Posts Tagged ‘AAS’

There was a moment in a South Carolina debate where Donald Trump said: 9/11 was a security failure; Iraq and Afghanistan have both been disasters.  The whole room changed, because somebody had told a truth that had previously been unspeakable, in a mutual-tacit self-censorship among all the wannabees — who clearly understood that speaking this particular truth was not beneficial to their self-interest. Until Trump popped the balloon, the only thing they all agreed on was Not Speaking that Truth.

We’ve been handed a similar story in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: the bevy of toadies and hangers-on who were unwilling to say that the King’s new clothes were non-existent, until an innocent child blurted out the simple truth that everybody, every single one of them, was unwilling to express.


Why does everybody want to privatize ATC? It’s mostly because NextGen is a debacle, nobody’s willing to admit it, everybody’s invested in the salesmen’s promises, and they all need a fall-guy. Congress, Industry, Airlines, and FAA careerists all perpetuated the con-job, and they know they need a fall-guy, and it’s going to be: the FAA.


Multiple FAA administrations, in both Democratic and Republican administrations, had partaken of the NextGen hype and shoveled money at various projects without any sense of an integrated plan or project management; the future was here, computers could do anything, and (the recurring fantasy) they’d be able to automate air traffic controllers out of the system. If you asked NextGen, the air traffic controllers weren’t a feature, they were a bug.

I am no Luddite; the new technologies can do amazing things. In the Gulf of Mexico oil derricks, for air ambulance operations, there are game-changing benefits – but we were using them without the NextGen umbrella. There’s a few points that must be made:

  • The new technologies – GPS, flight directors, digital airplanes – can deliver their magic without the NextGen framework.
  • NextGen wizardry can do amazing things with a single airplane. It’s trickier with a lot of airplanes. NextGen does not accommodate non-standard operations (which is a euphemism for snowstorms, thunderstorms, and FUBAR-storms) and non-standard ops is where the ATC system makes it’s money.
  • NextGen was a self-licking ice cream cone that brought vendors, Congress, and FAA careerists into a self-reinforcing delusion of the next new thing. As long as nobody blurted out the truth, the living was easy and people went along to get along.
  • This is not the first time that Industry, Congress, and the FAA has done this. The Advanced Automation System, the most expensive software debacle in history, was the previous rendition of this same story. It’s like StarWars 4 and 7.
  • NextGen was cost-justified by promising to do away with the old systems and their maintenance budgets; 9-11 and other events have proven that we won’t do away with the legacy primary radars. The cost-justification was a thin tissue that’s been blown away, and now the public is paying for two systems.
  • NextGen will not increase airport capacity; runways do that.
  • NextGen is an open, non-encrypted, non-secure system. A nervous cheating husband put a GPS blocker on his car, fearing that his wife had hidden a GPS tracker; every time he drove by the Newark Airport on I95, the NextGen monitors rolled over and died. Think about that.
  • NextGen requires all the airplanes to be NextGen equipped. It’s not like some cars will be autonomous and some cars will have drivers – it’s like, OK everybody has to get an autonomous car. Your old car isn’t eligible.
  • NextGen changes the mantra from “first come, first served” to “best equipped, best served” which serves the entrenched and well-financed. It’s like: the public highway is now only for Lexus-drivers.

  The unspeakable but universal truth is: NextGen is a charade, foisted on the taxpayers by Vendor-hype, with promises made to Airlines that aren’t going to ever appear, used as graft between fund-raising Congresspeople and airlines, and tolerated by risk-averse careerists.  

Usually you could rely on Senate Democrats to thwart such a monumentally expensive land-grab. The wrinkle is: Senator Chuck Schumer, the heir apparent to the Democratic leadership in the Senate. Schumer is a down-state New Yorker, and he needed to deliver a reason for Upstaters to vote for him, so he promised increased airline service at upstate cities (Buffalo, Rochester, Schenectady, Albany).

Schumer made a deal with JetBlue; he’d get JetBlue whatever they needed at JFK if they’d increase Upstate service. In fact, Chuck Schumer is on record for getting the FAA to pay for JetBlue’s NextGen upgrade expenses. Chuck Schumer is invested in the myth of NextGen. (more).

NextGen was a compilation of sales pitches. A lot of people profited from the blizzard of funding activity and now it’s falling apart. Rather than admit the fiasco, or even simply feign benign indifference, the rent-seekers and money-grubbers see their own debacle as a profit opportunity – hey, we’ve screwed this up, let’s privatize! Win-Win!

If they blame the status quo, they won’t have to face accountability for the waste and fraud they’ve perpetrated on the taxpayer. I understand that. I just don’t understand why NATCA leadership is supporting the charade and endorsing privatization.


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San Francisco, 1931 There is a great fortune at stake. Predators and parasites sense a treasure to be had, so they circle and prepare to strike when the time is right. Any public inquiry would ruin the deal. There are authorities who might become involved, but they are unaware or inactive at the moment.

