Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Please note the time line.
From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...
”Oct 1956: CAA leased a computer (IBM type 650) for installation in the Indianapolis ARTCC to assess the value of computers for the preparation of flight progress strips and to familiarize its personnel with this type of equipment. “
(Big, curious 11-year gap)
”Jun 30, 1967: During fiscal year 1967, which ended on this date, FAA installed an IBM 9020 simplex computer system at the Cleveland (Ohio) ARTCC (see Feb 18, 1970). “
”Feb 18, 1970: FAA's first IBM 9020 computer and its associated software program became operational at the Los Angeles ARTCC (see Jun 30, 1967). The new computer system was at the heart of the new semiautomated airway air traffic control system--NAS En Route Stage A. This equipment reduced controller workload by automatically handling incoming flight information messages, performing necessary calculations, and distributing flight data strips, as needed, to controller positions. The agency planned to install similar equipment at all of the centers, and with the new automated nationwide system each center would have the capability to collect and distribute information about each aircraft's course and altitude to all the sector controllers along its flight path. The new computers also had the ability to record and distribute any changes registered in aircraft flight plans en route. (See Dec 30, 1968, and Feb 13, 1973.) “
”Aug 3, 1981: Nearly 12,300 members of the 15,000-member Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) went on strike, beginning at 7 a.m., EST, grounding approximately 35 percent of the nation's 14,200 daily commercial flights. The controllers struck after the failure of eleventh hour negotiations, which began 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug 2, and continued, with one break, past 2 a.m. Monday, Aug 3. Shortly before 11 a.m. on Aug 3, at an impromptu news conference, President Reagan issued the strikers a firm ultimatum: return to work within 48 hours or face permanent dismissal. The government moved swiftly on three fronts -- civil, criminal, and administrative -- to bring the full force of the law to bear on the strikers...“
”Jan 28, 1982: FAA released a National Airspace System Plan (NAS Plan or NASP), a comprehensive 20-year blueprint for modernizing the nation's air traffic control and air navigation system. The 450-page document had been printed the previous month and bore the date Dec 1981. It spelled out specific improvements to be made to facilities and equipment to meet the projected demands of air transportation.
Key elements of the plan included:
* Computers: FAA would first replace the IBM 9020 computers at the air route traffic control centers with more powerful computers that could use the existing programs or "software packages." The agency would then proceed with development of new software as well as new consoles and displays known as "sector suites." (See Aug 30, 1982.)
* Facility consolidation: air route traffic control centers and terminal radar control rooms would be consolidated from approximately 200 into about 60 by the year 2,000 (see Mar 22, 1983). Flight service stations would be consolidated from about 300 into 61 automated facilities. (See Oct 2, 1981.)
* Radars: a new secondary radar system would interrogate aircraft transponders on an individual basis, paving the way for automatic "data link" air-ground communications. This Mode S equipment ("S" for "selective address"), in combination with a new generation of Doppler weather radar, would also permit the replacement of the existing primary en route radar system. Primary radar would be retained in terminal areas, however, and be improved with the addition of a separate weather channel. (See Oct 5, 1984.)
* Weather services: were to be upgraded by such means as direct pilot access to computer weather data via remote terminals or touchtone telephones (see Mar 14, 1984). Automated sensors at airports would generate radio broadcasts on surface conditions, improving safety and allowing lower weather minimums for landing (see Jan 26, 1983).
* The Microwave Landing System (MLS): full production procurement was to be initiated in fiscal 1983, with over 1,250 to be in place before century's end (see Apr 19, 1978 and Jan 12, 1984). FAA expected the new equipment to provide precision guidance over a much broader area than the existing Instrument Landing Systems, thus allowing greater operational flexibility.
Following the publication of this initial NAS Plan, FAA issued updated editions annually (see Feb 8, 1991). “
”Dec 13, 1993: FAA Administrator David Hinson ordered an extensive review of the Advanced Automation System (AAS), a multi-billion dollar program designed to help modernize the nation's air traffic control system. The contractor, IBM, was far behind schedule and had major cost overruns (see Nov 30, 1992). Hinson's recommended review included conferring with IBM to determine the impact the company's plan to sell its unit in charge of the AAS contract to Loral Corp., a sale subsequently concluded.
On Mar 3, 1994, FAA announced initial actions as a result of the review that included a new AAS management team and suspension of the portion of the program designated the Area Control Computer Complex (ACCC). Subsequently, on Jun 3, 1994, FAA announced a major overhaul of the AAS program. The agency terminated ACCC. FAA also cancelled another AAS element, the Terminal Advanced Automation System (TAAS), stating that it would substitute a new procurement for modernization of terminal radar approach control facilities (see Sep 16, 1996). The agency reduced the number of towers planned to receive the Tower Control Computer Complex (TCCC). In addition, the agency planned to review the software for the Initial Sector Suite System (ISSS), a program to provide new workstations for en route controllers. On Sep 30, 1994, FAA announced that it would seek a proposal from Loral that would permit the company to move forward with this work under a new program, the Display System Replacement (DSR), which would replace ISSS. (See Apr 27, 1995.)“
March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Imagine if you could go back in time to the days of DC-3s and DC-6s -- as a controller. Imagine you had to hand write strips all day long. For the same airspace. For the same routes. For the same airplanes. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.
Besides being good at it (and bored) you would start to notice some things. The distance between the GSO (Greensboro, NC) airport and the arrival fix for the Atlanta Airport never changes. You also notice that the time required to fly it doesn’t change -- except for the winds aloft. 188nm takes about an hour at 180 kts. If you work the same airplanes day after day it doesn’t take you long to figure out that a jet will do that distance in 40 minutes. And it really doesn’t matter if it’s a B707 or B777.
