AVmail: Mar. 28, 2005

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

Reader mail this week about control tower operations, the airline pilot retirement age, ATC staffing shortfalls and much more.

Part-Time Control Tower Operations and Airliners

I am a Boeing 727 captain based out of Memphis, Tenn., flying for a very large, overnight-express delivery service. I also fly a small general aviation airplane. I am writing to express my concern and utter disbelief with regards to the current status of part-time control tower operations and the additional proposed reduction of hours for full-time staffed control towers in the U.S.

Apparently, the only factor the FAA. has considered in reducing the operating hours of full-time control towers is money. Safety has been thrown out the window, but they want everyone to talk and walk safety. There has been at least one airliner accident that I can recall in which the flight crew would have been potentially saved from crashing their aircraft had the control tower been in operation during the early hours of the morning.

Several times I have been inbound for landing at an airport with the control tower closed due to part-time operations, in which there has been a high potential for risking safety because there were other aircraft also in the vicinity inbound for landing and departing the same airport. Without the trained instructions of ATC to watch and separate inbound and departing aircraft out of such airports, there is a high risk involved.

These part-time control tower operations are effected with a CTAF frequency, but there are times that you can have aircraft inbound and departing with no radio communications, as this CTAF is advisory in nature; thus the elevated risks to flight safety, because no one in the control tower is there to tell us that there is a NORDO aircraft in the area.

The F.A.A. and aircraft operators are touting safety but in reality they are concerned with money. This will prove to be the root cause of many aviation accidents to come if this proposal to reduce more control towers to part-time operations is effected.

Name withheld by request

Radar in Control Towers

You keep talking about the radar system in all these towers (NewsWire, Mar. 21)! Here in Phoenix the radar is in TRACON, nearly a mile from the tower. You are talking to pilots here, not the general public. Lets get the terminology correct!

Richard Jones

AVweb Replies:

Some TRACONs are in the same building as the control tower; in fact, during slow-traffic times you may find the approach controller is the same person who clears you to land and watches you taxi to the ramp.

In other cases, a control tower gets a data-feed from the nearby TRACON radar projected right in the tower cab; it's called BRITE (Bright Radar Indicator Tower Equipment).

Kevin Lane-Cummings
Features Editor

Retirement Age For Airline Pilots

A slight correction to your info regarding the forced unemployment of age 60 airline pilots (NewsWire, Mar. 21). Your article said,

"The House Aviation Subcommittee will hold hearings on the topic and there are bills ready that would push the limit to 65 if passed."

In fact, S 65 and HR 65 tie airline pilot's retirement age to the national retirement age, not age 65. We would retire at the age at which we can draw full Social Security benefits.

Stan Sutterfield
Chairman, APAAD (Airline Pilots Against Age Discrimination)

The Security Of Illegal Immigrant Aircraft Workers

For many of us who have been in the commercial aviation maintenance sector for the past decade or two, the incident involving illegal workers at TIMCO came as little surprise (NewsWire, Mar. 21). We've watched as all of the major airlines have literally cut the heart out of their maintenance divisions in an outsourcing frenzy to sign contracts with the lowest bidders. TIMCO itself is an anomaly -- a corporation that has never in its existence turned a profit. They have recently spooled up their public relations campaigns with claims that safety is their "number one priority." The airlines claim that outsourcing saves them money because the outside vendors, aside from having cheaper labor, replace less parts on an overhaul. Now I'll admit that many of us old aviation mechanics may not be very "business savvy," but we always thought that we were replacing parts because they were worn out or broken. We never stopped to think that we might be hurting the company's bottom line.

I don't want to be an alarmist, but those of us on the inside of this industry see much more than what the public perceives and all I can say about this TIMCO incident is that it is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are many issues beyond the security facet that involve the safety and integrity of the fleet. I don't expect decent paying careers in airline maintenance to ever come back but I would hope that some serious pressure is on its way for these outside vendors who now do the majority of maintenance on that fleet to get their houses in order. Unfortunately for the airlines, that will probably mean a substantial increase in maintenance costs and they've burned a lot of bridges along this outsourcing road. I personally think it's going to be a real mess.

Name withheld by request

Swarms Of UAVS Envisioned

Has anyone in NASA and DOD ever heard about or thought about equipment failures, and how these failures could result in the UAVS hitting airplanes (NewsWire, Mar. 21)? Have they done the correct "failure modes and effects analysis," etc., and have the countermeasures?

