Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dodging the Bullet

I was checking Wikipedia last night and came across a couple of lines that lead me to a new discovery.

Xenia, Ohio -- Tornadoes

”On April 3, 1974 a tornado[4] measuring F-5 on the Fujita scale cut a path directly through the middle of Xenia during the Super Outbreak, the largest series of tornadoes in recorded history.”

If you’re my age (or older), you probably remember that night. You may have heard, we had quite a night of our own Thursday might. When I clicked on the “Super Outbreak” link in the text above, I found out just how big of a night.

"The Super Outbreak is the second largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 US states,...."

"With a death toll of over 300, this outbreak was the deadliest since the 1925 Tri-State Tornado and its associated outbreak until the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak, which killed at least 338 people."

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Wikipedia? Obviously, it isn’t perfect. The first article (about the Xenia Outbreak) needs to be updated. But already Wikipedia has built quite a page on the latest outbreak. When you grew up with encyclopedias and almanacs, it is just amazing. And all for free!

Anyway, like so much of my life (thankfully), there wasn’t any drama at my house. At one time I was posting on Facebook that there was a tornado north and south of me. We were in a gap. The wind barely blew. We never lost power. We never even lost our internet connection. Obviously, not everyone was so lucky.

(15th Street in Tuscaloosa, AL from Wikimedia)

I’m on day 5 of a bad cold that has kept me from taking even my normal pictures at the lake, so I haven’t been out to look at the damage myself. But from the descriptions alone, I know how lucky I am to have dodged this bullet.

Don Brown
April 30, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

FAR 65.47 

Just in case someone might need to know where this regulation is in the next few months....

Federal Air Regulation  65.47   Maximum hours.

”Except in an emergency, a certificated air traffic control tower operator must be relieved of all duties for at least 24 consecutive hours at least once during each 7 consecutive days. Such an operator may not serve or be required to serve—

(a) For more than 10 consecutive hours; or

(b) For more than 10 hours during a period of 24 consecutive hours, unless he has had a rest period of at least 8 hours at or before the end of the 10 hours of duty.”

For those that have the talent of rearranging shifts (I never did), think about what happens to the FAA’s overtime possibilities when you start spreading those shifts out.

I’ve always been curious as to the distinction between “certificated air traffic control tower operator” and Center controllers. I don’t think I ever took the time to look it all up. (More likely I tried and failed.) I have to admit, whenever I hear the refrain that controllers aren’t allowed any reading material on the sectors but FAA manuals, I get a little, sly grin. I always took that to heart. I read a lot of FAA manuals on the midnight shifts. It’s one of the reasons I knew the rules better than my supervisors.

It was just an odd talent I had -- being able to read government documents and stay awake. Trust me, it didn’t make anybody -- controllers or managers -- happy. Nobody in the FAA really wants controllers to follow the rules. Many are quick to tell you that following the rules is considered a job action. (....wait for it...)

I hope when you read that in black and white that it strikes you how stupid it looks (and sounds.)

The only exception to the “rule” is the safety people. For some odd reason, people that are really interested in safety really want controllers to follow the rules. You new guys might want to try it. Be forewarned, it’s harder than it looks. It takes practice. But I bet it still makes the supervisors nuts.

Don Brown
April 29, 2011

Hats Off

No matter what you think of it all, the Brits know how to put on a show.

Lifeguard Buckingham

Don Brown
April 29, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Krugman’s Story

If you like to read Krugman as much as I do, you might want to check out this mini-bio at New York Magazine.

What’s Left of the Left: Paul Krugman’s lonely crusade.

”For the first two years of the Obama administration, Krugman has been building, in his columns and on his blog, not just a critique of this presidency but something grander and more expansively detailed, something closer to an alternate architecture for what Obamaism might be. The project has remade Krugman’s public image, as if he had spent years becoming a chemically isolate form of himself—first a moderate, then an anti-Bush partisan, and now the leading exponent of a kind of liberal purism against which the compromises of the White House might be judged.“

This section really resonated with me. When I was still working, I thought of myself as a political moderate. I was a hesitant union member, much more interested in the protection to speak out offered by the union than the labor/management negotiations. But by the time George W. Bush came to office, I had come to understand that political forces had declared war on me and my kind. They weren’t interested in getting along and compromise. They were interested in winning -- and crushing the opposition while they were at it. That opposition included me. Marion Blakey’s imposition of a contract on controllers -- on Labor Day of all days -- erased all doubts in my mind.

Oh well. Enough about me. There are a couple of other quotes below that I liked for diverse reasons. I found it to be a good -- if lengthy -- article. See if anything strikes a chord with you.

”Since World War II, Bartels found, wealthy families in the 95th percentile in income had seen identical income growth under both parties. But for families in the 20th percentile, the difference was astonishing: Under Democratic presidents, their income grew at six times the rate it did under Republican ones.”

”What Krugman took from Argentina—and what he thinks even liberals in Washington missed—was “a certain level of understanding,” he says, “that important people have no idea what they’re doing.””

Don Brown
April 28, 2011

Krugman Pans Bernanke

I can’t say as I’m surprised. And I didn’t even watch Bernanke’s historical press conference.

Professor Krugman seems to be a lone voice, crying in the wilderness -- if you can call a column in the The New York Times and a highly ranked blog the wilderness. And it’s not like he’s the only voice out there either. So I guess my analogy is falling apart. Which makes me wonder what is really going on here.

It all seems pretty simple to me -- The Golden Rule. Those with the gold make the rules.

If you’re sitting on a pile of money, you don’t want inflation to eat into it. Normally, you’d invest it somewhere. Somewhere safe. But zombie banks aren’t safe. The economies of the rest of the world aren’t safe. That leaves good old Uncle Sam. Remember last week when the stock market went nuts because Standard & Poor’s threatened to downgrade America’s credit rating? Do you know what happened? Here’s Fareed Zakaria’s take.

”But all evidence suggests that the U.S. does not face an immediate crisis. Take a look at the simplest indicator: the day that Standard & Poor's raised its now famous warnings, the markets decided to lower America's borrowing costs, and the dollar rose against its principal alternative, the euro. In fact, the real problem for America may well be that it does not face a short-term crisis.”

On the day that Standard & Poor’s decided to threaten the U.S. credit rating, the world decided the safest place to put money was in U.S. Government securities. I hope it occurs to you that this is the same company that was rating dodgy mortgage-backed-securities as “AAA” before that house of cards fell down.

If all this leaves you confused, here’s the wrap up. The Fed is going to make lowering the unemployment rate subservient to keeping inflation in check. The cache of money the rich keep in the banks will be protected at the cost of high unemployment.

I hope all this will help you understand when Paul Krugman explains that Ben Bernanke is arguing against his own beliefs -- against the economic theories he espoused prior to becoming Chairman of the Fed.

