Which Is It ?

If you feel confused about the current mess that is air travel, you may forgive yourself. Just look at this press release from the FAA.


Washington Headquarters Press Release
For Immediate Release

Release No. AOC 30-06
October 30, 2006
Contact: Tammy Jones
Phone: (202) 267-3476

FAA Completes Deployment of Mission-Essential Conflict Detection Tool

New Technology Saves Industry $600 Million

"... Data from URET-equipped centers show that controllers are more likely to assign pilots direct routings, resulting in reduced flight times and fuel savings, by allowing aircraft to fly at more fuel-efficient altitudes and wind-optimal routes. Since its inception in 1999 through the end of this summer, URET has shortened routes by 89.5 million nautical miles, for an estimated savings of $626.5 million."


Almost one year ago, the FAA -- your government -- is telling you that they’ve saved the airlines around $600 million dollars with some gee-whiz gizmo that enables them to fly more direct routes (yes, the same thing they say about NextGen) and that it results in “reduced flight times.”

Not even a year later, they’re telling you this.

Jet lags soar - Delays nationwide up 19% over summer

”On Friday the Federal Aviation Administration announced that delays were up nationwide 19 percent this summer. Last year was the worst year in the history of aviation for delays. Plus, those FAA figures take into account only delays caused by weather, lack of airspace and airport problems.

Airline-caused delays, such as lack of planes or scheduling mishaps, are not included in the numbers.”

Which is it ? Shorter flight times or record delays ? Is it both ? It could be. The sad truth is that you don’t know. The FAA has been cooking the books for so long that nobody knows. The way the FAA calculates the “savings” from URET is nothing more than a bad joke. Controllers have used URET to issue more shortcuts. It hasn’t done a thing for delays. Getting a short cut to a holding pattern doesn’t really help matters does it ? It certainly doesn’t “save” any time -- or money.

ADS-B, NextGen, etc. won’t change the situation. Finding a politically feasible way of limiting the number of aircraft scheduled to use an airport per hour will. The solution I propose is based strictly on safety.

Three days ago I told you about the rule in force at Washington National Airport that limits IFR traffic to 60 aircraft per hour. If you’ll look at this data, you’ll see that the IFR rate -- the real rate -- at the airport hasn’t changed in 40 years. Without a new runway -- without any more pavement -- that rate never will change.

I propose limiting all scheduled traffic to the IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) acceptance rate of the particular airport. Each airport is different but the rates are well known. In general, one runway can handle 60 IFR aircraft per hour -- 30 arrivals and 30 departures.

To get an idea on how many operations an airport can handle you can look at this tutorial from NASA. You’ll see that NASA is using the FAA’s data.

”The FAA includes over 20 different runway layouts in their advisory materials. There are 4 basic runway configurations with the rest being variations of the original patterns. The basic runway configurations are the following:

A) single runway

This is the simplest of the 4 basic configurations. It is one runway optimally positioned for prevailing winds,noise, land use and other determining factors. During VFR (visual flight rules) conditions, this one runway should accommodate up to 99 light aircraft operations per hour. While under IFR (instrument flight rules) conditions,it would accommodate between 42 to 53 operations per hour depending on the mix of traffic and navigational aids available at that airport.”

The truth is out there. It’s just a matter of finding it. And getting the FAA to stick to it.

Don Brown
September 4, 2007


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