Saturday, January 30, 2010

Parity -- Corporate vs. Union

With the recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, it’s been bugging me that I hear an implied parity between the corporate community’s spending on political goals and unions.

A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled yesterday that labor unions and corporations can spend unlimited amounts to influence federal elections,... “

I’m not trying to make light of union influence in politics, I just can’t abide by the idea that anyone might think union money comes anywhere close to corporate money in buying influence. It doesn’t. Unions aren’t even in the same league. Even “Ideological“ groups (whatever they are) outspend unions.

A visit to OpenSecrets provides me with the comparison I need. Down at the bottom of the page -- in the “How to read this chart” section -- you’ll see this:

”The broadest classification of political donors separates them into business, labor, or ideological interests. Whatever slice you look at, business interests dominate, with an overall advantage over organized labor of about 15-to-1.

Even among PACs – the favored means of delivering funds by labor unions – business has a more than 3-to-1 fundraising advantage. In soft money, the ratio is nearly 17-to-1.“

You can visit the page to see the numbers for yourself. And don’t be fooled by the charts showing businesses give as much to Democrats as Republicans. It’s not a Party issue. It’s an influence issue. The corporate crowd has enough money to cover all the basses. They give more to Democrats than unions do -- substantially more. And when it comes to giving to Republicans -- Fuhgeddaboutit. The percentage given to each Party shifts each election cycle to the Party in power. Scroll through the election cycle button and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

"Money is the mother's milk of politics."

Don Brown
January 30, 2010


Friday, January 29, 2010

The Automation Trap

I was reading Peter Nesbitt’s post on The FAA Whistleblower this morning and nodding my head in agreement.

ALPA safety chief: Basic flying skills eroding

”The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) top safety official has echoed recent statements by FAA administrator Randy Babbitt that airline pilots may need to spend more time hand-flying aircraft to stave off the impacts of automation.

“There are several accident cases where you can look back and see erosion of basic flying skills,” says Rory Kay, ALPA’s executive air safety chairman. “

I assume most controllers recognize the parallels in our own profession. Referring to last night’s post, I can’t help but wonder how many people on the ERAM team have ever spent a few hours working without Flight Data Processing in a Center (ARTCC) ? I’d be willing to bet the answer to that question would be “zero”. I’m not sure that I ever spent more than a couple of hours without it in my entire career -- except for the midnight shift. But, it was a couple of very educational hours.

I would suggest to controllers that if you don’t think you could operate for a couple of hours without Flight Data Processing that something is very wrong in your profession. Just my opinion.

But back to pilots. There was one line in the article that really jumped out at me.

”“They understand that basic skills are eroding,” he adds. The practice varies by carrier, with some recommending pilots to engage or disengage the autopilot system as low as 1,000 ft (305m). Kay says he typically hand-flies the aircraft below 18,000 ft (5,486m). “

I instinctively approve of his decision to hand fly below FL180. But can I ? What about RNP -- Required Navigation Performance ? If you’ll look at that link on Wikipedia, down in the “Description” section you’ll see this:

”RNP requirements may limit the modes of operation of the aircraft, e.g. for low RNP, where flight technical error (FTE) is a significant factor, manual flight by the crew may not be allowed.“

( Emphasis added)

Whoops. As we all know, a big part of the FAA’s NextGen sales job is that increased accuracy (RNP) will allow us controllers to put more airplanes in the same amount of sky. That level of accuracy depends on computers and autopilots. And the airspace we’re talking about is below FL180. So much for hand flying. So much for safety.

Don Brown
January 29, 2010


Thursday, January 28, 2010

ERAM -- FAIL (Still)

The FAA Follies has the latest update on ERAM. Be sure to read the comments. ITYS. In case you didn’t listen to me when I Told You So, you can read this to catch up.

Don Brown
January 28, 2010


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Get Busy

You should know of Elizabeth Warren by now.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Elizabeth Warren
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Get busy.

Don Brown
January 27, 2010

I Bet We Don’t

Randy Babbitt -- Administrator of the FAA -- recently gave a speech at the Aero Club of Washington. It was a good speech. I actually liked it. Right up until the end.

”So let me share with you what my vision of a flight in 2020 would be like. Our clearance is delivered and accepted with Data Link. The radio will only be used for emergencies. We’ll taxi out and takeoff without touching the brakes with no chance of a runway incursion we’ll fly the most efficient course for departure and enroute at our most efficient altitude. Complete high fidelity weather information will be will be available to the pilots and controllers for the full projected route and avoided using predictive weather tools. We will descend and reach our destination using a continuous descent approach.“

I bet we don’t. I bet a flight plan -- just like now -- barely survives past Approach Control saying “radar contact”. Which is usually followed by “Can we get on course, Approach ?” I bet that weather still generates delays and will still be unpredictable. Which, of course, means CDAs won’t survive the first thunderstorm.

I do believe things will get better. Despite the lessons of the last 3 decades, I still believe things will get better.

Good speeches are evidently not hard to come by. I’ve heard a number of them in my years in aviation. The future is much harder to write. I often wonder why anyone tries. It must be human nature.

No one’s vision of America’s future in aviation will come true unless we find a way of making it profitable. Until we find a way for the airlines to make money, no one can afford the level of safety -- much less service --that the public demands. Much like banking, there’s no point in harping on it. We know what needs to be done because we’ve seen it work. And how the alternative doesn’t work. We need to regulate the airline industry (and the banking industry.) Period.

