Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stay Tuned

I went to Florida and caught a nasty cold. Go figure. Anyway, I haven’t died (yet) and I’m sure I’ll work up the energy to post something soon -- now that I’m back home.

In the mean time, have a Happy New Year and say goodbye to The Big Zero. I hope the next decade is a better one for you, your loved ones and our country.

Thanks for reading.

Don Brown
December 31, 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fox News, GMU, Privatization

Please tell me you see the pattern. Over and over and over, it’s the same players. Fox News is the mouth piece. George Mason University provides the intellectual veneer. The goal is still privatization of governmental functions for private power and profit.

You saw the ABC News story with the undercover video of the manager’s meeting in Atlanta. Now take a look at a completely twisted version of the story from Fox News. ABC News goes out of the way to make the distinction between controllers and management. Fox News whispers “management” and then lets their guest scream “controllers”, leaving the impression it was air traffic controllers at this conference. And the agenda is right out there for everyone to see -- privatize the FAA.

Never heard of George Donohue before ? Welcome to the club. It’s a good thing we have the internet.


George Donohue


George Mason University

Previous Positions
•Associate Administrator of Research and Acquisitions, FAA.

If any of you controllers out there walk into an FAA facility where there is a TV on, with Fox News playing, I hope you’ll have the courage to change the channel. I’d recommend changing it to ABC. And if controllers in Atlanta Center are still watching Fox News in the union’s office, grab them by the ear, drag them to the computer room and show them this video from Fox News. If they still don’t get it, tell them Don Brown said they’re too stupid to separate airplanes for a living. They need to apply for a management job.

If they’re lucky, some private contractor will hire them in a few years. Or an airline. Maybe “W’’s new think tank will hire them. Or George Mason University.

Don Brown
December 26, 2009

Maybe They’ll Name an Airport After Him Too

Controllers in my generation (at least the ones paying attention) never referred to Washington National (DCA) as “Reagan” National. I still don’t (and won’t).

Would you like to bet that the folks working for The Corporation for Public Broadcasting feel the same way about George W. Bush ? You won’t believe this one. Watch it.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Don Brown
December 26, 2009


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Scrooge Updated

Just when you were getting your head wrapped around collateralized debt obligations, you find out that there is such a thing as synthetic collateralized debt obligations. And if you think that will tax your brain, wait until you read this.

Banks Bundled Bad Debt, Bet Against It and Won

”Goldman was not the only firm that peddled these complex securities — known as synthetic collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s — and then made financial bets against them, called selling short in Wall Street parlance.... “

That’s right, the modern-day Scrooges came up with these crazy ideas, sold them to folks and then bet against them. But wait ! There’s more !

”...Others that created similar securities and then bet they would fail, according to Wall Street traders, include Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley, as well as smaller firms like Tricadia Inc., an investment company whose parent firm was overseen by Lewis A. Sachs, who this year became a special counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. “

Then we hired one of these guys to come work for us. Please tell me this is like FDR’s hiring of Joseph Kennedy to run the SEC -- “set a thief to catch a thief”.

Merry Christmas.

Don Brown
December 24, 2009


“Customer” Chicken

AVweb ran another story about Lockheed closing more Flight Service Stations. I need you to read the whole story so you can grasp the significance of these two quotes from the story.

”Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Jan Gottfredsen told AVweb that a 13-percent reduction in call volume combined with efficiencies gained with a new communications network mean that the six remaining AFSS facilities will be able to seamlessly handle the calls. “

(Emphasis added)

”NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert said controllers have already seen an increase in workload in some areas because pilots are having trouble filing IFR flight plans before they launch. She said they will, instead, launch VFR and file in the air, adding to the controller workload. Gottfredsen said she hasn't heard those specific complaints and....“

(Emphasis added)

Someone needs to buy Lockheed’s Ms. Gottfredsen a clue. Perhaps she hasn’t heard because 13 percent of her customers don’t bother calling her anymore. Or maybe we just need to buy her some customers.

”...noted that Lockheed Martin is meeting or exceeding performance standards set in its contract with the FAA.“

Only is the Republican inspired contract-out-the-government world can you lose 13 percent of your customers (I bet it’s even worse than that) and still meet or exceed your performance standards. The contract is a sham. Always has been. Always will be.

If controllers are smart, they won’t tolerate it.

FAA 7110.65:


The following guidelines shall be utilized to facilitate the processing of airfile aircraft:

a. Ensure the aircraft is within your area of jurisdiction unless otherwise coordinated.

b. Obtain necessary information needed to provide IFR service.

c. Issue clearance to destination, short range clearance, or an instruction to the pilot to contact a FSS or AFSS if the flight plan cannot be processed.

These procedures do not imply that the processing of airfiles has priority over another ATC duty to be performed
. “

(Emphasis added)

Trust me, a 13% reduction in the number of airfiles approved will be noticed and will get results. If an 87% success rate is good enough for Lockheed it ought to be good enough for government work. Right ? That is the spirit of what they are saying if not the exact logic, right ? That’s what I thought.

