Monthly Archives: May 2009

Fascinating facts about controller staffing

The FAA’s annual controller staffing report and outlook is available, and is chock full of interesting information. Front and center, not surprisingly, is the announcement that the agency beat its hiring target in FY’08 by bringing in 2,196 trainees. (Release from ATO communications is here.)

But the report itself is the real treasure trove. Some facts we didn’t know:

  • Of the population of  certified controllers, about 4,400 are in the ‘age bubble’ between 44-49 years old.
  • 2,358 controllers are currently retirement-eligible, with 746 more reaching eligibility in FY09.
  • Of the controllers who retired in ’08, 34 percent did so in the first year they were eligible.
  • FAA expects about 720 controllers to retire in ’09, and also expects to lose about 800 to promotions, transfers, resignations, removals, and deaths.
  • In 2008, the average TRACON had a higher percentage of trainees working than the average En Route center did. The FAA expects this to reverse starting in FY’10.
  • In 2008, the average training time for TRACON certification was 1.1 years — down from 3.1 years in 2005.
  • The appendix includes a fascinating snapshot of controller populations at each En Route center, TRACON and staffed tower as of 9/27/08. Of the En Route centers in the continental U.S., Chicago and Cleveland ARTCCs had the highest certified controller populations on that date (338 and 335, respectively). Seattle and Salt Lake had the lowest (151 and 156, respectively).

If you find data inside the report that you believe is meaningful, post a comment or email us at editor (at) flynextgen (dot) com.

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JPDO update – milestones since last all-hands meeting

Charlie Leader presented the following JPDO milestones in his all-hands update last week (links are included where available):

  • FY11 Budget Guidance submitted to OST/OMB on February 20
  • The Environmental Management System R&D initiated in March
  • Roll-Out Plan for 2012 implementation of Net-Centric Information Sharing Capability released on March 12
  • ATM Weather Integration Plan released on April 22
  • NextGen Integrated Work Plan (IWP) agency gap analysis completed in April
  • Phase 2 Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) ConOps endorsed by Board members at the JPDO Board Meeting on May 5
  • Integrated Surveillance ConOps delivered on May 7

The original presentation is here.

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Passage of H.R. 915: industry groups ‘eerily’ harmonized… or are they?

Jim Swickard at Aviation Week has the following analysis in the wake of the FAA reauthorization bill passing the House:

The current FAA bill retains the FAA funding mix of excise taxes, fuel taxes and general fund contributions, but increases the general aviation jet fuel tax rate from 21.8 cents per gallon to 35.9 cents per gallon and increase the avgas tax from 19.3 cents per gallon to 24.1 cents per gallon. These were the same rates the Way and Means Committee endorsed in the previous Congress.

Industry groups stated their acceptance these tax hikes in lieu of user fees when they were proposed last year.

The Air Transport Association last year had complained vociferously that General Aviation was not paying its fair share of Air Traffic Control costs.  That argument was muted by AOPA, NBAA and NATA’s eerily gracious acceptance of the increased fuel taxes.

There are philosophical issues related to the U.S. General Fund contribution to the FAA and ATC budgets and the Obama administration wants to reduce that contribution and impose direct user fees after 2011, a prospect that would not upset the airlines. But that’s for tomorrow.

For now, all parties involved; industry associations, regulators and legislators can feel proud of their unity of larger purpose while not cluttering the playing field with their differences.  In other words, they have acted like aviators – to their great credit.

Can this collegial atmosphere hold through passage of a final bill by both the House and Senate, and the President’s signature?  Stay tuned.

Swickard’s view is compelling, though offset somewhat by the contents of a highly critical letter sent to Congress by ATA President James May (full text at

We have asked that Congress:

  • Expedite investment in and deployment of NextGen. The United States is at a critical juncture right now. Either we can accelerate the transformation of the ATC, to allow air transportation to grow in a safe and efficient manner while achieving environmental benefits, or we can risk bringing our economy and leadership in technology to a halt by failing to address our growing aviation capacity constraints. Leadership from the committee is needed to ensure that appropriate funding and program direction is in place to accelerate the deployment of this critical program.
  • Reject increasing taxes and fees on passengers. An increase in the maximum passenger facility charge (PFC) from $4.50 per segment to $7 per segment would impose an additional and unwarranted $2 billion tax increase per year on commercial passengers. With airport revenue eclipsing record levels – over $12.7 billion in 2007 – and with $27 billion in unrestricted financial assets, the imposition of an increased PFC tax is not only unwarranted, but also will further reduce demand for travel.
  • Protect our valued U.S. aviation repair facilities by ensuring that any requirements are applied in a manner consistent with U.S. obligations under international agreements. During recent conversations between U.S. trade associations and European officials, the Europeans have indicated that as a result of the current language in Section 303, many U.S. facilities would be subject to new, regulatory requirements by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Such duplicative, burdensome impositions are in no one’s interest.
  • Reject the automatic elimination of previously granted antitrust immunity (ATI) to carriers for international marketing alliances. DOT has approved international airline alliances because they produce numerous and substantial benefits, both to the public and the participating carriers. Arbitrarily terminating antitrust immunity will have a harsh impact on airline employees and cause a ripple effect across the travel and tourism industry at a time when the industry is already hobbled.
  • Maintain safety without requiring overly strict fire-fighting standards. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations have safely dictated staffing and equipment requirements for airport fire stations for years based on the needs within the airport boundary. Increasing staffing and equipment based on surrounding populations will not enhance airport safety but will increase costs unnecessarily. These are not legitimate safety claims and should be rejected.
  • Allow carriers to continue improving customer service without imposing unsafe or unreasonable deplaning requirements. In particular, we oppose a hard-and-fast rule requiring airlines to give passengers the option to deplane after three hours. Mandatory deplaning will have numerous unintended consequences that, ultimately, will create even more inconvenience for passengers and lead to even more flight cancellations.

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Randy Babbitt confirmed as FAA Administrator

From Dow Jones Newswires:

The Senate late Thursday confirmed two of President Barack Obama’s key transportation nominees.

Randolph Babbitt, an aviation consultant and former president of the Air Line Pilots Association, will now take the helm of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Two of Babbitt’s most pressing tasks will be to resolve labor disputes involving air traffic controllers and to find funding for long-held plans to revamp the nation’s air-traffic management system, a project known as NextGen. [..]

The Senate also approved John Porcari, who will leave his current post as one of Maryland’s top transportation officials to be the Department of Transportation’s deputy secretary.

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H.R. 915 passes House vote

The House of Representatives has passed H.R. 915, which among many other things would reauthorize the FAA’s budget through FY 2012.  The final tally was 277 to 136 (to see how your Congressman or -woman voted, click here.)

The floor debate focused in large part on inspections of foreign repair stations. Here a summary from the well-informed (though partisan) Aeronautical Repair Station Association:

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN-8) exchanged barbs with the committee’s ranking member, Rep. John Mica (R-FL-7) over the potential impact of Sec. 303.

Rep. Mica, supported by House Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Petri (R-WI-6) emphasized that Sec. 303 violates the current bilateral aviation safety agreement (BASA) with the European Union. The EU has stated that if the language in Sec. 303 becomes law, the BASA will collapse, causing a severe impact for the over 1,200 repair stations in the United States that complete work for European customers. Armed with letters from impacted businesses and associations, Rep. Mica continued to stress that the section was a “job killer”.

While Rep. Mica reeled off the devastating job losses that could result from Sec. 303’s enactment, Rep. Oberstar replied that the EU was simply “crying wolf” and no retaliation will actually occur. In addition, Rep. Oberstar and House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-IL-12) continued their claim that the amendment was based on safety concerns.

So what is H.R. 915 all about? You can find Rep. Costello’s view here; another interesting summary comes from Aero-News Network.

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Babbitt, Porcari confirmed by Commerce Committee

From the Journal of Commerce:

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted to send to the full Senate for confirmation the president’s nominees for deputy transportation secretary and head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The panel acted one day after a confirmation hearing for John D. Porcari to be deputy to Secretary Ray LaHood at the Department of Transportation, and J. Randolph Babbitt to be FAA administrator.

That means the two only await a final Senate vote to move into their jobs in top leadership posts for U.S. transportation policies.

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Senators put Randy Babbitt in the hot seat

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, FAA Administrator-designate Randy Babbitt got a taste of the challenges coming his way. By the looks of it, Babbitt has broad support and should be confirmed without any real trouble, but the Senators’ questions were telling in their own right. Some examples:

Sen. Frank Lautenberg on the NY/NJ airspace redesign: “Would you hold the implementation of the airspace redesign project until you see that the interested parties, who have value to contribute, will be included?”

Lautenberg on tower staffing: “If confirmed, can you assure us that the Newark tower will be staffed to the volume of performance that we require there?”