I went through 20 years of my 25 year career without realizing that. This information was not necessary for me to know in order to do my job as a controller. But not knowing it doesn’t make you a better controller. And it would make it more difficult for you to understand how to automate that process.
In order to understand the problems we are having with ERAM -- and the problems we had with the Advanced Automation System -- you need to grasp this concept. It is a matter of “institutional memory”. (Those were the magic words, Steve.) I’m not smart enough to make up a phrase like “institutional memory”. But I’ve read people that are that smart. I knew when I first read it a decade ago that it was important. It’s a phrase you should remember.
When you’ve seen a system go from hand-written strips, to raw radar (no alpha numerics) to printed strips, automated data processing and then radar data processing -- the progression makes sense. And you can tell when the system is spitting out garbage because you still remember that it takes a jet 40 minutes to get from GSO to ODF. You still remember when the controller over GSO would call with an apreq (approval request) to launch another aircraft off GSO for ATL. You still remember looking at the clock, adding 40 minutes, writing down the time on the strip and seeing that there were 3 other aircraft due over MACEY at that time. You remember looking for a time gap in the strip board and saying to launch him “at or after 1530 Zulu” -- 15 minutes from now -- when you had a gap in the arrivals.
When you have done that a thousand times and you know what works and what doesn’t work, it’s not real hard to understand how the whole process got automated. When you’ve never seen it done -- when there aren’t even any strips because all the flight data is automated, all the radar data is automated and “flow control” is a “kingdom” within the FAA instead of a control process -- it’s like magic. At first, you don’t even care how it all happens. Just let me talk to some airplanes so I can show you what I’ve got.
I still remember those days. The phrase “young and stupid” comes to mind. But I had the gift. I could move airplanes. Fortunately, I had an old guy training me that gave me a greater gift -- “institutional memory”. He told me about the first time he ever worked a Lear Jet and how shocking it was that the plane leveled at FL230 20 miles out of Greensboro. It was a good thing he wasn’t using the “he’ll never hit that guy” rule. He showed me how broad-band radar worked -- even though it was being decommissioned. He taught me so many things. So many things that for years I had moments when I would have to say, “So that’s why Monty told me not to do that.” (Did I mention that “young and stupid” thing ?)
Most of the controllers hired in 1981-82 got some institutional memory. About half hired in 1983 didn’t. And the number kept falling from there. We had R-side trainees training D-sides. Controllers not even fully checked out training other controllers. Looking back on it now, it seems almost criminal. At the time it looked almost heroic.
It made Ronald Reagan look tough. And it certainly changed the FAA. It was all for one and one for all. Managers managed. They couldn’t help controllers enough. Whatever you needed. Just keep moving those airplanes.
And then the crisis was over and the FAA went back to being the FAA.
You see, the new folks like me didn’t know it but the FAA had an ace up their sleeve. If you’re a new guy now, see if this scenario sounds vaguely familiar. Remember, the PATCO strike was in 1981. Look at the timeline.
”From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...
Jul 26, 1985: FAA announced the award of a contract for replacement of the IBM 9020 computers at the nation's 20 air route traffic control centers (ARTCCs) as part of the agency's Advanced Automation Program. IBM won the replacement contract in a competition with Sperry Corp. under a pair of contracts that had been announced on Sept 22, 1983.“
”Once the full AAS system was operational, FAA planned to begin the integration of en route and terminal radar control services at the ARTCCs, which would be renamed Area Control Facilities (ACFs) and expanded to handle the new functions (see Apr 19, 1993). Among the planned future enhancements to AAS was Automated En Route Air Traffic Control (AERA), which would automatically examine aircraft flight plans to detect and resolve potential conflicts. “
A replaced work force. A big push to automate air traffic control. Consolidation of facilities. Visions of automating even separation. Does any of this sound familiar ?
I told you at the beginning that I’ve told this story before. You might want to read that entire history entry from above. We’ll talk more later.
March 30, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
A long, long time ago, we had an Air Traffic Control system that was understood. Not that it wasn’t complicated for its day, but it was easier to understand because it wasn’t nearly as complex. Nor had it been revised so many times.
I’m going to tell this story in the best way I know how. I’m going to do it simply because I don’t know of anyone else willing to do so. That is the only qualification I have. I’m not smarter than you, more qualified than you or more educated. I am simply here and I have the ability to write it out. Again.
First, there is navigation. You can go back to dead reckoning, bonfires or four-course ranges. I’m going to start with VORs, NDBs and ILSes. That’s as far back as I go and it’s as far back as I need to go to make my point. For an aircraft to navigate when I became a controller we used VORs as the primary en route tool and radio beacons (NDBs) as the primary approach tools. A pilot could leave the airport, navigate to the airway structure, then back to the airport, all in IFR conditions. Radar was not required. Air traffic controllers were not required. They still aren’t -- for navigation.
Putting aside all separation-from-other-aircraft issues, if you’re a pilot and you can’t imagine taking off in IFR conditions, flying at the minimum IFR altitude to your destination, executing an IFR approach and landing -- safely -- without an air traffic controller, then I really wonder if you understand the system. As did Captain Wally Roberts -- the guy that came up with this thought exercise so many years ago. Try it.
Air traffic controllers exist to separate aircraft from other aircraft. Keeping pilots out of the dirt and helping them navigate with radar are secondary duties. Yet, how many times are you vectored off course and given a close-to-the-ground altitude as a pilot ? A course and altitude that you have almost no way of knowing whether or not they are legitimate ? This thought is a big seller for GPS with the minimum IFR altitude displayed. But focus on why controllers were assigning vectors and altitudes. Why vector ? Why not just let the pilots fly the charted procedure ?
On the other hand, we now have the RNAV/Advanced NAV crowd who are excited that we can now give pilots a precise, repeatable course to fly from takeoff to landing -- all without controller intervention. Back to the future. Seriously, these guy are just as excited as the guy who rediscovered the wheel. What they do with RNAV and GPS was done decades earlier with VORs and NDBs. Granted, not as precisely, but it was just as functional.