Don Brown
December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ABC News and the FAA

Well, it was better/worse than I thought it would be. I don’t know who got Diane Sawyer to make the distinction between controllers and managers obvious but I’m grateful. It was also obvious that Brian Ross had done his homework. In replying to Ms. Sawyer, he brought up the fact that these same managers had “ruined” the moral of the controllers.

The best point of the whole piece was made by the whistle blower. If PowerPoint presentation are good enough for air traffic procedures, they’re good enough for contract briefings. ABC News seems to be convinced that this was just an excuse for a Christmas party. In that they seem to have their facts straight about everything else, I assume they have a reason for believing it. I always figured the FAA wanted these meetings to be face-to-face so that things best not written down could be communicated to the entire supervisory workforce.

Anyway, here are the links.

Brian Ross previews the story with Diane Sawyer.

The story as broadcast.

Some reaction to the story. Just so the FAA managers know who their friends are (nobody right now), the folks at the Reason Foundation threw them under the bus.

It could be worse guys. John Carr could still be writing The Main Bang. Can you imagine what he would do with this story ?

Honesty requires I mention that sources tell me the guy that made the “hooker” remark is a retired supervisor. Let me put that another way. I know him. I know he was an FAA supervisor. I’m told he is retired and was at the conference in a different capacity.

I doubt that information will change anything. This story has really damaged the FAA’s reputation. Unfortunately, I believe that it is deserved. The emotions on display in this event -- including my own -- have convinced me that the rift between controllers and management are deep and make the FAA dysfunctional. (Read the remarks sections at the links.) I want to say the rift is permanent. But it can’t be. We can’t allow it. I won’t pretend I know how to cure it. But it must be cured.

Don Brown
December 23, 2009


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

FAA in the Crosshairs

This doesn’t look good...for FAA managers.

Party Time at the FAA; Critics Question $5 Million Gathering

”Undercover video to be broadcast tonight on ABC World News with ABC World News with Diane Sawyer shows FAA managers drinking heavily and making the rounds of Atlanta bars after a day of meetings.“

Set your TiVo on stun. It looks like ABC News is going to let this leak out, drop by painful drop. I’m going to try my best not to enjoy every excruciating moment of it.

”Another conference attendee asked a female ABC News undercover reporter if she was a "hooker" because "I was ready to reach for my wallet." “

Ouch. I bet that remark is going to cost him. And the FAA.

Don Brown
December 22, 2009


Strange Name. Great Site.

I’ve decided to make a change in my blog roll (on the left margin) and I’ve added The Potomac Current and Undertow. I’ve been contemplating the change for some time and today seemed like a good day to do it. Their lead story is about ABC’s Brian Ross crashing the FAA’s party in Atlanta. The FAA has once again gathered all their managers in once place to get a briefing on the contract. Only, this time, it’s a real contract.

The Potomac Current and Undertow’s previous story was an inside look at the handling of NWA188. I was impressed with their analysis. Keep in mind these guys are from Potomac Tracon. It took some serious work to follow this story that is basically about ARTCCs.

I hope you’ll visit their site on a regular basis.

Don Brown
December 22, 2009


DeMint Disconnect

I was reading the Wall Street Journal this morning -- about the latest, greatest hedge-fund manager -- when one sentence caught my eye.

Fund Boss Made $7 Billion in the Panic

”Mr. Tepper insisted that stimulus spending and low interest rates would boost the economy. “

Yeah, I know I’m supposed to be focusing on what a wizard the latest Daddy Warbucks is and I’m supposed to have visions of my own personal, obscene, profit potential but that is what caught my eye instead. Wasn’t it just yesterday that the Republicans were telling us that stimulus spending wouldn’t work ?

Okay, it wasn’t yesterday. It was in February.

DeMint, Sanford stir up stimulus opposition

”Sen. Jim DeMint and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford urged members of the Senate to reject President Obama's economic-stimulus bill, as DeMint introduced a rival measure with only tax cuts and no spending. “

(In case you can’t place Gov. Sanford, he’s the one having the affair in Argentina while his wife thought he was on the Appalachian Trail.)

”The bill passed the House by a 244-188 margin without a single Republican vote. “

”The Republicans said it spends too much money on short-term jobs and government employment that won't revive the economy. “

Once again, it appears Senator DeMint is disconnected from reality.

Don Brown
December 22, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

ANC Goes Dark

Anchorage Approach lost all it’s power Sunday morning. We’ll have to wait (as always) for the full story. One thing to keep in mind, Anchorage’s days are really short right now. And due to the fact that it’s the winter solstice, a friend just happened to post the sunrise and sunset times today. Sunrise 10:14 AM and sunset 3:41 PM.

Airport tower blacked out by power failures

”All power systems failed twice Sunday morning in the air traffic facility that guides traffic into and out of Stevens Anchorage International Airport via radar, the FAA confirmed Monday.

The failures included two back-up systems.“

Don Brown
December 21, 2009


Reason in The Season

In that I’ve been mixing religion and politics lately, I’m going to direct your attention to this article in The New York Times. It’s a little bit deep for me. Philosophy has never been my strong point. It does, however, touch on all the major points that interest me these days.

