AVmail: May 22, 2006
Reader mail this week about Lockheed FSS, English on the radio, preventing mid-air collisions with gliders and much more.
NASA Langley's Many Wind Tunnels
Thanks for the article, "Blended-Wing Prototype Nears Flight Test" (NewsWire, May 11), about model testing of what the article called "the X-48B, an advanced-concept, fuel-efficient blended-wing body, in the Langley wind tunnel in Hampton, Va." But please note that NASA Langley's historic Full-Scale Tunnel -- important as it is after three-quarters of a century of providing useful data -- is by no means "the" NASA Langley tunnel. Although you would never know it in a country where the National Aeronautics (please note that word) and Space Administration is routinely called not the aerospace agency but merely the "space agency," NASA has an enormous, though grossly underfunded, aeronautical research infrastructure -- starting with the many wind tunnels at NASA's oldest laboratory, NASA Langley.
Steven T. Corneliussen
FAA Cuts Funding To 2500 Airports
I am a controller with 24 years with the FAA. Three related items for your consideration:
1) For 10 years now thousands of controllers have been warning the FAA of the impending retirement of 9,000+ controllers in the next couple years. Since it takes 4 to 5 years to train a new controller, the FAA should have been hiring one to two thousand controllers a year for the last several years. Yet every year they continue to ignore this and just hire a trickle;
2) The FAA continues to slice chunks off of ATC, consolidating our personnel department and other ancillary positions into other departments;
3) The FAA has proposed cutting funding to 2,500 airports (NewsWire, May 15).
The consensus among many people is that all this is being intentionally staged by the Bush administration so that they can create a crisis in ATC, and their friends at Boeing, Lockheed and the Harris Corporation (which are licking their chops) will have the chance to bid to privatize ATC and resolve the crisis.
Flight Service Stations
Your article about Flight Service and the IG getting involved (NewsWire, May 15) is interesting to me since our service has improved significantly as far as the waiting time and the briefings have been excellent. I fly every week so I use the service often. Hats off to Lockheed Martin so far.
I work as an air traffic control specialist at a medium-sized ATC facility in Evansville, Ind., and I am amazed at the number of times pilots call me for clearances off one of our airports and nothing is stored in the NAS mainframe computer and the pilot is either forced to call FSS back and re-file the information or we, if we have the time, will take down all the required information and input the flight plan into the NAS computer.
As I said, Evansville is a medium-density airport that works between 20 and 59 operations per hour and categorized as a Level III Tower under the old system or an ATC 7 under the current system, and we see this quite frequently.
I can only imagine how many they see at the next-larger-sized airports such as CMH, CLE, and DAY, or the largest airports like ORD, ATL and LAX.
To say the service being provided by Lockheed is the same is in itself a misnomer as we see this problem quite frequently.
We need to set up some sort of database to track this so the actual numbers can be forwarded to the Inspector General's office so they can determine that the contracted FSS are not only not saving the estimated amount the FAA claimed, but also not even providing the same level of service as when federal employees worked in these positions.
I read your recent blurb about the FSS and not hearing a lot of complaints about how Lockheed Martin is running things.
I work at Seattle Center and control the Astoria and Newport, Oreg., airports. We have a letter [of agreement] that allows us to delegate the surface areas there to McMinnville FSS for Special VFR operations.
Coastal weather being what it is, this arrangement is often much easier than them calling us on every single a/c that needs SVFR to get in/out of those airports.
When it's hazy/foggy, we'll frequently have several airplanes call in a relatively short period to get in/out of the airport in question ... then the gunk burns off and things get back to normal.
Lately (past three months) I have had three separate instances where the FSS staffer didn't want to take the airspace and just handle it himself, because he was too busy and had too many other things to do. (His words, not mine.)
This, to me, says that they're starting the inevitable belt-tightening for money reasons. Why not?
If/when they can offload services that they used to provide but technically the Center guy can also provide, they might as well ... otherwise it just costs them money.
Anyway, there's an anecdotal story for you.