What does saving ERAM have to do with all this ? Everything. Airplanes still fly from Point A to Point B and controllers still have to track them. Just like pilots, controllers are blinded by their technology -- thinking that because all this appears “old school” that it is no longer necessary to understand the core basics of time and distance. We have machines to do this for us now. The machines provide the calculations but they don’t provide the understanding. As a matter of fact, they obscure understanding. It is the modern-day equivalent of magic. We believe in what we don’t understand because it is called “science”.
Until the Center controllers can plot the passage of an aircraft through their Center’s airspace on paper -- doing the calculations by hand -- they will never have the understanding needed to judge -- or help construct -- a program like ERAM. And if you think the programmers writing ERAM understand what controllers understand about air traffic control, you are sadly mistaken. An enormously complicated program written by people that don’t understand the subject. That’s an interesting experiment. Guess what ? This isn’t the first time it has been done. We’ll get to that part soon.
March 29, 2010
Sunday, March 28, 2010
I can’t help but be curious about how much my readers explore when I send them to various links. A case in point: In yesterday’s blog, I sent you to the Marketplace site. I wonder how many people clinked on their link to this story?
How Juarez became murder city
”BOWDEN: Well, there's something there besides the drug trade, there are still these American-owned factories. Juarez for decades was a kind of poster child for free trade, and for border factories. It pioneered the concept starting in the late '60s. The city's growth has been based off that. What it's produced are American-owned factories that pay people less than they can work on. What's it's produced -- because it's a natural pathway for commerce connecting with U.S. transportation systems -- is one of the largest drug import industries in the world. What it's also produced is the largest human migration on earth, and it is directly triggered by the North American Free Trade Agreement passed in 1994. Now that treaty was passed to stop the migration -- that we would create wealth in Mexico. Instead we've created poverty. “
That is a very provocative statement. If true, was the treaty (NAFTA) a success or failure ? How do we measure these societal costs ? Are they measured ? Just food for thought.
March 28, 2010
There are lots of “ifs” and “buts” in this story but this statement struck me -- as true.
”"We make our food very similar to cocaine now," he says.
Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance). This made the drug more addictive.
According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way. "We purify our food," he says. "Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we're eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup." “
The whole article.
Fatty foods may cause cocaine-like addiction
March 28, 2010
I was catching up on some of my podcasts. Amidst all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Radical Right, you may have missed this story. The lead-in pretty well sums it all up.
How health industry helped pass reform
”The stock prices of health care companies showed healthy gains, one day after the House passed historic health reform. Investors apparently think the legislation will be good for the health care industry. John Dimsdale reports. “
And as to the rest of the financial world’s opinion ? Krugman only needs three words:
The Market Yawns
But while you’re on Krugman’s blog, this might interest you.
Jamie Dimon Was Right
”But that is the way banking worked once upon a time. I’m reading Gary Gorton’s Slapped by the Invisible Hand, which tells us that there were bank panics — systemic crises — in 1873, 1884, 1890, 1893, 1896, 1907, and 1914.
On the other hand, there were no systemic crises from 1934 to 2007.“
My readers already knew that, right ?
March 28, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Just for the record.
”We’re leaving tomorrow for Communicating for Safety so, hopefully, I’ll be writing more this coming week. It’s always easier to get information when my prey can’t escape into the internet. For the controllers that will be there, here’s what I’m interested in. Study up.”
1) Have any improvements been made to URET ? Any. Ever.
We already knew the answer to that didn’t we ? The answer is “No”. At least none that anyone can remember.
2) Did the FAA ever figure out a way to determine who controllers are talking to ? And standardize it.
Again, the answer is “No”. Although, I did like the story about the one Area that went back to using strips and quit using URET. As entertaining as that was, the teller correctly pointed out that URET is the primary source of Flight Data. (Look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls -- otherwise know as the 7110.65.)
3) Okay, how is ERAM really working out ? Will it work at ZID (Indy Center) or will they turn it on for a few hours, declare success and turn it back off again ?
The FAA has decided to “stand down” or “slow down” or whatever other “down” it was they decided to do with ERAM. In other words, trying to “make it work” at Salt Lake Center didn’t work. They are pulling back and reevaluating. I’m not going to give them any grief for doing the right thing -- even if it is only after trying to do the wrong thing.
4) Can you new kids see airplanes in your head ? How did you learn to do that using URET ?
We already knew that answer too. ”What’s the Flick, Grandpa ? Did you walk to school in the snow too ?”
Holy Week is a busy week for me so don’t expect too much. But expect something. Soon.
March 27, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
Be it ever so humble (or not), there’s no place like home. A La-Z-boy, a wireless internet connection, an adult-sized pillow, food less than a half mile away... this is the good life. I don’t have a million-dollar landscaping job but I don’t have to share it with anyone either.
So, what did I learn ? A-number-one ? ERAM is in serious trouble. If you don’t know what ERAM is then you probably aren’t in aviation. If you are in aviation and don’t know that ERAM stands for En Route Automation Modernization, you need to get up to speed quickly.
ERAM is the Alpha and the Omega of ATC automation. It has to work. If it is declared an absolute and utter failure tomorrow, on Monday, we have to start all over again and find a way to make Son of ERAM work. Or Grandson of ERAM. It simply has to work.
(If you’re really behind on the ERAM story, type “ERAM” in the search box at the top left of this page and read everything.)
I have nothing new to say. The question is, do I try to organize my thoughts -- once again -- and say the things I’ve said before -- once again -- on the slim hope that somebody, somewhere will listen and act upon them ? After all, who’s to say I know what I’m talking about ? The truth is, I don’t even know. So much knowledge has been lost about the ATC profession -- specifically about automating ATC -- in the two upheavals of the profession -- that I’m not even sure of what I know. It’s simply the best information that I’ve been able to piece together. For all I know, I could have pieced it together wrong.