And just a friendly note. Stop trying to predict the future. It makes you look foolish. (Note: I left that link until the last sentence because you’ll want to spend some time exploring that blog. It is way cool.)

Don Brown
January 27, 2010


At a Loss For Words

I don’t really need to say much. Click here. When your screen matches the screen shot below, click on the “play” button. Make sure your speakers are on.

Warning: It isn’t pretty. But this is what’s at stake for controllers, every time they plug in.

Don Brown
January 27, 2010


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Krugman Today

Just in case you didn’t go to Krugman’s blog to read it for yourself...

Obama Liquidates Himself

”A spending freeze? That’s the brilliant response of the Obama team to their first serious political setback?

It’s appalling on every level. “

It gets worse. Read it for yourself.

I really hope I’m back here on Thursday morning telling you how brilliant President Obama is and what an idiot I am. If this is some kind of super-smart feint to confuse people -- mission accomplished.

Don Brown
January 26, 2010


NOOOooo !!!

Krugman will blow a fuse. What is President Obama thinking ?

Obama Seeks Freeze on Many Domestic Programs

”President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that, an initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit, administration officials said Monday. “

I’ve already seen Robert Reich on TV trying to explain that -- right now -- the Federal government is the “spender of last resort”. I agree with this line of reasoning and I don’t really think that it is that hard to understand. Businesses aren’t spending money. Heck, the banks aren’t even loaning any. Workers are not spending. The people that represent the 10% unemployed sure aren’t spending. The States are in such bad shape that they are laying off teachers and police officers. The only entity that can “prime the pump” on the economy is the Federal Government.

Are we really doomed to repeat history ? The only thing that will cut the deficit is a growing economy. We won’t “freeze” our way out of this. The only way to expand the economy is to put people back to work. Even if we have to have a massive jobs program. We will not prosper with 10% unemployment.

It doesn’t make sense economically and it doesn’t make sense politically. The Republicans are not going to play ball with the Democrats.

”Republicans were quick to mock the freeze proposal. “Given Washington Democrats’ unprecedented spending binge, this is like announcing you’re going on a diet after winning a pie-eating contest. “

This Republican Party will never do anything but obstruct President Obama. So what is President Obama thinking ?

And for those controllers out there that don’t care...

”The freeze would cover the agencies and programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year, including air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks.“

Do you care now ? While I’m here, do you ever notice how often air traffic control comes up when the talk about government gets serious ? Air traffic controllers remind me of the current Congressional Democrats. They’ve got all the power in the world but they can’t get their act together long enough to use it.

Maybe a double dip recession or a second set of imposed work rules will wake people up. The first one doesn’t seem to have done the job.

Don Brown
January 26, 2010


More From New Braunfels

No, I haven’t forgotten about them. The Free Marketeers love the “Free” market -- especially when the government is paying for it.

City has applied for FAA oversight of tower

Say what ? Somebody wants to be regulated ?

”Approval of a federal contract tower will mean increased revenue for the airport through FAA grants, lessening the amount of money that flows from city coffers to run the airport.

And, if the application is approved, the New Braunfels air traffic control tower — including it staffing levels — will be regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, resolving a recent debate over the number of air control operators needed to safely monitor current air traffic levels. “

I see. Get Uncle Sam to pay for it so Texas Republicans can scream about “state’s rights” in the next election. And something else while we’re here, why doesn’t the FAA regulate the staffing anyway ? Wasn’t that the whole idea behind Federal regulation of aviation -- continuity of service ? What they are really saying is that there’s a hole in the regulatory framework big enough to drive a 747 through.

Visit the Wright Flyers Aviation, Inc. web site and count the number of times they say “FAA approved” or “FAA certified” in the sales job. Be sure to think on the significance of the Chinese flag posted on the site while you’re there. Colgan Air too ?

There are more inconsistencies here than you can shake a stick at. Except for the understaffing of ATC. That’s pretty consistent.

Don Brown
January 26, 2010


Monday, January 25, 2010

I Can’t Help Myself -- EBM

I just can’t help but like the Earth-Bound Misfit and the things she says.


”The officers and directors of the corporation do the time. It won't matter if they knew anything about it or not. They don't get a criminal record out of it, nothing has to be proven against them, as individuals. They are the stand-ins for the corporation, the avatars, and if the corporation does the crime, the avatars will do the time. “

Don’t forget, she’s a lawyer. I’m not. But I can’t help but believe that corporate power just increased greatly with the decision rendered in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. And I thought that corporations already had too much power.

Don Brown
January 25, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

NextGen Night

This should be quick. I just heard about this while watching the news.

”Due to WEATHER / TSTMS, there is a Traffic Management Program in effect for traffic arriving The William B Hartsfield International Airport, Atlanta, GA (ATL). This is causing some arriving flights to be delayed an average of 4 hours and 46 minutes. To see if you may be affected, select your departure airport and check "Delays by Destination". “

(Emphasis added)

That’s from the FAA’s own web page.

Bear in mind that we’re in the middle of The Great Recession and it’s off season. There isn’t any real pressure on the Atlanta airport right now. There’s just a bunch of thunderstorms. But here’s the real killer -- if you’re an air traffic controller.

”General Arrival Delays: Due to WX:Thunderstorms, arrival traffic is experiencing airborne delay between 1 hour and 1 minute and 1 hour and 15 minutes and increasing. “

If there are 1+ hour holding delays at the airport, that means there are somewhere between 68 to 126 airplanes holding for Atlanta. That’s what an hour’s worth of airplanes equals at ATL.