Bernanke Wimps Out

”This doesn’t make any sense in terms of his own expressed economic framework. I think the only way to read it is to say that he has been intimidated by the inflationistas, and is looking for excuses not to act.

Maybe he has no choice in the matter; but this doesn’t change the fact that he’s not making sense, that his own theories — and for that matter the doctrine endorsed by the Fed itself — says that the central bank should be doing much more quantitative easing, not stopping with the US still facing high unemployment and the unemployed themselves increasingly desperate.”

Be sure to check out the graphs.

Don Brown
April 28, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-26-11

I’m about to go out and make today’s and I haven’t put up yesterday’s yet. Busy day -- that started off right.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 26, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

N201HF Crash 4-25-11

I’m really short of time today so just one thought before I start the day. On the first page of the preliminary NTSB accident report on N201HF, this line jumped out at me.

”According to information provided by representatives from Lockheed Martin (LM) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),...”

I’m not used to seeing Lockheed’s name in these reports. But Lockheed took over the Flight Service Stations from the FAA so they are giving weather briefings and filing flight plans. The first thought that came to mind is, do Lockheed employees have the same personnel rules that public employees have? I seriously doubt it. When an FAA staffer makes a tape (I guess it’s a CD now) of the conversations between briefers, controllers and pilots they place their name on the audio with words to the effect of, “I certify that this is a true and accurate recording of the events that took place on...”

Would those words, uttered by a corporate contractor, carry the same weight for you?

There are all sorts of legal niceties I can think of. I just wonder how they are all handled? What are the requirements placed on Lockheed for recording briefings? Is it a requirement to have dual, state-of-the-art recorders or can a single, broken-down-whatever satisfy the requirements of the contract? If a Lockheed employee has to testify in court, who pays for that? The U.S. Government steps in to represent and take responsibility for its employees. How does that work for Lockheed?

I’m sure the folks in charge of this contract thought all this through before they contracted out FSS to Lockheed. I’m just wondering how well they thought it out.

Don Brown
April 25, 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Watching the Right?

The right side of this page I mean. Over on the blog roll? Praxis Foundation has another ever-thoughtful post up. And wonders of wonders -- somebody at The FAA Follies put up a post. The first in over a year I believe. Even NAS Confusion has a new one up.

Don Brown
April 24, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-24-11

Of all the days not to get a “sun rise”...

I’m sure it will be a glorious Easter anyway.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 24, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-23-11 (M)

The “M” is for Meadowlark Gardens. (The link is to their Facebook page with more pictures.)

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

I don’t have a clue what it is. Meadowlark Gardens is like that -- full of stuff I’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s a small tree -- about the size of a dogwood -- and it has one of those blooms about every 8 inches on each branch.

Don Brown
April 23, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-23-11

I’m a day late on this sunrise (from yesterday morning.)

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 23, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bad to the Bone

This is so bad it’s great.

Thanks to the invaluable James Fallows for doing what he does so well.

Don Brown
April 22, 2011

Good Friday 2011

In a couple of hours, I’ll be doing my best to sing this and more of Mozart’s Requiem. I picked this song (in part) because some of the younger folks might recognize the tune.

”Tearful will be that day,
on which from the ash arises
the guilty man who is to be judged.
Spare him therefore, God.

Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.”

Don Brown
April 22, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Head-Shakin’ Mode

A reader sent me a safety recommendation (a .pdf file) from the NTSB that was based on a recent preliminary accident report (a .pdf file) from the NTSB. I don’t have time to analyze it right now, but like a moth to a flame, I couldn’t help but start.

The first read-through had me shaking my head. The safety recommendation has some stuff on ERAM in it. But the basic ATC information was deeply depressing to me. I could write a dozen blogs on this information alone. Before I could pursue that, I wanted an idea of the terrain (the accident was a controlled-flight-into-terrain type.) So I took the NTSB data, went to and plugged in the route of flight. The flight departed from JAC (Jackson Hole, WY.)

”...the filed route was DNW VOR...”

”...the filed altitude was 9,000 feet...”

I haven’t done this in a while (I used to use all the time for research) and the info available now is just amazing. You can even look at the sectional charts.

(click to enlarge)

Just in case you can’t see it at this resolution, the red line (the route of flight) goes right through “TOGWOTEE PASS”, southeast of DNW VOR. There are 11,000+ ft. mountains on the north side of the pass, 10,000+ ft. mountains on the south and the red line actually runs right through the terrain numbers on the chart -- “9658”.

”...the filed altitude was 9,000 feet...”

I know there are some non-aviation folks reading this blog now due to recent events. I implore you, don’t try to interpret what you don’t understand. The NTSB final report will be out soon enough. The pilot in this accident didn’t even get to fly the route he filed. I’m talking about human factors here, not the cause of the accident.

For my regular aviation readers, I’ve said it a million times in a million different ways;

Same Old Safety Problems

”Did I mention the mountains ? If everyone (pilots and controllers) would forget about going direct, fly the airways and fly the approach procedures -- if they’d “think non-radar” -- things would work out just fine. But people don’t do that anymore.”

We’ve expended barrels of ink this week on the subject of sleepy controllers. Ask yourself a safety-rep question; How many people died in the numerous incidents reported? That’s right -- zero. It’s a real safety problem -- there’s no denying it and I’m not going to make light of it. But people actually die in the CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) accidents. And despite all the gee-whiz technical solutions we come up with, people still die in them. I just finished talking to another reader about this same phenomenon. We insist on focusing attention on the machines -- technical solutions -- instead of the people -- human solutions. Technology has its place. But it’s the people that matter.

I have a million things I need to do today besides writing about this. I’ve got to go. Procedures are written for a reason. We have more information available now that ever. We have machines, computers and software that are absolutely incredible. None of it is a substitute for using your head. Think. Think “non-radar”. Stay alive.

Don Brown
April 21, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-21-11

The Great Blue Heron decided he was no longer afraid of me this morning. Oh, to have a 400 or 600mm lens. But 200mm and cropping will have to do.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 21, 2011

Go Around -- “G” or “R”

I’ve warned you before that the Earth-Bound Misfit can cuss like a sailor (that she once was.) I’m warning you again. James Fallows, on the other hand, is always proper and graceful.

(Insider’s note: Yes, I got the word from you, S., so you don’t have to write and gloat about it.)

Pick whichever version of Michelle Obama’s go around you’d like to read.

This blog is rated “G” -- Michelle Obama's Plane Was Not in 'Danger'

This blog is rated “R” -- When It Comes to Aviation, "Reporter" Is a Synonym for "Moron".

Don Brown
April 20, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Not NPR -- MPR

In all the hoopla you may have missed this story at Minnesota Public Radio.

Controller: Doubling control tower staffing no cure for the sleepy

”Brown, who writes the blog , Get the Flick, says the only way the FAA can add a second controller overnight is through overtime. But that makes the problem even worse because it adds a controller who's already tired at the beginning of the shift. "You're just doubling the problem," he says.”

