much for allowing me into your life.

Get the Flick

Don Brown
September 19, 2009

Contractor Nation

Remember when a ”contractor” was a guy that built houses ? Instead of the folks you called to run your ATC system, hire illegals and torture people ?

I watched the Rachel Maddow Show last night for the first time. I liked it. I liked it a lot. Here’s a segment on more contractors behaving badly. Be sure to listen for the last line. It’s a killer. The story after it -- about political contributions from your favorite NFL teams -- wasn’t bad either. Enjoy

Don Brown
September 19, 2009


Friday, September 18, 2009

That Was Fast

Let me put a few pieces of the puzzle together for you. There’s a new sheriff in town -- Barack Obama. His new deputy at the FAA, Randy Babbitt, says the FAA will stop calling airlines “customers” and this story shows up in USA Today.

Feds keep little-used airports in business

”Built using $11 million in federal money, the airport is used only by private airplanes.“

You can read the whole story if you so desire but I can sum it up for you pretty quickly. “Those rich guys flying in those dangerous little airplanes are delaying your airline flight.” Would you care to venture a guess as to who is bringing you this message ? What’s that you say ? The guys that are no longer “customers” ? You guys are fast !

”The result: Commercial travelers subsidize many airports they never use, says the Air Transport Association, the main U.S. airline trade group.

"The passengers who fly on airlines and the airlines are paying for projects at airports where we don't fly," association CEO James May says.“

I’ll give USA Today one “atta boy” for mentioning this:

”(Even so, the USA has 231,000 private airplanes — more than twice as many as every other country in the world combined, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.)“

The brackets (they are in the actual article) let you know that this is just a side issue that should be ignored. You should really listen to what the disgruntled ex-customer is telling you.

Do you doubt my sarcasm ? Really ?

”This year, the small airports are receiving a record $1.2 billion.

The escalating funding came as commercial hubs faced the worst airline delays ever. A multibillion-dollar plan to avert gridlock in the skies has been delayed because the U.S. government has spent too little money building a new system to guide commercial flights, former Federal Aviation administrator Marion Blakey says. “

That’s former FAA Administrator Blakey. USA Today just lost their “atta boy” for failing to mention her current job -- President and Chief Executive Officer of Aerospace Industries Association. By the way, who caused those “worst airline delays ever “ ? Is it just me or does it seem like I’m repeating myself ?

Don Brown
September 18, 2009


Customers vs. Citizens

This just in: FAA finally listens to me. Okay, me and a few thousand other people.

FAA says airlines are no longer its 'customers'

”Responding to criticism that his agency has become too cozy with companies it regulates, the new head of the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday the FAA will stop calling airlines "customers," as he announced steps to ensure air carriers comply with safety orders. “

It’s the nice thing about having loyal readers -- they remind me that occasionally I say something that makes sense.

” The FAA isn't a business -- it's the government. Your government. Why would anyone willingly accept a demotion from citizen to customer?“

I wonder, is anyone in Australia listening ?

Stick with me folks...

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

That doesn’t say “We the Businesses...”. It doesn’t say “We the Order to ensure a Business makes a Profit...” It’s the People. They are the important thing. I like businesses. I like them a lot. Big ones, little ones, in-between ones. I like to shop, I like cool widgets and I like for people to be gainfully employed. Yay Business ! Rah ! Rah ! Sis-boom-bah ! Gooooooo Business !

All right. Now that we’ve got that nonsense out of the way... a government isn’t responsible to businesses. It is responsible to the citizens. The government isn’t a business and therefore, it doesn’t have customers. And anybody that tells you different is just shilling for a business (.pdf file, click at your own risk.)

Don Brown
September 18, 2009


A Long, Hot Summer

I know what you’re thinking. Summer is over. We’re headed into Fall. True. But if you turn your world upside down, Fall becomes Spring and you’re starting your Summer. Well, you would be. Unless you worked for Airservices Australia.

