Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Coulda Been Somebody

If I was a professional writer, I could have written this:

”On the one hand, we have "this will work!" reassurances from an agency whose ability to make common-sense decisions we observe each time we go to the airport, backed by government contractors with a big new procurement order to defend ...“

You know right away that you’re on to something here. But no, I’m just a blogger and James Fallows was writing about a different agency -- the TSA.

A Story We Somehow Knew Was Coming (TSA Dept)

”...On the other hand, we have the guy in charge of Israel's airport security, saying that reliance on machines is a mirage, that the real answer lies in intelligence and savvy...“

But it could have been about the FAA. And I could have written those words. If I had paid attention in class. And practiced my craft for decades. And had been incredibly talented. I coulda been a contender. But no, I was just a controller. And a safety rep. At the busiest facility on the planet. For 25 years. Too bad I didn’t learn to write.

”TSA + defense contractor + security theater, vs Israeli expert + Schneier + common sense. Hmmm, I don't know what to believe.“

Don Brown
April 29, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This Isn’t Horseshoes

And close doesn’t count. Bethany McLean got so close in this editorial in the The New York Times but she needs to go (at least) one step further.

Meet the Real Villain of the Financial Crisis

”Yet, in the end, it comes down to this: Goldman Sachs, ACA Capital, IKB Deutsche Industriebank and even the rating agencies never had any duty to protect us from their greed. There was one entity that did — our government.“

This is true. This is also where the real crime occurred. Ms. McLean fails to ask (much less answer) the all important question here -- Why didn’t the government do its job? All you have to do is look at the last 30 years to see the answer. It’s as plain as day.

” In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.“

Ronald Reagan
January 20, 1981

Government failed because Reaganism wanted it to fail. I have no doubt that Ronald Reagan believed deeply about limiting Government’s role. Just as I have no doubts about the parties that financed the message. Who would these people be? The Grover Norquists of the world. The Richard Mellon Scaifes. The message was bought and paid for by people like Lloyd Blankfein. Families like the Waltons. And the Coors.

It is sold to you in their advertising, the research papers they finance, the op-ed pieces and their think tanks. These are the people that write the big checks for campaign contributions and the political ads. Government is not the solution (except when they need a bailout), private industry can do it better. Their private industry. A limit on their continued power -- the inheritance tax -- becomes the “death tax”. And you -- John Q. Public -- “buy it” because they can afford the best to sell you the message.

The world’s largest corporation -- Wal-mart -- doesn’t have a single union. But unions are legal -- how can this be? It’s easy. They “sold” you -- John Q. Public -- on the idea. No unions means cheap prices. It’s a good thing they have cheap prices seeing as your wages -- John Q. Public -- are declining. That’s what happens when no one is fighting for the people doing the work. The workers get paid less. That is what happens when labor laws aren’t enforced. That is what happens when your government’s power is twisted, gutted and/or appropriated for private use. Workers get less.

They “cut the red tape” (otherwise known as the rules and regulations that keep you safe on the job), cut taxes (on the wealthy), eliminated waste (half of the inspections keeping your food safe) and made government more efficient (by installing people that hated government as much as they hate it in positions of power). It’s a funny thing. Government doesn’t work very well when it’s run by people intent on destroying it.

It’s easier to steal your money if they eliminate the bank guards and bribe the managers.

The real villains of this financial crisis? They’re the same as the villains in last big financial crisis -- the Great Depression. So far, the only difference between the Great Depression and the Great Recession is the bailout. And in case it hasn’t dawned on you yet -- “they” got bailed out. And you paid for it.

Don Brown
April 27, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Free Education

Courtesy of Professor Reich.

Obama’s Supreme Court Nomination, the Economy, and What I Advised the Senate in 2005

”A central moral choice, then, is whether America should seek to reverse this trend. Those who view our society as a group of self-seeking individuals for whom government’s major purpose is to protect their property and ensure their freedom of contract would probably say no. Those who view us as a national community of with responsibilities to promote the well-being of one another would likely say yes. Is the well-being of our society the sum of our individual goods, or is there a common good that must be addressed? The answer will shape the American economy and society of the twenty-first century. “

Yes, it is deep. Governing isn’t easy. Very few things in life worth doing are. Read it. Learn. Think. It will make you a better citizen. And a better person.

