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Posts Tagged ‘ATC’

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.

20160218-NextGen-ATC-Unspeakable-Truth

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.

20160217-fall-guy

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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Virtual & Automated Towers Defined

I don’t mean to bore the reader by repeating content verbatim from official websites, but I’d like to point out what these official sources are documenting –  there is a budgeted, scheduled, approved plan to split facilities, relocate Approach controls, and replace the on-site tower with an offsite virtual tower.

When I read media coverage of what’s happening in Ohio – in CLE, CAK, YNG, MFD, TOL, CMH, DAY – the focus seems to start and stop at relocating the Approach Control. At the risk of sounding strident, I’d like to repeat that’s only the first part of the issue – the rest is the removal of the tower to a remote virtual operation, resulting in the complete absence of ATC on the airport. That’s a big thing.

Virtual Towers Defined

This link takes you to the official “Transform Facilities” webpage that describes what’s involved with Remotely Staffed Virtual Towers, arriving in 2018.

At the bottom of the page we see that this page was created on 01-Jul-2009, and most recently updated on  28-Jan-2010. The text is included below, with emphasis added:

Remotely Staffed Towers provide ATM services for operations into and out of designated airports without physically constructing, equipping, and/or sustaining tower facilities at these airports. Instead of out-the-window visual surveillance, controllers maintain situational awareness provided by surface surveillance displayed on an ANSP display system and a suite of decision support tools using aircraft-derived data.Weather, traffic and other relevant information are displayed on the ANSP display system to avoid discontinuities associated with the mix of heads-up versus heads-down operations.

With the deployment of Remotely Staffed Towers, ANSP personnel may be able to service multiple airfields from a single physical location allowing for reductions in the total number of service delivery points. This accommodates managing increases in life cycle costs to sustain, expand, and improve services in response to steadily increasing demand.

In the end-state Remotely Staffed Towers will provide advanced surface management. The ANSP personnel will have access to the necessary ground and terminal surveillance information and decision support tools to provide separation, sequencing, and spacing services. Decision support tools will assist ANSPs with planning taxi routes, and arrival and departure sequencing.

Clearance delivery and pushback into movement or non-movement areas is accomplished by voice and/or data communications to the aircraft, aided by situational awareness derived from surveillance sensors and conformance monitoring tools presented directly on the ANSP display. Some separation responsibility and some traffic synchronization responsibility are delegated to properly equipped aircraft.

To improve common situational awareness, weather, traffic management initiatives, and flight plan data are available to ANSPs and flight operators via net-centric information capabilities. Weather data is distributed to and from aircraft using digital communications and will conform to the NextGen Network Enabled Weather (NNEW) concept. Special airport sensors detect runway hazards at the airport and automatically alert controllers and pilots of the hazard via voice and/or Data Comm.

There’s more: Automated Virtual Towers Defined

This link opens the official definition of Automated Virtual Towers. The footnotes indicate that the page was created on 01-Jul-2009, and updated on 28-Jan-2010. The text of the page follows, with emphasis added:

Throughput at low- to moderate-demand airports (when tower is non-operational) and non-towered airports is increased through the use of automated tower services.

The automation provides a variety of services from sequencing and basic airport information to limited separation management. IFR throughput (in both IMC and VMC) is increased through utilization of both ground and air surveillance systems and by exploiting available aircraft capabilities. Airport complexity and demand as well as customers’ needs and capabilities are carefully determined, then appropriate levels of automation and modes of communication are installed to maximize capacity while still meeting cost/benefit and safety analyses. An automated voice interface ensures that minimally equipped aircraft receive service.

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