Sen. Johnny Isakson: “What are you going to do to expedite the next generation and the FAA, technology-wise?”

Sen. Byron Dorgan on standards among regional carriers: “Mr. Babbitt, how could they be enforced if you put a co-pilot on a plane flying into Buffalo, New York in the winter with icing who says on the cockpit recorder, ‘I’ve never flown in icing and am very nervous about this.’ That cannot possibly be a standard that is enforced by the FAA.”

Randy Babbitt’s prepared remarks are here, and the full Q&A transcript is here. You can also view the video webcast here.

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Tuesday May 19: Randy Babbitt’s nomination hearing

Don’t miss Tuesday’s nomination hearing at the Senate Commerce Committee. Besides FAA Administrator-designate Randy Babbitt, who will surely have to field questions related to the Colgan Air crash as well as NextGen, the nominee list includes White House Chief Technology Officer-designate Aneesh Chopra.

The hearing is scheduled for 11am; you can find more info here — plus, a webcast link should appear 15 minutes before the hearing begins.

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#Ouch: Twitter means real-time, public customer feedback for airlines

Want to know how the airline business will be affected by social networking technologies?  Here’s a sign of the times from South Africa:

GLOBAL television personality Richard Quest has slammed South African Airways on the popular social messaging website Twitter, describing it as “shambolic” and in a state of “chaos”.

The outspoken host of CNN Business Traveller and the channel’s Quest Means Business yesterday criticised the troubled airline on his Twitter page, which has more than 10 000 followers around the world. His flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg was delayed and he accused SAA of handling the situation badly. [..]

Updating his Twitter page on Saturday, Quest wrote: “South African cancelled CPT/JNB. Bedlam at Cape Town. In a line 60 deep! CHAOS!”Shortly afterwards, he added: “Am likely to miss my connex to London. SAA are shambolic at handling this one cancellation”.

In his next posting, Quest said: “trx to another flight. Back at gate. more chaos! most unimpressive”.

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NYC airspace solution: “Shut down LGA”

From New York Times columnist Stephen Dubner via the paper’s  Freakonomics blog:

During a recent ground delay, I got to talking with an off-duty pilot for a major airline who was extraordinarily knowledgeable about every single airline question I could think to ask him.  When I asked for his take on New York air congestion, he said the solution was easy: shut down LaGuardia.

The problem, as he explained it, is that the airspace for each of the three airports extends cylindrically into the sky above its ground position. Because of their relative proximity, the three airspace cylinders affect one another significantly, which creates congestion not just because of volume but because pilots have to thread the needle and fly needlessly intricate approach routes in order to comply.

If the LaGuardia cylinder were eliminated, he said, Newark and J.F.K. would both operate much more freely — and, since LaGuardia handles far less traffic than the other two airports, it is the obvious choice for shuttering.

But there’s a problem: LaGuardia is the favored airport of the people with the most political power in New York, since it is a very short ride from Manhattan. So it’s unlikely to happen, at least anytime soon. But if it did, my new pilot friend insisted, New York air travel would move from nightmare to dream.

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Experts, lawmakers resist cancelation of eLoran upgrade

From NextGov:

Congress and the geospatial industry are voicing opposition to President Obama’s proposal to kill a decades-old navigational system that could serve as a backup to the popular and prevalent GPS.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, [questioned] Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano about the administration’s plan to cancel the enhanced Long Range Aid to Navigation system (eLoran) at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs [..]

A report completed in January by an independent assessment team chaired by Bradford Parkinson, considered the father of GPS, and not publicly released, concluded that eLoran was the only cost-effective back up to satellite-based GPS and it would deter threats to U.S. national and economic security by jamming signals.

The report, prepared for the Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research firm, and obtained by Nextgov, said top officials from the Defense Department, DHS and the Office of Management and Budget concluded after briefings in 2006 and 2007 that eLoran was “the only alternative [to GPS] meeting the technical requirements at a reasonable cost.”

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LaHood to cancel NY/NJ slot auction

From the DOT press release:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing to rescind plans for slot auctions at New York-area airports.  Under the proposal, the Department would halt plans announced last October to withdraw a number of slots from airlines operating at airports in the New York region and auction the slots to the highest bidder.

“We’re still serious about tackling aviation congestion in the New York region,” Secretary LaHood said in New York City in remarks to the Association for a Better New York.  “I’ll be talking with airline, airport and consumer stakeholders, as well as elected officials, over the summer about the best ways to move forward.”