Don Brown
April 24, 2010

The Dragon Stirs

Everybody knew it would happen -- sooner or later. A least I think everybody knew it. It’s a bit off topic for me (too much time spent reading James Fallows) but it’s the first time I’m seen it written about so plainly. Via The New York Times:

Chinese Military Seeks to Extend Its Naval Power

”China calls the new strategy “far sea defense,” and the speed with which it is building long-range capabilities has surprised foreign military officials.“

Of course they do. It’s just one of those things for me. I’m always amused at “Department of Defense”. I’d prefer the original “Department of War”. Call it a preference for truth in advertising. Anyway, back to the article:

”In late March, Adm. Robert F. Willard, the leader of the United States Pacific Command, said in Congressional testimony that recent Chinese military developments were “pretty dramatic.” China has tested long-range ballistic missiles that could be used against aircraft carriers, he said. After years of denials, Chinese officials have confirmed that they intend to deploy an aircraft carrier group within a few years.

China is also developing a sophisticated submarine fleet that could try to prevent foreign naval vessels from entering its strategic waters if a conflict erupted in the region, said Admiral Willard and military analysts.“

As the saying goes, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” It looks like China will fill it. Japan seems to think so too. I wonder, who will build all the airplanes to fill those carriers?

Don Brown
April 24, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cut Them Down to Size

Go read Krugman’s column from today.

Don’t Cry for Wall Street

”More than that, reform actually should hurt the bankers. A growing body of analysis suggests that an oversized financial industry is hurting the broader economy. Shrinking that oversized industry won’t make Wall Street happy, but what’s bad for Wall Street would be good for America.“

If you’ll remember, quite some time ago I told you about a book called American Theocracy. It’s the subtitle that explains the link for today’s thoughts -- The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. One major premise of the book is that a financial sector that is too large becomes a drain on the country. In simple terms, if much of your economy is based on making money off of money -- instead of manufacturing, trade or exploration -- history says you’re headed for trouble.

We have not defied history.

What American Theocracy and Paul Krugman are saying is that our graduating PhDs should become engineers, scientists and doctors -- not quants on Wall Street.

Don Brown
April 23, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Power of Blogs -- ERAM

It upsets me when people take their blogs down. I understand when people get tired, take a break or give up. That’s okay. But leave the blogs up. Case in point.

With the news of ERAM making the papers today, Paul Cox, over at The FAA Follies pointed me to a post that was a year old.

The ERAM Propaganda Machine

”ANYWAY. The other day, an article published by Aviation Week and Space Technology, which is probably THE leading news source for aerospace-industry-related information, talked about how great ERAM is coming along and it’s on time and was “almost ready for debut”.“...

...”Anyway, a few quotes from the article (which was datelined March 15) jumped out at me, because they were… well, they were utter bullshit (sorry, Mom): “

(I’m sorry too, Mom, but he has a point.)

It reminds me of a line I read in the book The Failure of Software:

”The most important piece of hardware on the Advanced Automation System is the overhead projector.“

Just keep the funding flowing.

(Do NOT write me and ask what an overhead projector is, boys and girls. You know good and well it was the PowerPoint display of its day. Right?)

Don Brown
April 22, 2010


ERAM -- Not No News

So it must not be good news.

Glitches May Delay Lockheed U.S. Air-Traffic Upgrade, FAA Says

It isn’t. It is interesting to see how the various publications handle the story.

Don Brown
April 22, 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

You’re Losing

Sorry guys. But air traffic control is losing out to photography this week.

I’m still reading The Limits of Software and I still plan on writing more about ERAM. I’d love to start stitching together the pieces of the Goldman Sachs story. But this week, I’m busy. And, I have to say, it’s a lot more fun than ATC and politics.

All photos taken at Meadowlark Gardens, near Griffin, GA

Don Brown
April 21, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Clinton on OKC

There aren’t many air traffic controllers in the United States that didn’t go through Oklahoma City to start their careers. On April 19th, in 1995, an angry American blew up the Federal building in Oklahoma City. I remember that day. I’m sure many of my younger readers don’t. Virtually every person in America thought “Arab terrorist”. We were wrong. It was an American. A white American. A veteran.

President Bill Clinton has an editorial in The New York Times today. It is worth your time.

If you’re a video type, President Clinton had an interview on CNN which covered much of the same territory.

”Criticism is part of the lifeblood of democracy. No one is right all the time. But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws. “

Controllers like to think of themselves as a breed apart. They like to think of themselves as exceptions to the rule when it comes to government employees. I understand because I was once a controller. But on April 19, 1995 we didn’t feel so apart. Timothy McVeigh wasn’t killing them, he was killing us. He was killing people because they were Federal employees.