The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker

”Alarmed at the liberal takeover of Washington and an apparent leadership vacuum among the Christian right, the group had come together to warn the country’s secular powers that the culture wars had not ended. As a starting point, George had drafted a 4,700-word manifesto that promised resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage.“

“George” is Robert P. George, “a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and a Roman Catholic who is this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.” The article is about his influence and his attempt to fill the leadership void in what I call The Religious Right, since their defeat at the polls in 2006 and 2008.

The battle -- for me -- was pretty well summed up in one extraordinary paragraph. Like I said, I’m not a deep thinker in this area. But I was rather shocked at this.

”Last spring, George was invited to address an audience that included many bishops at a conference in Washington. He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on “the moral social” issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear. To be sure, he said, he had no objections to bishops' “making utter nuisances of themselves” about poverty and injustice, like the Old Testament prophets, as long as they did not advocate specific remedies. They should stop lobbying for detailed economic policies like progressive tax rates, higher minimum wage and, presumably, the expansion of health care — “matters of public policy upon which Gospel principles by themselves do not resolve differences of opinion among reasonable and well-informed people of good will,” as George put it. “

The representatives of churches -- presumably the forces for good in our world -- should not fight for the poor. They should only concern themselves with sex. That’s the way I read it. I encourage you to read it for yourself.

And if you’re not a Christian, you might want to read this for some reference on those that claim they are:

”34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’“

I don’t see a thing in there about sex -- but that’s just me. I’m a Christian and I fail to see how George’s words match up with Christ’s. I consider myself “reasonable” and I can reason.

Addendum: As I was proofreading this, I saw Mike Huckabee -- former minister, Governor and Presidential candidate -- speaking to a crowd in Nebraska on CNN. Read this article to capture the crux of the matter.

”That didn't stop about 2,000 pro-life people from rallying in Omaha over the weekend.

There, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee joined pro-life advocates to condemn Nelson's "sellout" of the pro-life perspective on the massive abortion funding in the health care bill.

Huckabee compared Nelson to Judas in the story of Jesus' betrayal saying this deal merely had more money than the 30 pieces of silver that exchanged hands in setting up Christ's death.

“Senator Nelson obliterated the hope of pro-life Americans who saw him as the last man standing," Julie Schmit-Albin of Nebraska Right to Life added. “

No word about the 30 million people this law will provide with health insurance. Just abortion. Straight out of George’s play book. Merry Christmas.

Don Brown
December 21, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Marion Blakey has it. Look at the latest.

”"(We) have folks looking at it right now because we were encouraged by how ... forward-leaning they are being in Europe on this, and perhaps it is a model for us," said Blakey, a prominent Republican.

Her remarks contained an unusually warm endorsement for traditionally interventionist French policies, demonstrating how the economic crisis has upset the status quo on both sides of the Atlantic. “

Marion Blakey, former FAA Administrator during the Free-Market-is-the-answer-to-every-problem Bush years, is telling us to look to the socialistic French for answers. That takes brass. Or a complete lack of convictions.

I wonder if she thinks we should look toward the French for Labor policy now? (No, I don’t suspect she does.)

Just as a refresher for those that weren’t paying attention during Bush’s term...

Airlines at La Guardia Fight Bush Administration Proposal to Auction Off Landing Rights

”The Bush administration wants to auction off all landing rights at La Guardia Airport, hoping to use the free market to improve sharing of a scarce resource. “

”Marion Blakey, the F.A.A. administrator, said the purpose of the auction was “using the market to ensure we’re making the most of this very popular resource in New York.” “

Just like her boss, it was all Free Market, all the time, until they broke it. Now it’s just more Lemon Socialism. They busted unions, shipped jobs overseas, sold the crown jewels, stole the pension funds of their workers, paid themselves like kings and now they want us to bail them out. Again ?

The U.S. aerospace industry, seeking to promote itself as a source of much-needed jobs, appealed for up to $6.4 billion from the government's bailout fund but denied that it was seeking a taxpayer handout.

Just say no.

Don Brown
December 20, 2009


Saturday, December 19, 2009


Okay. I give up. I saw a Helicopter Association International (HAI) press release that said the FAA’s ADS-B system in the Gulf of Mexico had reached IOC -- Initial Operating Capacity. The press release has disappeared and no one else (at least that Google News can find) has the story. This is all I can get:

”Module Load Warning
One or more of the modules on this page did not load. This may be temporary. Please refresh the page (click F5 in most browsers). If the problem persists, please let the Site Administrator know. “

(“click F5” ? Seriously ? Windows I guess.)

And even that took 2 minutes to load.

Anyway, HAI has a nice video about the oil industry’s Gulf of Mexico operations. If you like helicopters (and I do) it’s worth watching. If you think like me (not necessarily a good thing) you’ll be struck at how much money we spend to get oil out of the ground. It’s amazing. Enjoy.