Yeah, I’ve been busy. As controllers all know, this problem is very nuanced and a 3-minute radio clip or 500-word print story isn’t the way to understand nuance (although the guys that try to do it -- including Bob Collins, above-- can do amazing things in a small amount of space.)

One controller is dumb but it’s better than none. Two is better than one but don’t kid yourself, a lot of times you’ll be getting one while paying for two. I’d love to tell you that all people are perfect and don’t cut corners but I’m in the safety business, not in the lying business. I’d love to tell you that all controllers would be smart about getting two people where we only had one before. But the FAA isn’t being smart about it, so why would you expect controllers to be smarter than the organization they work for? (I expect them to smarter -- because most of them are -- but that’s another story.)

Two controllers could work better if handled properly. Both stay awake from 11 until, say, 2 AM. One takes an hour nap (at the control position so he’ll be available if something unexpected happens) and the other one gets a nap between 3 and 4 AM. (Make it an hour and half each between 2 and 5 AM.) That way, you have two people working the early and late portions of the shift -- which is when they are typically working airplanes. Naps are taken when they are typically not working airplanes.

Do I think we (the controller workforce in total) have the kind of discipline needed to stick to those guidelines? No, I don’t. At least not for any length of time (like a decade.) But the point is moot anyway. The FAA isn’t going to allow controllers to take naps. So all you wind up with is two sleepy (i.e. dysfunctional) controllers. Or two controllers that ignore the rules and nap anyway. (You might want pause a moment and think about which is worse -- sleepy controllers or controllers that become inured to breaking rules.)

And if that attitude/policy (no naps) prevails at the FAA, there is no point in assigning three controllers. You just wind up with three sleepy controllers. One sleepy controller can screw up on his own just fine. He doesn’t need any “help”. The only reason you need three controllers is to allow for naps and/or breaks away from the control position. That’s what the science says you need. That’s what a truly safe system demands.

We aren’t going to get that. I told you we weren’t before the DOT Secretary and the FAA Administrator made it official.

Don Brown
April 20, 2011


1:45 AM. Two o’clock was a pretty good guess. I’m tired. Glad I had that nap.

You know, I could be a grumpy old man (I’m a pretty good at it) about this midnight business and just say the young guys will have to tough it out. I did. And so did most of the guys that I worked with. But before I got to be a grumpy old man, I was a safety rep. for air traffic controllers. And the safe thing to do is provide the staffing and scheduling for controllers to nap on the midnight shifts. One day, we’ll wish we had.

See you in the morning.

Don Brown
April 20, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I Feel Your Pain

So, just in case you don’t think about these things, I’m supposed to pick a friend of mine up at the airport tonight. He’s flying in from Chicago. The first flight got canceled because of a mechanical problem. The second flight was supposed to leave at 8:30 PM. But, I saw the thunderstorms up there and I bet him he wouldn’t get out before they hit. Sure enough, his plane started taxiing over an hour ago. It isn’t going anywhere soon.

I’ll be out after midnight, for a flight that was supposed to be here at 10:30 PM. You see, controllers (and ex-controllers) have the same problems you do when it comes to our air transportation system. You, however, don’t have the same problems as controllers. Or pilots, flight attendants, dispatchers, ramp workers, etc., etc.

I know that right now the controllers at Chicago, Cleveland and Kansas City Centers are getting whipped. Ditto for Chicago Tracon. The flight attendants are trying to keep the passengers calm and quiet. The pilots are sitting there watching the weather build as they watch their fuel gauges drop.

Perhaps it’s a good time to think about fatigue. I assure you no controller is sleeping. Just as I can assure you that they are all bone tired. The mid-shift guys are probably waking up about now. And as soon as they look at the weather, they’ll know they are going to have a long, hard night.

I suspect my long night will end somewhere around 2 AM. Their night won’t end until 7 AM. I’m going to close my eyes now and take a short nap because I know I’ll need it. The controllers that have to work this mess aren’t allowed to do that. They just have to tough it out -- with my friend flying through their airspace. (Keep telling yourself controllers are just trying to to pad the payroll, Chairman Mica.)

(Still on the taxiway, 1 hour and 26 minutes after pushback.)

Don Brown
April 19, 2011 (1o PM)

Nice Graph of the 2-2-1

A really simple idea that makes you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” at The Washington Post .

Working the 2-2-1

Don Brown
April 19, 2011

Eurocontrol and Fatigue

I have, of course, been doing some research on controller fatigue, in that I’m getting so many questions about it. I decided to look at Eurocontrol and see what they are up to. From the first hit I got on Google: (It’s a .pdf file.)

”Naps can be very useful as they can maintain or improve alertness, performance and mood. If you can't get enough sleep or feel drowsy, a nap as short as 15 minutes can be helpful. (3) (5)

The evening or night shift worker should take a nap during break time to increase alertness and reduce sleepiness. Napping at the workplace is especially effective for workers who need to maintain a high degree of alertness, attention to detail, and who must make quick decisions. In situations where the worker is working double shifts or longer, naps at the workplace are even more important and are highly recommended. (5)”

It continues later on...

For The Employer

-- Schedule shifts to allow suffcient breaks and days off, especially when workers are re-assigned to different shifts. Plan enough time between shifts to allow employees to not only get enough sleep, but also attend to their personal lives.

-- Don't promote overtime among shift workers.

-- Encourage napping by providing a sleep friendly space and time for scheduled employee naps. A short break for sleep can improve alertness, judgement, safety and productivity. ”

This was probably written by a bunch of union-loving socialists trying to come up with a “bigger insult to the taxpayer ” -- right, Chairman Mica? (I counted over a dozen posts here at Get the Flick about Chairman Mica. Take your pick. He’s pretty consistent. But this is by far my favorite.)

I’ve given ample warning to my regular readers about Chairman Mica. I had no idea that I’d be in the same news story with him when I taped the NPR piece. So, for the folks joining me from NPR, Chairman Mica has been trying to do the same thing to controllers that he and his fellow Republicans have been trying to do to NPR. When you think about it, there really isn’t any difference between “privatize ATC” and “defund NPR”. Chairman Mica doesn’t like government.

Don Brown
April 19, 2011

What I Wish I Had Said

For those that didn’t hear it, yours truly was on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning. Besides the live show I was on at Oshkosh one year, it was my first radio interview. I guess it went well enough.

After the taping, I saw some non-aviation friends last night and one of them brought up the subject (sleeping controllers) and was relating what he had heard on the news. In short, everything was going to be okay. The head of air traffic control (he was uncertain whether it was Administrator Babbitt or Secretary LaHood) was going to assign more controllers to the midnight shift. Problem solved.


