AVmail: July 19, 2004
Reader mail this week about the DC ADIZ incident, protection for maintenance employees, GA presidential candidates and much more.
DC ADIZ and the NCRCC
I stayed up well past my bedtime to watch the House Aviation Subcommittee hearing investigating the June 9 incident in the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on CSPAN. The subject of this hearing was the incident involving the governor of Kentucky's aircraft, which was the target of a scramble of military aircraft and the evacuation of the Capitol Building (NewsWire, June 10).
As it turned out, the pilot of the governor's aircraft was doing exactly as he was permitted and instructed to do, and the National Capital Region Coordination Center (NCRCC) -- which is responsible for the security of the ADIZ -- got it wrong and overreacted. Unfortunately, none of the four articles in the four newspapers that I read got this story more than about 65% correct (NY Times).
As a pilot and a professional Air Traffic Controller, I was not too surprised that this incident occurred because the NCRCC was staffed not by a certified Air Traffic Controller using real radar but by an FAA contractor using the internet to determine what was happening in a very complex (technically and spatially) ATC environment. Go cheap, pay the price.
However, the most disturbing thing relating to this incident was the revelation of exactly how they (whoever "they" are) intended to bring this supposed intruder aircraft down. The first act in defense of our nation's Capitol was supposed to be to scramble unarmed F-16s to identify the aircraft (this did not occur because they did not have enough time to get airborne) and the second defensive act was supposed to be to shoot it down with Blackhawk helicopters. This did not occur either, if for no other reason than the fact that the governor's 30-year-old Beechcraft King Air is about 50 knots (60 miles per hour) faster than the Black Hawk.
It gets worse. It was revealed in the hearing that the Blackhawks themselves were unarmed except for onboard personnel carrying shoulder-fired automatic weapons. Few, if any, shoulder fired weapons are larger than 30 caliber and even fewer have a maximum effective range greater than 800 yards (SAW). The chances of shooting down an aircraft under these circumstances is just above absolute zero (blind luck).
The FAA thought an airplane had crashed the DCA ADIZ and fighter planes were scrambled for the purpose of shooting it down. Yet the plane was allowed to proceed. Although in this case it all came out OK, it begs the question as to how the FAA decided that this was not an aircraft piloted by a terrorist? Supposing it had been?
I read your e-news religiously, and seldom find anything about which to complain. Today, however, someone's sloppy writing, or editing, allowed something to slip through. It was in the "On The Fly" section and read as follows (NewsWire, Jul. 12):
"America West pilots released after facing drinking and flying charges ..."
For those of us who take this issue really seriously -- and I am one who does because it besmirches all of us in aviation when these things happen -- that statement sent my blood to an immediate boil. How could they "release" them? When I clicked on the "more" at the end, the actual line was quite different.
"Two former America West pilots are free on bail ..."
There were released, yes, but on bail after a court appearance -- quite different than what the short line appears to say. And, they are former America West pilots. While I realize that the "On The Fly" is supposed to be short headlines, please be a bit more conscientious about your wording, so as not to mislead. The words "on bail" certainly would not have been too much to include, would they? Why not just use the header line that was in the expanded version?
Thanks for doing such a good job overall, and thanks for making sure that attention is given to small details like this, as well, in the future.
Alan C. Davis
Maintenance Employees Need Protection
Airlines employees have a law that protects them when they speak out on aviation safety/security issues. I would note that local government airport maintenance employees who work at America's 450 towered airports do not have this protection. If they are caught speaking out on such issues they can be retaliated against for doing so. What can be done to give them the same protection as airline employees? Should Congress be lobbied to put in an amendment that gives airport maintenance workers the same protection as the airline employees? Should local government airport maintenance employees have this protection? If not, then when local government airport maintenance employees see unsecured doors, gates and areas, should they just turn the other way and pretend not to see them? In doing so, they can protect themselves from retaliation.
I just want to tell you how much I enjoy your AVweb emails. Good, succinct, timesaving knowledge of where GA stands in the political arena, and what's new.
GA Presidential Candidate
Surely Mr. Coan is joking about making a Presidential selection based on a candidate holding a current GA certificate (AVmail, Jul. 12). With everything from terrorism to the economy on the table, it would be incredibly short-sighted to base one's vote on a single factor, whether you vote for the GA pilot, or the former fighter pilot.
