Monthly Archives: September 2008

Make sure to miss the Strip when landing in Las Vegas

It’s not just high-rollers flying in for the baccarat that crowd the airspace in Las Vegas. Or so says this story, from the Las Vegas Review-Journal by way of The Associated Press.

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Cost-benefit of ADS-B ‘non-positive,’ general aviation says

Operators have responded to the proposed ADS-B mandate for general aviation aircraft with a Bronx cheer, AINonline reports.

A cost-benefit case for ADS-B equipage of general aviation aircraft cannot be made, concluded an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) in a report published last week. Analysis of public comments relating to the FAA’s September 2007 ADS-B NPRM showed 101 positive and 1,271 “non-positive” responses.

Sources tell the Aviation International News website they saw little or no benefit to the plan, when compared with its compliance costs. And without incentives, they add, many operators will stall on buying ADS-B “out” equipment, on the assumption that avionics prices will only come down. Plus, equipment purchased today could well be obsolete by 2020, the proposed compliance date.

As one FAA insider conceded to AIN, “We didn’t anticipate it might be interpreted that way.”

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Spotlight on runway excursions

Runway excursions remain a regular and often fatal problem, despite ongoing awareness initiatives, according to this story from Flightglobal.

Speaking at the European Business Aviation Association Conference and Exhibition in Geneva this year, (Flight Safety Foundation) president Bill Voss highlighted runway safety in all its forms as being worthy of particular attention, but excursions in particular. He said: “Data shows runway excursions are the most common type of runway safety accident (96%) and the most common type of fatal runway safety accident (80%).”

And this quotation, from the Flight Safety Foundation‘s Jim Burin, frames the issue very succinctly:

“Not all unstable approaches end up as a runway excursion, but every runway excursion starts as an unstable approach.”

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NASA to boost spending on NextGen R&D

Congress has sent President Bush a NASA reauthorization bill that includes more money for NextGen research and development, according to this release from the House.

Specifically, the bill increases aeronautics R&D funding in order to address critical national needs such as the NextGen air traffic control management system.

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Computer glitch forces BA to cancel flights

British Airways canceled more than a dozen flights, a day after an air traffic control computer glitch restricted the number of planes able to enter British airspace, according to this brief story from The Associated Press.

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ADS-B delivers South Florida pilots traffic and weather

The FAA reports pilots flying in aircraft equipped with ADS-B in South Florida can now receive free traffic and weather information on their cockpit displays. For traffic, it’s the first time pilots can see the same info available to air traffic controllers.
Read more in this FAA press release and in this press release from ITT Corp. ITT last year won the $207 million initial contract to lead the development and deployment of the first phase of the ADS-B ground infrastructure.

It’s not clear how many of those ADS-B-equipped planes are actually flying these days. DayJet Corp., whose fleet of air taxis was to have been a testbed for NextGen technology, including ADS-B, has stopped flying as of Sept. 19. This story from the Birmingham Business Journal has the company blaming its woes on money and aircraft problems. Read more about the original DayJet-FAA MOU in this Google cache of a company press release (pdf) from June 2008.

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NATCA: Outages at SoCal TRACON, Miami Center

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has issued a press reelase reporting two ATC outages in recent days. The first occurred on Sunday at the Southern California TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control), which apparently experienced a loss of radar and radio functionality. Details per NATCA:

  • At approximately 3:17 P.M. PDT on Sunday frequencies for the Burbank area, part of Southern California TRACON’s jurisdiction, went out and didn’t return until 4:15 P.M.
  • When the outage occurred the backup lines didn’t kick in, leaving the controllers without radar or radio.
  • Due to the large scale of the outage a ground stop was ordered for Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center and all Centers that immediately surround LA Center (Seattle Center, Albuquerque Center and Denver Center), thereby instructing any aircraft required to travel through said airspace to divert or hold if not already in the air.
  • To cope with the crippling outage the controllers had to switch one radar frequency designated for Los Angeles approach to Burbank, working all of Burbank’s airspace on one frequency where there would normally be upwards of five or more.  With the LA approach radar being farther away and not as accurate a view of Burbank’s airspace operations were done with less accuracy.
  • At 3:56 P.M. the normal spacing between aircraft was increased ten times the normal amount to 30 miles for all traffic landing at Burbank or Van Nuys, eventually being decreased to 20 miles in trail before the frequency came back on.