In really rough terms, ATL has 4 fixes aircraft arrive over -- from the NE, SE, SW and NW. Again, very roughly, there are 4 corresponding holding patterns at those fixes. If 68 (the low number) airplanes are split up evenly (they never are) you have airplanes holding at 4 different fixes from 11,000 to 27,000 feet. That’s 1,000 feet apart (altitude wise) from 11,000 MSL to FL270. (Do the math.)

I know not everybody is an air traffic controller but try to imagine what that looks like anyway. Four holding patterns -- 40 miles away from the airport -- occupied from 11,000 feet to FL270. That is a lot of airspace. And I’m being kind here. If I had used the 126 airplanes per hour figure each pattern would be full to FL410.

Basically, that’s every altitude available. If you could draw it out on a map, it would look like one great big road block in the sky. Maybe this will help you visualize it. Imagine all those straight lines from the NE, SE, SW and NW going in circles.

Flight Paths over Atlanta from Aaron on Vimeo.

What’s NextGen going to do about the weather ? Besides “nothing” ?

Image from Intellicast

Don Brown
January 24, 2010


Some Safety Help

Most of my readers will remember Peter Nesbitt, the controller at MEM that won the whistleblower case. He could use some help. From his site FAA Whistleblower:

”I would like to request any information, reports, statements, comments, or background information that you can provide with regards to tailwind operations. Does ALPA have a position on tailwind operations? What is ALPA’s guidance to pilots with regards to tailwind operations? Can you provide me with an official statement regarding tailwind operations that I may use in my response to the DOT/OIG? How does a tailwind affect safety? “

Anyone that has kept up with this story knows that Peter is the real deal. He put his job on the line to protect the pilots and the public. If you have knowledge of the operation in question, help him out.

Read the blog entry and answer on the form provided at the bottom of his page.

Don Brown
January 24, 2010


Saturday, January 23, 2010

It’s Nice to See

It’s nice to see the FAA still has some capabilities and creativity.

Air Force, FAA use Russian aircraft to move mobile air traffic control tower to Haiti

”The government of Haiti asked the U.S. government to help with a solution. In response, the FAA produced a mobile control tower used for relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Angus Wall, the FAA Miami Technical Support Center manager.

The 44-foot mobile facility features a design similar to a fifth-wheel trailer that can be towed by a truck. Standing 13 feet high and 8 feet wide, it contains all the equipment necessary to fully coordinate the international inflow of relief workers and supplies, Mr. Wall said. “

Don Brown
January 23, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sorry Garrison

But I had to make room for Praxis Foundation. I’ll plug Garrison Keillor once a month instead of everyday. Right now, you need to be reading Praxis Foundation just about everyday so I’m putting it in the blog roll.

Start reading it -- today.

”We need to study the Flight Plan. We need to find out what systems and proposals are out there. We need to have a role in their development. We should help vendors sell systems that improve the operation while respecting the human contribution.

Our manner of thinking needs to get bigger, in that we need to start thinking about our Competitors. LockMart, Boeing, Raytheon, Midwest, RVA, Serco – they are not our friends. They are our competitors. They intend to make their fortunes by robbing this profession.

All you kids that went to an ATC college ? This is the kind of thinking you should be doing. Don’t wait on tired, old guys like me to lead. Jump out there and be somebody. I made a reputation for myself by working in the one area most people don’t really care about -- safety -- and studying the one thing that people really don’t care about -- the Book.

You can do the same. Study the budget. Study legislation. Study Lockheed. Knowledge is power. Pick something. Anything. But for God’s sake get up off your butt and fight for yourselves. Fight for your profession. Or you won’t have one.

Don Brown
January 22, 2010


Go Navy -- Haiti

I got distracted this morning when I found the Navy’s photo log of Operation Unified Response -- the rescue efforts in Haiti. These picture are but a tiny sample of what is available. The captions make the photos even more enlightening. My captions are just to whet your appetite and -- hopefully -- to get you to think about the scale of this operation.

CH-53Es on the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan.

CH-53 delivers bottled water

A landing craft of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit

U.S. Coast Guard helicopter lands on the USS Bataan

Seabees extend the runway at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to support Operation Unified Response (Check a map.)

There are many, many more.

Don Brown
January 22, 2010.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Follow the Stink

Just as an afterthought, I told you to watch The Corporation (not now it’s 2+ hours) this morning. As fate would have it, the Supreme Court handed down a decision today that highlights what I was trying to get you to see.

Supreme Court Reverses Limits on Campaign Spending

”The ruling underscored the impact of former President George W. Bush's two appointments to the court. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito joined the five-justice majority in ruling that a central provision of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance act violated the First Amendment by restricting corporations from funding political messages in the run-up to elections.“

Buried further down in the story were the details.

”The case before the court, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, originated in a 2008 feature-length movie critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Citizens United, a conservative advocacy group, wanted to promote the film, but the election commission called it an "electioneering communication" subject to McCain-Feingold restrictions.“

You know me. I want to know who “Citizens United” is.

Citizens United is a U.S. non-profit organization currently headed by President David Bossie. He has held this position since 2000. Its offices are on Pennsylvania Avenue in the Capitol hill area of Washington, D.C.

Citizens United was founded by Floyd Brown in 1988.”