I was surprised at the level of anger I felt about it -- but that is what I felt. As I’ve said before, the FAA doesn’t have the controllers to provide the extra staffing. Therefore, it will be fighting fatigue by assigning controllers longer hours -- overtime. Does working overtime make you less tired?

And that is the crux of what I wish I had said to Brian Naylor (NPR’s reporter.) Everyone knows what it’s like to get sleepy. I should have personalized the issue. So, let’s do that now. Let’s not talk about some abstract controller sitting in some far-away place. Let’s talk about you.

I’m going to assume you are working a “day” shift today. You might think you’re off on Saturday/Sunday but you would be wrong. You’re off on Thursday/Friday, so that would make tomorrow (Wednesday) your last day at work. Unfortunately for you, your last “day” at work is going to begin when Wednesday starts -- at midnight. Let’s walk through this together.

When you get off work, you will do your standard commute and go straight home. You have to sleep for the midnight shift. Yes, it is almost summer and the sun stays up until 8 PM or so. You don’t. You have a duty to report to work well rested. First question; Do you take a shower before you go to sleep or after you get up? You pick. Remember, the clock is ticking. Sleep now? Okay then. Off you go, straight to bed.

What’s that? Not sleepy? Tough. Close your eyes and at least rest. The clock is ticking, Sport. You have to get some sleep. It’s going to be a long night. Somebody’s life might depend upon you being alert and functional. The taxpayers pay you a lot of money not to fall asleep at work. (Do you see how stupid that sounds when we’re talking about you? You can pay people a million dollars a night. That won’t prevent them from getting sleepy.)


What the hell??? Oh, don’t mind that. It’s just the kid next door practicing his basketball dribbling. At least, that’s what used to happen to me. Or my Mom or (non-controller) friends would call. Even after 25 years they could never figure out what shifts I worked. What? You forgot to turn off your phone? Rookie mistake. Go back to sleep.

Alarm Clocks 20101107a

Rise and shine, Sunshine. It’s 10 PM and time to get with it. Time for that shower you put off until now. What’s that? You’re hungry? Well duh. Supper was 4 hours ago. Shower first. Eat later. I was fortunate in that I was married. My wife would have a nice breakfast waiting for me. Single folks usually stop along the way to get something to eat. Yeah, restaurant selections are kind of slim at 10:30 PM. But the commute is a breeze at 11 PM.

Now, we are going to stick you in a dimly lit room for 8 hours and -- God help you -- if you fall asleep we will fire you. Hey, the people in those airplanes are worried about their lives. They aren’t worried about you not being able to feed your kids, or losing your retirement or losing your health insurance just because you nodded off for a couple of minutes. Suck it up.

Don’t worry, there are usually a few airplanes to work the first couple of hours. It’s around 3 AM that it gets tough. Best of luck to you. Oh, and no laptops, DVD players or headphones. The only reading material you’re allowed is FAA training manuals (like those won’t put you to sleep.)

What now? A bathroom break? Are you kidding me? You’re alone in a Tower. You figure out what you’re going to do about it.

Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock

Finally. Sunrise. See? That wasn’t so bad. You didn’t have to talk to an airplane after 1 AM. Easy money. Most nights are like that. Of course, some aren’t.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. Now remember, you need to stay awake and alert long enough to drive home. I mean, it wouldn’t do to have you keeping the Public safe and sound all night just to kill one of them on the way home because you fell asleep behind the wheel.

Don’t forget to turn off your phone when you get home. You need your sleep. Secretary LaHood decided to double up the staffing at some Towers on the mid shift. The good news is that you’ll now have someone to talk to and let you run down the stairs to the bathroom when you need to go. The bad news is that you are now assigned the overtime midnight shift tomorrow to make that happen. I can’t help it that you’re supposed to coach the Little League team this afternoon. Do you want to coach Little League or be an air traffic controller?

We’ll see you again in 16 hours for another midnight. I bet after 20 years of this routine we can convince you it’s safer to let a controller take a nap than to continue doing what we’ve been doing. Sleep tight.

Don Brown
April 19, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Word From Our Boss

Now I’m really starting to wonder who is pushing this issue and for what reason.

It’s not often you get the President’s attention. But just to give you some hope, he was smart enough to leave himself some maneuvering room -- unlike his Secretary of Transportation and his FAA Administrator.

”"The individuals who are falling asleep on the job, that's unacceptable," the president told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview on Thursday. "The fact is, when you're responsible for the lives and safety of people up in the air, you better do your job. So, there's an element of individual responsibility that has to be dealt with."”

”"What we also have to look at is air traffic control systems. Do we have enough back up? Do we have enough people? Are they getting enough rest time?" Obama said.

He added, however, "But it starts with individual responsibility."”

No, Mr. President, you don’t have enough people. We haven’t for decades. No, Mr. President, they don’t get enough rest time. Overtime -- the “solution” proposed by Secretary LaHood -- just makes the problem worse. The best solution was presented in this news story -- naps during the mid shifts. The only question is whether we can find the political courage (and money) to do what is safe. Controllers aren’t afraid to accept responsibility, Mr. President. It’s what they do.

(Like he’ll ever read this.)

And just because I keep forgetting to add this in and I don’t want to write another blog...

I personally know of a controller that fell asleep at a traffic light on his way home. I know of another that fell asleep driving into his garage. He drove through it. I know of another that drove his truck into a ditch. Every single one of them was driving home from a midnight shift. And less than an hour before, they had been controlling airplanes.

You can order people not to fall asleep (for all the good it does.) You can’t order them not to get sleepy.

Don Brown
April 18, 2011

Another Voice

My friend Frank has a nice blog up on his site.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

”This morning I received an e-mail from a veteran air traffic controller whose name I will not use here. I'd like to share his remarks with you:”

Don Brown
April 18, 2011

Best Line for Today 4-18-11

I’m behind so it isn’t from today -- just my “today”.

Lost Heritage

”So, has Heritage declined and lost its way? Actually, no — it was always like this.

And one of the unexpected benefits of the whole budget fiasco might be that Washington conventional wisdom starts to realize that there’s not a lot of thinking going on at these tanks.”

Yes, of course he’s talking about the Heritage Foundation.

Oh, if only I could borrow Krugman’s brain for about a month. Maybe we could get some things straightened out in the FAA. Oh, wait a minute...the powers-that-be don’t listen to him either do they? Sigh.

Don Brown
April 18, 2011

Can’t Stop Sleeping

I’m always amazed at which issues grab the Public’s attention -- which issues get “hot”. I’m still getting a large amount of calls, emails and comments (both here and on Facebook) about the issue. When you think about the other issues that are out there -- an inexperienced workforce, ERAM, holes in 737s (What? Only Southwest flies 737s?) -- it makes you wonder. But okay, if this is the issue that people want to talk about -- so be it.