The plans for the auctions for slots at New York’s JFK and LaGuardia Airports and Newark Liberty International Airport were announced by the Department on Oct. 10, 2008.  The auctions were proposed as part of a plan to reduce congestion and delays at the region’s airports, along with caps on the number of flights per hour at each of the airports. Due to litigation over the rule and a court-ordered stay, the auctions have not taken place.

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ATCA tech symposium: first impressions

Last week’s ATCA technical symposium in Atlantic City drew a large and interested crowd, and Fly NextGen was along for the ride. The event covered a lot of ground — so much so, it’s hard to know where to begin. (A PDF version of the agenda is here.)

We’ll explore a few different topics over a series of posts, but one presentation that stood out was that of Dr. Aslaug Haraldsdottir, who is a technical fellow with the Boeing ATM avionics team. Several of the graphics from Dr. Haraldsdottir’s presentation are worth sharing — first, here’s a look at how Boeing sees the market for highly equipped aircraft growing in the next 15 years  (click to enlarge):


The jump from 19,000 to 36,000 is quite remarkable — of course, Boeing isn’t saying how many seats (or how much gross weight) are distributed among those aircraft.

Also, Dr. Haraldsdottir laid out Boeing’s priority list of aircraft capabilities, correlated to key market drivers and the necessary buildout on the ground to achieve each functionality (click to enlarge):


We feel that Boeing is to be commended for its transparency and leadership role on these topics.  While it takes guts to divulge what some might consider to be strategic information and insights, there is an strong need for clear signs from the top industry players right now.

The more people open their hand and put their cards on the table, the more confidence will be generated among policymakers and large customers — and we believe that this, in turn,  can help accelerate the equipage timeline.

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Airbus enters RNP game with ‘Quovadis’

Airbus press release:

From July 2009, QUOVADIS, a new 100 percent subsidiary of Airbus, based in Toulouse, will sell and provide ‘Required Navigation Performance’ (RNP) services to authorities, airlines and airports, ranging from RNP procedures design, testing and flight operations packaging, to RNP training.

To support QUOVADIS, Airbus has signed a cooperation agreement for RNP procedure design with the French Civil Aviation University (ENAC) in Toulouse, and CGx AERO in SYS, a specialist in aeronautical and geographic information systems based in Castres, France.

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Concern and debate over future of U.S. positioning systems

From NextGov:

The same day the that the Obama administration confirmed it planned to cancel a GPS backup system, the Government Accountability Office issued a report warning that delays in launching new satellites could imperil the performance of the navigational system.

In his budget issued on May 7, President Obama recommended killing the Long-Range Navigation System, or Loran-C, which the Coast Guard operates. The administration argued the government should not fund the system because it is obsolete technology, and the United States no longer needs it because GPS has “superior capabilities.”

But at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s National Security Subcommittee, GAO warned that GPS performance could start to degrade next year. Delays in the development and launch of two GPS satellites could reduce the number of satellites in orbit to below the minimum 24 that are needed to provide precise location information, Cristina Chaplain, director of acquisition and sourcing management at GAO, told the panel.

“The estimated long-term probability of maintaining a constellation of at least 24 operational satellites falls below 95 percent during fiscal year 2010 and remains below 95 percent until the end of fiscal year 2014, at times falling below 80 percent,” she said.

If the number of GPS satellites drops below 24, Chaplain said, it “could have wide-ranging impacts on GPS users,” including intercontinental commercial aviation, which “may have to cancel, delay or reroute flights.”

The GAO’s testimony can be found here, and the full report here.

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NASA’s aeronautics research gets boost for FY’10

From Aviation Week:

NASA is to create a new research program focused on reducing aircraft fuel burn, noise and emissions and accelerating transfer of the technologies developed to the aviation community.

The new Integrated Systems Research Program (ISRP) is the centerpiece of NASA’s $507 million budget request for aeronautics research in Fiscal 2010, and is supported by a $59.5 million increase over the funding requested for Fiscal 2009. [..]

As a first step, the ISRP will support the Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project, to be funded at $62.4 million for Fiscal 2010. This aims to simultaneously reduce fuel burn, noise and emissions. “We are talking 40-50% fuel-burn reduction. We’re not interest in 5-10%,” [says Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.] [..]

NASA is making other changes to align its aeronautics research even more closely with the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) airspace modernization program.

Shin says the agency will take the lead in closing two major research and development “gaps” identified for NextGen: air-ground functional allocation and validation and verification of complex systems.

