Runway Chicken Revisitedthis blog. Saving you the click through, the executive summary is that approach controllers at National—or maybe the TMU, we're not sure—had weather clogging up the arrival fixes so they reconfigured to approach from the opposite direction. The tower controller never got the word and launched two departures into the nose of an incoming arrival. That resulted in loss of separation. but it wasn't exactly a paint swap. The FAA did its usual public saber rattling, vowing to get to the bottom of this outrage and prevent it from happening again. If, on the off chance, you're reading this blog on a mobile device while sitting out a gate hold somewhere, you may be a surprise beneficiary of this new policy. Here's the FAA policy change if you'd like to read it directly: (PDF). In an act of sheer, undiluted futility, I had hoped that the FAA would either issue a mealy mouthed order meaning essentially nothing or that it would distribute a procedural directive that the facilities could simply ignore. Unfortunately, neither happened. The gist of the order is to suspend all opposite direction operations at Part 139 airports until the local facility produces a written procedure describing how they intend to conduct opposite direction procedures and this must be approved by higher HQ. On its face, this doesn't sound entirely silly until you stop to consider how long it takes to get anything approved by the FAA. So how's it playing out in the real world? About as you'd expect. If the wind changes at O'Hare, there's chaos over Gary and somewhere, airplanes are being vectored or spun while controllers are forced to burn those two things they never have enough of: time and airspace. In this recording from liveATC.net, you can listen to a local controller at Los Angeles International explaining to a couple of inbounds why they're flushing a few thousand pounds of Jet A with the destination runway tantalizingly visible through the windshield:
Evidently, LAX hasn't gotten its opposite-direction procedure approved yet, although I feel fairly confident in saying they've probably submitted same. So if you're one of those pilots (or passengers) being mysteriously vectored around and the controller isn't as forthcoming as LAX local on why that's happening, thank the FAA for this sublime order enhancing the safety of the nation's airspace and never mind that you missed your connection to Baltimore. What should have happened here? It's really simple. Back in the days when controllers wore skinny ties and gas was 50 cents a gallon, controllers actually talked directly to each other. Shocking as it may seem, they did so entirely without benefit of a front line supervisor watching. Controllers who came of age in this era will tell you it actually worked kinda well. So if the FAA's order simply went back to that well-hewn procedure, the DCA nose-to-nose wouldn't have happened and there would be fewer airliners out there burning up expensive kerosene and generally throwing sand into the works of what used to be a decent watch. But that's progress for you.