Follow the bouncing ball. Who is Floyd Brown ?

Floyd Gregory Brown (born 1961, Bremerton, Washington) is an American author, speaker and media commentator. He is president of Excellentia Inc., a consulting company specializing in non-profit organizational strategy, development and marketing. Brown has also worked as a political consultant and conducted opposition research for political campaigns. Brown is noteworthy for his introduction of the "Willie Horton" television ad during the Bush-Dukakis presidential race”

Have I mentioned that I love Wikipedia ? But back to the entry on Mr. Brown. (No relation. Hopefully.)

”Republican Party

He is active in the Republican Party and was a delegate to both the 2000 and 1996 National conventions. In 1996 he served on the Republican National Convention Platform Committee. He has been an advisor and consultant to the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush, Bob Dole and Steve Forbes for President campaigns. He was Midwest Regional Director of the Dole for President campaign in 1988, managing campaigns in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska.“

You need to read the whole thing -- and you need to know your history. Dole ran in 1996. George H.W. Bush was President from 1989-1993. So all those guys listed above hired Floyd Brown after George H.W. Bush’s campaign said this:

”The Bush-Quayle campaign eventually filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Brown, seeking to distance itself from his tactics,[13][14] and calling Brown and his associates "the lowest forms of life"[15].“

I left all those annoying footnotes in because one of them (#15) led me to a YouTube clip. Enjoy.

Don’t you wonder what corporations fund Floyd Brown and Citizens United ? Last I heard, buying TV time and taking a case to the Supreme Court was expensive.

Don Brown
January 21, 2010


Oycottbe (Oy-cot-bay)

Sometimes, it’s not what you’re saying but how you’re saying it. I’ve noticed this before, of course. When I wrote for AvWeb -- and still, as I write at Get the Flick -- I noticed that I was saying the same basic things over and over. Read “the Book”. Follow the rules. Use the system. If the system is broken, don’t work around it -- Fix it.

What I’m saying really doesn’t change much. But how I say it makes a difference. A slight turn of a phrase. A subtle difference in how I state things. And all of a sudden the light bulb goes off for an individual or a group. I’ve had it happen to myself and -- if you’ve lived long enough -- I’m sure you’ve noticed it too.

So, I’m watching The Daily Show with my wife last night and this guy (that we’ve never heard of) comes on for the interview segment -- Jim Wallis. He’s a preacher, talking about what preachers always talk about -- Right vs. Wrong. He and Jon Stewart are talking about Big Banks and Reverend Wallis says if you think the Big Banks are Wrong the solution is simple -- Switch Banks. Move your money and your loans and your credit cards -- move your business -- to a smaller, local bank. I was blinded by the light bulb above my wife’s head.

And I’m like, Helloooooo... It’s all in how you say it I guess. Or in who is saying it. Or in how angry the Public is, I reckon. The unions have been trying for years to get people to stop shopping at Wal-mart. If you want your children to have decent jobs -- a living wage and benefits -- then stop giving your money to giant corporations that don’t pay their workers a living wage.

Michael Pollan does the same thing with food. If you want healthy, wholesome food for your kids, stop giving your money to giant corporations that raise animals in factories and spend your money to support local farmers. Eat Locally.

If a preacher can convince you of the power you hold in your hands better than Arianna Huffington can...that’s fine by me. But I’d like you to see the bigger picture if you can. I thought the Great Recession had made it obvious but maybe not. So let me spell it out for you.

There is no business on Earth that can survive without customers. When America stops spending money, the World goes broke. And it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It would be nice to think that you can convince your friends and neighbors to act collectively but most businesses can’t stand to lose many of their customers. We’re in a recession, remember, and most businesses are operating on the edge already. A business doesn’t have to lose all of its customers. Losing a significant percentage of them will make them change their ways -- or go broke. If you don’t like the fact that Wall Street is paying out billions in bonuses with your tax money, don’t give your money to Wall Street. Switch Banks.

I can say boycott in Pig Latin if that is what it takes for you to hear. The idea is certainly nothing new. You -- the consumer -- have all the power you need to change the way America does business. The problem is that corporations have billions of dollars they’ll use to convince you not to use that power. All I have is this blog.

Don Brown
January 21, 2010

P.S. I recently watched The Corporation again. If you’ve never seen it, find a couple of hours and watch it.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dear Swivel Heads II

While I have your did what I told you to do and bookmarked Praxis Foundation, right ? So you caught today’s post, right ?

”Let’s talk about “virtual towers”. If you’d prefer, just go to Google and search on “SVT Staffed Virtual Tower“. Look at the results, and look at the dates of the documents that Google refers you to. Then come back and let’s talk. Or, look at the official list of acronyms and check out SVT. “

That explains why I haven’t seen a word about “Staffed Virtual Towers” on NATCA’s BBS. I’ll guarantee you that “Staffed Virtual Towers” are more important that Charger tickets or iPhone movies.

Don Brown
January 20, 2010


Dear Swivel Heads

Why is it -- that as many times as I have written about airport arrival rates -- that none of you have ever written me and told me about this ?

Is it because you never read the 7210.3 Facility Operation and Administration Order ? You know that I’m a ex-Center type right ? I don’t delve into the TERMINAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL FACILITIES section on a regular basis.

Some of you new guys went to ATC colleges didn’t you ? They did teach you this stuff, right ?

Don Brown
January 20, 2010


Words of Wisdom

As always, Robert Reich provides clear thinking while others are losing their heads.

