Monthly Archives: June 2009

EXPLAINER: Convective weather in the tropics

Bloomberg has a lengthy, general-interest article about the weather-related problems faced by aircraft flying between the northern and southern hemisphere (i.e. AF447):

Violent weather in the region can approximate the supercells that spawn tornadoes in the U.S., which exceed altitudes of 50,000 feet, NOAA’s [Pat] Slattery said.

“We are eons ahead in forecasting convective storms in the central part of the U.S. than we are in forecasting them in the tropics,” said National Weather Service’s [Jason] Tuell. “So much of it takes place over water in the tropics — over the Indian Ocean, Pacific and Atlantic — and there is just much less data available because of that.”

There is also a brief discussion of Honeywell’s “IntuVue” 3D weather radar product:

[Honeywell’s] three-dimensional systems, introduced less than three years ago, are in a small portion of the commercial aircraft fleet, said Chris Benich, director of aerospace regulatory affairs at the world’s largest maker of airplane controls. Among airlines using IntuVue are Cathay Pacific Airways, Air Canada and Singapore Airlines Ltd., while the U.S. Air Force uses it on C-17 cargo planes, according to a list provided by Honeywell. The cost for long-haul aircraft such as the Boeing 777 is about $335,000, said Bill Reavis, a Honeywell spokesman.

Most commercial planes are equipped with two-dimensional radar that requires pilots to manipulate it to get an accurate picture of the weather, Benich said.

“With older weather radars, pilots have difficulty accurately determining the top of significant weather,” Benich said.

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American’s ‘green’ test flight canceled; may be rescheduled

Last week, we reported AA’s plans to test fuel-saving measures using satellite navigation on a B767 flight from CDG to MIA.  According to the Dallas Morning News, that test was canceled due to mechanical problems with the plane.

On his “Airline Biz” blog, DMN reporter Eric Torbinson implies he has heard from the airline that the test will be attempted at a later date, but no source is explicitly cited.

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Utah lawmakers, NATCA resist ERAM test

From the Associated Press:

Utah’s two U.S. senators are urging the Federal Aviation Administration to hold off testing a new computer system at a Salt Lake City air traffic control center that guides planes across portions of eight states.

Republican Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch wrote FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt on June 11, asking him to delay a test of the new system at the Salt Lake Air Route Traffic Control Center. [..] “Safety concerns demand that ERAM (the computer system) not be implemented until it meets and exceeds the standards of reliability and stability of the system it replaces,” the senators wrote.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday with the union representing air traffic controllers to discuss the test. She said agency officials still have confidence the test can take place as planned.

The test is scheduled from midnight to 4 a.m. on June 18, said Doug Pincock, an air traffic controller [and NATCA rep — ed.] in Salt Lake City. During that period the main computer system that the control center has used for nearly two decades will be switched off and the new system, known as En route Automation Modernization, will be switched on, Pincock said.

Further information: NATCA’s press release; FAA ERAM fact sheet; Text of letter to Randy Babbitt from Sens. Bennett and Hatch.

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FAA approves use of Flint Hills UAS in broader, but still restricted airspace

From the Associated Press:

Federal Aviation Administration officials have given approval for flights of an unmanned aerial vehicle near a National Guard range in central Kansas.

The approval means the Flint Hills Solutions Aerosonde UAV will be allowed to fly over Crisis City, which is part of the Great Plains Joint Training Center located near the Kansas National Guard’s Smoky Hill Weapons Range.

Involved with developing the UAV and its uses are Kansas State University, Flint Hills Solutions and the Salina Airport Authority.

The FAA approval, which was previously limited to the weapons range, allows for more extensive training in search and rescue operations through the Kansas National Guard and related agencies.

The Aerosonde is a 6-foot long, 35-pound, fixed-wing UAV that can fly for up to 12 hours, according to the manufacturer. For more on the Kansas National Guard’s plans for UAS and disaster response, see this article in the Wichita Eagle (published last April).

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NATCA: “We’re quite hopeful about NextGen”

The Dallas Morning News had a catch-all, general interest article about the status of NextGen. Here are some quotes:

Aviation consultant Michael Boyd: “Capt. Babbitt isn’t going to run the FAA – it is going to run him. I have no confidence this is going to work. The public is simply being bamboozled by the FAA about how this is working.”

NATCA spokesman Doug Church: “The new administration seems to want to include input from all the stakeholders. We’re quite hopeful about NextGen.”

Southwest Airlines EVP Ron Rocks: “We need the will to get this done. We need what they’re calling a World War II plan in Washington. We won that war in three or four years – that’s what we need for NextGen.”

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EXPLAINER: Everything you ever wanted to know about SESAR

Aviation Week’s David Esler has a very well-researched and in-depth article about SESAR, the European Union’s version of NextGen. It provides a lot of detail about how the two approaches differ (one example: NextGen implementation is being driven by the federal government, while SESAR is being driven by industry partnerships), and also examines questions of harmonization.

Interestingly, one of the key themes is “who’s further ahead?” See the following excerpt:

[On the topic of] who’s leading the parade toward 21st century ATM reform – both SJU [SESAR Joint Undertaking] and FAA solons diplomatically refused to describe themselves as ahead. Here’s what the SJU’s [Executive Director] Patrick Ky had to say: “We are maybe more advanced in how we want to organize our technical activities, whereas you in the United States are more advanced in the implementation of ADS-B. We have different contexts and different relationships with industry, but I think we are making sure with the FAA that we are moving in the same direction and fully in line with each other’s priorities.”

For the FAA perspective, we interviewed Steve Bradford, chief scientist of architecture and NextGen development. “That’s not accurate at all,” Bradford said when we queried whether the SJU was setting the pace in implementing ATM technology. “I’m not going to say we’re ahead, but we are spending money and have a full ADS-B implementation in progress and will have full service by 2013. And our new automation program, ERAM [En Route Automation Modernization], is ahead of schedule.”

We think any discussion of “who’s further ahead” is a bit like asking who’s winning a marathon at mile marker two.

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LAX gets runway status lights; system partially complete

From the Los Angeles Times:

Federal and local officials will unveil a new warning system today that is designed to stop runway incursions that for years have endangered planes taxiing to and from terminals at Los Angeles International Airport. [..]

[Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie] Lindsey said the Board of Airport Commissioners decided to pay for the warning system with airport revenue rather than wait for federal money — a move that allowed the signals to be installed almost three years earlier than they would have been.

Jon Russell, the western regional safety chairman for the Air Line Pilots Assn., said the new warning lights are a significant safety measure, but the devices need to be installed on all taxiways that intersect runways. He said lights were not put in some of the areas where close calls have occurred.

“This is a great starting point,” Russell said, “but the system is not complete.”

Given their budget constraints, FAA and LAX officials said they selected sites they thought had the greatest potential for collisions. If necessary, they said, lights can be added to other taxiways and runways in the future.

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