Things are about to come to a head. Not everyone will find the ending they hoped for; people will be disappointed. When a big deal goes wrong the focus moves from fixing the problem to fixing the blame. When the sharks switch to damage control mode, they seek a “fall guy” to take the rap.

The plan is that the fall guy goes down and the sharks move on to seek other fortunes and paydays, unencumbered by any accountability for their actions. It’s never good to be the fall guy.

In The Maltese Falcon (1931), Dwight Frye portrays Wilmer Cook, a thug who doesn’t quite comprehend the forces around him. As the situation deteriorates, the sharks cast about for a fall guy, and Wilmer Cook is selected.

A major deal that goes wrong needs a fall guy. Sometimes it’s the actual villian. Sometimes it’s a low-level player set up to protect others. When there’s fortunes involved, and things go south, expect a fall guy to be found.

Look at the Advanced Automation System (AAS) debacle. IBM was the AAS fall guy. The other sharks moved away and transitioned into LORAL, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. Today’s ERAM project is just another round at the AAS pinata.

NextGen is another Maltese Falcon. There are expectations and politics. People project their desires onto NextGen’s ambiguity, and hitch their wagons to NextGen. Powerful companies have invested in this. Airlines were told it will save them a fortune. The big sharks have agreed that there’s enough to go around, and the little sharks are looking for the pieces that fall to them.

If there are problems, who’s going to be the NextGen fall guy?

Here’s a few quotes from an August 2010 article, American Flight Uses a Firm’s Satellite-Based Landing System, by Christine Negroni

“But airline officials say progress has been too slow. American, Southwest, Alaska Airlines and others have trained their pilots to fly R.N.P. procedures, and about 80 percent of United States airliners have the equipment to do so, the F.A.A. says. Still, the approaches are in use at only a small fraction of American airports. Their use abroad varies from country to country.

“Four years ago, Naverus, which has been setting up satellite-based systems for airlines and airports worldwide, offered to create an R.N.P. approach at Bradley Airport and give it to the F.A.A. for use by any airline that wanted it. ….

“We would talk to people at the top of the F.A.A., and they were completely 100 percent on board with what we need to do,” (Naverus executive Steve) Fulton said. “But they had to communicate that to a complex bureaucracy so everyone had the same vision.”

Naverus was founded by Steve Fulton, a pilot at Alaska Airlines in 1994 who helped create the first R.N.P. routes. His startup was bought out by GE Aviation. Although they’ve got a low profile, General Electric is a big shark. Did you know GE is in the ATC business?

Naverus is the first and currently only organization recognized as an RNP Approval Consultant. “This announcement is an excellent example of how FAA and the private sector can work together to accelerate the environmental and economic benefits NextGen will bring,” said Marion Blakey, President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. “We have high expectations this can lead to real, near-term improvements for airlines, passengers and the FAA alike,” she said.

Christine Negroni (CN), the author of that article, keeps the transcript of her interview with Steve Fulton (SF) online. She opens with a softball,

CN: I wondered if the real navigational challenge wasn’t airspace as much as dealing with a bureaucracy like the FAA. which has such a huge people intensive, technology- intensive…
SF: Right, recognizing that our challenges aren’t so much technical they’re more on the human, management of change process through human organizations…..

SF: The FAA, if you talk to people at the top of the FAA they are completely 100% onboard with all of the things we know we need to do. … They have the challenge of communicating that down through a very complex bureaucracy so everybody at all the levels and all the work groups have the same understanding of the technology and the same vision and kind of where we’re going and so it’s a bigger challenge than a simpler country with less infrastructure.

CN: Is Naverus’ goal to take over and become the airspace infrastructure provider like Lockheed does for flight services?
SF: Our goal, and this is what we’re communicating to the FAA and to the community right now is to offer our services to the FAA and we expect we will work alongside existing FAA resources. … The message that we’re communicating today is we’re ready; we’re here to bring commercial private enterprise resources into the work because we understand it’s going to be quite massive.

SF: Look at it from an airline perspective, their understanding that there’s going to be significant investment in airborne equipment to be able to participate in this upgraded air space and as they make those investments they want to make sure there’s a return on what they’ve invested.

What’s happens if there is no significant ROI? NextGen advocates have told the airlines, “If you buy this, you will profit”. What happens if there is no fabulous Maltese Falcon?

What did Marion Blakey say? We have high expectations this can lead to real, near-term improvements

Who is Steve Foster nominating for the fall guy? To paraphrase, It’s not technical, it’s a people problem. Headquarters gets this. It’s the field and the bureaucracy that’s holding us back. Naverus is ready to go!

The fall guy they’re nominating are the change resistant, unionized, overpaid, government LastGen field operations people. Hello, Wilmer Cook.

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