You should read President Clinton’s words and really think about them. Think hard. It is all too easy to lump people into a category for criticism. I know. I do it too often. Words matter. They have consequences. Choose yours wisely.

Don Brown
April 19, 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

When the Volcano Blows

You have to wonder what the “revenue stream” for all the privatized/corporatized systems ATC systems in Europe look like when Mother Nature grounds all their airplanes.

Volcanic ash cloud grounds flights across Europe

Would anybody like to make a bet that the respective governments won’t come to the rescue with bailouts?

Y’all don’t mind if I combine this post up with another do you ? Sort of a 2-for-1? I already had it written and they fit together...

Contract Tower Support

There must be an aviation Bill before Congress.

Aviation Groups Urge Continued Support Of FAA Contract Tower Program

”In a letter sent to congressional leaders on the Senate and House appropriations committees, the associations asked lawmakers to support funding of $125.3 million for the FAA Contract Tower Program and $10 million for the continuation of the Contract Tower Cost-Sharing Program as part of the fiscal year 2011 Department of Transportation/Federal Aviation Administration spending bill.“

Unable. The truth is a tough master. And the truth is, these programs are double managed (FAA and contractor)...

”All federal contract air traffic controllers are FAA-certified and meet the identical training and operating standards as FAA-employed controllers.“

...and the only way they can pay to be twice managed and earn a profit is to save somewhere else. Guess where the “savings” are?

I really can’t figure out why we have this movement to deny that government has a rightful place in the greater scheme of things. Well, except for the fact that private guys can get rich off of the taxpayers and government employees can’t (and shouldn’t).

Don Brown
April 17, 2010


Two Funny

There really isn’t anything to say. Besides, I butcher the language as much as anybody. Well, almost anybody. Two. To. Too. Really.

Copyediting Tea Party protest signs

It does make you wonder about the New York Times/CBS poll though.

Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated

I guess there’s a difference between “backer” and “protester”.

Don Brown
April 17, 2010


Paulson ?

Just in case you were wondering why the name Paulson is ringing a bell...

S.E.C. Accuses Goldman of Fraud in Housing Deal

”According to the complaint, Goldman created Abacus 2007-AC1 in February 2007 at the request of John A. Paulson, a prominent hedge fund manager who earned an estimated $3.7 billion in 2007 by correctly wagering that the housing bubble would burst. Mr. Paulson is not named in the suit. “

...that would be because I wrote about him nearly two years ago to the day.

The Wrong Message

And every reference to him was made because I was reading the greatest newspaper in the county -- The New York Times.

I used Mr. Paulson’s compensation ($3.7 billion in 2007) to demonstrate the 90% tax implications in this blog. It is still one of my favorite posts. One guy’s taxes (if we had such a tax rate) would close the school budget gap in California. One guy. And he’d still take home $370 million.

There are people out there that think a 90% tax rate is criminal. I think a 3.7 billion-dollar payday is criminal. What will be most interesting to see as this story unfolds is just what is considered criminal and what isn’t. As you see from the quote above, Mr. Paulson has not been accused of a crime nor named in the “suit”. That’s right. Criminal charges haven’t been filed against Goldman Sachs. It’s a civil suit.

Don Brown
April 16, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Could Write for TDS

What do you know ? It turns out I could write for The Daily Show. I'm just not as funny. Okay, I’m not funny at all. But I did get the gist of it.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
That's Tariffic
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Don Brown
April 16, 2010


Thursday, April 15, 2010

ERAM Made “Business Week”

I only ran through the story once but it looks like a mostly-level-headed look at ERAM. I have to say, though, the more I read in my current book, the worse it all looks. I’m not sure we (the human race) have a good grasp on the complexities of writing a program this large.

Glitches May Delay Lockheed U.S. Air-Traffic Upgrade, FAA Says

(I’m off to photograph the sunrise -- before the contractor gets back to destroy my house and my sanity.)

Don Brown
April 15,2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Krugman Writes About Georgia

You get the feeling right off the bat that this probably isn’t good. It isn’t. Georgia has had more bank failures than any other State in the nation.

Georgia on My Mind

This is probably as good a place as any other to throw this out. Listen to the news for words to the effect of, “The Inspector General found....” or “Government inspectors revealed today...” I’m hearing more and more of it. I can only hope and pray that the Obama Administration is spreading the word throughout government and industry that we’re going to get serious about code enforcement and regulations.

For far too long, the people in charge of government have been destroying the government. If they couldn’t get rid of the law, they would just subvert it. Funds to hire new inspectors would be cut or withheld. Industry leaders hostile to the agencies that were supposed to regulate them were put in charge of running those agencies. It has cost American citizens their money and even their lives.