Airservices, staff on collision course

”BELEAGUERED air navigation provider Airservices Australia is back on a collision course with staff after cancelling the leave of 30 air traffic controllers for three months following flight delays and cancellations on Sunday. “

First, let me go through the scorecard so you can tell who the players are.

Airservices Australia is a “corporatized” FAA. They’re owned by the Australian government but they’re run like a business. (Every controller in America just winced.)

Civil Air is the NATCA of Australia. They’re the union that represents the controllers. But unlike America, Australian labor laws still have some teeth. And Australia still has some union members. Well, for now anyway. (Side story on labor for those interested. Note that John Howard and George W. Bush were mates.)

So, Airservices Australia just canceled summer vacations and Civil Air -- as you can imagine -- is madder than a wet hen. (Cut snake ? Really ? And I thought the Brits talked funny.)

”Civil Air executive secretary Peter McGuane last night labelled the leave cancellation as a knee-jerk reaction, which supported the union's claim there were not enough air traffic controllers and undermined Airservices' claim that last Sunday's problems were unique.

Mr McGuane said Airservices had apparently learned nothing from the flight problems of the past two years, and accused it of spinning to politicians and media while increasing overtime for controllers. “

Speaking of spin...

”Airservices has denied it is understaffed and this week said it had an operational requirement for 889 staff but had 908 currently available and 960 on the books. It also had 33 trainees in the final stages of training.

"There have been occasions when a number of controllers have called in sick at the same time," a spokesman said last night. "While we have had a full complement of staff on the roster, no one has been available to replace those absent." “

What does “full complement of staff on the roster” mean exactly ? And why wasn’t anyone “available” ? I know American controllers jump at overtime money. Perhaps that’s a cultural difference. Or perhaps greed is a universal human trait and, in fattening profits, Airservices cut their staffing to the bone and there wasn’t anyone left that could or would come in for overtime.

It’s so hard to tell from the other side of the world.

"We're (Virgin Blue) an airline. We don't cancel flights because a pilot doesn't show up," he said. "They do get sick, we know everyone gets sick, but we pay a lot of money to have reserves."

Or maybe it’s not so hard to tell.

Don Brown
September 18, 2009


It’s Rinaldi

I feel certain all NATCA members have already heard. Paul Rinaldi was elected the new President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

NATCA Press Release.

Congratulations Paul.

Don Brown
September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bad Day

Sometimes, it’s still hard for me to believe what I’m reading. From The New York Times:

New Technology Could Prevent Air Collisions

”But Mr. Day said the F.A.A. should not be installing “50-year-old technology,” referring to radar.”

Come on, Rick. You’re supposed to be a bright guy. Don’t play this game. It makes you look like an idiot.

How about radios ? They’re over 100 years old. Are you going to install any of those ?

How about airplanes ? They’re over 100 years old too.

If radar procedures won’t work -- just say so. If there isn’t any effective ATC procedures for this unique situation -- just say so. This NextGen-inspired “50-year-old technology” line is just pure propaganda and you know it.

Don Brown
September 17, 2009

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

On more occasions that I want my wife to know about, I’ve had people ask me to write a book. I’ve even had people in the publishing business ask me to write one. Well, I still haven’t written one but a friend and fellow controller has.


Think you're safe back there in Seat 33E?  Think again.

The Tombstone Agency, a nonfiction book exploring the intentional degradation of aviation safety and national security at the Federal Aviation Administration over the course of the George W. Bush Administration, will be sent out to various publishers starting tomorrow.  The book is replete with real stories of actual aviation disasters and near-disasters directly attributable to the abysmal management of FAA Administrators Marion C. Blakey and Bobby Sturgell.  Names are named and no one is spared in this ground-breaking indictment of the culture of incompetence,  mismanagement, and outright corruption that totally destroyed this country's quarter-century long attempt to rebuild the nation's air traffic control system in the wake of the PATCO strike of 1981, thus endangering on a daily basis lives, property, the economy, and even national security.


If you’re in the business and you’re interested, there is now a book out there. If you’re a publisher and you’re interested, here’s the contact info for the author’s agent.


