AVmail: April 18, 2011

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Each week, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox here in AVmail. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership). Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.

Letter of the Week: More Equal

About five years ago, I was returning to Van Nuys from Fresno in my Hawker Hunter after doing an Air Show there. After departing Fresno, I requested FL250, and Oakland Center replied by clearing me to FL230, which I acknowledged. But in my head I was still thinking FL250 and went right through 23,000 and leveled at 25,000.

Oakland Center never said a word, nor did Los Angeles Center when I contacted them, requesting a descent into Van Nuys. Just as I was walking to my car, after putting the Hunter away, I got that magic message from someone in the office. "Hey, George, they want you to call ... ." Well, I ended up taking a 30-day suspension rather than fight the FAA since I didn't fly for a living, and it was no big deal.

Now consider the recent story about Sen. James Inhofe and keep in mind that nothing has been done about it and no action was ever taken against him.

My clear conclusion, as was written by George Orwell in his classic work Animal Farm, [is that] "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

So, did I get it right?

George Lazik

Sleep Sagas

Regarding the "Question of the Week": I have never fallen asleep on the job, but I have been awakened by the snoring of the captain and flight engineer of the DC-8 I was the First Officer aboard.

Don Nafe

As a retired heavy jet air cargo captain, it was my cockpit policy to allow a crewmwmber experiencing a "sinker" a 30-minute nap during the en route/cruise phase of the flight, while insisting that the other two crewmembers had a fresh cup of hot coffee in hand with instructions to talk to each other. I would much rather have a wide-awake crew on a minimums CAT III approach than a drowsy one. Crew resource management! It doesn't take three people to monitor the autopilot and answer the radio.

Name withheld

When I was a control tower operator at Patrick AFB, Florida in the early 1950s, the night-time traffic was so light that the tower operator was allowed to sleep on the midnight to 0700 shift. We would increase the volume of the radios (speakers were used at that time) to awaken us if someone called the tower. Never had a problem with this set-up.

Dudley Johnston

This is another example of unions and bloated bureaucracy. Now we have 27 additional highly paid federal employees to provide pensions and medical care for! Just send out a memo: You nod off, you're fired. Next thing we know, there will be two controllers sleeping, so we have to add two more employees, etc., etc. It never stops with this federal government and unions!

Chuck Perry

This has to be one of the stupidest QOTWs I've seen. Given that there's no choice for respondents who haven't fallen asleep on the job (or won't admit to it), the only information it will produce is an unofficial categorization of jobs held by employees who acknowledge snoozing at work.

Lance Fisher

AVweb Replies:

You were free to not respond. We were interested in those who had fallen asleep. And all of our surveys are unofficial.

In 1960, [I was in] my second year in ATC and the only tower controller on midnight at CYYC (Calgary).

I just did a short shift change, days to midnights, and had a Trans Canada Airlines Super Constellation scheduled arrival at 3am. I had a 20-minute wait from my last departure, so I left the runway and approach lights on. It was dark and quiet, other than the slightly audible hiss from the multiple external speakers, which monitored all frequencies before use of headsets. I was out.

When I came to, everything was exactly as I left it, other than there was a Super Constellation on the terminal ramp that wasn't there earlier. Apparently, the TCU changed the Connie flight to my frequency at 60 miles, as it was VFR. The crew called and couldn't raise me so returned to TCU frequency. The Connie stayed on TCU, landed and taxied to the gate.

Neither the crew nor TCU reported it, or I would have been looking for another job. I tried all of my 27-year ATC career to get two controllers on a midnight, but to no avail.

My biggest "one on a midnight" complaint was we didn't have time between flights on a midnight shift to leave the tower to go down one floor to the washroom. So on a midnight, some of us used the escape hatch in the lower wall of the tower, stood on the cat-walk and faced downwind. It only took a third the time of going to the washroom.

If one had diarrhea before a midshift and was too late to phone in sick for a relief, you'd bring a plastic garbage bag, then line it in a waste-paper basket because the aircraft don't stop coming or going. Many of us had to use this alternative.

Welcome to the real world in ATC.

Jim Hall

Traffic Travails

I just finished reading the opposing sides of the Sun 'n Fun parking disaster on April 1. Indeed, I think the real truth of this problem lies somewhere in the middle between the sides published in Monday's AVweb newsletter.

I arrived in the show area about 8am and took 1.5 hours to get the last half mile into the parking lot. The problem was not lack of gates, slow drivers, or storm damage. It was mud.