What Scott Brown's Victory Really Means

”Don’t believe any of it. Here’s what’s really going on. In Massachusetts, in New Jersey, all over the nation, voters are petrified of losing their jobs, their homes, and what’s left of their savings. Nothing counts more than the economy. Rightly or wrongly, presidents and the party in power are blamed when the economy is lousy. “

I think you should pay particular attention to the last part.

”What really worries me is a basic fact, borne out by history. Deep and continuing economic stresses bring out demagogues, xenophobes, racists, and opportunists who channel people’s fears and anxieties into resentments against other people. “

I seem to see a pattern here. Many of us see the past history and recognize the dangers. And yet, we are trapped by our human nature and unable to change it. We needed a large stimulus plan but couldn’t find the political will. China did and now their economy is growing at over 10%. We are on course to repeat Japan’s fate. We can’t find our way out of Afghanistan despite all the lessons of history. We know that the demagogues are coming and they will hurt us. But still, we give them their own TV shows.

It’s kind of like the air traffic control system. You wake up every day and are surprised that -- somehow -- it works.

Don Brown
January 20, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I’m an Air Traffic Controller

And I don’t believe in following the rules.

See how stupid that sounds ?

Don Brown
January 19, 2010


Where Martha Coakley Went Wrong

It’s simple. Martha Coakley didn’t pose naked over 20 years ago like Scott Brown did. Just sayin’.

Some days it’s tough being a Democrat. It’d probably be easier if we’d learn to tell outrageous lies with no remorse. Or encourage fundamentalists and bigots. Alas. It’s just not our style.

Don Brown
January 19, 2010


ITYS #503 (A BIG one)

Just to make sure you’re paying attention... I was reading the NATCA BBS today and ran across this:

”NORDO:  The department discussed NORDO procedures and actions being taken by the agency several times with Ken Myers (ATO-E) this week. As the department was discussing this issue with him, a Mandatory Briefing Item (MBI) was sent to the enroute facilities by the agency directing them to review their NORDO procedures. Mr. Myers mentioned the agency was looking for some type of automation tool for controllers to use to indicate whether an aircraft is on their frequency. This information was sent to the Center FacReps and the input back was pretty clear that Mr. Myers’ options were not supported by the reps. “

(emphasis added)

For the record, it is January 19, 2010 and the FAA is still searching for a solution to a problem that I pointed out way before March 13, 2007 .


URET - A Dissenting View


The very first problem I heard of concerning URET was that controllers would forget to switch airplanes to the next controller after a handoff was completed. Imagine my surprise that this is still a problem. Actually, it is a much bigger problem than is commonly stated. With URET, controllers don’t even know if they are talking to an airplane to start with.


For over three years (way over) the FAA has been searching for an “automation tool” to give controllers the most basic of air traffic control information: Are you talking to the airplane ?

Let me render an opinion: This is beyond pathetic. This represents professional incompetence at the highest levels of the FAA.

At the risk of losing some of the less dedicated, let me quote some parts of a MITRE paper from 2004.

Analysis for Enabling Benefits at User Request
Evaluation Tool (URET) Field Sites (a .pdf file)

September 2004

Marilyn Walker

”3.2.7 Standardization of Usage

Experience with standardizing the use of URET varies. Examples of areas of
standardization of URET usage include the establishment of procedures for use of the Free Text area, the establishment of symbols for entry into the Free Text area, the specification for use of the check box; e.g., for noting when the aircraft is on frequency, and specification of the set-up of URET displays. “

(emphasis added)

”URET provides the capability for controllers to enter special notations that they formerly entered on strips in a free text area associated with each item on the Aircraft List. But the use of the Aircraft List for notations has been inconsistent. There are multiple reasons:

• Procedures for use of the free text area were not mandated with URET (for more details see [Walker, 2003]).

• Controllers who are not very comfortable with automation find it more difficult to enter the text in URET. They have to find the entry and click on the small square and then type.

Inconsistent and limited use of the free text area by controllers results in some controllers not making useful notations that would be helpful for recordkeeping, places an added communication burden on operational personnel to ensure that the relieving controller understands the notation, and can increase intra-sector verbal coordination [see Walker, 2003].“

In other words -- if you can read a technical paper -- the FAA was told way back in 2004, by the very people they paid to design URET, that URET didn’t work well in some key areas and the lack of standardization only made matters worse. And before anybody jumps to the wrong conclusion, controllers don’t use the “Free Text” area of URET because it’s a piece of junk. ”Controllers who are not very comfortable with automation find it more difficult to enter the text in URET. They have to find the entry and click on the small square and then type. “ I was one of those “not very comfortable with automation“ guys. You know, one of the few controllers hauling a laptop to work everyday and surfing the internet to find obscure reports written by obscure, not-for-profit government corporations back in 2004. Those kind of “not comfortable with automation” guys.

For those that need convincing that it’s important for a controller to know who he talking to -- or not...check the headlines from two months ago.

For over six years the FAA has been unable to automate and standardize two pencil marks. A forward “slash” (/) on a Flight Progress Strip to show you’re talking to the airplane...

...and a back “slash” (\) in the same spot (forming an “X”) when you switch the plane to the next frequency.

Don Brown
January 19, 2010

(Personal note: Thanks for the encouragement, Tim.)


Holy Crap, Holy War

Don’t these people read any history ?

Read the Secret 'Jesus' Messages on U.S. Military Weapons

Gun sights used in Iraq and Afghanistan have coded Bible references.