Mr. Henry Morrison
Henry Morrison, Inc.
105 South Bedford Road
Suite 306A
Mount Kisco, NY 10549

Office telephone number: (914) 666-3500


How long do you think it will take for this to reach Randy Babbitt’s desk ? Marion Blakey’s ? Whatever. I bet it reaches Bobby Sturgell’s last, just because that’s the way it is.

Don Brown
September 17, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Last night, after BBC World News America, they ran a program entitled Aftershock. It was a look back at the beginning of the Great Recession -- one year after the fall of Lehman Brothers. During the middle of the program, it occurred to me that history is repeating itself.

One of the things that I don’t think we Americans fully comprehend yet is how much this is going to cost us in terms of prestige. Just 18 years after we won the Cold War -- 18 years of unquestioned American military and economic supremacy -- we have witnessed the second failure of capitalism. At least America’s form of capitalism. Eleven years after World War I, the Great Depression left the impression that Communism might be a viable alternative to our form of government. The Soviet Union -- which had already suffered terribly in its founding revolution -- was relatively unscathed by the Great Depression. Today, China is becoming that alternative model.

There is no Republican Party in China so when China decided to go with a stimulus plan, they spent big. It helps that they didn’t have to borrow theirs like we did. The numbers vary slightly (currency conversions, different methodologies, etc.) but China spent (or is spending) between 15-20 percent of their GDP. If America had the same size stimulus, it would be well over $2 trillion dollars.

During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam. During the Great Recession, China is building the Great Drain (video). It all appears to be working -- at least for now. China’s 7.9% second quarter growth in GDP looks a lot more attractive than our 1% decline.

Our unregulated, greed-induced disaster may have given the world the impression that America’s form of capitalism isn’t the undeniable model to choose for their country’s future. There may be another form of government that might work better for them. The last time the world got that impression we had a 46-year-long ideological struggle called The Cold War. And if you’ll remember, it almost got out of hand a few times.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that America’s form of government was the winner in the past. What people are wondering now is what will be the winning form of government in the future. And there are a lot of people in the world -- people that lost their job or went hungry because of this American-induced disaster -- that won’t be rooting for America.

Post Script: After writing the above this morning, I was listening to the Marketplace podcast from Monday. I thought this exchange worth adding to this post.

RYSSDAL: What happens, though, if we don't get some kind of substantive reform?

BLACK: You will have a continuation of the crisis. If you adopted everything in President Obama's suggested reform, none of it would have stopped the current crisis. And it's certainly not going to be passed in full. And it won't stop the coming crisis. What we've done in creating these systematically dangerous banks, where the failure of any one of them can take down the whole system, has made the coming crisis much worse. So a broad range of economists, from conservatives to progressives, are very disturbed about the path that we're following. “

Don Brown
September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back Down Under

Australia is busy tying itself in knots over their air traffic control system.

Military to lose airspace in $300m savings push

”The move would create a unified national air traffic control system for the first time, ending the wasteful separation of the systems and providing the government with a much-needed revenue boost.“

“Revenue boost” plus military matters -- it doesn’t compute for me. And then there is this:

”The loss of the three approach air traffic controllers forced Airservices to more than halve the number of aircraft movements at Sydney from 50 to 22.“

”Mr Walker said Airservices had been unable to find other controllers who could cover for the sick staff. He said there were generally six people working on approach control, and to have three sick at once was unusual.”

It’s real simple folks. If 3 sick controllers can sink your air traffic control system, I don’t think I would put the same folks running that system in charge of my military flights. But that’s just me.

As always, bear in mind that Airservices Australia is one of those wholly-owned government corporations that Robert Poole is always going on about. It’s the money. And the technology an entity like it can be sold. As Virgin Blue is finding out, it’s a slippery critter that can be hard to hold accountable. Speaking of which, if Australia had a national crisis and the ATC system failed the military as it failed the airline industry -- how much would that cost ? I’m sure CASA has a price for blood, just like the FAA does. What is it ? $1 million per life ? $1.5 ? When governments fail, not only do the bodies start piling up quickly, we find out that money isn’t really that important anyway.