The second incident happened at Miami Center on Monday, where controllers lost radar and frequency coverage for 30 minutes between the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

  • The Center also lost radar feeds from four radar sites in the Bahamas (Nassau, Grand Turk and George Town) and Guantanamo Cuba.  At the same time, radio frequencies for those same areas were lost as well.
  • All flights into this area over the Bahamas were rerouted by facilities such as New York Center and San Juan Center, in addition to many foreign facilities such as Santa Domingo Center, Havana Center and Port Au Prince Center.
  • All aircraft headed towards the outage area and not already in the air were held on the ground.
  • Controllers were working approximately 45 aircraft at the time of the incident.  [..]

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More from Oshkosh: Sturgell sees controller workload easing

As I mentioned earlier, Acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell took questions about air traffic control and NextGen issues at last week’s AirVenture event. While a transcript isn’t available, AIN Online did have some additional quotes and insight in their report from Oshkosh. Sturgell characterized the nation’s ATC system as being:

in a “transition” phase as controllers hired in the wake of the 1981 Patco strike retire. […] He said that the agency is replacing the retiring controllers through aggressive hiring–at a rate of 1,800 controllers per year–and training.
The agency’s ongoing contract dispute with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association union (Natca) should be kept in perspective, he noted. “We value this work force,” Sturgell said, adding that the FAA had placed a $70 million settlement issue “on the table.”
Sturgell charged that Natca’s contract demands, if applied retroactively, would cost more than $1 billion and that, overall, controller workload has decreased significantly since 2000 in terms of the number of operations handled by an average controller.
He also said that new technology could further lighten future controller workload. That technology includes ADS-B and WAAS. Sturgell noted that ADS-B would be up and running at select South Florida airports by the end of the summer.

[Kudos to AIN’s Mark Huber for his reporting.]

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[Update] ADS-B Air-to-Air capabilities

Updating my previous post, I had a chance to look at the FAA’s final Statement of Objectives (link to word doc here) related to the ADS-B Performance Requirments contract that will be awarded in the next six weeks. I have to be honest: Between the acronym soup and the agency-speak, it’s pretty hard to wade your way through the content.

Anyway, there are a few intriguing nuggets. For one, the following graph highlights the two very different goals of this project: (1) Make arrivals safer, and (2) promote ADS-B.

FAA has a need for acceleration of ADS-B air-to-air applications, specifically in the area of surface conflict detection and cockpit alert capabilities to reduce number of runway incursions with additional consideration of incorporating arrival applications.

These needs are consistent with the National Transportation Safety Board’s concern with runway safety and FAA’s desire to stimulate early adoption of ADS-B by the Airlines.

Another item of interest is the diagram explaining how the timelines of the two sponsoring organizations (FAA and RTCA) will intersect. Before looking at this diagram, I had not really appreciated how pivotal the RTCA’s role will be.

FAA/RTCA diagram

FAA/RTCA diagram

If I understand this correctly, the RTCA will provide a draft definition of the operational and environmental framework as it is understood today. Then, the vendor will develop the key components that, taken together, provide a complete conceptual solution for evaluating safety/hazard and system performance issues. It’s interesting that this entire phase of the project appears to be under the aegis of the RTCA.

One final note. According to the Statement of Objectives, all of this ground work is meant to come to fruition in February 2010 during a demonstration at a “medium to high density airport” of the vendor’s choosing. The vendor must expect to show system functionality for the following conditions:

  • Demo aircraft taxies on a taxiway toward a runway with high-speed converging conflict traffic.
  • Demo aircraft departs and conflict traffic enters the runway ahead of the demo aircraft.
  • Demo aircraft is on approach to a runway with conflict traffic on that runway so that a go-around is required.
  • Demo aircraft has landed on a runway and conflict traffic is entering the runway ahead of the demo aircraft.
  • Demo aircraft is taxiing on a runway and conflict traffic approaches the runway from behind.

It will be interesting to see which vendors step up to the plate, and how they will be aiming to differentiate themselves.

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