Don Brown
April 14, 2010

You Must Have Missed This

Otherwise there would be a comment. I know because I always receive comments that I should have the comments turned on.

NAS Confucius

”That is essentially what this blog is about. The National Airspace System is so extremely complex, no one can fathom how it all interacts with itself. Even a controller who was very familiar with their own airspace and moving airplanes through it could never carry that same expert perspective about another facilities airspace, or how the automation works at a computer code level, or how to forecast the weather for tomorrow's North Atlantic tracks. “

Here’s a perfectly good blog, and yet, it has no comments for 10 days. Not even a, “Gee, Delta Mike, I see the other controllers aren’t writing, thanks for being there” comment.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s getting a little lonely out here. A little support goes a long way for a young man trying to do the good, moral, responsible thing. Especially when he does it well.

Don Brown
April 14, 2010


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Class is in Session

Professor Reich is your instructor. Pay attention or get transferred to that other school -- Hard Knocks.

The Future of American Jobs

”While consumers have been shedding their debts like mad—often simply by defaulting on loans—their remaining burdens are still heavy. At the end of last year, debt averaged $43,874 per American, or about 122% of annual disposable income. Most analysts believe a sustainable debt load is around 100% of disposable income, assuming a normal level of employment and normal access to credit—neither of which we are likely to have for some time.“

I know it has been a while but some of you might remember the L-curve. Click on the “Zoom in” button a couple of times and you will see that the “median family income” is (or was) $40,000 in America. As I said, it’s been a while since this was published -- like before the Great Recession. Regardless, it doesn’t take long to figure out that we owe more than we make and the experts -- the “analysts” -- had all this figured out before the rest of us even thought about it.

Back to the professor;

”The likelihood, therefore, is that as the economy struggles to recover and today’s jobless begin to find work, the median wage will continue to fall—as it did between 2001 and 2007, during the last so-called recovery.“

Follow along. We’ve gone from a country where a man could make enough money to let his wife stay home and raise the kids, to where both parents working can’t afford to raise half as many kids as families used to raise. This did not happen by accident.

Advertising -- propaganda by any other name -- is a weapon. Debt is a weapon. A legal, economic weapon. Yes, it can be a useful tool. But never forget it can be used as a weapon. You can be controlled by a man that can take away your car. Or your house. Or your job. Or your health care. Rich people are quick to call this kind of talk class warfare. As the increasingly-popular sentiment goes, the class war is over. Working Americans lost.

That brings me to another article that I think you should read. It’s by Matt Taibbi -- a young writer that is making quite a name for himself. I haven’t read enough of his work to be certain yet, but he seems to have The Flick. Here’s a taste. (Warning: Crude language)

Brooks: Let Them Eat Work

”I would give just about anything to sit David Brooks down in front of some single mother somewhere who’s pulling two shitty minimum-wage jobs just to be able to afford a pair of $19 Mossimo sneakers at Target for her kid, and have him tell her, with a straight face, that her main problem is that she doesn’t work as hard as Jamie Dimon.

Only a person who has never actually held a real job could say something like this. There is, of course, a huge difference between working 80 hours a week in a profession that you love and which promises you vast financial rewards, and working 80 hours a week digging ditches for a septic-tank company, or listening to impatient assholes scream at you at some airport ticket counter all day long, or even teaching disinterested, uncontrollable kids in some crappy school district with metal detectors on every door."

In case you didn’t see it on Fox News, sections of the Left are every bit as angry as the Tea Partiers.

The Great Depression began with the stock market crash in October 1929. The Great Recession started in September 2008. Germany -- one of the most civilized nations on Earth -- invaded Poland in September 1939. Do you know where you are in history?

Don Brown
April 13, 2010


Monday, April 12, 2010

ERAM, Standby

I am in the middle of reading a book I’ve been threatening to read for a couple of years -- The Limits of Software by Robert N. Britcher. Mr. Britcher worked for IBM. His knowledge (and I believe his career) spanned the time frame of NAS Stage A and the Advanced Automation System. In other words, Mr. Britcher has been a part of what could be argued was the greatest triumph in computer software (NAS Stage A) and the greatest failure -- the AAS.

It is an odd book. I make no recommendations. Yet.

Between that, photography and house renovations, writing about ERAM is taking longer than I anticipated. In short, I’m stalling for time to think. I’ll get around to it. I’m pretty sure I’ll be finished before ERAM.