There’s only one problem. You can’t do anything about it. You can’t stop sleeping. You can order somebody not to sleep but it doesn’t make anybody less sleepy. The only cure is sleep and that means somebody else has to staff the position. That takes air traffic controllers --that you don’t have. And you don’t have any way of getting them in less than 2-3 years.

Here’s an idea for you. Have Randy Babbitt run across the Potomac to the Aerospace Industries Association of America and tell Marion Blakey he wants the FAA’s workforce back.

”During Congressional testimony February 11, 2009, NATCA President Pat Forrey testified that 3,356 controllers left the active work force in the two years after the work rules were imposed by Blakey, and "Since the implementation of the imposed work rules, the FAA lost more than 46,000 years of air traffic control experience through retirements alone. Nearly one third (27 percent) of air traffic controllers in the FAA have less than five years experience, and 40 air traffic control facilities have more than half of its workforce composed of individuals with less than five years experience."”

Hey, we tried to tell you.

Don Brown
April 18, 2011

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-17-11/A

The sky wouldn’t light up but the water did.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 17, 2011

The Word on Sleeping

It’s sad really. Air traffic control intrudes on all my thoughts -- even when I wish it wouldn’t. Sleeping on the job has been a problem for centuries. From today’s readings.

”Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again he went away for the second time and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. ”

Don Brown
April 17, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-17-11

Okay, it’s from yesterday but seeing as it’s past midnight (and my bedtime), it’s tomorrow already. (Nobody really cares, right?)

Yes, it’s from Meadowlark Gardens.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 17, 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-16-11

After a night of thunderstorms, it’s good to see the sun.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 16, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Get Out of Jail Free Cards

I’ve already written too much today. This isn’t hard to understand.

In Financial Crisis, No Prosecutions of Top Figures

”“When regulators don’t believe in regulation and don’t get what is going on at the companies they oversee, there can be no major white-collar crime prosecutions,” said Henry N. Pontell, professor of criminology, law and society in the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine. “If they don’t understand what we call collective embezzlement, where people are literally looting their own firms, then it’s impossible to bring cases.””

That’s deregulation for you. Enough said.

Don Brown
April 15, 2011

Obama’s Offhand Remarks

In case you haven’t heard them, President Obama had some blunt remarks about Republicans after the reporters had left the room. CBS News got the audio.

In case you’re not old enough to remember it, The West Wing was a great TV program. If you have a few minutes, you can watch an episode and see that life imitates art.

Don Brown
April 15, 2011

Spending Cutters

You need to read this.

Pain of British Fiscal Cuts Could Inform U.S. Debate

”LONDON — In the United States, the debate over how to cut the long-term budget deficit is just getting under way.

But in Britain, one year into its own controversial austerity program to plug a gaping fiscal hole, the future is now. And for the moment, the early returns are less than promising”

For those just joining us (or those with short memories), we’ve been waiting to see how this plays out. Remember this blog entry?

Krugman vs The United Kingdom

”For those paying attention, the United Kingdom has ignored Krugman and Keynes. They have made their decision and it is to cut spending and raise taxes -- exactly the opposite of what is recommended by Keynesian economics. Prime Minister Cameron has decided to go with “conventional wisdom”. Never mind that the conventional wisdom is what got us into this mess.”

Back to The New York Times;

”Doing so, says Mr. Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, secures the trust of the financial markets, and thereby ensures the low interest rates necessary for long-term economic growth.

That approach, and the question of whether it risks stifling an economic recovery that might itself help narrow the budget gap, lies at the root of the deficit debate in the United States. On one side is the go-slow strategy favored by President Obama. On the other is the more radical path championed by the Republicans. The two camps are no doubt closely watching Britain’s experiment.”

You see? I’m not that smart. Everybody that has time to pay attention -- or it’s their job to pay attention -- is looking at this situation. The real question is, what are they going to tell you?

”In that sense, comparing the British and American deficit-cutting plans becomes a bit more difficult. In Europe the bond market is the ultimate judge of deficit-reduction plans. In the United States, by contrast, the global demand for Treasury bills, and the benefits of the Federal Reserve Board’s easy-money “quantitative easing” policy, have kept 10-year bond yields well below those of Britain.”

There isn’t a straight comparison to be made between the U.S. economy and the United Kingdom’s. But we can learn some things if we pay attention.

”But in Britain, the big worry now is not tax rates. Instead, the fear is that Mr. Osborne’s emphasis on cuts in social spending — which aim to achieve an approximate budget surplus by 2015 and are likely to result in the loss of more than 300,000 government jobs — might tip the economy back into recession.”

Read the article and see what you learn.

Don Brown
April 15, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-15-11 (Meadowlark Bonus)

This is a lot more fun than talking about controllers. (No offense.) The azaleas are mostly gone at Meadowlark Gardens now. But as you can see, there’s still plenty of beauty to go around.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 15, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-15-11

This is just the start of the day. I haven’t edited the ones from Meadowlark Gardens yet.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 15, 2011

One Sleepy Controller

I find it fascinating that I -- a controller that has been retired for almost 5 years -- spent much of yesterday answering questions about sleeping controllers. That has given me a chance to sharpen my major points about the situation. And in that I have already addressed this subject, I thought I’d just quickly post them without elaborating (too much.)

1) There isn’t a “cure” or a “fix” for this problem. People are designed by nature to fall asleep at night. Put 50 people in 50 different rooms -- alone -- for a midnight shift and at least one of them will fall asleep. Intentionally or unintentionally. You can bet money on it.

2) Assigning two people to one control position will revert to one person on position when they decide to split the shift in half. (One works the first half while the other sleeps and then they swap.) Even if you try to manage it, history suggests that at some point in time, the situation will revert to splitting the shift. It’s human nature. Besides, you would need to assign a manager to the shift if you wanted to “manage” the situation. In other words, another body that you don’t have.

3) If there was some magical way to keep two controllers at their position and awake throughout the midnight shift, you would wind up with two exhausted controllers trying to work the morning rush. Sleep-deprived controllers aren’t anybody’s idea of safety.

4) The FAA doesn’t have the controllers available to increase staffing on the midnight shifts. The only way to increase that staffing is to assign overtime -- which increases fatigue in the workforce. In other words, the (proposed) “cure” is as bad as the “disease”.

5) The “best” way to manage the problem is to have three controllers assigned the shift. Two to man the position while the other rests. And yes, rest does mean sleeping. That isn’t going to happen -- for a multitude of social, political and financial reasons (i.e. non-safety reasons). The FAA doesn’t have the controllers to implement that strategy anyway. See #4.

6) This situation won’t be resolved. It will just fade away until some other incident brings it to the forefront again.

7) Don’t look for anybody to propose #5. The Republicans would skewer the union for proposing it and they’d treat the FAA almost as badly for “wasting” taxpayer dollars “coddling” those “overpaid, lazy government workers”.