So, do I go through it all again ? Or do I just stick to retirement and taking pictures ?
What do you think ? Let me know.
March 26, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
The health care debate is all but over. There will be endless debates and changes in the future but Americans now have something they will not readily give up. Check out Social Security for an historical lesson on what the future will hold.
I still don’t have a wireless internet connection and I must be off. So here’s the best story I’ve found in my limited time this morning. It’s a story of the internal politics of England. Look for the parallels in American politics. It started with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Take it from there. Off you go.
Election Looming, Tories Put Posh Foot in Mouth
March 23, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
Here I am, unhappy at the Happiest Place on Earth. I know I don’t get out much but it’s really hard to believe that the Happiest Place on Earth doesn’t have a decent internet connection. Ethernet in the room (want to bet they’ll charge me double for connecting two computers ?) and a Wi-Fi signal in the conference center so weak I’m not sure I’d pay for it even if I could figure out how to log in to do so (which I can’t).
What is it guys ? It’s a business conference. We do business on the ‘net just like everybody else. It’s bad enough that it isn’t “free” but to not even be able to log on ? Oh, and I’m typing this sitting on a cube. Yes, only one chair in the room. I get the cube. After the mile-long walk to get back to the room. Not Happy.
Anyway, I just listened to Paul Rinaldi (NATCA’s President) open the Communicating for Safety conference.
”ERAM is not at the point where we should be testing it on live traffic.” -- Paul Rinaldi
That answers question #3. I look forward to hearing the answers to the rest of my questions.
March 22, 2010
(Okay, the ethernet works for both computers)
Sunday, March 21, 2010
This shouldn’t surprise Southerners. Or my readers.
Tea party protesters hurl racial insults at congressmen
I’ve said it before but I don’t know if I said it here. I’ve seen this crowd before. They’re losers. And I mean that literally. Check out our history. We have a national holiday named after Martin Luther King. We don’t have one named after George Wallace. Or Strom Thurmond. Or Herman Talmadge.
These guys didn’t win any Nobels either. Martin Luther King Jr. did. As did one other Southerner.
”Heated debate has surrounded what role race plays in the motivations of the tea party demonstrators. During protests last summer, demonstrators displayed a poster depicting Obama as an African witch doctor complete with headdress, above the words "OBAMACARE coming to a clinic near you." Former President Jimmy Carter asserted in September that racism was a major factor behind the hostility that Obama's proposals had faced. “
He’s seen these losers before too.
March 21, 2010
Saturday, March 20, 2010
I offer my apologies for the lack of posts lately. Unfortunately, I can’t promise that I’ll do any better soon. I’ll try to do better -- but I won’t promise.
First the excuses. I’ve rediscovered photography. I use to sit and ponder ATC (and the world) in the early morning hours. Now I go out and take pictures. That leaves plenty of time to ponder but not much time to research and write.
Then there is Spring Break, the time change and Brahms’ Requiem. My daughter was home for a week, my son this week, I hate Daylight Savings Time (and adjusting to it) and I have to learn Brahms before Good Friday. (Here’s a famous piece from Brahms’ Requiem for the curious.)
Now, for what I’m working on/thinking about.
There’s construction at JFK and the airlines (God bless ‘em) are using that as an excuse to plead for an exemption from the new rule that says you can’t imprison people on a grounded airliner for more than three hours. They want the exemption not only for JFK but for all the New York airports. That’s rich.
There’s some good background in this article from The Dallas Morning News and I’ll cherry-pick this statement:
”Smith estimated that construction has reduced JFK's runway capacity by 30 percent to 40 percent and squeezed all flights onto two smaller runways.“
That gives you an idea about how capacity has been impacted (Mr. Smith works for American Airlines. Factor in your own adjustment for capacity.) Then we’ll jump to the New York Times story and cherry-pick this statement:
”To cope with reduced runway space in the meantime, airlines have agreed to cut the number of flights out of Kennedy during the project. Delta Air Lines and JetBlue, two of the largest carriers at the airport, have each reduced departing flights by 10 percent compared with last March.“
It’s up to us to figure out if Delta and Jet Blue’s 10 percent, together, equals Mr. Smith’s 30-40 percent. I’ll go out on a really sturdy limb and say it doesn’t. But as all pilots and controllers know, JFK won’t be any worse than normal (which means the usual awful) as long as the wind blows in the right direction. Which it won’t. One day. Which is when the airlines will blame the weather instead of their schedules. Or construction. Or ATC. Or anybody. Just don’t blame it on them scheduling more than the airport can handle.
I saw a blurb the other day about automated Towers and I immediately thought of the Praxis Foundation’s Staffed Virtual Towers. And I never did get around to reading the story. I don’t know where it went either. I looked. Sorry.
We’re leaving tomorrow for Communicating for Safety so, hopefully, I’ll be writing more this coming week. It’s always easier to get information when my prey can’t escape into the internet. For the controllers that will be there, here’s what I’m interested in. Study up.
1) Have any improvements been made to URET ? Any. Ever.
2) Did the FAA ever figure out a way to determine who controllers are talking to ? And standardize it.
3) Okay, how is ERAM really working out ? Will it work at ZID (Indy Center) or will they turn it on for a few hours, declare success and turn it back off again ?
4) Can you new kids see airplanes in your head ? How did you learn to do that using URET ?
As for the rest of the world, tomorrow could be an historic day. If the health care Bill goes through, it will be. And it will be interesting to see what the Republicans try to scare you about next. (I listen to Rachel’s podcast while I walk. No commercials. Did I mention I’m walking a couple of miles a day now too ?)