Don Brown
April 12, 2010

A Lesson in Tax Outrage

I wonder if there has ever been another country that liked to work itself into such a snit about taxes? Seriously. Republicans have made it such an art that they can foam at the mouth about it. And many Democrats are only too willing to imitate them.

Hyperbole? Have you forgotten the tax kamikaze in Austin? Here was a guy that was so privileged -- that had done so well in America he owned an airplane -- that he decided to kill himself (and murder as many people as he could in the process) over his taxes.

The Associated Press decided to fan the flames of this particular cultural trait with this story:

Nearly half of US households escape fed income tax

”Tax Day is a dreaded deadline for millions, but for nearly half of U.S. households it's simply somebody else's problem. About 47 percent will pay no federal income taxes at all for 2009. Either their incomes were too low, or they qualified for enough credits, deductions and exemptions to eliminate their liability. That's according to projections by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research organization.“

The wailing and gnashing of teeth started immediately, with the usual suspects cheering along. In truth, about 3/4ths of all Americans think they’re in the half that pays. That’s the problem with the truth. It’s usually sitting right in front of us but we’re too busy grinding our teeth about what we want to believe is the truth.

”The vast majority of people who escape federal income taxes still pay other taxes, including federal payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare, and excise taxes on gasoline, aviation, alcohol and cigarettes. Many also pay state or local taxes on sales, income and property.

That helps explain the country's aversion to taxes, said Clint Stretch, a tax policy expert Deloitte Tax. He said many people simply look at the difference between their gross pay and their take-home pay and blame the government for the disparity.“

It’s an odd thing about the working poor. Most of them are on somebody’s payroll -- paying payroll taxes. And the non-working poor don’t really have it so good. If you don’t think so, you should try it sometime. But back to those payrolls... Where’s the “outrage” ? (H/T to EBM)

What The Top U.S. Companies Pay In Taxes

”HOUSTON -- As you work on your taxes this month, here's something to raise your hackles: Some of the world's biggest, most profitable corporations enjoy a far lower tax rate than you do--that is, if they pay taxes at all.

The most egregious example is General Electric ( GE - news - people ). Last year the conglomerate generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. “

Be sure to click on the “In Pictures” link at the Forbes site. Exxon paid no taxes -- to us. Chevron paid almost nothing -- to us. I ask again, “Where’s the outrage?” Let me be clear. I really don’t get excited about businesses paying taxes. Businesses just pass it along to consumers anyway. What I’m asking about here is the difference in tone. The difference in coverage. Why does one “outrage” become the topic of conversation at the water cooler and the other is given a pass?

I believe the difference is in who is whipping up the crowd. Let’s think about it a minute. On the easy-to-hate scale, what are the relative positions of a faceless, giant corporation versus the huddled masses of the poor? Tell me, good In-God-We-Trust Christian Americans. Tell me, literal-translation-Christian-American Republicans. What does The Good Book say about the poor? What does it say about corporations? Which should we hate? First?

This little, throw-away blurb in Time magazine shouldn’t come as a big shock to you.

”Bennett is caught in a range war between two such conservative allies: the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks.

This unsatisfying record opened space for a competitor: FreedomWorks, an activist organization run by former House majority leader Dick Armey and generously funded by the billionaire Koch family of Wichita, Kans. FreedomWorks thrust itself to the fore of the Tea Party last year, providing the sometimes stumbling movement with professional skills.“

Here’s some homework for you. Trust me. It’s easy and it will mean so much more to you if you will read it for yourself.

Who is the Koch family?

What is FreedomWorks?

What is “Club for Growth” and who provides the money behind it?

Now that you know who speaks for the rich, ask yourself one last question (or two). Who speaks for the poor? Who is fanning the flames of hatred in the hearts of Americans and why ?

Don Brown
April 12, 2010

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Saving ERAM -- Chapter 4

I feel certain that I left a lot of people in the dust with Chapter 3 (in other words I think my writing was disjointed) so let’s review.

Flight plans were being filed incorrectly for decades. FSS “fixed” them for decades, so many pilots never realized that they were filing them incorrectly. Remember, this is a gradual process. It starts with a few people and spreads -- for decades. As more and more people acquire advanced navigation, the problem spreads. Here is the easiest example to understand.

AIM 5-1-8

d. Area Navigation (RNAV)

”(f) File a minimum of one route description waypoint for each ARTCC through whose area the random route will be flown. These waypoints must be located within 200 NM of the preceding center's boundary. “

Pilots don’t understand this requirement so they ignore it. (Besides, how are they supposed to know where the Center borders are? Without a map? Did someone say map?) One reason for this rule is so that the flight plan will process in the computer. That was the way the Flight Data Processing (FDP) program was written. The flight plan had to have a least one point in each Center the flight transited or the program would reject the flight plan.