In case anyone is tempted to make such a choice, may I remind them of a certain "peanut farmer" who was actually the owner of a peanut warehouse? He was elected partially with the votes of farmers who thought it would be great to have "one of their own" in the White House.
Two years later, farmers were arriving in D.C. on their tractors, protesting the terrible farm economy that had evolved under Carter's watch. History could easily repeat itself.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Why are unmanned aircraft needed for border control (NewsWire, Jul. 5)? Surely there are enough pilots in the border patrol to fill the pilot seats. I can understand the need for recon in a military hostile environment but I have never heard of a wetback with a stinger. Also the Cessna Caravan that mysteriously crashed in Mobile Bay with smears of orange paint on the wreckage -- which was recovered by the DOD -- and nothing more has been heard. The only justification I can see for the UAV use by border patrol is the manufacturer has a good connection in Washington.
The only reason that the National Air Traffic Controllers Association is out complaining (NewsWire, Jul. 15) is that Reagan is dead and he can't take away their jobs and give them to someone else like they got their jobs. Isn't it funny that after 30 years we still have the same problems? Maybe the controllers need to get together and give large donations to the Republican and Democratic parties. That way they will get more that what they need.
Robert A. Konopka
NATCA is crying about a staffing crisis within the FAA and fears that too many air traffic controllers just might retire in the very near future. These guys must have a short memory and they have obviously, once again, forgotten about the thousands of PATCO controllers still waiting to be rehired, because they are not even mentioned.
The problem could have been easily solved if the FAA had hired -- or would hire back -- the PATCO controllers who are still "locked out" and discriminated against by the Agency because of their age. There are about 3,500 highly qualified PATCO Controllers sitting on an FAA "Maytag" list just waiting for the call, so there is no problem -- just an attitude and policy decision by the Feds to keep us out for life.
All the PATCO controllers who reapplied for their jobs in 1993 are ranked by the FAA as "Best Qualified" and, in addition, many are still currently working in the field at understaffed, underpaid and overworked FAA Federal Contract Towers across the nation, so their checkout time would be quick. It's easy to spin an issue to suit your needs, but it takes real guts to undo a wrong that has gone on for 24 years and counting; so rather than whining, why not address one of the solutions?
Very briefly, in reference to your article in which NATCA is bemoaning the lack of qualified controllers ... I agree there's a problem, but let me venture to comment that it's a agency-caused problem. A person might seriously want to become a controller, might be more than qualified to learn the job, and might have a good 20+ years of service to devote to the career ... but if he or she is over 37 years of age, an ATC career is out of the question due to the age requirements.
I, for one, would (almost) give an arm and a leg for the opportunity to train and qualify for an ATC position; however, at 44 years of age, it's simply a non-option. I'd be willing to propose that there are more than enough people over 37 years old who would be ecstatic to have the opportunity to train and compete for such a position, and who could offer not only their energy but their maturity and experience to aviation and to the efficiency and safety demanded by the growing environment.
Nobody at NATCA, or elsewhere, that I've heard, has complained that there are a lack of qualified candidates. The trouble is that the FAA has not come up with any money to do the hiring and training to fill the positions.
Sorry if that was not clear in our coverage.
Irresponsible Skydiving Photo
The recent picture you show of a skydiver hanging on to the tail of a King Air (Picture of the Week, Jul. 15) should never have been taken, and never published. As a corporate pilot with over 32 years experience, a career military pilot, and a current NASA Safety Officer, pictures like that only show others that its OK to go out and violate common sense when doing something stupid. The skydiver, photographer and pilot should have been referred to the FAA for this situation.
We don't mean to shock you, but skydivers inhabit the outside of aircraft every day.
Many skydiving aircraft -- especially turbine twins -- are equipped with camera steps that allow a videographer to position himself well aft of the main door to photograph a large group exiting. It's not unusual to have a half dozen or more skydivers "floating" outside the door during exit. For a jump pilot, the radical shift in aft CG is a challenge; but good ones -- and there are many of them -- take it in stride.
True, this sort of aft-tail riding is unusual, but it's hardly rare. The photographer, by the way, was Robbie Culver, a well-known freefall photographer.
(Some-time jump pilot and skydiver)
Air Force One
The story about AF-1 and the switch to a 757 (NewsWire, Jul. 15) is missing the element about the backup 747. The president's airplanes are two 747s. I worked on them at Boeing during the proposal period and during the modification!