Georgia set a new record. Our unemployment rate went up to 10.5%. It wasn’t the only record we set. Georgia is deciding how much to cut from education. That’s like a farmer deciding to eat his seed corn. There won’t be a high-tech economy with high school dropouts.
I did this exercise for a friend in Georgia’s educational system. See if it works for yours. Find out the proposed budget cuts for your educational system. Teacher layoffs, furloughs, courses being cut, classroom sizes being increased, etc -- however you want to define it. Add it all up and write down a figure. Georgia wrote down $300 million as the college shortfall.
Now, pay attention class. The evil Obama/Democrat plot to ruin America proposed a 825 billion dollar Federal stimulus package. The heroic Republicans and patriotic Tea Party/Town Hall Crashers beat it back to $787 billion.
Pay attention now. This is critical. If your House Representative was a Republican, they voted against it. Not a single Republican voted for it in the House. If your Senator was a Republican (unless you live in Maine or Pennsylvania), they voted against it. Without the Democrats, there wouldn’t even be $787 billion for the States to use.
825-787 = 38 billion dollars the States didn’t get as stimulus.
$38 billion divided by the 50 States would equal (all things being equal) $760 million. Per State. Go back to the beginning. What was your State’s education-budget shortfall ? $300 million ? $760 million would cover that. And then some.
Be sure to thank your local Tea Party. And your Republican Congressional members (except for Senators Snowe, Collins and Specter). When we lay off teachers we will be breaking the most important social contracts our society has, permanently damaging the potential of an entire generation and contributing to our already-record-high unemployment rate.
Please. Stop following these fools.
March 20, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I remember when the Albany, GA (ABY) Tower was contracted out. It was in the first round of contracting out and most of us didn’t really understand the implications of it.
The logic of it all hasn’t improved.
Airport reduces air traffic control hours
”The Air Traffic Manager wants Air Traffic Control hours reduced from 16 hours a day to 12 hours a day.
This way, two employees will man the towers eight of the 12 hours. With 16 hour days, only one employee worked most of the time. “
”Roughly 132 flights per day came in last month and the Air Traffic Manager says it's important to be double staffed for passenger safety. “
It’s “important” to have two people in the Tower for “safety” (just ask the FAA) but they don’t. So cut the hours of operation instead of hiring enough people to do the job -- “for passenger safety”.
I’m sure that makes some kind of sense in the world of contracting.
March 16, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
There are no words. The inventor obviously made an “A” in shop class. I’m going to stop talking now. Just go watch the video.
Build (or just buy) your own flying hovercraft
Thanks to James Fallows for the tip. (More crazy Kiwis at his link.)
March 13, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
Riddle me this, Dear Reader. How can an air traffic control/aviation blog work in a story about hogs ? One word: Deregulation.
”Twenty-five years ago, Montgomery County had about 200 independent hog farmers. Foster is one of two now. He's got just one steady buyer for his hogs.
Meanwhile, companies that sell Foster supplies have grown just as powerful, as are the ones he depends on to buy his livestock. That leaves Foster trapped between giants — a situation he blames on "hands-off" economic policy. “
It’s a great (but short) story I heard in on NPR’s Morning Edition. Here’s the link.
”"The biggest boar at the trough needs to win no matter who he lashes out with his tusks and kills, 'cause the biggest company left standing will be efficient, and that efficiency will move down to the consumer," Foster says. "That's hogwash. That doesn't work. We found out from the banks that it doesn't work that way. They keep that efficiency in their pocket."“
Sounds like Farmer Foster has The Flick. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
I really don’t need to say anything do I ?
DOT Substantiates Whistleblower’s Safety Concerns at Detroit Metropolitan Airport
”WASHINGTON, DC/March 11, 2010 – Today, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) transmitted to the President and Congress the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) response to whistleblower allegations that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) managers at Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) compromised the safety of the flying public by operating an air traffic approach and departure configuration known as the “Southwest Flow” in an unsafe manner and in violation of FAA policy, and that FAA officials provided disingenuous information in response to a Congressional request. “
I will say that I appreciate the dedication to public service of controllers Vincent Sugent and Peter Nesbitt.
March 11, 2010
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. “
Technology won’t decrease delays. Regulation will. But you already knew that.
March 11, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Evidently the word “free” falls upon some nerve center in the brain with devastating effect. I know my wife falls for it on a regular basis. I always thought men were relatively immune to it. Foolish man.
U.S. weighs aiding airlines with air traffic upgrades
”Gerard Arpey, the chief executive of American Airlines, a unit of AMR Corp told reporters on Tuesday at the FAA conference that American's cost alone for equipping its planes with satellite-based navigation upgrades would run from the tens to the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Arpey and other executives believe government should cover the basic costs to airlines of air traffic infrastructure, since, they say, it is in the national interest to maintain a seamless system for air travel. “
My, my, how the worm does turn. It seems like only yesterday that I was having to endure lectures about the “Free Markets” like I was still in grade school. “If the government would just get out of our the way....” Remember ? “Free Flight” was going to unleash the industry from the evil inefficiencies of the government. The airlines would make so much money if the government would just get out of their way.
I know. I know. It’s not their fault. Blame it on 9/11. Blame it on unions. Blame it on the economy. Everyone knows you can’t blame it on “free” enterprise because free enterprise is the end-all, be-all. I know because all that “free” programming on the TV tells me so.
You know, I actually don’t care whether the government buys the airlines the system or not. I, personally, would pay my share of the taxes if we can just drop the charade about government and business. The airlines (and the railroads, and the trucking industry, and the on-and-on-and-on...) are only in business because of the government. The government paid for the R&D that built the planes, the government built the airports, built the ATC system, built the market, etc., etc., etc. In return we got the best aviation system in the world. A lot of that success belongs to private industry.