Don Brown
December 19, 2009


Double Take

I’m sorry. I’m actually trying to get a neat video of ADS-B and the Gulf of Mexico operations up. But I keep bumping into this political junk.

I’m on Google News looking for the “Initial Operating Capacity” press release I lost last night and I see this:


For Franken, No More Mr. Funny Guy
FOXNews - Stephen Clark - ?13 hours ago?
In the past month, Al Franken, the junior Democratic senator from Minnesota has publicly slugged it out with a GOP senator, privately rebuked another one and on Thursday took the unusual step of shutting down on the Senate floor a...


This Fox “news story” painted the exchange like this:

”As a comedian, Franken cultivated an image as an irreverent performer and satirist. As a senator, Franken is cultivating an image as a confrontational lawmaker with no regard for seniority in a chamber that embraces it.

That appeared to be on full display Thursday as Franken was presiding over the Senate. When Lieberman, I-Conn., asked for some more time to finish speaking about amendments he planned to offer to the Senate health care bill -- a routine request -- Franken refused to grant the time.

"In my capacity as the senator from Minnesota, I object," Franken said.

"Really?" Lieberman said. "OK."

Lieberman, taken aback, said he'd submit the rest of his statement in writing.“

Despite this being displayed as impertinence on Senator Franken’s part, I saw a video of the exact same thing happening to another Senator -- with the exact same words, “In my capacity as the senator from ________, I object “ -- on The Rachel Maddow Show last night. It turns out that speaking time was being strictly enforced to move things along because Republicans (and Joe Lieberman) were using an oft-criticized (usually by Republicans) union tactic -- a slowdown. But wait...there’s more. Watch the video for a little surprise about Senator McCain.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Don Brown
December 19, 2009


Once Rachel Maddow starts on a story, she doesn’t let it go. I’m guessing Senators DeMint and Brownback have a few more days of squirming ahead of them. Tonight she gives a good example of how the conservative “echo chamber” works.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

From Chuck Norris to a DeMint/Brownback-attended “prayer-cast” to Fox. Interesting, hilarious, scary and sad -- all at the same time.

While you are visiting Rachel’s site, if you don’t know of the Birch Society, you should watch that one too. They’ve been confined to such a dark corner of extremism for so long that I barely remember their “Impeach Earl Warren” signs. Well, not anymore. They’re back. As I told my son, “Crazy is nothing new.”

Don Brown
December 19, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

American Theocracy

I hope you watched the video from last night. It’s hard to talk about these things with religion and politics so wrapped up together. But that’s the problem, of course. The separation of Church and State is a good idea that most Americans embrace. But not all.

It’s tempting to give you a good look at the religious side of this story. But no matter how crazy you or I might think some of these people are, their religious practice is one of the freedoms our Constitution protects. So I’ll stick with the State side of things -- Senators DeMint and Brownback.

Both Senators are members of “The Family” (aka “The Fellowship”) and have lived at the now-famous C Street house owned by “The Family”. I can’t imagine two more diverse sources to cite as sources than the two I have chosen.

The C Street house

”In an interview conducted before the recent scandals, DeMint, a long-time resident of the C Street house, described how the weekly Bible studies have helped him grow in his faith during his time in Washington.“

That quote is from World, a conservative, Christian evangelical magazine. On the opposite end of the spectrum is this, from Rolling Stone:

God's Senator -- Who would Jesus vote for? Meet Sam Brownback

”They were striving, ultimately, for what Coe calls "Jesus plus nothing" -- a government led by Christ's will alone. In the future envisioned by Coe, everything -- sex and taxes, war and the price of oil -- will be decided upon not according to democracy or the church or even Scripture. The Bible itself is for the masses; in the Fellowship, Christ reveals a higher set of commands to the anointed few. It's a good old boy's club blessed by God. Brownback even lived with other cell members in a million-dollar, red-brick former convent at 133 C Street that was subsidized and operated by the Fellowship.“

That passage may sound vaguely familiar to those of you that read a book I reviewed --The Family -- by Jeff Sharlet. He wrote this article for Rolling Stone. And while we’re on the subject of books and familiar, the title of this blog is from the most influential book I’ve read about the subject: American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips.

(You can read more from Kevin Phillips here. Interesting stuff.)

I chose the title because that is the goal of people like DeMint and Brownback -- a theocracy. You might want to dismiss them as crackpots but they are United States Senators. Both have Presidential ambitions. And right now, they and their allies are preventing us from getting any form of universal health care -- or anything close to it.

You might want to check into these people for yourself. For all you know, they might believe in faith healing and believe we can eliminate health insurance all together. If you get sick, it’s just God’s will. But I’m betting they don’t. They might belong to a a cult that preaches “Jesus plus nothing” but I bet “nothing” includes health industry campaign donations.

Don Brown
December 18, 2009


Thursday, December 17, 2009


I’ll comment tomorrow.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Don Brown
December 17, 2009


Automated to Sleep

Here’s a nice editorial in The New York Times.