”In August of 2005 Trijicon was awarded a $660 million dollar, multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 of its Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG) to the U.S. Marine Corps. According to Trijicon, the ACOG is "designed to function in bright light, low light or no light conditions," and is "ideal for combat due to its high degree of discrimination, even among multiple moving targets." At the end of the scope's model number, you can read "JN8:12", which is a reference to the New Testament book of John, Chapter 8, Verse 12, which reads: "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (King James Version) (ABC News) “

You can read the whole story here.

The first thing I thought of when I read this story ? This story, which can be found in most history books or Wikipedia:

Indian Rebellion of 1857

”The final spark was provided by the reaction of (East India) Company officers to the controversy over the ammunition for new Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle. To load the new rifle, the sepoys had to bite the cartridge open. It was believed that the paper cartridges that were standard issue with the rifle were greased with lard (pork fat) which was regarded as unclean by Muslims, or tallow (beef fat), regarded as anathema to Hindus. East India Company officers first became aware of the impending trouble over the cartridges in January, when they received reports of an altercation between a high-caste sepoy and a low-caste labourer at Dum Dum. The labourer had taunted the sepoy that by biting the cartridge, he had himself lost caste, although at this time the Dum-Dum Arsenal had not actually started to produce the new round, nor had a single practice shot been fired. On January 27, Colonel Richard Birch, the Military Secretary, ordered that all cartridges issued from depots were to be free from grease, and that sepoys could grease them themselves using whatever mixture "they may prefer". This however, merely caused many sepoys to be convinced that the rumours were true and that their fears were justified.“

Bible verses on a military gun sight ? What were these people thinking ? Oh, that’s right, they weren’t. As the Earth-bound Misfit put it:

”It has been a consistent propaganda point by our enemies that American forces are "crusaders", who are intent on converting Muslims to Christianity or just killing them.“

Holy crap. What a stupid, stupid, stupid move on Trijicon’s part.

Don Brown
January 19, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Here Comes the Cavalry

And the Navy, and the Marines, and the Coast Guard and the kitchen sink. From the U.S. Southern Command:

”MIAMI – In the last 48 hours, U.S. Southern Command has established Joint Task Force Haiti to oversee U.S. military relief efforts in Haiti and has appointed U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen to command the task force.
Approximately 4,200 U.S. military personnel are currently supporting task force operations, within Haiti and from U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels off shore.
An additional 6,300 military personnel are scheduled to arrive by Monday.
Current U.S. military efforts are focused on working with the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), international relief organizations and local responders to provide search and rescue, distribute aid and assess damage to key infrastructure. “

Let me insert a break here to emphasize one of my central themes at Get the Flick. It’s the runways, stupid.

”With approval from the government of Haiti, U.S. Air Force air traffic control and airfield management personnel are managing air operations into the international airport at Port au Prince.  The airfield is currently open for 24-hour operations and has a 90-aircraft-per-day capability “

The taxiways and gates count too -- all the infrastructure (or lack thereof.) Even a natural disaster can’t wish away capacity limitations. Back to the press release:

”The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Higgins (DDG 76) are presently operating off the Haitian coast in support of the task force.  USS Carl Vinson has 19 embarked helicopters flying airlift missions in support of relief efforts.  The carrier is also delivering more than 30 pallets of relief supplies for distribution to affected areas.
Overall, there are 24 helicopters providing relief to the people of Haiti now.
A Marine Expeditionary Unit, embarked aboard the amphibious ship USS Bataan and comprised of more than 2,200 Marines is scheduled to arrive in Haiti Jan. 18 with heavy lift and earth-moving equipment, and additional medical support capabilities.
Other ships currently en route to Haiti include the amphibious ships USS Bataan (LHD 5), USS Carter Hall (LSD 50), USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), USS Underwood (FFG 36) and USS Normandy (CG 60).
The hospital ship USNS Comfort will depart Baltimore, Md. Jan. 16 en route to Haiti with approximately 600 medical personnel and is projected to arrive in Haitian waters on Jan. 21. Comfort’s capabilities include fully-equipped operating rooms, digital radiological services, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry lab, a CAT-scan and two oxygen producing plants.  The ship's medical crew will be capable of operating 250 hospital beds and the ship is equipped with a helicopter deck capable of landing large military helicopters. “

And it goes on and on and on. You can read more or keep up on latest developments here.

Don Brown
January 18, 2010


I May Have Found My Price

I really don’t know what to say about this story. It doesn’t seem believable. It sounds like what Marion Blakey did to the U.S. controllers with the Press. But here it is.

Outrage in Spain over soaring air traffic controllers’ pay

”In Spain, however, there’s another worry on their radar. A storm has followed the discovery that some controllers are earning more than £800,000 a year.“

I calculate that as approximately $1,305,000 U.S. Dollars.

Even the “average” sounds nice.

”The average basic salary is €200,000 but most double or triple this amount by working overtime. “

I show that as $287,479. I don’t believe it. I have to wonder who is generating the numbers -- how and why ? Did the whole government fall asleep while the Spanish controllers wrote their own paychecks ? I don’t think so. It will be interesting to hear the whole truth.

Don Brown
January 18, 2010


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Click “Print”

Hindsight really is 20-20. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to see long-term trends. Do yourself a favor, run over to Praxis Foundation and read “Debrief du Jour “. When you’re done, click the “Print” button on your computer. Fold it up and put it in your wallet. Refer to it often when you’re not quite sure where ATC is headed. Once you recognize it, you can do something about it.

