AVmail: Mar. 21, 2005
Reader mail this week about MOAs, AVweb's weekly questions, and still more comments on three-engine 747s.
Military Airspace Revised
In response to a recent Question of the Week (QOTW, Mar. 3):
"Should the military be allowed to take over any more airspace without giving up an equivalent amount? What's fair when it comes to MOAs?"
As a past member of an airspace-design team at Minneapolis Center (ZMP) I have experienced many of the issues associated with MOAs (and ATCAAs). Notably I have seen very few MOAs disappear when we create new ones, and often see requests from the military for new and larger MOAs. As air traffic increases MOAs have more and more impact on both general aviation and commercial flights.
There are many issues that arise when discussing MOAs.
First and most significantly, traditional regular active-duty forces are being supplemented with National Guard and Reserve pilots, many of whom are flying in combat areas worldwide. Therefore of late they have much more need for combat training than in the past. However, because of the heavy reliance on Guard and Reserve units the crews are scattered more widely across the country. Instead of pilots flying from a few large military bases, many sorties are flown from public airports all over the U.S. by Guard and Reserve units.
Since fighter aircraft have limited range, these crews want to be able to enter an MOA as quickly as possible after they depart to maximize their training time. That means the Reserve and Guard units all want MOAs as close to their home base as possible. This equates to many more MOAs scattered throughout the country seeing more use than in the past. And as the performance of military aircraft increases, the need for larger MOAs arises as well.
Each MOA also has a Scheduling Authority. The Scheduling Authority for MOAs is responsible for scheduling usage of the MOAs, even when the scheduling unit is not using it. That forces units that want to use MOAs to ask permission from the Scheduling Authority. Clearly, this is a major problem, as in lieu of asking permission and being at the beck and call of another unit, most units opt to create their own MOAs, whereby they would be the Scheduling Authority.
Also, in cases where MOAs or refueling tracks overlap, prohibiting simultaneous usage, there is a requirement for the Scheduling Authorities to deconflict usage times. However it has been my experience that this is not done well or indeed at all.
Military policies regarding airspace "refusals" by air traffic control are also deceiving, and used to justify requests for new MOAs. Before air traffic can release MOAs to the military they have to clear any non-participating aircraft out of the confines of the MOA. At ZMP we don't automatically clear aircraft around MOAs unless military aircraft are actually using them, regardless of when the MOA is scheduled (we don't activate the MOA until the military aircraft are actually in it).
Therefore when the military flights depart if we have any non-participating aircraft within the confines of the MOA, prior to releasing it we need to get those IFR aircraft out of the MOA. If this is not done prior to the requested MOA time, and we cannot release the entire airspace requested for the MOA, the military considers it a refusal. If we, for instance, clear the military users into a MOA 1000 feet lower than originally requested for traffic overflying, the military considers it a refusal, even if that traffic will be clear minutes later and we can release the entire requested airspace. These restrictions, albeit trivial, are later used by the military to show how often they are unable to use the MOAs they want, and thereby justify their requests for new MOAs.
Finally, although VFR general aviation traffic can fly through an active MOA, IFR flights cannot. Not only does this force GA IFR flights on lengthy reroutes to avoid MOAs but at higher altitudes controllers are forced to reroute commercial flights around them as well. Currently MOA usage is often scheduled at peak traffic times, to the detriment of other air traffic.
Clearly the issue of MOAs is not going to go away, especially with the greater reliance on our National Guard and Reserve units. However compromises need to be made. It has been my experience that general aviation and commercial users are usually on the short end of the stick. Historically the military has been able to say, "we need ..." and the FAA has jumped to meet the request, without consideration for other airspace users. Now with rising fuel costs and the poor economic state of many airlines, the conflict with military airspace becomes a real issue.
The obvious solution is for the military to share the MOAs they already have. This would require better inter-unit communication and cooperation. It would also be prudent for the various Guard and Reserve units to base themselves at fewer public airports to make this easier. Additionally the military should make attempts to schedule MOA usage at other than peak traffic periods to minimize the impact on other air traffic.
Portable GPS On Airliners
On a recent trip to Hawaii I took along my Garmin 296 Portable GPS. In checking with the Captain on the trip over as to whether or not I could use my GPS while in the plane, I was told, "No," as it may interfere with the plane's instruments. On the return trip back to Calif., I once again asked the Captain of the plane, and he gave permission. One of the flight attendants came by during cabin check prior to takeoff and told me that a GPS is not allowed to be used and it so states in ATA airline's operations manual. I told him the Captain said OK; he then talked to the Captain and probably mentioned that the company manual says no. I did explain that the Garmin unit does comply to FAA standards as a receiver only and is designed to be used in aircraft. Has anyone else had the same problem? I have flown several other airlines and been allowed to use it while in flight.
Small Is Relative
In last week's Short Final (Mar. 14), AVweb wrote:
"At a small regional airport in Australia ..."
I realize that aviation in the USA is on a scale we can only dream of but I feel a little perspective is required from the other side of the world.
For what it's worth, there are only about two dozen towers in the entire Australian air traffic services network.
If it was a small regional airport in Australia, the only witnesses would have been a black dog and maybe a sheep or two. Towers are only in major regional centres.
Just letting you know -- if you ever come out and need a tour of a "small regional airport," I know a few.
