AVmail: September 29, 2003
Reader mail this week about the New York TFR, Wright Flyers that don't, the Contract Tower controversy and more.
New York City TFR
Talk about one hand not knowing what the other is doing -- the FAA wins the award this week. There is a NOTAM TFR that basically follows the outline of the New York Class B. Except, TRACON is telling us the TFR has a radius of 40 nm, not 20 nm as is Class B. So I called both FSS and TRACON on the land line. It seems the TRACON doesn't get the NOTAM. What they get is an overlay on their scope. And guess what? Somebody made it twice as big as it should have been. I wonder how much kerosene and avgas ($3.50 a gallon around here) that wasted!
Liberty President's Comment
Liberty Aerospace's president, Anthony Tiarks, must be new to the aviation industry. His comment (Newswire, Sept. 25) that the Concorde is about the only jet aircraft still in the air today without a FADEC is only off by a few tens of thousands. While many (but not all) current production jet aircraft are equipped with a FADEC, I'm not aware that the thousands of existing jet aircraft have been retrofitted with them.
Wright Flier Doesn't
I have been following the articles on the Wright Brothers and the Centennial of Flight with interest, particularly the building of the Wright Flier replicas and the intended flight on the exact day 100 years later. There are several replicas being built, but the exact one that is to fly at the exact time has me worried. The article in the latest AVflash (Sept. 25) just confirms my concerns. I wrote EAA about the concerns and they assured me that if the conditions wern't right the flight would not take place.
The first flight occurred on a cold, windy day (at least 25 mph) with the aircraft launched down a short rail downhill. The only thing that I can be sure of that will be duplicated is the downhill part. What if it is warm and relatively calm?
The engine developed itís maximum power because it was cold, and the aircraft attained flying speed because the wind was blowing 25 mph. The airspeed was just 30-35 mph, so the ground speed was only 5-10 mph. That meant that the engine had to only accelerate the airplane a little bit to get it to fly. Subsequently the Wrights discovered this fact when the tried to make their next flight in another model of their airplane at Dayton a couple of years later.
I worked for Learjet while Harry Combs was president of the company and while he was writing a book on the Wright Brothers. The book is "How Strong the Wind" and was quite thoroughly researched and very well done. During his research, Mr. Combs ask me to compute the horsepower required to accelerate the Wright Flier to takeoff speed if the wind had been zero. The answer was approximately 60 horsepower. The rail wasnít very long. I have also seen where one of the replicas has been flown but it was noted that the powerplant was a 20 horsepower engine and the takeoff run was very long. Incidentally, Harry Combs is one of the major contributors to at least one of the replicas being built for this celebration.
Who knows how strong the wind will be on the 100th anniversary of the first flight.
National Air Tour
I saw all those great aircraft at Frederick, Md. (Skywritings, Sept. 24).What a thrill to see them coming in three at a time. I don't go quite as far back as most of those planes, but I cherish the experience of flying UPF7s and Stearmans in past years. I hope they can do it again.
ATC Privatization -- Contract Tower Program
Air Traffic Control does not generate revenue. Competition does not exist -- not in an Air Force tower, not in a Federal Aviation Administration tower, and not in a Contract tower. It's a government-provided service as part of the ATC infrastructure. This needs to be emphasized, because more and more, the "free-market" analogy is being used in this debate, as if a profit incentive would foster quality of service by privatizing more towers. There is no profit incentive. Without user fees it can't exist. And even then, it would only apply in rare instances because it's not a pick and choose type of system. In it's current form, the government still pays for it. Privatizing more towers will not change this.
The controller (per se) is the irrelevant factor until you bring "human-factors" into the discussion. Assuming a given controller has the aptitude for the job, it's the system under which he/she works and the tools/support available to him/her that will dictate safety and/or quality of service long term. Obviously, humans are individuals with varying styles and personalities and attitudes, but that applies in all camps so it's a moot point.
I've worn the different hats (Air Force Controller, Air National Guard Controller, Airport Authority Controller, Contract Controller, and FAA Controller) and I can tell you from experience, when it comes to staffing, the hat matters. It's moronic to have a controller on a busy position for extended periods of time without a break. This directly affects safety and/or quality of service from a human-factors standpoint. If it's not busy, it's not an issue. However, many of the towers being targeted for privatization are very very busy towers.
The Contract Tower Program (by it's very nature) provides "bare-bones" staffing. With such limited staffing, the controller (consequently, the flying community) isn't protected from extended periods without a break. Why? Because when operating with bare minimums to begin with, all it takes is a controller calling in sick or other unforseen circumstances to dictate more continuous hours on position. Moreover, an extra set of eyes in the tower to oversee what's going on (whether supervisor, controller in charge, assistant, or whatever) is always better than none. In a busy environment, this matters.
The remedy (good staffing) is directly opposed to the contractors piece of the pie. Therein lies the inherent problem.
It's odd that redundant systems and safeguards for airplanes and pilots are worth the expense (just in case), but the tower is ... well, "would you like fries with that sir?"
The privatization of FAA Towers seems to be a win-win solution. As a retired FAA Aviation Safety Inspector and pilot for over forty years I have had the pleasure of working with private VFR towers. In each and every case, they have been pro-active, helpful and professional. Additionally, the level of safety was at or above the same level practiced by Federally towers. The final observation is the private towers are cheaper to operate than their Federal counterparts. Please advise me of the problem here?