Don Brown
January 16, 2010


Go Get ‘Em, Krugman

While everybody and their brother (including me) was focused on Haiti, Krugman was focused on the Big Bankers.

Bankers Without a Clue

”Consider what has happened so far: The U.S. economy is still grappling with the consequences of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; trillions of dollars of potential income have been lost; the lives of millions have been damaged, in some cases irreparably, by mass unemployment; millions more have seen their savings wiped out; hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, will lose essential health care because of the combination of job losses and draconian cutbacks by cash-strapped state governments.

And this disaster was entirely self-inflicted. This isn’t like the stagflation of the 1970s, which had a lot to do with soaring oil prices, which were, in turn, the result of political instability in the Middle East. This time we’re in trouble entirely thanks to the dysfunctional nature of our own financial system. Everyone understands this — everyone, it seems, except the financiers themselves. “

I was reading James Fallows’ cover story in The Atlantic yesterday (hopefully more on it later) and he stated what should be obvious to us all:

”The military: As wealth flows, so inevitably will armed strength.“

Although used in a very different context, the basic fact remains. Our economy pays for our military. It is what allows us to mount a rescue mission in Haiti (and elsewhere) and pledge $100 million dollars in aid without blinking an eye.

Let me jump back to Krugman to drive home the point.

”But there was nothing accidental about the crisis. From the late 1970s on, the American financial system, freed by deregulation and a political climate in which greed was presumed to be good, spun ever further out of control. “

We did this. It didn’t “just happen”. We knew from experience -- bad experience -- that an unregulated economy had a boom and bust cycle. We also knew that we had controlled it -- mitigated it -- for nearly 50 years. We chose to deregulate it. We chose to return to the boom and bust cycle. The boom was fun wasn’t it ? The bust ? Not so much.

We’re repeating history because we didn’t learn from it. And the sad part is that it is history still within living memory. History tells us that we can fix it. Reregulate the financial system.

Don Brown
January 16, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hats Off !

Congratulations are in order to all the nominees for Archie League Medal of Safety Awards. The winners have been announced in this Press Release from NATCA.

Be sure to note:

”A total of 15 members will be honored on the night of March 22 at Communicating for Safety in Orlando, Fla. Nominees who were not chosen as regional finalists will receive Honorable Mentions for their 2009 efforts.“

And yes, (in that everyone keeps asking) I will be there. (What ? Are you kidding ? My wife heard “Disney” and told me we were going.) Hope to see you there.

Communicating for Safety
March 21-23, 2010
Disney's Coronado Springs Resort
Orlando, FL

Don Brown
January 15, 2010


Another Gruesome Reminder

I’m only writing this for the new kids in air traffic control -- and maybe some civilians that never think about these things. Pay attention to the response to the earthquake in Haiti. You will quickly see how important aviation is to any nation -- particularly America.

The airport at Port-Au-Prince has already turned into a lifeline. It’s the same story that is told in every disaster. What goes unsaid is that none of this infrastructure appears by magic. We have to build the airports and -- somehow -- maintain a national capacity to build airplanes and helicopters.

In every world crisis such as this, all eyes turn to America. Everyone knows that only America can do the heavy lifting. And I mean that quite literally. It is America’s heavy lift capability -- the C-5s, C-130s and C-17s that make the difference. All nations respond with what they have but no one has anything like what we have.

If the heavy iron can’t get in, America has the capacity to send in the big helicopters -- in big numbers. Some of you might remember what New Orleans looked like after Katrina.

A relief effort can start with something as small as a soccer field turned in to a helipad. But to count, capacity must quickly be built to handle volume. And that mean an operational airfield -- and yes -- air traffic controllers.

The next time someone is talking about aviation policy and they seem focused on keeping the airlines on time and privatizing airports -- keep this gruesome reminder in the back of your mind. The National Airspace System and our airlift capacity are really important. They are much too important to base on secondary concerns and ideology.

American air power is vital. From World War II to the Berlin Airlift to Desert Storm to the Indian Ocean Tsunami relief, it is American air power that makes a difference. Even on the sea, when there’s trouble, no one asks, “Where’s the fleet ?” They ask, “Where are the aircraft carriers ?”

Don Brown
January 15, 2010


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just For the Record

This is the reason that I like The Rachel Maddow Show. Her staff saves me a lot of time. Last election, you may remember I spent a lot of time chasing down all the lies being told about Barack Obama. I don’t have to do that anymore. Rachel Maddow and her staff do it for me. And for you.

Sure, I know she spins things to the Left. I know it just as well as I know Fox spins things to the Right. The difference -- I believe -- is that Rachel Maddow is honest about it.

Oh well, I don’t want this to turn into a debate about the news. I want you to watch the clip. And when you listen to the list of President Obama’s accomplishments for the first year -- if you’re a controller -- remember to add in your contract. You and I both know it wouldn’t have happened without him. We also know that the management currently in place won’t implement these rules with any of the glee with which they imposed the previous set of rules.

I look forward to the next year -- or maybe the next -- when President Obama can start replacing much of the current management in government. Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll make a poster child out of the FAA and start with them. It will take a while. I hope he gets eight years to do it.

Enjoy the clip.