I have been a long-time reader of AVweb and enjoy the content. However, as a Canadian pilot I am dumbfounded by the amount of lawsuits occurring south of the border. I understand that the families of pilots killed are both sad and angry; but does no one realize that this industry like all others has its risks? I for one am getting tired of people placing the blame elsewhere and not taking responsibility for there own actions.
British Airways' Three-Engine 747 Flight
Some of the commentary on BA's three-engine 747 has been a bit strange, especially the almost universal emphasis on BA being a foreign airline (eeeuw!) operating under different rules (shock!) Of course, good ol' U.S. airlines are safer than evil foreign ones --aren't they? Hmmm. I bet a lot of U.S. 747 captains are keeping real quiet right now. Only a retired pilot from a defunct airline (TWA) has the courage to admit that U.S. 747s often flew the pond on three (AVmail, Mar. 14).
Let's get real. This 747's engine failed on takeoff from LAX. Now the Captain's up there with one failed engine but an otherwise serviceable airplane. What does he do? He can't go back to LAX at once -- the situation doesn't justify an overweight landing -- he has to fly around for a while anyway, to dump fuel. So why not just continue on course? There's no reason to expect another engine to go pop, but if it does, there are plenty of fields along the first part of the route where he could land safely and be no worse off than if he'd stayed at LAX. By the time he gets to Winnipeg he'll have a good feel for whether the three good mills are going to keep turning -- unless it was a systemic failure there's no reason why they shouldn't -- and he can continue with confidence in the safety of the flight over Canada and Greenland.
Remember that dozens of aircraft fly similar routes every day, legally, on only two engines.
And the "emergency" landing at Manchester? A sensible choice. With the amount of fuel he had left, it was much better to put down at a relatively quiet field than to go on to Heathrow. If he'd been really short he had earlier options -- Reykjavik, Prestwick, etc.
I'm just an amateur, but from what I've read, I reckon that Captain made a sensible decision, and if I'd been in back on that flight I'd have thought the same.
A couple of points from the story bear consideration.
Tower reports that the problem occurred at or near V2, and therefore after the go/no-go decision point. The aircraft climbed to a safe altitude, where the pilot obviously assessed the problem, and contacted his English base.
His instructions (suggestions?) were to continue with the flight against the alternative of a fuel dump and a return to land.
I always understood that the PIC has command of the aircraft, and that an engine failure on take-off always results in a return to earth ASAP; yet in this case, the PIC chose to continue. A bit scary, that, given both the safety and the commercial aspects of the situation
Factors such as the value of dumped fuel to get down to a landing weight really don't cut the mustard here if that was a consideration. The paramount requirement is the safety of the persons who have paid for the ride.
A further worrying aspect of the incident concerns the lack of information available to the PIC concerning the nature of the failure and any secondary consequences. Without being able to park the aircraft while circling the departure airport and have a look, how was the PIC able to determine that neither minor nor catastrophic damage had occurred to the airframe during the failure? Shed turbine blades, or extraneous odds and sods of metal liberated from a failing engine must surely have been a consideration.
I doubt that a failure of this magnitude resulted in just a yellow warning on the EICAS -- low oil pressure here or there, for example -- which might or might not be just an indicator failure and nothing worse.
From tower reports, there was a full-blown display of sparks and flame out of the back end of the engine -- terrifying for those passengers that could witness the situation. This left the aircraft with three turning for a very long, overwater flight. Was the possibility of a second engine quitting considered? If a second engine had quit over water en route, the situation might have been rather more alarming that it already was.
As it was, a low-flight-level cruise on three left the aircraft sufficiently low on fuel to need a divert anyway.
Whatever the international or British regs say about this, it appears to have been an unfortunate decision, both from a safety aspect and from a commercial aspect.
A lot of travelers might be persuaded not to use this airline in future. I am one.
Peter John Sworder
Spanish Springs Airport
It's a sad shame that developers and city officials, mixed with dirty politics have the right to push out small GA airports (NewsWire, Mar. 14). Few seem to care about the rights of pilots. Homeowners never cease to complain about aircraft noise, when they themselves should be to blame for living near an airport. Do they think airports just appear? Who was there first? The root of the problem is greed. It's all about selling homes, making money and leaving the problem for others to work out. Developers could care less about the pilots or the homeowners. I hope Spanish Springs can be saved along with all those other small airports out there. May we never forget the Meigs Massacre and the ever-losing battle of encroaching development and corrupt officials.
Questions Without All The Answers
The answers to the current QOTW are worded in a way that will skew the responses (QOTW, Mar. 17). Response one is a straightforward -- Bush has been good to GA. But there is no straightforward "Bush has been bad to GA" response (which should be response number two). Response number three is the closest thing to "Bush has been bad for GA" once you read it carefully, i.e., it is not a straightforward response. This seems to indicate the whole QOTW is loaded to the presumption that Bush is good for GA. This type of skewing an issue is not consistent with your normal mode of operation and I hope you'll do a story next Monday or Thursday to clarify.
In your weekly QOTW report, you report the percentages of respondents who say, for example, they had near misses but not the raw number. We like seeing the percentages but would like to also see the number reporting.
Note that you report that six readers report midairs but you do not report the percentage for that category.
In general, the weekly QOTW report is just a broad "snapshot" of the responses we get. Rather than get into detailed reporting with the responses (which we have to do for other aspects of the site), we prefer to offer a quick look at the big picture.
If you're interested in the actual breakdown of responses, just revisit the original QOTW. Once you've answered a particular Question, the server will give you an up-to-the-minute report on the numbers (and percentages) associated with that poll.