Pilots on Autopilot

”Decades of technological enhancements and automation have made flying undeniably much safer but also fostered a subtle disconnect between pilots and the planes they fly. Designed to reduce crew workload and enhance safety, today’s highly automated aircraft can leave pilots so detached from flying that they become almost like passengers on their own flights.“

Controllers aren’t far behind. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is about how tough things were back in the day when men were men and the word “Captain” actually meant something. This is about human factors and the need to keep people engaged to keep them alert. It’s about automation destroying the very skills people need to do their jobs when the automation fails.

Don Brown
December 17, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And Santa Ain’t Happy Either

Okay, it’s a lame title. They can’t all be winners. From the Great Frozen North:

” Your Nov.18 article, “Feds boost number of air traffic controllers in Fairbanks,” was not only wrong but was an insult to the men and women who work as controllers at Fairbanks airport.

The new controllers hired by the Federal Aviation Administration will not fill the current staffing gaps at Fairbanks — if they are successful in training, our staffing will barely keep up with attrition because it can take more than two years to become certified as an air traffic controller. Next summer almost a third of the certified controllers at Fairbanks will be from the Lower 48 on temporary duty assignments. Our tower will continue to need this expensive temporary duty supplement for years to come.“

And I wasn’t kidding about Santa. Take a look.

View Larger Map

Don Brown
December 15, 2009

(Personal note: You didn’t think I was paying attention did ya Cuz ?)


Today Only 12-15-09

The Boeing 787 might have its maiden flight today. There’s rain in the forecast so maybe not.

But the big news (well, for me anyway) is that the Secretary of Transportation -- Ray LaHood -- will be on The Daily Show tonight. I have no idea what they will talk about but one can always hope.

Don Brown
December 15, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

ITYS #501

Actually, I guess this should be a WTYS -- We Told You So -- in that PASS told us and we had the good sense to believe them and tell everyone else. From the Salt Lake Tribune:

”A Transportation Department inspector general report last year recommended that the FAA periodically study FTI to ensure Melbourne, Florida-based Harris meets requirements that prevent outages.

"Technical problems are causing unscheduled outages and creating risks to air-traffic control operations," according to the report. “

And now the Inspector General is telling you.

(Don’t miss the irony of the Salt Lake Tribune depending upon (a contractor) Bloomberg News to cover a story -- a story about dependence upon a contractor to provide a vital service -- that originated in Salt Lake City.)

Don Brown
December 14, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Northwest 188 -- Clearance Limit

Who has thought of it ? Have you ? In all the writing about NWA188 -- in all the stories -- has anybody said a single thing about their clearance limit and the implications of it ?

CLEARANCE LIMIT - The fix, point, or location to which an aircraft is cleared when issued an air traffic clearance .“

The clearance limit of NWA188 was the MSP airport -- and no further.

From the controller’s “bible” -- the FAA 7110.65:


”Take the following actions, as appropriate, if two-way radio communications are lost with an aircraft:

1. When an IFR aircraft experiences two-way radio communications failure, air traffic control is based on anticipated pilot actions. Pilot procedures and recommended practices are set forth in the AIM, CFRs, and pertinent military regulations.“

The pertinent “CFRs” -- Code of Federal Regulations -- are in section 91.185. Here’s the “legaleze” for those that demand such things:

§91.185 IFR operations: Two-way radio communications failure.

”(a) General. Unless otherwise authorized by ATC, each pilot who has two-way radio communications failure when operating under IFR shall comply with the rules of this section.

(1) Route. (i) By the route assigned in the last ATC clearance received;

(3) Leave clearance limit. (i) When the clearance limit is a fix from which an approach begins, commence descent or descent and approach as close as possible to the estimated time of arrival as calculated from the filed or amended (with ATC) estimated time en route.

(ii) If the clearance limit is not a fix from which an approach begins, leave
the clearance limit at the expect-further-clearance time if one has been received, or if none has been received, upon arrival over the clearance limit, and proceed to a fix from which an approach begins and commence descent or descent and approach as close as possible to the estimated time of arrival as calculated from the filed or amended (with ATC) estimated time en route.”

Switching back to English, the pilots had two routes to choose from when they reached their clearance limit (which, again, was the MSP airport):

1) Commence descent and approach

2) Leave the clearance limit and proceed to a fix from which an approach begins.

Now...clear your mind of legal stuff and let’s think of safety. The controllers need some assumptions to base their actions on. “The Book” says to assume the pilots will commence an approach (a defined Instrument Approach Procedure to the airport) or proceed to a point from which an approach can be made (an Initial Approach Fix.) Why should the controllers assume the computer programers programmed the autopilot to do anything different ?

You thought of this, right ? You thought about the implications of all this didn’t you ? It’s an autopilot, right ? Shouldn’t “Auto” be programmed to do the same thing that Tim, Dick and Harry are expected to do ? If the FAA is going to bust the pilots for not doing what they are supposed to do, is the FAA going to go bust the programmer for programming the autopilot to do whatever it did ?