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

Don Brown
January 14, 2010


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Gini, I Got Your Number

I was looking for the Gini coefficient of individual States and I stumbled upon this:


US income Gini indices over time

Gini indices for the United States at various times, according to the US Census Bureau:

* 1929: 45.0 (estimated)
* 1947: 37.6 (estimated)
* 1967: 39.7 (first year reported)
* 1968: 38.6 (lowest index reported)
* 1970: 39.4
* 1980: 40.3
* 1990: 42.8
* 2000: 46.2 [8]
* 2005: 46.9
* 2006: 47.0 (highest index reported)
* 2007: 46.3
* 2008: 46.6

As usual, that got me sidetracked. The lower the Gini number, the more equally distributed a country’s income. As you can quickly see from the chart about, America’s rich are richer -- and poor are poorer -- than any time since The Great Depression. As a matter of fact, 2008 was slightly worse than 1929 (estimated).

To understand what that truly means though, you have to look at America in comparison to the rest of the world. When I went to do that, I stumbled upon my own blog. I don’t know if you ever look back through Get the Flick like I do...but there’s some good stuff back there.

It Must Be a Sign

”The key phrase in all that is the U.S. is looking more like Mexico than Canada. If you look at the map, you’ll see the same thing. The map is a representation of the Gini Coefficient. The Gini Coefficient is a mathematical model of wealth/income distribution. You can read more than you ever wanted to know about it at Wikipedia. In short, it shows how much richer the rich are in comparison to the poor in a particular county. “

When you look at the two maps (click on to enlarge) -- the 2007/2008 map

vs. the 2009 map

You notice that we now look even more like Mexico (or China) and less like Canada. Congratulations America.

About that map of the States Gini coefficient ? Take a look. I’m not the only one that has noticed the uncomfortable comparisons. Be sure to look for your State. Here’s mine:

”Georgia - .461 (Mexico) “

And one more thing. You might want to check out this story about being happy and see how that matches up with these maps.

Don Brown
January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Required Reading -- Reich

Make sure you catch Robert Reich’s latest blog.

The Last Big Question: Will Health Care Reform Be Paid For By The Rich or the Middle Class?

”There’s only one big remaining issue on health care reform: how to pay for it. The House wants a 5.4 percent surtax on couples earning at least $1 million in annual income. The Senate wants a 40 percent excise tax on employer-provided “Cadillac plans.” The Senate will win on this unless the public discovers that a large portion of the so-called Cadillacs are really middle-class Chevys, expensive not because they deliver more benefits but because they have higher costs.“

Don Brown
January 12, 2010


ITYS #502

I told you to focus.

Privatizing Flight Service

”Inside the Towers and Centers, most people think that the LockMart FSS operation is a fiasco: dropped cancellations, missing flight plans, lost PIREPS, and dealing with people unfamiliar with the area – any area, in fact. We look at LockMart and chortle to ourselves, “wow that’s a failure”.

Curiously, LockMart FSS is a huge success from an external perspective. They’ve got a cost-plus contract, and they have been training pilots to not call them. The cost-per-operation is plummeting, and the revenue-per-operation is climbing.“

Getting the Flick now ?

Don Brown
January 12, 2010


Monday, January 11, 2010

New Format, Same Robert

You may have noticed that Robert Reich changed domains for his blog. It’s now at I don’t like the new format but I still like what Mr. Reich has to say.

The Bad Job Numbers and the Secret Second Stimulus

”The truth, of course, is that the most important fiscal indicator is the ratio of the debt to the GDP. And the most important issue there is how quickly America can get jobs back and the GDP growing again. More spending in the short term is the only way to accelerate a jobs recovery, and reduce the debt-GDP ratio over the longer term. In other words, more deficit spending is a good thing to do now, a but a bad thing three or four or five years from now when the economy is back to normal. “

Everything I read says that the smart way out of this mess -- probably the only way -- is a targeted stimulus plan. In truth, we only need a second one because the first -- as the economists warned -- was too small. We can call it political reality but I’m thinking it is more political cowardice.

Democrats have been beaten with the “tax and spend” stick for so long that they’re just cowering in the corner. At this moment in time, “tax and spend” is exactly what is called for. The Republicans cut taxes so much that most State budgets were weak before the recession even hit. Now they are desperate to plug the holes in their budgets. Nationally, we are fighting two wars. A tax increase is doable. If it was targeted at the top 1% -- as it should be -- it would probably prove to be popular.

What is needed -- all politics aside -- is jobs. The way to get them is to be politically brave. Create them directly through the government if we must. And from what I can tell, we must. Businesses can’t (and won’t) do it. Robert Reich is probably right (he usually is):

”So expect the Dems to move toward more spending — more unemployment benefits, more cash for clunkers, more help for small businesses, maybe a new jobs tax credit. A larger defense budget will also be part of the stimulus. But don’t expect any of this to be dressed up as a “second stimulus package.” That would give Republicans too much ammunition to attack Dems as big spenders and try to focus the public’s attention on the widening deficit and growing federal debt. “

It’s a shame. But expecting politicians -- as a group -- to be brave is probably unrealistic.

Don Brown
January 11, 2010

Focus People, Focus

Sometimes I wonder if I’m too subtle. But then I tell myself I’m dealing with mostly controllers and they’re good at picking up subtle clues and multitasking. They can handle a lot of material and sort through it. That is what they do.

But just in case it slipped by you, you need to focus on this new blog. Bookmark it. Visit often. It’s just a feeling but that is what we do isn’t it ?

Don Brown
January 11, 2010