You watch, they will take the overtime controllers will be forced to work in order to have two people on the mid shifts and use it to inflate controller’s average salaries and/or inflate the cost of how much it takes to run an FAA Tower compared to a contract Tower. When it is time to negotiate, the Republicans will use the cost of that overtime against controllers -- just like Spain did to their controllers. And when they have enough power to try and privatize the system again, they’ll use the increased costs to show how “inefficient” the government is.

Don’t think that this sleepy-controller situation isn’t a serious safety problem. It is. It just won’t be resolved because our society doesn’t like the answer to the problem.

Now, try not to interrupt my nap with all these questions, like yesterday. I fell asleep watching TV last night and my wife wasn’t happy about it. And yet, I woke up again after less than 6 hours of sleep. Rotating shifts are a “gift” that keeps on “giving” -- even after you retire. I’m one sleepy (ex)controller.

Don Brown
April 15, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-14-11

Funny how pretty sunrises seem to come in bunches.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 14, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-13-11

The fog did a good job of obscuring the house but I did have to retouch the security light out of the shadows. Otherwise, it was a spectacular morning. I took this picture facing north. It was one of those sunrises where there was great color all the way around the sky.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 13, 2011

Budget Battle Brewing

I’m sitting here watching the recording of Sunday’s GPS with Fareed Zakaria thinking that people need to hear this. And -- DUH -- I write a blog. Fareed started the show with his take on Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. In his usual manner, Fareed was being kind. But he finally got around to saying, “His plan won’t work.”

Later in the show, Fareed brought on Martin Wolf -- the chief economics commentator for the Financial Times. Mr. Wolf called Ryan’s budget proposal, “political fantasy.” For those that have been paying attention, this echoes what Paul Krugman has been screaming from the top of his lungs. And the icing on the cake is that Paul Krugman points you to James Fallows’ take on it. (That would be "partisan" or "gimmicky" if you don’t have time to follow the link.)

You would think that this budget proposal would be laughed out of town. But no, it’s being taken seriously.

Good Plan!
Republican Paul Ryan's budget proposal is brave, radical, and smart.

”This dynamic of political evasion and reality-denial may have undergone a fundamental shift today with the release of Rep. Paul Ryan's 2012 budget resolution. The Wisconsin Republican's genuinely radical plan goes where Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich never did by terminating the entitlement status of Medicare and Medicaid. (It doesn't touch the third major entitlement, Social Security, though Ryan has elsewhere argued for extending its life by gradually raising the retirement age to 70.)”

Eliminating our social safety net is “brave”. “Smart”. Okay, let’s say you really believe we’ll go bankrupt if we don’t do something. You’re not cold hearted. You don’t want Grandma eating cat food. And you don’t want to take away her health care. What can we do? Who can we believe?

How about the smartest man on TV? Look for the graphs.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Ryan's Private Savings - Path to Prosperity
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Destroy our country’s social safety net or repeal the Bush tax cuts? Which do you think is the right thing to do?

Don Brown
April 13, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How’s the Ouija Board?

I ask this question every once in a while in hopes that some Navy guy out there might email me with the real story.

Carrier ‘Ouija boards’ go digital

”By Philip Ewing - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Sep 7, 2008 15:55:01 EDT

After decades as the central tool for managing the chaos of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck, the tabletop model known as the “Ouija board” will soon begin passing into aviation history, along with its toy-sized air wing.

In place of the board — and the disciplines of “pin-ology” or “nut-ology,” practiced by its users — the Navy plans a new, all-electronic aircraft control system that commanders hope will streamline and simplify the way aviators move, load, launch and recover aircraft. The carrier Abraham Lincoln will be the first flattop to get the system, with installation planned for next year.

In principle, the new gear, known as the Aircraft Data Management and Control System fulfills the same job as the Ouija board and other existing systems: Help the air wing keep track of where its aircraft are, what fuel and weapons they’re carrying, and other important details.”

As you can see, that story is from 2008. This picture is from 2010 (and I found one from 2011.)

It may just be taking some time to get the system deployed. I don’t know. I’m curious if they ever got the thing to work.

If I remember correctly, I was looking at this project before I retired (in 2006.) I always equated the Navy’s Aircraft Data Management and Control System with the FAA’s attempt to replace Flight Progress Strips with URET.

Once upon a time, it occurred to me that if you wanted to know something about putting a lot of airplanes on a runway with very limited capacity, the U.S. Navy could probably teach you a thing or two.

Don Brown
April 12, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mica’s Methods

Just in case there was any doubts about what Congressman John Mica was going to do with his new-found power as Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, let me put them to rest.

Forcing the F.A.A. to Fly Blind

”...on the very day that Southwest’s Flight 812 was diverted to Yuma, Ariz., for an emergency landing, the House of Representatives passed a bill likely to make it more difficult to detect and prevent midair ruptures, metal fatigue and other serious flight risks.

The bill would cut $4 billion from the Federal Aviation Administration’s $37 billion budget. Representative John L. Mica, a Florida Republican who is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, says the bill would streamline F.A.A. programs and promised the bill would “not negatively impact aviation safety.””

You must consider that $4 billion cut in perspective. And here’s a very good perspective from WWVB (WHAT WOULD VANNEVAR BLOG?):


”Use of the Public-Private Partnership was authorized in HR 658, FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011. The PPP was not included in the original legislation, but was added by Rep. John Mica as Amendment One.

They couldn't sell NextGen with any of the several initial approaches that they tried, so they've moved into more nuanced arrangements. Remarkably, as soon as FAA Reauthorization with Mica's Amendment One passed the House, a financial boutique shop announced the establishment of the NextGenFund (logo shown).”

The FAA loses $4 billion but we still can find money to fund a “partnership”. (And in case you forgot, that money is going to Russ Chew & Co..) Beware the FAA and anything to do with “partnership”. (Yes, that is aimed at you too NATCA.)

Don Brown
April 11, 2011

Friday, April 08, 2011

Sleeping or Sleepy Controllers

I went for a visit at Mom and Dad’s yesterday and their questions about sleeping air traffic controllers inspired a pretty good rant. In that my friend Fallows keeps sending members of the general public to my blog, I thought I’d share it with everyone. A word of warning, this isn’t going to make anybody happy. That seems to be my lot in life.

Already, I’ve said “sleeping air traffic controllers” and I can hear my fellow controllers screaming that they weren’t controllers -- they were supervisors. Point taken. But it is barely relative. The point is that people acting as controllers were sleeping on the job -- intentionally and unintentionally.

That brings up two separate but connected problems. Midnight shifts are tough on humans. Rotating shifts -- working a different shift every day -- that include a midshift makes life even tougher. But there is no way around it. These shifts have to be covered. We cannot eliminate the problem. We can only mitigate it. But so far, the official response from the FAA -- and the entire industry -- doesn’t add up to much of anything.