But everybody has to learn the hard way it seems so take a look at the money side.

”The underlying rating on AsA is also very strong, based on its strong competitive position from the legislated monopoly status of its core services; legislated use of a cost-plus pricing structure; and modest financial profile. Nonetheless, with a forecast ramp-up in debt-funded capital spending, we expect AsA's financial metrics to weaken and its underlying credit profile to marginally weaken.”

If you’re Australian, you might want to ponder the meaning of “debt-funded capital spending” and what it means to you. As I’ve said before, it’s all about the bonds that can be issued.

You’ve got your operational side (Airservices) and regulatory side (CASA) separated. You’ve got your revenue stream set up to feed your “debt-funded capital spending“. You’ve purchased all this wonderful gee-whiz equipment and you’re working on sucking the military into this vortex. What’s missing ?

Oh yeah, controllers. The people that operate the fancy equipment. The people that make the system go so that the airplanes fly and the revenue stream...streams. Minor detail. Australia has a long and proud aviation history. They don’t need me to tell them how to run it. But they do need controllers to make it work.

Don Brown
September 15, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

COA128 Follow Up

I ruffled some feathers with this blog (as I knew I would.) I find it’s the only way to get the attention of some -- and to get them to change. Let’s take a look at an old picture (that doesn’t have anything to do with the incident in question) to make my point shall we ?

(Mouse Over and Click to Enlarge)

If AAL875 (in the SE corner) reports severe turbulence with injuries, what is the order of priorities for the controller ? Here’s what I see -- as a controller.

1) Render assistance to AAL875.

2) Warn N2303F of the severe turbulence. He is at the same altitude (I think both datablocks say FL280. Sorry for the poor quality.) and will soon pass close to the same vicinity.

3) Find out if there is another aircraft behind the AAL875 (there’s something just outside of the picture frame, you can see the vector length) and warn that aircraft of the turbulence. That may involve talking to another controller at the previous sector.

In no circumstances (that I can imagine) would the controller’s priorities include answering questions from DAL745 (on the southern edge of the thunderstorm) about the reported turbulence. Nor questions from UAL531 (in the SW corner). I understand that they would be concerned about any such report. I understand the only way they can know for sure is to ask. Actually asking, though, just interrupts the controller’s priorities. It doesn’t change them. It just makes them harder to accomplish and endangers the other aircraft that actually are flying towards the area of turbulence.

Don Brown
September 14, 2009

(Sorry. Forgot Facebook again.)


Saturday, September 12, 2009

COA128 Audio

To refresh your memory, Continental Airlines 128 (COA128) encountered severe turbulence on a trip from Rio De Janeiro to Houston. About 26 people were injured and the flight diverted to Miami. The FAA has released the audio recordings. They make for interesting listening -- especially for controllers.

First things first. Here’s the link for all the audio recordings. I’ll limit myself to talking about the audio of Sector 62 where the incident happened.

The incident actually occurs about 5 minutes into the recording. Like the controller, you would never know it -- if we weren’t here listening to the recording of an accident. COA128 requests a higher altitude as he is being transferred to Sector 62 (from the previous sector) and the controller gives them a reroute when COA128 checks in. You’ll hear COA128 mention an “isolated cell” and that’s about it. You never hear anything about the incident from COA128 until you’re halfway through the hour and 25 minute recording.

Some observations:

There is an awful lot of rerouting of aircraft going on. I can’t say why but I wonder how much of it is necessary. I’ll bite my tongue before I stick my foot in my mouth. This is an oceanic and (apparently) partial radar sector. That makes it slightly outside my area of expertise so perhaps all these direct routings are necessary.

I’ve been retired for three years and yes (all my ex-co-workers), the sloppy phraseology still makes me nuts.

When it rains, it pours. Notice how the Air Canada decides to divert to Nassau right when the Continental has to divert to Miami. Why only have one problem airplane when you can have two ? It’s amazing how many times something like that happens.