And that’s my point. Working together, business and government have done some incredible things in these United States of America. They need each other. So, can we stop the fighting ? Can we stop the “Free Market” farce ? Can we go back to making money and paying taxes instead of screaming at each other ? Please ?
Regulate the airlines. Control the competition. Don’t eliminate competition. Just don’t let the blood-soaked feeding frenzy of deregulation continue to drag this industry down. Control it. Let the airlines go back to providing decent service, decent jobs and making decent profits.
Take a look at these two stories in the news:
Southwest Airlines' load factor soars in January
Continental Airlines Reports February 2010 Operational Performance
”Continental Airlines (NYSE: CAL) today reported a February consolidated (mainline plus regional) load factor of 77.7 percent, 5.2 points above the February 2009 consolidated load factor, and a mainline load factor of 78.1 percent, 5.2 points above the February 2009 mainline load factor. Both February load factors were records for the month. “
Do you see the contrast between these headlines and the one we started with ? Record load factors vs. government handout ? If you can’t make money with a full airplane how do you make money ? If the industry hasn’t been able to make money in the last 32 years then when should we expect it to turn around ? Shouldn’t someone have gotten it right in 32 years ? (When Southwest makes money in the international market I’ll stop thinking of them as an exception.)
I don’t think we afford any more “Free”.
March 10, 2010
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
In case you didn’t realize it, a major hangup in getting the FAA reauthorization Bill passed is labor law. Think Progress has the story.
”The RLA poses larger barriers to organizing than the NLRA, which has enabled FedEx to prevent its drivers from collectively bargaining. So the company has invested a lot of time and effort into blocking the change, including characterizing it as a “bailout” for UPS. “
It’s a microcosm of what is wrong in America. A huge Bill being held up by one issue. A company that is blatantly anti-union -- using our lax laws to avoid paying its workers benefits. And the solution is just as simple. You can jump through a bunch of hoops and try to get the “right” people elected or....
The next time you need something shipped, decide which company you would rather do business with -- the union one or the anti-union one. Did you notice the whole world went broke when Americans stopped shopping ? The American consumer has an awesome power if they can just learn how to use it. Before we lose it.
Here’s some additional information on how FedEx plays this game.
FedEx threatens to cancel airplane order
”FedEx Corp. is dangling the possibility of canceling a multibillion-dollar order for airplanes should Congress help its workers unionize. “
Fred Smith has changed his mind before.
”The B777F has a payload capacity of 103 tons and competes with Airbus’ A380F, which FedEx canceled an order for over the B777F in 2006. “
I wonder what he tried to get out of the French ? Fred Smith plays hardball. And I’m guessing he thinks you won’t.
March 9, 2010
Monday, March 08, 2010
Somebody tell Lee Riley he’s not as original as I thought he was.
Go watch this, then come back and I’ll explain.
For all the new controllers out there, Lee ran for NATCA president a couple of times. He wanted to build up NATCA’s “brand” so that it was marketable. In other words, that commercial you just watched would have mentioned NATCA instead of TWA and you would have seen the NATCA logo instead of the Pan Am logo and it would have probably said “NATCA’s Voice Control” instead of “Remco”.
It wouldn’t have made the current faux pas at JFK any less embarrassing but it might have increased sales enough to cover the legal expenses. I sure hope some new kid in NATCA is dreaming big dreams.
March 8, 2010
Saturday, March 06, 2010
I don’t know if John Carr realized it when he wrote that piece for us yesterday...I don’t know if he listens to country music. But it shares the same theme as an Alan Jackson song. I love that song. Have a listen.
I also want to say this -- as I have in several other places. The controller’s actions at JFK were dumb -- but they weren’t dangerous.
The FAA’s (and the media’s) response to it so far has also been dumb. Let’s try to keep it from becoming dangerous. This story has already been blown out of proportion. If the FAA’s response to it gets out of hand -- if they try to fire this controller -- things will get ugly.
Controller’s make judgment calls all day, every day. Occasionally they’ll make a bad one. Everybody recognizes that this is one of those times. But the controllers know where this call falls on the scale. And it’s nothing in comparison to running an entire ATC facility on a software system that you know is full of bugs.
To fire a controller for what is a minor infraction while promoting people and paying bonuses for a major failure will just be a continuation of the same FAA culture that has been so destructive in the past. If people want to worry about a danger, worry about this one.
March 6, 2010
Friday, March 05, 2010
I can still remember the very first time my father pushed the bench seat back on the family station wagon, opened his arms to reach me clear over on the other side of the car and said, "Come on, son. You come over here and drive." The time was early '60's, before seat belts were much more than a nuisance when you sat on them.
I couldn't reach the pedals, hell, I could barely see over the dash. But I was driving and I was in heaven. I rocked the steering wheel this way and that, and remembering now it was probably only the play in the mechanism I was steering. But steer I did. Vroom, vroom!
Only I wasn't driving. My father was. And while I plowed down the highway (OK, our street) at breakneck speeds (OK, ten miles an hour) my father drove the car while I, well...I drove. And drove and drove and drove. For hours and hours (well OK, two or three minutes.)
It happened again yesterday only this time it wasn't me and it wasn't a station wagon. It was an air traffic controller from JFK, and his son was "controlling airplanes." Only he wasn't. His daddy was controlling them airplanes, folks, and his daddy could have probably controlled a dozen more without looking up from his nail file. That's why he's at JFK, sports fans. That JFK controller can fling the heavy metal without breaking a sweat and he has probably safely cared for more people by lunchtime than the average hospital cares for in a year.
Was the controller wrong to let his son parrot his words? Yes.
Was the controller jeopardizing safety? No.
Was the supervisor jeopardizing safety? No.
Did the media, the FAA and the Congress pile on this poor man? Yes.
Were rules broken? I don't know, but if they were I can't find them.