The problem, as always, is money. It’s expensive to cover these shifts with the proper staffing. And -- for the record -- I consider the proper staffing to be a minimum of three people. Staffing a facility/sector with a single person is just plain stupid. I’m not even going to bother detailing it. But here is the problem with staffing it only with two people. With only two people, sooner or later you’re back to working with only one. Somebody does have to go to the bathroom at some point. (You don’t want to know what the guy working by himself does.) And human nature being what it is, this is the “logic” that takes over; “If I can work alone for 30 minutes, why not an hour? Or two hours? Hey! I’ve got an idea. You take the first half of the shift and I’ll take the second half and we’ll both get a much-needed nap.” It happens every time. And sooner or later, most managers go along with it.

Take a lesson from a lesson many have already forgotten. In July of 2002, two air traffic controllers reported for their midnight shift. After settling in, one of the controllers went on an “extended” break. The other controller became engrossed by a problem he encountered while working the low altitude radar scope. That distracted him from watching the high altitude radar scope. Two aircraft collided at 35,000 feet. One of them was a DHL delivering packages. The other airplane was carrying 45 kids on a school trip. In total, 71 people died. The fact that it happened over Uberlingen, Germany doesn’t detract from the core issue -- staffing.

What I want you to note is that this accident happened almost a decade ago. I wrote an article on it in 2005 and virtually nothing has changed. Staffing was the issue then and it’s the issue now. The “answers” now aren’t any better than they were then. All the “answers” to the staffing problem are expensive. The question is, do you staff to prevent these situations or do you accept the risk? So far, the answer has been that we will accept the risks to avoid the cost.

You cannot tell yourself that we will just have to manage the situation better. I think we should. And I think we could. But the facts don’t agree with me. People are people. But even if we could force two controllers to stay at their stations -- awake -- except for very short breaks, they’d get so sleepy that they would become dysfunctional. Try staying awake all night long and see if you’re up to working all the early birds that want to take off before the day shift shows up.

The answer is as simple as it is obvious -- let them take a nap. But right now, taking a nap at work can get you fired. And, you’re right back to the problem of needing three people to cover the sector/facility. I can just hear it now if the union wanted to negotiate three people on a midnight shift and taking naps to boot. Can you imagine how much fun the politicians would have with that one? The FAA wouldn’t fare much better -- what with the “incompetent government” narrative so prevalent these days.

Here’s an idea. Everyone that has expressed outrage over sleeping and/or sleepy air traffic controllers this month? Why don’t you call up your Congressman, tell them to act like adults and do the right thing? Tell them to mandate the proper staffing and periods of rest. The life you save might be your own.

Don Brown
April 8, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-8-11

I’m worn out. Just from taking pictures at Meadowlark Gardens.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 8, 2011

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Too Much News Chew

There is way too much news for me to comment on at one time and I have other matters that demand my time. Get ready to click.

The Republicans want to privatize Medicare. A really, really bad idea. The fact that Fox News would run this story (from the Associated Press) -- with this headline -- makes you wonder what the Republicans are really up to. (I suspect pushing Overton’s Window further right.)

House GOP Considers Privatizing Medicare

”Months after they hammered Democrats for cutting Medicare, House Republicans are debating whether to relaunch their quest to privatize the health program for seniors.”

As always, check Krugman for clear-headed thinking on the subject.

In what seems to be a clear indication of too much news to keep up with, it appears there was a great “save” of UAL497 in New Orleans and it isn’t getting much attention. (Too many cracks on Southwest’s airplanes I guess.) I have to admit, I haven’t had time to catch up on it yet.

But in all the chaos, make sure that Russ Chew (yes, our Russ Chew) doesn’t get under the radar.


"Industry's newest approach to selling NextGen, which is beginning to look like a white elephant with a tattoo saying "Solution in Search of A Sucker", is to use complex derivative financing to pay for the gizmos, because the inscrutability of derivatives is socially acceptable and we're running out of ways to sell this stuff - which, again, nobody will buy with their own money."

If that much thinking hurts your head, you can find a simplified version at Aviation Today.

House Bill Backs Public-Private NextGen Financing

”The House of Representatives passed long-delayed FAA reauthorization legislation April 1, including an amendment supporting a public-private approach to accelerating NextGen equipage for the air transport and general aviation sectors. ”

”The fund, whose leadership includes former FAA ATO chief operating officer and JetBlue Airways President Russell Chew, is partnered with ITT Corp., “other aerospace companies and Wall Street” in providing a financing mechanism. That offering “combines financing at competitive rates backed by loan guarantees with proven credit management practices that drive default risks to near-zero,” the fund said. ”

Follow along now...The crowd that wants to privatize Medicare (after trying and failing to privatize Social Security) wants to use public funds to finance the privatization of the air traffic control system because...private industry that is actually involved in aviation (airlines) won’t invest the funds needed to make the privatization of ATC by outside companies a reality.

”The contractor will own the equipment, the software and the expertise. In other words, they’ll “own” the FAA.”

It’s not enough that they are going to take away your (the American Public’s) National Airspace System. Now they want you to finance them so they can do it.

Don Brown
April 6, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-6-11

I was thinking this morning -- it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a great sunrise on the lake. Nearly three months, as a matter of fact.

I’m not on the lake every single morning. There was the trip to Pensacola. And the one to Vegas. Hey! I never put up a picture of Vegas. It’s just an “idiot camera” picture taken at the wrong time of day but still...

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

And then there’s the days I go over to Meadowlark Gardens. But still, you would think I’d see a great sunrise at least one of the mornings I’m out there.

But alas, this morning’s sunrise was fogged out (in?).

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 6, 2011

Monday, April 04, 2011

Another ITYS

I’m not the only one that has been Telling You So. And, as you’ll see, I’m not the only ex-controller that knows how to write.

Why Southwest’s Boeings Keep Coming Apart Above 30,000 Feet—Part I

Don Brown
April 4, 2011

Today’s Photo 4-4-11

The Sun begins to slant through the trees, beginning another day at Meadowlark Gardens.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
April 4, 2011

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Deregulation By Other Means

I know folks are going to give me grief about it...but I’m about to tell you to go listen to Science Friday. Yes, that means that I listen to the ultra-geek show. This particular show is about the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Dai-ichi. And it’s already old -- from March 18, 2011. (I listen to the podcast of the show and I fall behind.)

What I want you to listen for is a little lesson in deregulation. Of nuclear power. In America. It isn’t the type of deregulation that conservatives say they are in favor of...but it is. It’s exactly what they are after.

You can download the podcast, fast forward to the 27:00 minute mark and start listening. You can read the transcript at the same link. Or you can just stay here and read the part I’m talking about. (Personally, I’d read or listen to the whole thing so you get the flavor of it all. But that’s me.)

FLATOW: Does it have anything to do with funding levels? I mean, you know, there are all these budgetary cut bills in Congress. Is any money being cut from those safety programs?