I don’t know what the autopilot was programmed to do (that’s sort of the point) but it wasn’t what “The Book” said to do now was it ? And if we’re not going to do what “The Book” says to do then why have “The Book” ? Shouldn’t the folks that program the computers know what “The Book” says so they’ll know how to program the computers ? If we’re going to have programmers substituting their actions for a pilot’s actions shouldn’t they have an understanding of the consequences of those actions ? And shouldn’t they be accountable for those actions ?

And while you’re struggling to answer those questions within the framework of your gee-ain’t-technology-cool context, riddle me this; Who (in the FAA) certified all this ? Seriously. When the programmers said, “If the autopilot reaches it’s clearance limit it will default to flying present heading.”, who in the FAA said, “Okay, that’s approved.” ?

I could go on. This isn't the only who-certified-this-computer-programming-logic question I have. Would you like to talk about flying airways with a GPS in non-radar airspace ? “Say distance from Sugarloaf VOR...the VOR behind you.” Yeah, I didn’t think you wanted to talk about that either.

Don Brown
December 13, 2009


One Small Drop

Of hope.

FAA chief owns up to mistakes at Newark Airport

”The head of the Federal Aviation Administration admitted to U.S. senators yesterday his agency mishandled the case of an air traffic controller who was booted from the control tower after raising concerns about dangerous runways at Newark Liberty International Airport.“

This is good news to people -- controllers -- that rarely get any. I’m not going to dance for joy, just yet, but I am going to acknowledge it. And say, “thank you, Mr. Babbitt”.

Don Brown
December 13, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Krugman Won’t Stop

Stop making sense that is. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve mentioned Krugman. You are paying attention aren’t you ? He made me laugh today when he lumped Ron Paul supporters into the same category as Lyndon LaRouche supporters. It’s one of the few benefits of being older -- you’ve seen crazy/strange/weird before.

Krugman also shot down the talk about lowering the minimum wage to boost employment. (It doesn’t work.) He ran the numbers on how many jobs we need to create so that even a math dunce such as myself can understand it. If 300,000 jobs a month sounds like a big number (and it does) just think about all the lost wages and tax revenues a number like that represents. That’s why we’re still in such deep trouble.

And just as surely as someone is generating the buzz on lowering the minimum wage (now that you’re listening for it, you’ll hear it on the news), Krugman has helped generate the buzz on taxing bankers. Personally, I like the idea. But I just finished reading Kevin Phillips’ book, Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, and I don’t need much convincing that “high finance” is bad for our economy. Or any economy for that matter.

It’s one of the central points of Mr. Phillips’ book. Nations that start making most of their money off of playing with other people’s money (instead of producing something) soon decline. He makes his case with the latest empires to dominate history -- Spain’s, Holland’s and the British Empire. Each grew wealthy from exploration, innovation and manufacturing. Each declined when finance grew larger than other productive endeavors. In America, manufacturing swapped places with finance in the 1980s . In 1950, manufacturing was 29% of GDP while finance was only 11%. By 2005, manufacturing was only 12% of GDP but finance was over 20%.

To make those numbers a little more real, Mr. Phillips also provides a contrast in pay. Or should we say, “executive compensation” ? In 1981, the top spot belonged to a Mr. Genin of Schlumberger. $5.7 million. By the year 2000, it was Mr. John Reed with Citigroup. He made $290 million. Now we have numerous hedge fund managers making a billion plus a year. Lest I forget to make my point -- oil field services (Schlumberger) to finance (Citigroup and hedge funds).

In 1981, the minimum wage was $3.35 and hour. In 2000, it was $5.15 an hour.

$3.35 to $5.15 -- is over 1.5 times as much.
$5,700,000 to $290,000,000 -- is over 50 times as much.

If the minimum wage had kept up with “executive compensation”, the kids at Burger King would be making right at $170 an hour. Let me write that out for you -- one hundred and seventy dollars an hour.

Now, if people find the thought of a minimum wage of $170 an hour outrageous then why don’t people think the same thing about $290 million a year ? I know the answer. But first, let’s look at today’s numbers.

The minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. John Paulson -- a hedge fund manager -- made $3.7 billion in 2007. (You can do your own math on that one.) A billion dollars (much less $3.7 billion) is a little hard to wrap your head around so here’s a visual for you. Twelve pallets stacked with $100 dollar bills.

And what’s the difference between an outrageous minimum wage and a “redefining“ amount of wealth ? Envy. Greed. And the ability to buy positive (or negative) press. We allow the spin meisters to portray the minimum wage earner as some teenager slinging burgers instead of the single-mother cashier trying to raise a couple of kids without any health insurance. And the hedge-fund manager becomes the epitome of success -- instead of the guy that helped put 8 million more Americans out of work while almost bringing the world an economic collapse.

A billion dollars can buy a publicist, a TV station (maybe a whole network), a few dozen Congressmen, a few Senators, a health care Bill or even an election. But it can’t buy right.

Don Brown
December 12, 2009

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Ripping Unions

Speaking of anti-union companies, look what I found between power outages (it’s a bit windy here) today.