I was working at O'Hare Approach one afternoon in the late '80s when Slewball (that's what we called him because he was bald) got a pale look, cocked his head half around like the RCA dog and then went "splat!" face down on the console in front of his radar scope. His face hit that rubber mat with a sound like a sack of wet laundry hitting a tile floor. Splat.
And then I saw the supervisor calmly come over, grab Slewball's chair, wheel him out of the way and help a new controller get his headset on, get plugged in and then helped him identify and begin to separate and control Slewball's airplanes, whizzing around the sky at six miles a minute.
Slew was still in his chair drooling like a teenage boy at a Taylor Swift concert when the paramedics from the airport showed up a few minutes later. The paramedics carried ol' Slew out on a platter (OK, a stretcher) while the rest of us tried to crack jokes to calm our nerves. "Hey Slew..if you don't make it can I trade shifts with you next week before you take that dirt nap?"
JFK was like that station wagon in sixty-three. Like O'Hare in '89. And like any other time any other parent has done any other stupid thing all in the name of either educating a kid on what he possibly can do, or what he probably shouldn't do. Just like you do if you are a parent.
Could someone have pulled in front of my dad in '63? Yes.
Would it have been unsafe? No.
Would there have been a collision? No.
Was the JFK controller foolish to put his child on the frequency? Probably.
Was it unsafe? No.
In fact, in the immortal words of the FAA, "Safety was never compromised."
How can you say that, you ask? It's simple, really. Like O'Hare and my dad and your dad, that controller in New York would have dropped his kid like Enron stock at the first inkling of a hint of a notion of an anomaly. And if he got in the way the others in the room would have escorted the kid out, no gentler with him than we were with Slew or my dad was with me or your dad was with you when your feet didn't move fast enough.
Gever Tulley and Julie Spiegler have written a book entitled, "Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Child Do." Thumbing through this book is like taking a trip through the early years of practically all of us. Superglue your fingers together. Get a penny and put it on the railroad tracks. Light something with a magnifying glass. Blow something up in the microwave.
In my case (and these are not made up) there was also BB gun fights with my brothers, blowing up GI Joe with Dad's lighter fluid, building and then burning down each other's tree houses, making a wooden car with roller skates and driving it down the hill and into traffic, throwing pocket knives at each others feet to see who would flinch, shooting each other with bottle rockets on the 4th and launching tennis balls at each other by putting a small hole in the bottom of the can and filling it with the remaining Zippo lighter fluid. One match and FOOM. The ball comes out on fire sometimes and you can light your siblings t-shirt on fire if you hit it just right.
Sure, people relied on the JFK dad and he let them down. But if you listen to the pilots involved in the incident---the people who literally put their lives in this JFK controllers hands---there is no indignity. There is no, "Hey, are we safe here?" There is no challenge or question or uncertainty.
The pilots. The ones who are always the first people at the scene of an airplane crash (think about that one for a minute Eww). The pilots thought it was funny. And at no time did the pilots think they, or anyone else was in danger. And do you know why? Because at one time or another each and every one of those pilots has opened his arms to his kid, sat him on his lap, and let him fly the rented plane. And the kid flew. Horrors. He could have fallen on somebody or flown into something. Riiiiiiiight.
In the big scheme of things the firestorm that has greeted the JFK incident rivals Sarah Palin pick-pocketing swag at the Oscars, which I guess brings me to my final point.
People, people, people. The great American sport has grown weary. When are you going to stop building up idols and icons so that you can knock them down? No, the Gosslins aren't "Plus Eight." He is an ugly-ass unemployed cheater and she is a mean bitch and a basket case and together they are ruining their kid's lives. No, Tiger Woods isn't Husband of the Year. Was he as bad as Clinton? Close, but no cigar. (Think about that one for a minute, too. Eww)
We Americans have made it our blood sport to build pyramids of worship to our Gods (or maybe just big football stadiums and HDTVs) and then gather by hundreds of thousands to worship them (OK, cheer them on). And when they blink the wrong way or get a traffic ticket or get caught with a live boy or a dead girl, well, then it's off to the woodshed we go for a good old fashioned American ass whipping. You would think we would have learned by now.
Yes, the JFK controller messed up. We all know that. And let anyone who has never messed up at work cast the first letter of reprimand.
Yes, the JFK controller showed a lapse in judgment. And let anyone who has never showed bad judgment at work cast the first suspension.
Yes, the JFK controller let down his company, his family and his friends. Let anyone who has raised above the humanity of our own shortcomings fire the poor bastard.
Otherwise, let's give it a rest, will ya? The Oscars are Sunday night and somebody is sure to do something stupid or rat on Brad and Angelina or linger too long hugging Jennifer and that boat-rocker will sweep this controller and his little buddy off the news wires like they were OJ Simpson. Haven't heard much from "The Juice" lately, have we? OJ's doing his time and all is right with the world.
So give the JFK controller the benefit of the doubt to go along with the discipline he has earned, but don't swipe a lifetime of service to the American people and his family's future from the poor guy because it turned out he was human.
There, but for the grace of God, go you.
Don Brown (Okay, so Daddy let me drive this Carr.)
March 5, 2010
I’ve been reading a very painful article in The Atlantic by Don Peck.
How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America
I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you. And I’m not going to lie about it. This is a typically-long and in-depth Atlantic article. It’s the only magazine I read for which I need a bookmark. All grumbling aside, I wouldn’t read it (or write about it) if I didn’t think it was important.
There’s something else to keep in mind while you’re reading this. I -- and I suspect many of my friends and readers -- graduated from college during a deep recession in 1980-81. A lot of the psychology mentioned in this article hits a little too close to home for me. I remember the pain of being unemployed and underemployed after graduating from college. Or, more precisely, after working my way through college.