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UPDATE: Detailed results of the ATC web security audit

CNET posted a link to the Office of Inspector General’s report that lays out the vulnerabilities found in the recent audit of ATC systems security.  (See our previous post on this story.) There’s quite a lot of sobering content, here a small sample:

We tested 70 Web applications, some of which are used to disseminate information to the public over the Internet, such as communications frequencies for pilots and controllers; others are used internally within FAA to support eight ATC systems.3 Our test identified a total of 763 high-risk, 504 medium-risk, and 2,590 low-risk vulnerabilities,4 such as weak passwords and unprotected critical file folders.
By exploiting these vulnerabilities, the public could gain unauthorized access to information stored on Web application computers. Further, through these vulnerabilities, internal FAA users (employees, contractors, industry partners, etc.) could gain unauthorized access to ATC systems because the Web applications often act as front-end interfaces (providing front-door access) to ATC systems. In addition, these vulnerabilities could allow attackers to compromise FAA user
computers by injecting malicious code onto the computers. During the audit, KPMG and OIG staff gained unauthorized access to information stored on Web application computers and an ATC system, and confirmed system vulnerability to malicious code attacks.

  • Unauthorized access was gained to information stored on Web application computers  associated with the Traffic Flow Management Infrastructure system, Juneau Aviation Weather System, and the Albuquerque Air Traffic Control Tower;
  • Unauthorized access was gained to an ATC system used to monitor critical power supply at six en route centers; and
  • Vulnerability found on Web applications associated with the Traffic Flow Management Infrastructure system was confirmed, which could allow attackers to install malicious codes on FAA users’ computers.

This occurred because (1) Web applications were not adequately configured to prevent unauthorized access and (2) Web application software with known  vulnerabilities was not corrected in a timely matter by installing readily available security software patches released to the public by software vendors. [..]

In our opinion, unless effective action is taken quickly, it is likely to be a matter of when, not if, ATC systems encounter attacks that do serious harm to ATC operations.

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SATSair, North Carolina officials launch subsidized air taxi initiative

Press release from NCFlyPorts:

North Carolina’s NCFlyPorts Program announced the latest in air service availability for North Carolinians. The program provided by SATSair, a provider of customized “on-demand” air taxi service in the United States since 2004, is called “Business Day-Travelers” and offers special rates for one day trips out of Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Business Day-Travelers” will enable business professionals in the Raleigh market to improve their productivity by doing more business throughout North Carolina and the Southeast in less time. Operating from the General Aviation Terminal at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), these customer-designed trips will be offered at the special rate of $495 per hour for the entire aircraft, not just per seat. Using the modern, fast and comfortable Cirrus SR-22 aircraft, SATSair’s “Business Day-Travelers” program will pick up passengers at RDU, take them directly to the airport nearest their destination, and return within a 12 hour window.

Read more…

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DOT security audit shows ATC systems vulnerable, incidents not addressed

From Information Week:

The Transportation Department report states that auditors from KPMG and the Office of the Inspector General tested 70 Web applications, 35 used by the FAA to disseminate information over the Internet and 35 used internally to support air traffic control systems. The security audit found a total of 763 high-risk, 504 medium-risk, and 2,590 low-risk vulnerabilities, such as weak passwords and unprotected folders.

Beyond the issue of poorly configured, buggy Web applications, the report also found that the air traffic control systems are woefully unprotected by intrusion-detection systems. Only 11% of air traffic control facilities have IDS sensors, the report states, and none of those IDS sensors monitors air traffic control operational systems; instead, they monitor mission-support systems, such as e-mail servers.

In 2008, more than 800 cyberincident alerts were issued to the Air Traffic Organization, which oversees air traffic control operations. At the end of that year, 17% of those incidents (150), some designated critical, had not been addressed.

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Raytheon awarded $2.3 million contract to study integrated CNS

Raytheon press release:

Raytheon Company has been awarded a seven-month, firm-fixed-price contract to study the NextGen Integrated Communications, Navigation and Surveillance architecture and determine the National Airspace System’s needs for 2018 to 2025. [..]
The study analyzes ICNS interfaces to operator flight planning systems, aircraft capabilities, avionics functions and Federal Aviation Administration automation systems.
The $2.3 million contract was awarded by the NextGen Institute, a venture between the National Center for Advanced Technologies and the FAA. [..]

The Raytheon-led team includes Rockwell Collins, ARINC, Aviation Management Associates and Thales.

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