Notice how the Delta pilots just can’t help themselves. No matter how busy the controller is they insist on being told that the turbulence is no where close to where they are. Here’s a hint Delta -- controllers don’t care about your corporate culture and that isn’t the way the system is designed to work. Change your culture.

You can see how that culture is infectious. Once one starts, they all start wondering. Two unscheduled diversions -- one an emergency -- tend to make a controller just a wee bit busy. Most of that busy will never be heard by pilots because it doesn’t take place on the radio. Let me be blunt. Do like the sign on your wife’s car says: Sit down, Shut up and Hold on. Controllers are supposed to tell you if they know about any hazardous conditions. It may not always work that way but that is the way it is supposed to work. They don’t have time to tell everyone that they are not anywhere close to the turbulence. It will never work the way you are trying to make it work and doing so just distracts the controllers from what they are trying to do, which -- at the moment -- just happens to be more important than you are.

For the truly geeky, you can hear a lot of non-radar coordination on this recording -- even some coordination with Havana.. (Listen for Air Jamaica.)

Don Brown
September 12, 2009

(I keep forgetting the Facebook thingy.)


Rock and Roll Protest

I put this on my Facebook page as something of a lark. But after listening to it a second time, I like it even more.

Don Brown
September 12, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

God and War

I watched what I thought was a disturbing story on BBC World News America last night. Israel’s army seems to be losing its secular nature.

”...its combat units are now filled with those that believe that Israel’s wars are God’s wars.”

I know...I don’t mention religion often but when I do I throw gas on the fire because I drag politics into it also. And now I’m tossing on some gunpowder too -- Israel always seems to spark passion in the U.S. But wait. How about some C4 to go with the mix ?

If you can stand it...

Think about rabbis in the IDF, the fact that we’re breaking our military -- in the Islamic Middle East -- with multiple deployments, the fact that most of America is not sharing in the suffering of this professional military force, remembering General Boykin’s little faux pas...

And then watch this morning’s “The 700 Club”.

(Needless to say, I’m not a fan. I just happened to be flipping channels and caught it.)

If you’re pressed for time, bump it up to about the 3:00 minute mark and start listening.

”This is a war of ideas, about God.”

From there, you can continue to listen as they call President Obama a liar (but they won’t use the word liar) about abortion, how President Obama might gain control of the internet all to himself (a subtle little comparison to Iran included) and how “death panels” really are real. Trust us.

If you can watch long enough, be sure to note that Jay Sekulow works for the American Center for Law & Justice which was founded guessed it...Pat Robertson -- the founder of The 700 Club. And just because there might be some young folks out there, don’t forget Mr. Robertson once ran for President of the United States of America. That would have made him Pastor Commander in Chief.

”Robertson's campaign got off to a strong second-place finish in the Iowa caucus, ahead of Bush.“

I believe the separation of Church and State is an important doctrine in America. Some don’t. And make no mistake about it, they are committed individuals. Like much of the rest of the world, they are probably more committed to their religion than most people are to their government.

Don Brown
September 11, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

TRO #1

I occasionally have a Totally Random Observation that I don’t have time to develop into a blog. And then it hit me -- my readers are intelligent adults. They can do some thinking without me.

I was reading an old book from Tom Clancy -- Executive Orders. I don’t know how I missed it...but that is neither here nor there. (It’s a good book by the way.) Near the end was this statement from the main character -- John Patrick Ryan.

Peoples do not make war. The decision to start a war is most often made by one man. They used to be kings, or princes, or barbarian chiefs, but throughout history it’s usually one man who decides, and never is the decision to start a war of aggression the result of a democratic process.”

(italics in the original, bold highlight added)

Tom Clancy thought of using a commercial airliner as a guided missile long before 9/11/2001. But he never dreamed of George W. Bush and a democratic war of choice.

Don Brown
September 10, 2009

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

So Close. And Yet So Far Away

I almost shouted for joy when I started reading this article in The Dallas Morning News. Finally ! Somebody gets it.