There are a couple of ways to “fix” a flight plan like this (besides filing it correctly of course). One way is to insert the Lat/Long of the next fix in the flight plan. An example makes it easier to understand.

LAX..JFK -- That skips every Center (except ZLA and ZNY obviously) and it will not process. (Yes, I know it probably would but that’s another 200 words to explain exceptions.) However, if you put in the Lat/Long for JFK, the flight plan will process. So that is what the guys at the FSS learned to do.


Who did they learn that from ? From the Center guys of course. Centers had to put in random routes on the military long before anyone else ever thought about it and I suspect controllers asked for this tool. We have met the enemy, Pogo...

Now, while the witch’s brew of short cuts and system cheats is boiling, the FAA gets cute and decides to automate the process further. (Warning: Everything after this is my best guess. Emphasis on guess. I believe it is true but I have no way of verifying the details. It’s just what I’ve been able to piece together over the years.) The FAA creates DUATS. Except there’s this one little problem. Many pilots have been filing incorrectly for years. But they don’t know that because FSS just fixed the flight plans for them without telling them. And now those pilots are trying to file using a computer program that is written to conform to those rules in the AIM (5-1-8) that pilots have been ignoring (and FSS “fixing”) for years.

This is only Act I, Scene 1 in the FAA’s version of Comedy of Errors. I was told that when the FAA contracted out DUATS they agreed to pay a fee for each flight plan submitted. They should have said for each flight plan correctly submitted. DUATS goes live and pilots start submitting flight plans. When the computer says “ERROR” what’s the first thing most people do ? That’s right -- they hit the “ENTER” button again. And again.

It gets even better. Once the pilot gives up on DUATS, he has to get the flight plan entered the only other way available to him -- through Flight Service. Or worse, some were even calling the Towers and Centers to file their flight plans. Or worse, just take off VFR and file. The FAA is now paying twice to enter a flight plan that this automation was supposed to make cheaper. know its coming...when the FAA gets the bill for the first month of DUATS, it 2-3-4-5 times what they were expecting. And FSS hasn’t shown any decrease in activity.

So, what do you think the FAA does ? It calls an emergency meeting to solve the problem. They wind up calling FSS and asking, “How do y’all make the process work?” FSS says, “We put in a Lat/Long.” And that is what the DUATS program now does. The DUATS program is rewritten to enter a Lat/Long into the flight plan. There, I fixed it.

(With the knowledge you now have, go back to the DUATS page on Wikipedia and study up on this section of the entry that looks like this:)

If anyone out there in cyberspace would like to give a factual explanation of the above -- write it out and put your name on it -- I’ll publish it. I’m betting no one does. You see, I happened to track down a guy that helped write the DUATS program. He was a regular chatterbox when he thought I was interested in becoming a customer. He got quiet and defensive when he figured out I was a union safety rep with some serious concerns as to how DUATS worked.

By the way, the Lat/Long above that you think belongs to JFK doesn’t. It belongs to 9NY4 -- Kennedy, NY near Jamestown, NY. That would be a relatively benign error in the litany of errors I saw in my career.

The folks writing the ERAM program are trying to make this comedy of errors work by automating it. I’m betting they are just automating a flawed system. And they don’t realize it. We are automating errors.

Don Brown
April 8, 2010

Monday, April 05, 2010

Saving ERAM -- Chapter 3

I’ll make a bet with you. If you’re a pilot with an IFR rating, you’re filing your flight plan wrong. If you’re a controller that puts flight plans in the computer (and virtually all do), you’re doing it wrong. If you’re a disinterested party, don’t worry (well, don’t worry too much). They aren’t acting in bad faith (at least the vast majority) and it isn’t really dangerous. But it illustrates what I consider a very important point about saving the ERAM project so I’m going to talk about it.

Let’s start with the correct way to file a flight plan. The rules are in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) What’s that? The AIM doesn’t have rules? Sure it does. All those that just told themselves “The AIM is not regulatory”, give yourself a whack on the knuckles with a ruler for me. Let me put this in bold letters to make my point; I don’t care if you are legally right because you are wrong.