I am a controller at CDW. We have seen a dramatic increase in problems with flight plans and FSS. Specifically, flight plans are not in the system ... and the pilot insists he/she filed on the phone, flight plans to the wrong destination ... MSP instead of MSV, flight plans showing the wrong equipage, the wrong aircraft type, and the wrong 'N' number.
A few weeks ago, I got a call from FSS asking me to stay past the end of my assigned shift and call when a specific aircraft landed. Not that the aircraft was late, nor are we talking one or two minutes. The aircraft was flight-planned to land 40 minutes after we closed. When I refused, the caller became ... agitated and stated that it was easier for me to illegally stay in the tower than it would be for him to do his job ... if the pilot didn't call.
In 12 years at CDW, we almost never had flight problems and I had many conversations with FSS specialists that were nothing like the above.
International Language Of The Air
I find it absolutely amazing and disappointing that this issue (NewsWire, May 15) would come up 30 years after a huge Canadian study (BILCOM) proved that using a language other than English (in our case, French) would not only not create undue risks, but rather improve efficiency and safety.
A pilot may fly VFR or IFR in either "official language" (English or French) anywhere in the Québec region and even the Ottawa (federal capital) ATS offers services in both languages.
It is true that our COPA fought tooth and nail to prevent this from happening in the mid-70s, but they were eventually overruled. And not one incident related to language use has occurred in the last 30 years.
I find it even more surprising that ICAO, based in Montréal, would go this route in 2006. I've flown VFR across North America, including Mexico, and I've communicated with FSS and ATS in all three languages, depending on the area and circumstances, obviously ... ¡No problemo, amigo! Even the tower at Laredo, Tex., had bilingual (English and Spanish-speaking) controllers in 1976.
Many unilingual francophone pilots I know fly for the sheer enjoyment of it; and we would prevent them from flying from a private airfield to go fishing or hunting because they don't speak English?
I don't think this idea's going to fly, if you'll pardon the pun.
It's a fine point and Mr. Sheehan addressed an important part of the issue very well. But an old boss of mine seemed to say it best when he said, "English is not the 'international language' of aviation, but English is the language of 'international aviation'." It is a fine but ultimately correct clarification.
The Intl. Civil Aviation Org. is absolutely correct in requiring English proficiency for all pilots, VFR included, in the U.S. What happens to the safety of CTAF at non-towered airports, if the pilots cannot understand each other? How will non-English speaking pilots obtain flight following in the U.S? These present unnecessary and dangerous situations, and I certainly hope the AOPA doesn't follow in the IAOPA's ill-advised petition against the English requirement proposal.
Glider Near-Midair Collision
Regarding the article in today's AVflash about a NMAC between a glider and a RAF Tornado (NewsWire, May 15) and the recommendations that some enterprising chap develop a glider-friendly transponder and "adding a splash of color to the gliders' paint scheme would help" ...
First off, there are plenty of "glider friendly" transponders around -- for about the price of a panel-mounted radio. (The last two gliders I've owned -- including my current ASW-20C -- have panel mounted Mode C transponders.)
Second, the U.K.'s own Cranfield Institute reported on a RAF-supported study by Dr. Tony Head (conducted in 2000) on glider conspicuity that confirmed that "splashes of color" actually make conspicuity worse!
In many places in the U.S. (particularly the Reno, N.V., area), we have been using transponders in gliders for many years. There are several makes/models of small, low-power-drain xpndrs currently available. I use the Becker 4401 (Mode C) in my glider. About 10+ years ago our local glider club made a letter of agreement with Reno Approach Control for a discrete xpndr code to be used only by gliders and within 50 nm of the Reno Airport. Gliders are not required to contact RAC (outside of the Reno airspace) but RAC knows by the code who, what and where we are. And we (gliders), of course, stay out of airspace where we don't belong. It is a system that works well.
I read your article on the Virtual Radar (NewsWire, May 15). You may not be aware that this will only work with a Mode S transponder that has Extended Squitter (ES).
ES is not yet a requirement here in the U.S. so U.S.-based users may be somewhat disappointed in what they are able to display.
From AVwebFlash May 15:
"A system devised by Alaska Airlines and Boeing to help improve accessibility to notoriously difficult airports in the 50th state ..."
Alaska the 50th state? Historical revisionism!