The show manager did his best to convince the world in the preceding 12 hours that all was well and the show recovered nicely from the tornado damage, but that was not the case. The result was the horror in the parking lot. The show did go on, but it was hampered by a shortage of people at the show [who were] instead waiting to get a parking space. Even after I got a space, I had to walk a mile through the mud to get to the main (and only) gate. After another mile walk through the mud when I left the show, I decided to return home to Washington State a day early instead of visiting the show Saturday.

If the show manager had just told the truth instead of trying to fool everyone so they would go to the show on Friday, I would have played poker on Friday and enjoyed the show on Saturday. Instead, I payed the penalty fee to change my airline reservations and had a horrible day both Friday and Saturday.

It is true that the storm impact ruined my trip to the show. It stopped the auction I was attending while trying to buy an airplane. It destroyed the pool table-flat parking lot and turned a few square miles of sandy grass into mud. (Who knew you could turn sand to mud?) We should all have remembered that Friday was April Fool's Day.

Paul Mulwitz

After seeing Wood's SNF video, hearing his narration and reading the reply from John Burton, it seems that the tornado and accompanying heavy rain only made a bad situation worse. 2011 was my first and likely last year attending SNF. I had to get in to make panel purchase decisions related to a new aircraft I am building. So while the four-hour wait was extreme, I accomplished my goals. Hearing Steve Wood describe his experiences with many more years in attendance, I can see a history that leaves much to be desired. For example, after waiting four hours after arriving at 9am, I had to wait an additional 20 minutes in line with everyone else to get my online ticket converted into a wristband.

As a contributing editor for an aviation publication, I find myself at dozens of international aviation events annually. I usually have the benefit of media parking and can bypass ticket lines. However, I was at SNF 2011 as a member of the ticket-buying public. So to wait in line for a ticket after waiting in gridlock for four hours was a lot to ask, especially given the trickle of people getting in compared to what John Burton would make me believe was normal. If attendance at SNF is decreasing, I can see one reason why.

Michael Gallagher

Sun 'n Fun was a disaster. I was there for the tornado and stupidly went back Friday. I waited in line for four hours to enter the parking lot, where traffic direction left a lot to be desired.

Cars were driving eastbound in the westbound lanes to cut in line with nary a police officer in sight because they were all standing at the entrance laughing and joking.

The half-mile walk to the gate was in knee-deep mud where you were then permitted to stand in line for an hour to buy a full-price ticket.

Once inside, the Porta-Potties were simply stood up after being blown over, with no attempt to clean them.

The most aggravating part was Sun 'n Fun Radio saying what a great job everyone did to clean up.

Mr. Burton, you should have been ashamed to continue to charge $5 for parking and $35 for entry after such a mess. Either shut down the event for the day and clean up, or, for once, show some fiscal compassion and allow free entry. You would still be able to gouge us with $7 sandwiches and $3 bottles of water.

Don't know if I'll return again.

Vince Minnillo

Mr. Burton doesn't have it right. I attended SNF on Saturday, and the traffic and parking situation was not good and was as bad as I've ever seen in many years of attendance.

Originally intending to attend on Friday, I delayed a day knowing everything would be in a state of disrepair. Arriving on Saturday late morning (with a civilian I wanted to introduce to aviation), we encountered heavy southbound slow-moving traffic well to the north on County Line Road. We solved that by heading south and doubling back. Once on Pipkin, the traffic stopped, and I could have walked to the single open gate faster. Once in, the parking lot was a muddy mess. Major areas were not usable but I don't hold Burton responsible for that. We parked way out to enable quick egress and walked in. The road was so muddy that it was tough for folks to walk. I saw women with baby buggies having them carried through mud bogs. I didn't see any gravel around. Finally, the gates were all clogged with folks trying to get in. We lucked out and found a SNF volunteer (I hope?) walking around with bracelets.

Once inside the actual grounds, damaged airplanes and other debris were all cleaned up. Maybe that's what Burton referred to? It sure as heck wasn't either the parking lot or the traffic beyond. When we left, I saw cars parked more than a mile from the grounds on Pipkin Road.

My friend commented that the traffic flow and control were not acceptable, and we didn't appreciate the muddy parking lot with no gravel for a walkway. A single line of gravel all the way through would have been very helpful.

Used to be, one of the pluses for SNF was free parking. Now they have their hand out for $5, but the parking situation has not improved. The final insult came at the end of a hot afternoon when I found that a cold small glass of beer had risen to $6. Gimme a break!

Contrast this story with that of Oshkosh 2010. EAA did an admirable job of pumping water, laying in dirt and gravel and otherwise handling a much larger crowd. SNF just doesn't measure up.

SNF 2012 won't be on this pilot's list of air shows to attend next year.

Larry Stencel

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