We’re talking about making the system work -- not whether you get busted because you broke some Federal Aviation Regulation. Do not write me with any legal arguments. I will not respond. I could care less. You are either following the AIM or you aren’t. I don’t care about your justifications or who told you what or what you can get away with. Been there, done that, don’t care to do it again. There’s a difference between “legal” and “right”. There’s a really big difference between “legal” and “safe”.

Go to the AIM. Chapter 5. Section 1. Paragraph 8.

AIM 5-1-8. Flight Plan- IFR Flights

b. Airways and Jet Routes Depiction on Flight Plan
1. It is vitally important that the route of flight be accurately and completely described in the flight plan. To simplify definition of the proposed route, and to facilitate ATC, pilots are requested to file via airways or jet routes established for use at the altitude or flight level planned. “

You don’t have to file airways. But if you don’t, you have to follow the other rules that govern Direct Flights or Area Navigation . Most don’t. (Please note that the rules for both are more complicated that the rules for flying airways.)

c. Direct Flights
1. All or any portions of the route which will not be flown on the radials or courses of established airways or routes, such as direct route flights, must be defined by indicating the radio fixes over which the flight will pass.“

Remember I mentioned controllers weren’t doing it right either? Read this.

d. Area Navigation (RNAV)
1. Random RNAV routes can only be approved in a radar environment. Factors that will be considered by ATC in approving random RNAV routes include the capability to provide radar monitoring and compatibility with traffic volume and flow. “

“Factors that will be considered by ATC...” If controllers were doing their jobs, nobody would ever get off the ground without a STAR into ATL, JFK, LGA, EWR, LAX, SEA, ad nauseam. But it happens. Every single day. So controllers aren’t doing their jobs. Nope. Y’all don’t get to whine at me either. I don’t want to hear it. I had to listen to it for years and I’ve heard every argument out there. It’s simple. Either you do your job or you don’t. If you can’t refuse to issue a clearance to an instrument rated pilot that files direct LGA, I question whether or not you have the backbone to be a controller.

You see, it was this attitude that “endeared” me to my fellow workers. If you’re not smart enough to understand the principle that the AIM and the 7110.65 have to agree with the FARs -- and that the FARs are the law -- I question whether or not you’re smart enough to be an instrument-rated pilot or a controller. You might not think of it when you’re young and stupid -- I didn’t -- but once you’re educated to the fact, it’s rather obvious. To enter some reality-denial trance to justify doing what you want to do -- “the AIM isn’t regulatory” -- doesn’t cut it with me.

Let me drag you back to the purpose of this repeated rant. Saving ERAM. I’ve said all of the above before -- if in a slightly different context. Today’s context is being able to process the data that makes up a flight plan so that we can design a decent data processing program. The term “garbage in” should be coming to mind about right now. What few fail to realize is that it has been “garbage in” for decades. Yes, decades.

Go back and think about when the data processing program for ATC was written. It was written for airways and VORs. Then people started flying -- and filing -- direct. Back when the program was written, computer memory and data storage was limited. People soon latched onto this as the culprit but it was only part of the problem. The other part of the problem wasn’t even a problem -- it was a logic check -- but that is another story.

A pause here for an explanation. I can only write about one path at a time. There are multiple paths in this story. Layers upon layers. Mistakes piled upon mistakes. I can only go down one fork in the road at a time. Just be aware there are other roads to travel. There are other tales to tell.

I question whether pilots ever truly knew how to file a correct flight plan. But they really didn’t have to be able to do it. Again, go back in time and think about how a flight plan got into a computer. There were three paths. A pilot filed with (1) a Flight Service specialist, or (2) an airline dispatcher or (3) a military operations specialist. In other words, they filed with a human that did nothing but file flight plans all day. The specialists were the ones that knew how to file a flight plan correctly -- into a system where (almost) everybody flew airways.

This was before DUATS and before (most) random navigation. The only example I’m going to write about (right now) is FSS. FSS spent years “fixing” flight plans. It was customer service. I bet for awhile they showed pilots how it was done. Then they probably just started fixing it. When random navigation came along, they just kept fixing things. Some pilots were probably never corrected. Bad formatting? FSS would fix it. Exceeded NAVAID limitations? They’d make it work. Somebody didn’t include a fix in each ARTCC’s airspace (read the AIM)? They learned to “make it work” by inserting Latitude/Longitude coordinates.

Then Flight Service got “automated” and they had less and less time for this stuff. Then DUATS came along. The story on that is hilariously sad. Then the FAA put in the 50,000-fix “fix”. Then FSS got contracted out. I can write another 1,000 words on each of those. I think I will. Later.

