Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Vague Vector



I don’t know why I always feel compelled to tell you how I got to some place -- but I do. Maybe it will help somebody else in how they approach a problem. Maybe not. The feeling is still there though.

So, I’m reading the post over at Praxis Foundation about Jane Garvey signing on with Metron Aviation. I click on the link for Metron and I see under the “blog” header: “Betting the Farm on NextGen Benefits: Not Just a Challenge, but an Imperative”. You may treat that link like News Hounds treats Fox News -- I read it so you don’t have to.

Buried deep in that endless blog is this little tidbit:

”A simple case from my own experience occurred while I was with the FAA. Around 1997, the agency was faced with mounting delays at DFW. The airlines were pleading with the FAA to develop and deploy new technologies to increase the capacity and thereby relieve delays. Without capacity improvements, delays would mushroom and gridlock was a real possibility. We did the analysis and made some simplifying assumptions. We showed that if we invested in the new technology, throughput capacity would be increased significantly and delays would be substantially reduced for years to come. The benefits significantly exceeded the cost. So, the FAA made the investment. The technology was developed and installed. When it finally went into operational use, as expected, throughput capacity was increased. Success! “

I understand vagueness when it comes to dates -- “around 1997” -- because I have a hard time with dates myself. (Settle down, boys.) It’s the “new technology” vagueness that caught my attention. If any of my readers remember any “new technology” being installed “around 1997” at DFW that “increased significantly“ the “throughput capacity “, do me a favor and email me the details.

Otherwise, I’ll have to go with the fact that DFW had a “major expansion” in 1996. (You can download the .pdf file and read this whole paper if you can read geek.)

”This paper assesses the impact of a major expansion in airfield capacity at Dallas- Fort Worth (DFW) airport. On October 1, 1996, a new runway, 35R/17L, was commissioned. Nine days later, the airspace was entirely reconfigured and new procedures introduced. These changes allowed triple and quadruple independent arrival streams under IFR and VFR conditions, respectively. Arrival capacities increased from 102 to 146 under VFR, and from 66 to 108 under IFR.“

Oh yeah, there was this too:

”Major elements of the plan included expansion of the TRACON airspace, new arrival and departure routes for both DFW and other airports, and new ATC facilities at DFW. The latter included two new towers, each dedicated to one side of the airport, which provided the additional control positions and equipment required to operate the new runways.“

Now, where were we ? Oh yes, “new technology” made a significant capacity improvement at DFW over a decade ago and therefore, NextGen will provide capacity improvements too. So, let’s “bet the farm”. If NextGen includes a bunch of new runways (and the controllers to work them) then, yes, it too will significantly increase the capacity of the NAS (National Airspace System). Otherwise, it won’t. But you already knew that.

There was a portion of this blog that I really enjoyed. It came right after the other part I quoted.

”So, the FAA made the investment. The technology was developed and installed. When it finally went into operational use, as expected, throughput capacity was increased. Success! Then, the unanticipated happened. American added a lot of new flights to the schedule. So, delays didn’t decrease as predicted. We later learned that American was concerned that if they didn’t fill that capacity, a competitor would. They felt it was vital to protect their dominant position at DFW, so they were compelled to add the flights. “

(Emphasis added)

Technology won’t decrease delays. Regulation will. But you already knew that.

Don Brown
March 11, 2010

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