Voter Suppression Receives Attention

”The board also heard testimony from Marianne Bicksler on behalf of Delta flight attendants and the Association of Flight Attendants. Bicksler, who was an inflight supervisor at Delta in 2001, said that as the AFA organizing effort gained momentum, Delta hired a consulting firm specializing in suppressing union elections, and counseled supervisors to “intimidate” flight attendants. “

”Delta management encouraged the Give A Rip campaign against the AFA, which encouraged flight attendants to “give a rip” about the company and rip up their voting ballots. Cornell’s Bronfenbrenner noted in her remarks that “this is not just a Delta issue. We found that employers used this tactic with at least one or more voters in 67% of our sample.” She said this tactic is most disturbing because “once the ballot has been torn up, it represents a no vote even if the voter changes his or her mind.” “

It’s also a quick lesson on how the Railway Labor Act (which governs airline workers) works. Have a read.

Don Brown
December 9, 2009

Unemployment Animated

I stole this video from James Fallows’ blog over at The Atlantic. You can read what he has to say about it here. You can watch how unemployment has grown during The Great Recession.

I hope everyone is noting how things are working out in this recession. Especially the young people going through their first recession. Lawyers, thieves and bankers come first. Then the businesses. And then -- maybe -- we’ll worry about jobs. As long as those jobs don’t have to include health insurance benefits. Take note of who is taking care of working people. Or not (as the case may be.) Then you’ll come to understand why we have unions. And you’ll understand why businesses fight against them tooth and nail.

Speaking of which, I was doing some research last night and had to watch a Glen Beck video. (You don’t have to watch it unless you just need to prove the following point to yourself.) Mr. Beck was ranting against unions and brought in his guest, Tim Phillips, from Americans for Prosperity.

As always, I encourage you to check these things out for yourself.

Information on Tim Phillips from SourceWatch:

”Timothy R. (Tim) Phillips is the president of Americans for Prosperity and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. He became president in 2006. He was formerly Vice President of Century Strategies, a political and corporate consulting firm “

”According to Phillips' Century Strategies biography, "Tim joined Ralph Reed in founding Century Strategies, parent company of Millennium Marketing, in 1997.“

(If you’re not familiar with Ralph Reed and The Christian Coalition, you should be.

”"During the 2000 GOP primaries, Tim helped spearhead Century's national efforts on behalf of George Walker Bush's campaign for president.... “

I’re shocked to find out “W” was supported by anti-union groups. Speaking of which, check out the entry on Americans for Prosperity from SourceWatch.

”AFP (Americans for Prosperity) was one of the lead organizations behind the Tax Day Tea Party protests April 15, 2009. “

”In mid-2009, Americans for Prosperity launched an advertising and advocacy campaign opposing U.S. health care reform named Patients United Now. “

”In 2009 Americans for Prosperity, along with The 912 Project, was one of the conservative groups involved in organizing "town hall protests" and "recess rallies" where participants oppose health care reform by rambunctiously shouting down members of Congress while they are holding public meetings to inform the public about the proposals “

This is from the Wikipedia entry on Americans for Prosperity:

”It was founded in 2004 by David H. Koch of Koch Industries, who in 1984 had also established its predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, from which Americans for Prosperity split in 2003. (Citizens for a Sound Economy rebranded as FreedomWorks.)“

And Koch Industries brings us full circle.

”Koch Industries also founded Americans for Prosperity, formed as a successor to Citizens for a Sound Economy. Koch Industries and its subsidiaries spent more than $20 million on lobbying in 2008, and $5.6 million in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group. “

These people will use the media (Fox News/Glenn Beck) against workers, religion (Pat Robertson’s boy, Ralph Reed) against workers and even the worker’s own anger (Tea Party) against them. They’ll even use the worker’s patriotism against them. (I assume you know the “912 Project” was Glenn Beck’s baby.) Why ?

Union workers make more money. That’s why. And union workers make more money because they have an organization on their side fighting for them full time. That’s what a union does. Considering all the people businesses pay to fight against you -- lawyers, bankers, commentators, preachers and politicians -- don’t you think you ought to have someone fighting for you ?

And by the way, Mr. Beck, Robert Reich was right. He usually is.

Don Brown
December 9, 2009


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

There Is No Backup

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing this blog for days. How many times can I say that there is no backup in air traffic control before people that agree get tired of it ? How can I find a different way -- a more effective way -- of saying what I have said a dozen times before ?

Fix On Fail

”To sum it all up simply, the FAA has no viable backup plan. Without extensive training (something that is virtually impossible to do when your ATC system is already understaffed), the controller workforce will become less and less capable of handling a serious equipment outage (radar site, URET , radar scope, telecommunications or computer). Without an adequate number of technicians, a serious equipment outage becomes more and more likely. “

How can I spur Randy Babbitt into action ? Surely -- if he knew and understood the problem -- he would act. Ditto for Congress and the President. Surely if they understood that the career, upper management at the FAA is either ignorant or incompetent, they’d find somebody to fix this problem.

How about this ? Just ignore the retired, old, grumpy ex-safety rep and listen to the new guy that is untainted by the past, believes in technology and hasn’t been around long enough to become jaded by it all.