Don Brown
April 5, 2010

Thought exercise for those that haven’t been down this road before. Check the AIM sections noted above. “ route flights, must be defined by indicating the radio fixes over which the flight will pass.”

Question: Are airports “radio fixes”? Correct answer: “No. The HMV155023 is a radio fix. TRI is not. TRI is an airport, not a fix (radio or otherwise).”

From the AIM again: “...the random route portion of the flight plan to begin and end over appropriate arrival and departure transition fixes or appropriate navigation aids...”

Question: Is an airport an “appropriate arrival transition fix”? Correct answer: “No, it is not. Instrument Approach Procedures (for *IFR* flights) begin at Initial Approach Fixes -- not airports.”

ATL..LGA -- any airport direct airport flight plan -- is not a valid *IFR* flight plan. Yes, I know you see a hundred a day.



Acorn. I never gave them much thought. How about you ? Right or wrong, they were lynched by a lie. Somebody, or some group, had put 40 years of effort into the organization. And it was all undone by a lie. They weren’t sued and found guilty. The weren’t prosecuted in a court of law for some transgression. They were lynched by a media mob. Over a lie.

You really need to think about that. And you need to recognize the people that did it. The people that instigated it. They people that incited the mob. They’re liars. And Rachel Maddow calls them on it. Good for her.

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

Don Brown
April 5, 2010

Saturday, April 03, 2010

They’ll Do It Again

You tell me. Is there anything in this story that isn’t depressingly familiar ?

FAA managers broke rules at Detroit Metro Airport

Controller complains. FAA lies. Inspector General says controller was right. FAA doesn’t hold anyone accountable.

Why wouldn’t they do it again ?

At the risk of stating the obvious, an airline can get a manager fired or replaced. An airline can and will complain -- loudly -- when they don’t think an FAA manager is promoting efficiency enough. An airline can offer a retiring manager a job. Safety can’t do any of those things. Safety is just some hard-to-put-your-finger-on concept that most people don’t really care about until it’s too late.

They’ll do it again.

Don Brown
April 3, 2010

Friday, April 02, 2010

A Day Late

I can’t believe I missed my favorite economist on my favorite radio show yesterday. It’s a good thing we have the internet. Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner and Glen Beck are going to blow a gasket over this one.

Surprising Provision In Bill Shortens Months

Don Brown
April 2, 2010

Fold It In Half

There’s a piece of advice my father read not too long ago and passed along to me. I think it allegedly came out of Texas. No matter. I bet the basis of it is as old as the hills.

The best way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.

Wise advice. Up to a point. Even if your money is actually in cash, you still have to store it someplace. I’m told that under the mattress is a poor choice. Accordingly, I’ve been looking for a place to store mine. Preferably, someplace that earns a little money.

The stock market looks like a good place right now. I don’t know if you’ve kept up but “The Market” is up. The chart is for one year -- twelve months.

Mighty attractive. Until you read this from Robert Reich.

”The Lehman bankruptcy examiner’s recent report details what just about everyone on the Street has known since the firm imploded – that Lehman defrauded its investors.“

Lehman, as it says, went bankrupt. So what’s the problem ?

”The Securities and Exchange Commission announced Monday it had begun an inquiry into two dozen financial companies to determine whether they followed accounting practices similar to those recently disclosed in an investigation of Lehman Brothers. “

”Think back to the corporate looting scandals that came to light almost a decade ago when the balance sheets of Enron, WorldCom, and others were shown to be fake, causing their investors to lose their shirts. Nearly every major investment bank played a part in the fraud — not only advising the companies but also urging investors to buy their stocks when the banks’ own analysts privately described them as junk. “

It’s not real hard for me to think back to Enron. I was invested in a mutual fund that was invested in Enron. I still haven’t earned that money back -- 10 years later.

In addition, I also read Professor Reich’s next column.

The Fed in Hot Water

”The Fed has finally came clean. It now admits it bailed out Bear Stearns – taking on tens of billions of dollars of the bank’s bad loans – in order to smooth Bear Stearns’ takeover by JPMorgan Chase. The secret Fed bailout came months before Congress authorized the government to spend up to $700 billion of taxpayer dollars bailing out the banks, even months before Lehman Brothers collapsed. The Fed also took on billions of dollars worth of AIG securities, also before the official government-sanctioned bailout. “

You might also know that The Fed is where Congress wants to put the new regulatory body that is supposed to protect consumers. Protecting us publicly while protecting banks and brokers secretly. I don’t think so. I think I’ll fold my money in half and put it back in my pocket.

Don Brown
April 2, 2010