With fewer flights, airlines stay on schedule more often

U.S. airlines recorded their best July for on-time arrivals in six years, a happy byproduct of an unhappy airline industry that has eliminated thousands of flights.

They had the right statistics to make their case.

”The Transportation Department reported that the 19 airlines it tracks had scheduled 580,134 flights in July, down 7.6 percent from the 627,931 scheduled in July 2008. That represents a reduction of more than 1,500 flights a day from a year earlier. ”

Even better, they gave a couple of statistics from which to draw some real conclusions.

”Hawaiian Airlines Inc. led the carriers with 93.6 percent of flights on time. It was followed by Alaska Airlines Inc. at 87.2 percent. ”

Think about the kind of flying these airlines do. You can’t say it’s all in great weather. You can’t say it’s because they avoid the hubs. They do, for the most part, avoid the East Coast hubs.

”Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. finished fourth with an 80.7 percent on-time mark. ”

Southwest avoids the hubs also. They concentrate on point-to-point routes.

And then, just when you think they have the Flick, they print this:

”The on-time performance of the carriers quickly began to improve as the reduction in flights took pressure off the overtaxed air traffic control system.”

It makes you want to tear your hair out. Especially when they have the rest of the picture right in front of their faces.

”Even with the reduction in flights this year, one thing remains unchanged – the New York area continues to have the highest percentage of flights arriving late.

Of the 31 largest U.S. airports, New York LaGuardia ranked last, with 66.3 percent of its flights on time. Newark ranked next to last at 67.5 percent, with New York Kennedy up one rung at 68.1 percent. ”

If the ATC system is the problem, then why can the same ATC system -- using the same technology -- handle so many more airplanes at ATL, ORD and DFW ? (1st, 2nd and 3rd busiest, respectively.) ATL handled almost a million flights last year. LGA didn’t even reach 400,000. (Check the FAA Administrator’s Fact Book.)

It’s just air people. As in Air Traffic Control. If we can vector a million airplanes into the air around ATL we can vector a million into the air around LGA. The difference is that LGA doesn’t have all the places to land that ATL does. It’s the Runways, Stupid.

By the way, let’s not forget that the same, single entity manages those airports with the worst on-time records -- LGA, EWR and JFK. That would be the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. In fairness to my air traffic controller friends in NY/NJ, you might want to take note of the runway configurations at the links (above) for LGA, EWR and JFK. If you know anything about ATC and can count the number of runways that are useable at the same time, you’ll see that those three airport handle about 1.3 million operations a year (again, check the Administrator’s Fact Book) with five runways (let’s say 5 1/2). ATL handles almost a million with five runways too. Except ATL's runways are parallel and can all be used at the same time.

I’ve got an idea ! Sell LGA to the real estate developers and use the money to pay for 5 parallel runways at both JFK and EWR. That would give you about 2 million operations a year, combined. And you know what ? If you didn’t control the scheduling of flights for those 10 runways, you’d still have delays.

Don Brown
September 9, 2009

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


I’ve got to run into town this morning and I don’t know when I’ll get back. In the meantime, you can ponder what I was reading yesterday.

”These days, Sweeney is a frequent guest at the Obama White House. By contrast, during the Bush administration, he was invited only once in eight years -- and that was at the Vatican's initiative, during a papal visit.

"At least Sweeney won't need divine intervention to get into the White House," quipped Vice President Joe Biden. “

I guess President Bush made a statement. What do you think about the results for the country ?

Don Brown
September 8, 2009


Saturday, September 05, 2009

They Are Listening

Just to make sure you’re aware that more and more people are listening all the time...

Listen In On Air Traffic Control From Your iPhone

At $2.99, it's the most expensive app we've bought, but there's just something exciting about listening in on JFK's Tower as flights depart and arrive for everywhere from Nice, France to Rochester. A few mornings ago, we even caught the air traffic controllers wrestling with some Coast Guard traffic and the occasional helicopter.

That is all.

Don Brown
September 5, 2009

Friday, September 04, 2009

Reality Check -- The Economy

There’s a video segment on BBC World News America that I think everyone should see. It’s about the economy but it’s a human interest story.