I also recognize that my current unemployment is full of queasy conflictions. I know that if it wasn’t voluntary -- without being able to call it retirement -- it could turn emotionally ugly. Work defines a man. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but, it’s strange going from being the one of the best in the world at something, one day, to...nothing the next day. I still wake up rejoicing everyday that I don’t have to go to work. That is a whole lot different than waking up and realizing that you can’t work today.
When you read this article (and the quotes below) I hope you’ll ask yourself, “How much does that cost ?” Ask yourself if it’s worth your government borrowing money and you paying taxes to avoid these costs to your society.
”Late last year, the average duration of unemployment surpassed six months, the first time that has happened since 1948, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking that number. “
”Five, 10, 15 years after graduation, after untold promotions and career changes spanning booms and busts, the unlucky graduates never closed the gap. Seventeen years after graduation, those who had entered the workforce during inhospitable times were still earning 10 percent less on average than those who had emerged into a more bountiful climate.“
”A large and long-standing body of research shows that physical health tends to deteriorate during unemployment, most likely through a combination of fewer financial resources and a higher stress level. The most-recent research suggests that poor health is prevalent among the young, and endures for a lifetime. “
”Especially in middle-aged men, long accustomed to the routine of the office or factory, unemployment seems to produce a crippling disorientation. At a series of workshops for the unemployed that I attended around Philadelphia last fall, the participants were overwhelmingly male, and the men in particular described the erosion of their identities, the isolation of being jobless, and the indignities of downward mobility.“
”In November, 19.4 percent of all men in their prime working years, 25 to 54, did not have jobs, the highest figure since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the statistic in 1948. “
”And regardless of social class, the stresses and distractions that afflict unemployed parents also afflict their kids, who are more likely to repeat a grade in school, and who on average earn less as adults. Children with unemployed fathers seem particularly vulnerable to psychological problems.“
Please take the time to read the whole article. There is an excellent summation at the end. And a plea that Americans should heed.
March 5, 2010
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Well, The Potomac Current and Undertow stopped posting.
This was kind of a downer:
"Easily we could have blogged as we have for forever and a day. It made for good copy every now and then but we've concluded that the problems are insurmountable. "
I can’t say as I’ve never felt that way before. Several befores. I guess I’m just too stupid to stop.
Anyway, I’m on the hunt for a new blog to put in my blog roll. I’m in no rush. But it does mean I read some new and interesting sites while I search. Just An Earth-bound Misfit is nothing if not interesting. That’s where I found this one.
Income distribution and the employment problem
”One thing which economists have been shying away from like cats from a water sprinkler is the question of income distribution. You can literally hear the yowls of terror as you start leading them anywhere towards that question, because the reality that we have two classes of Americans -- the consumer class and the investor class -- is a truth that None Dare Speak Its Name.“
You’ll recognize the theme (I hope) but it never hurts to hear it said another way. You never know when the turn of a phrase will make the light bulb come on for someone. And BadTux can turn a phrase. Enjoy.
March 4, 2010
I found this story on Facebook. That’s probably what I get for spending too much time on Facebook.
Proposal would put Ronald Reagan's face on the $50 bill
”In polls of presidential scholars, Reagan consistently outranks Grant, said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), who introduced legislation to make the change. “ (link to bio added)
How many different ways can a statement can be wrong ?
First: “By contrast, Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy tend to score highly in popular opinion polls, but rank highly less often in polls of historians because their negative qualities have been largely forgotten, for Reagan because he was seen as helping end the Cold War and for Kennedy because of sympathy after his assassination.”
So Reagan doesn’t really rate that high with “presidential scholars” -- especially when you remember Iran-Contra.
Second: Grant wasn’t such a great President. He was a great general (or at least a winning one) and that is why he is remembered. So Representative McHenry is comparing apples and oranges while trying to make you think it’s apples vs. apples. He probably has a bright future as a politician.
I’m somewhat surprised at how strongly I feel about all this. However, as time passes, I think more and more Americans will realize just what Ronald Reagan and his policies did to this country. Read the comments section of the L.A. Times article and you’ll see what I mean. There was a time when the mentally ill and homeless didn’t roam America’s streets. The families that suffered through the beginning of the AIDS epidemic have obviously not forgotten Ronald Reagan. I hope that my fellow controllers haven’t. (Please tell me none of the new kids actually refer to Washington National as “Reagan National”.)
I think all this will pale in comparison to The Great Recession, though. And The Great Recession is a direct result of the policies that became known as Reaganomics.
So I’ve got a better idea. Rename Wall Street -- the most famous street in America -- after Ronald Reagan. That, to me, would seem to be a fitting tribute.
March 4, 2010
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Reading today’s New York Times reminded me I hadn’t blogged this subject yet.
U.S. May Set Rule Requiring Brake Override System
In particular, this quote caught my ire.
”“I think N.H.T.S.A. investigators would rather focus on floor mats than microchips because they understand floor mats,” Mr. Rockefeller said.“
Now just hold on a second there Senator Rockefeller. I don’t really care that you’ve got Ray LaHood or a bunch of Toyota executives on the hot seat. I do care about the truth though. And the truth is “all y’all” are as guilty as sin. The government could hire plenty of people that understand microchips. The government could also hire plenty of people that know how to regulate. But the truth is that it hasn’t happened. The truth is, the opposite has happened. And you, Senator Rockefellar, are just as guilty as LaHood (a Republican) and the corporations that have decimated our government for the last 30 years.
We’ve deregulated, cut the number of inspectors and regulators, then cut the budgets of the regulators we do have and -- if there was anyone left that still didn’t get The Flick we tried to fire them. Is any of this sounding familiar, Senator(s) ?
Just to prove that I’m not the only one that sees this -- and that this problem is pervasive throughout the entire U.S. Government, read this from Marketplace:
Why gov't regulators seem unprepared
March 2, 2010