Mr. LOCHBAUM: Well, it's related to that. In June of 1998, the Senate threatened to cut the NRC's budget by 40 percent. Five hundred NRC workers would've - had been laid off. What the Senate told the NRC was to stop enforcing its regulations. You're annoying all these plant owners with all these fines and all the requirements to fix safety problems, so just back off.

So the NRC threatened with a huge budget cut like that. They did. They folded their tent and they went away. So, basically, NRC has been allowed to - it's kind of like MMS all over again.

FLATOW: You mean in Louisiana?

Mr. LOCHBAUM: Right. The NRC can do a good job if the Congress won't tie its hands.

FLATOW: And so you - they - you're saying they should reinstate those regulations?

Mr. LOCHBAUM: No. The regulations are there. They should - the Congress should allow the NRC to enforce the regulations. When the NRC was enforcing the regulations, in 1997, nine nuclear power plants were shut down the entire year to fix safety problems. The industry went to the Congress and said, look, you've got these guys off our back. We can't operate if we have to follow all these safety regulations. The Congress told the NRC to stop enforcement of safety regulations or we'll cut your budget by 40 percent. So the NRC played duck and cover.

FLATOW: And that's, you're saying, where we are now.

Mr. LOCHBAUM: That's where we are now. We're fortunate that we haven't had problems like Japan, but if we're hit with something like that or an earthquake in some place then we could - Japan media could be talking about our disaster.

And in case you wondered who threatened to cut Nuclear Regulatory Commission's budget by 40% (I know I did) -- that would be one Senator Pete Domenici. A Republican from New Mexico.

Wouldn’t you know it, that bit of information came from the same David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The same Mr. Lochbaum quoted above in the Science Friday piece. I found it on NuclearTownhall’s web site. (Is this internet thing neat or what?)

”LOCHBAUM: Well, we’ve also done some studies that show that the conditions in some of plants like Salem are exactly the same as they were when it was shut down fifteen years ago. So the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is just much less effective than it was in the 1990s. After 1998, the regulators ran away. On June 4th of that year, Senator [Pete] Domenici [of New Mexico] threatened to cut the NRC budget by 40 percent. About 500 NRC employees would have lost their jobs. So the NRC reacted by going underground and, like Sergeant Schultz, saying they see no safety problems. They hear nothing, they know nothing.”

My point in all this is that deregulation has a lot of faces. Even though we may have some decent regulations on the books, there are ways to make sure they aren’t enforced. Cutting the budget of departments in charge of enforcing regulations is one proven way of doing it. And if the people in favor of deregulation are willing to force the agency in charge of nuclear safety to stand down, they won’t think twice about doing it to the people in charge of ensuring that your food, medicine and air traffic control system are safe.

Don Brown
April 3, 2011

Friday, April 01, 2011


We haven’t learned a @#$% thing.

Guess Which Hedge Fund Manager Just Smashed Through His Earlier Record And Made The Most Money In 2010?

”Yep -- John Paulson was the top earning hedge fund manager in 2010, according to AR Magazine. With huge bets on gold, the man earned $4.9 billion in 2010, which blasted past his record 2007 year, when he made $3.7 billion by shorting the sub-prime mortgage crisis.”

He probably doesn’t pay any taxes either.

Don Brown
April 1, 2011

Leave Me Alone

I’m supposed to be retired, remember? So stop coming up with problems that make me get involved.

Mix-up diverts Asheville flight

”An apparent clerical error kept a US Airways Express flight from landing between 1 and 2 a.m. Thursday morning at Asheville Regional Airport after the airport's control tower closed for the night.”

I wonder how a Flight Service Specialist likes taking the rap for all this?

”The flight had been scheduled to leave Charlotte at 10:35 p.m. and arrive in Asheville at 11:28 p.m., but Belz said it didn't leave Charlotte until 1 a.m.”

The story gets around to it but I’ll save you the suspense and tell you that Asheville Tower closes at 11PM. I know because I used to work this show when I worked the midnight shift. Pay attention here; 10:35PM departure -- Tower closes at 11PM. Guess how often these airliners arrive after the Tower closes. Especially in the summertime after a day of thunderstorms.

”In the Asheville case, “We did everything correctly,” Bergen said.”

Well...I don’t know if I’d go along with that. (BTW, that’s the FAA’s Bergen. Same spokesperson they’ve had for years.) The FAA did contract out Flight Service. The FAA does close Asheville Tower at 11PM every night despite years and years of airliners arriving after 11PM. It’s not a real big deal to staff it until at least midnight.

”A notice was issued Tuesday telling pilots to land from the opposite direction because of weather conditions that night, said Tina Kinsey, spokeswoman at Asheville Regional.

Bergen said the notice, from a flight service station in Leesburg, Va., operated by FAA contractor Lockheed Martin, was apparently entered with an incorrect date that also made it effective for Wednesday night.”

Hmmm. I’m not so sure about that. The way it used to work was, when the Tower closed, the Asheville controller would call up the controller in Atlanta Center who was taking over the airspace and say something like, “I’m leaving the ILS (Instrument Landing System) on (runway) 34. No NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen) for you. No traffic. See you in the morning.” Things might have changed but everybody (pilots and controllers) ought to be on the same page as far as which ILS is up and running.

”Kinsey said flights arriving at Asheville Regional after the local control tower closes are handled by FAA workers in Atlanta. The arrangement is safe and has not been a source of concern for Asheville Regional, she said.”

Well...I don’t know if I would have said that either. Ms. Kinsey -- speaking as a representative of Asheville Regional Airport -- might not be concerned about midnight operations at Asheville Airport but a lot of us that work the airspace have been concerned -- very concerned -- for years and years.

Same Old Safety Problems

”Asheville (as we all know) is surrounded by mountains. It’s a “challenging” airport. That’s code for, “If you dot your “i”s and cross your “t”s it is safe. If you don’t, it will kill you.” I’d venture a guess that 90% of Asheville’s (the identifier is AVL) problems occur on the midnight shift with airline-type aircraft. ”

If Ms. Kinsey (or you) will take the time to click on that link, she can learn how to find out about concerns about Asheville (or any airport). The NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System is still alive and well. And their database still works. It’s unbelievably clunky (Hi Harvey) -- but it works.

Out of the 101 reports NASA ASRS has on AVL (Asheville’s identifier), 21 were filed about problems at “night”. Of the 21 reports, 8 are about working with Atlanta Center (ZTL) on the midnight shift. You ought to read them.

”In more challenging conditions, this could easily have contributed to an accident. There should be sort of a plan and realistic expectations when the ZTL controllers are working a late night into AVL when the AVL Tower and Approach Control are closed. Though it is possible that the flight was handled in accordance with applicable regulations, the reality of events shows that safety was clearly degraded.”

They make for interesting reading. Now, If you’ll leave me alone, I’ll go shoot some pictures of the sunset.

Don Brown
April 1, 2011