US jobless rate at 26-year high

US employers cut 216,000 jobs in August, pushing the unemployment rate up to 9.7%, a 26-year high, official figures show.

Adam Brookes reports from Bend in Oregon, a town with one of the worst unemployment rates in the US.

When you hear these stories, it’s a good idea to keep in mind the numbers we are talking about.

This is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

”In August, the number of unemployed persons increased by 466,000 to 14.9 million, and the unemployment rate rose by 0.3 percentage point to 9.7 percent. “


Take whatever percentage you would like to guess and come up with a number for how many Dan Hardts and Randy Worrells there are in America now. People that were in the middle class that now know firsthand how tough it is to be unemployed in America. You lose everything.

The next time some radio or political demagogue sneers the word “unemployed” -- how do you think these people will react to it ? The next time someone screams “welfare state” with all the hate they can muster -- what do you think will go through their minds ? I wonder what they think about health care reform ? I’m betting if their kid gets sick, they won’t care whether someone calls them a socialist or not. They will only care if someone helps them -- or not. They will care if their government helps.

Think about it. Think about it long and hard. See if the phrase “there but for the grace of God go I” doesn’t come to mind.

If you want to know how we got in this mess, there is a lengthy article in The New York Times Magazine by, none other than, Paul Krugman. I’m getting sheepish about calling him brilliant. But he’s brilliant. It will make for excellent weekend reading.

Add it all up and see what you think of the current sound and fury coming from the Republican Party.

Don Brown
September 4, 2009

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Just Me and the Kids

Did the entire blog world take off this week ? Krugman, Fallows -- even Paul at the Follies. Oh well. I guess that leaves just me and the kids. Good. Let’s talk.

The first thing I want to do is start helping separate the men (and women) from the boys for you. Forget the “I just want to do my 8 and go home” types. Some of them can be talented controllers. They can move the metal. Wonderful. They have their place in life. See if you can get them to pay their union dues and let them be.

The talented ones will try to convince you that “expeditious” is the first thing in this job. Supervisors like them because they assume the risks of putting “expeditious” before “safety” for the supes, they are mostly ignorant of rules and regulations -- and they’re easily manipulated. Being off work is their prime motivator. That’s the easiest person in the FAA for the supes to manipulate.

Once you get past the “Boeing don’t make enough to sink me” types, it’s really pretty simple. You’ve got the talented and the not-so-talented. There are some subtleties here that are worth talking about. Even at a place like ZTL (Atlanta Center), somebody has to be the worst controller. The truly awful -- the ones that slipped through the cracks in the training program -- aren’t really a long-term problem. They’ll either move into management or the job will destroy their health in short order. I know it seems like there are a lot of them right now (it scares me to think how bad it might really be) but, trust me, it will sort itself out. It might be painful...but it will sort itself out.

Once it does, you will still be left with the worst controller in the facility. It reminds me of the doctor joke. What do you call the guy that graduates last-in-the-class at medical school ? “Doctor”. No matter how much trimming the FAA does, somebody has to be the worst controller in the facility. And herein lies your first lesson in becoming a professional.

It’s busy. It’s the noon balloon. You’re feeding the arrivals to the worst controller in the facility. What do you do ? Do you feed him the most you can work -- and sink him ? Or do you slow it down a little ? This question doesn’t have an easy answer. Especially while the slipped-through-the-cracks crowd is still with you. It’s a judgment call and nothing is truer in air traffic control than this; a lot of good judgment comes from bad experience.

The answer is the same as it always is -- safe, orderly and (then) expeditious. Your first duty is to keep it safe. Keeping things orderly helps tremendously in keeping things safe. And it will help the weakest-stick-in-the-building more than it will help you. Use your superior ability to keep things safe. Let the “expeditious first” crowd whine. They’re wrong. And it’s easy to prove. They don’t have the answers any more than you do. The difference is -- you’re here looking for the answers and they’re not. And they never will be -- no matter how talented they are.

Don Brown
September 1, 2009