Catherine A. French

ATC Staffing Shortfalls

I was not able to participate in the poll regarding the effect that ATC staffing shortfalls may be having on ATC services provided to me (Question of the Week, Mar. 24). This is because none of the possible choices available describe the effect that I have noticed. After about a six-month break from regular flying in the IFR system, I recently returned to flying bizjets. It seems to me that delays in IFR releases in metropolitan areas have increased noticeably since last fall. While I do not detect any change in the level of safety, it seems possible that traffic flow may be showing signs of slowing in terminal areas. Perhaps the poll would have been more useful had it included traffic capacity in the answer choices. After all, the maximum level of safety would be achieved with a traffic flow rate of zero planes per hour. Safety is not the sole measure of system performance. However, I did read somewhere that FAA is concerned about a rise in ATC operational error rates. Thanks for taking the time to consider my comments.

Julien Roark

It might have been more instructive to have a choice saying, "I don't use ATC, so what would I know?"

I fly out of an uncontrolled field and I think I've visited airports with towers maybe six times in the last year. If ATC went away, I don't know as if I'd notice anything.

Stephanie Belser


I believe that Steve Fossett does not give due credit to the TruTrak autopilot's use during the flight (NewsWire, Mar. 24). In fact, except for the very few first minutes of flight and the last 12 miles the entire flight was made with the autopilot engaged.

Alan Smith

AVweb Replies:

True. And yet ... takeoff and landing are the two most challenging phases of flight!

Kevin Lane-Cummings
Features Editor

Portable GPS On Airliners

Regarding the question Bob Shuster asked in last week's AVmail (Mar. 21):

Prior to 9/11, I frequently tried to use both my Icom R1 and Garmin 90 receivers, with the captain's permission. One hysterical flight attendant insisted I turn off my Icom R1 several minutes prior to pushback. So, I stopped flying on US Airways.

After one knowledgeable captain allowed use of my Icom for an entire trip, I determined that, despite the small antenna, VHF reception was inadequate to monitor COM transmissions from the ground, and it ceased to be an issue.

Most captains allowed use of the Garmin GPS only above 10,000 MSL. On short domestic flights, this generally meant we were descending by the time my unit had figured out that 100+ miles had "disappeared" since the prior shutdown. Even with explicit permission, some flight attendants naturally wondered what in the world I was doing, and imposed their own "only above 10,000 feet" rule, which, as I learned by watching my display in 3D mode, often meant "only above 12-13,000 feet." Paranoia and hysteria remain pandemic.

Similarly, I noted more than half of the rare United Airlines aircraft equipped for the audio channel "from the cockpit" had turned off the channel out of privacy or bizarre security concerns. Even unfolding sectionals and looking out the windows made some attendants uncomfortable, and I was twice asked to give up my window seat.

Post 9/11, I don't fly on any airlines at all, period. If Governor Joe Foss was fair game for abuse, I can only imagine being taken out and summarily shot dead for carrying onboard what would appear to most ignorant flight attendants to be something threatening. If I can't go via general aviation, then I take the train or I drive my car. Hawaii? I just don't go there.

Bruce Liddel

I haven't tried using my trusty Garmin 195 on an airliner, but I've found a couple of ATC frequencies where it definitely disrupts the COM with a staccato buzzing. Unfortunately, the specific freqs are not handy to pass along, but I'd support the notion that a passenger's GPS should remain off and stowed. Small chance of trouble, but it disrupted me a couple of times.

Bob Falconer

Symphony Hometown Correction, S'Il Vous Plait

Congratulations for AVweb, it is an interesting news medium for aviation people and I have been a subscriber for many years.

In your article about the Symphony airplane, you state that this aircraft is made in "Three Rivers" Québec, Canada (NewsWire, Mar. 24). As you might know, Québec province is mostly inhabited by French-speaking people and the proper French spelling of that city is "Trois Rivières."

Furthermore, according to recent United Nation policy, all the names on all newly published maps of any kind shall use the proper spelling of the native language of the country; for example: Firenze for Florence; Mumbai for Bombay, etc.

This policy was made to respect the people living in these countries and it also removes most of the possibilities about mistakes.

And since AVweb is at the foremost of aviation news, it should be ahead of every one by respecting this United Nation policy.

Denis Ouellet

Read AVmail from other weeks here, and submit your own Letter to the Editor with this form.