”Pilots practice stuff like this at least twice a year. We should be using strips at least that often so that, when something happens, we can deal with the actual problem, not our lack of proficiency with our backup system. This may be unpopular, but en-route controllers should spend time working busy traffic with strips enough so that it doesn't feel completely foreign if we need to use it in an emergency. This practice may be impractical working live traffic, as beneficial as I think it would be, for, say, a week at a time, once or twice a year. At least make us spend some quality time in the simulators with strips. How about include it as part of refresher training? If nothing else, it will be a good history lesson for the newer generation. “

If you think what he is saying sounds a lot like what I am saying...that would be because we’re saying the same thing. I see the problem from a perspective based on the past. He sees if from a perspective based on the future. He knows that one day he’ll face the situation and he has no way to make it work. I know he’s right because I was around when we had a backup system that did work and it was destroyed.

Don Brown
December 8, 2009


Monday, December 07, 2009

You Ain’t the Only One

Here’s a first-rate story for you, courtesy of The Star Ledger.

Newark air traffic controller feels vindicated after speaking out against safety concerns

”Raymond Adams, an air traffic controller at Newark Airport, risked his job to speak out against safety concerns there.”

It’s almost enough to restore your faith in journalism and newspapers. They reported the facts but they also told the truth. There is a difference.

”FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said she couldn't discuss Adams' case because it was a personnel matter, but noted, "None of the disciplinary action was related to the safety issues that he raised."“

”In February 2008, right after he complained about the close calls, Adams was reprimanded on an insubordination charge for cursing,.... “

You see what I mean ? The FAA says one thing and the controller says another. Just the facts. But it’s pretty easy to see the truth. There’s the timing and then there’s the charge. Sorry if I’m destroying any fantasy image you might have of controllers but...controllers cuss like sailors. You might as well reprimand one for breathing -- especially after watching two airplanes almost hit each other. Stupid &*#^$@*&% managers.

”"I'm glad I got involved, I'm glad that I won and glad I got things changed, but there's absolutely zero accountability on the part of the FAA," he said. "I want the managers held accountable." “

You ain’t the only one, Ray. Thanks for doing the right thing. I wish there were more people like you -- in the FAA, in journalism, in the government and in life.

Don Brown
December 7, 2009

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Hopefully, It’s Catching

There’s hope. Maybe this will spread like a virus amongst my conservative friends. It’d be nice to meet some of them in the middle again.

From Andrew Sullivan’s blog The Daily Dish at The Atlantic

Leaving the Right

”For these reasons, I found it intolerable after 2003 to support the movement that goes by the name "conservative" in America. I still do, even though I am much more of a limited government type than almost any Democrat and cannot bring myself to call myself a liberal (because I'm not). “

”I cannot support a movement that holds torture as a core value.

I cannot support a movement that holds that purely religious doctrine should govern civil political decisions and that uses the sacredness of religious faith for the pursuit of worldly power.

I cannot support a movement that is deeply homophobic, cynically deploys fear of homosexuals to win votes, and gives off such a racist vibe that its share of the minority vote remains pitiful. “

Don Brown
December 5, 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

Maps Are Good

I was reading the Wikipedia entry on the mid-air collision over Brazil back in 2006 last night and I noticed a “related” article. It was about Varig Flight 254. Varig 254 -- a Boeing 737 -- ran out of fuel and crashed into the jungle.

The cause of the crash was blindingly simple. Instead of flying North, towards their destination, the pilots flew West.

”Prior to take off from a scheduled stop in Marabá, Pará, towards the final destination, the crew entered an incorrect heading into the flight computer. Instead of flying towards its destination, the crew flew due West and after some time found themselves over a remote area of the Amazon jungle. Attempts to reach an alternative airport were unsuccessful, and the plane eventually ran out of fuel. The pilot made a forced landing in the jungle. “

Here’s a map for orientation. See how blindingly simple the mistake is ? If you take the time to look at a map ?

View Larger Map

The accident makes for interesting reading. You might tell yourself we couldn’t make this kind of mistake with today’s technology. That’s probably the exact same thing the pilot told himself when he put “270” in the HSI and programed the FMS to fly 187 miles into the Amazon jungle. Trust me, HSI and FMS sounded high-tech in 1989.

Don Brown
December 4, 2009

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Be a Balloon Spy

Don’t ask me to explain this because in 60 seconds you’ll know just as much about it as I do. My son goes to Georgia Tech so I get the email newsletter they send everybody. As we all know, Tech is...well...Tech.

Anyway, the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) project caught my eye. I’ll never be a egghead, but I can spot an 8-foot red balloon.

I Spy A Red Balloon

You can ask somebody else why DARPA and Georgia Tech are doing this. Personally, I’ve learned not to ask. I don’t like feeling stupid.

Don Brown
December 1, 2009


NextGen Airliner

They always start off looking so nice and luxurious. It’s only after you buy a ticket that they turn into cattle cars. A nice photo essay in The Los Angeles Times looking at various Airbus 380 configurations.

Comparing airlines' Airbus A380s

Don Brown
December 1, 2009