Same time, same place, same level… 4.

On 31/08/2009, in Same time, same place..., by steve

The fire extinguisher – 2

As I said before, the fire extinguishers saw little use, but on the one occasion they were needed,  they  sure  turned into an instrument of calamity.

In the old days, before computers became widespread even at airports as small as ours, the message switching center was of the torn-tape type.Firefighter This noisy clearing  house  of  thousands  of aeronautical messages was in fact one,  long  room,  with  a  few dozen clattering telex machines and the same  number  of  harried operators,  feeding  perforated  tape  into  their  machines  and tearing off messages arriving for local addressees. It was mostly women working here and their ages ranged from the ripe  young  to the definitely stale. As there was no air  conditioning  and  the windows had to be kept closed even in summer to keep the aircraft noise out, the amount of skin exposed by  the  younger  operators grew in step with  the  outside  air temperature. Little wonder that some controllers spent  an  undue amount of their rest time checking messages…

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Perpetuum mobile…

On 29/08/2009, in Environment - Without hot air, by steve

Great news! I have invented a truly working perpetual motion machine. The perpetuum mobile is now reality! What? You do not believe it? Never mind. You are then one of those people who will not buy a Hybrid drive car and who also do not stand in awe in front of those aberrations ruining the countryside, wind turbines claiming to be THE solution for renewable energy.

Wind Turbine

But there are others, including governments, who believe in both, what is more, subsidize them to make the show even grander… Alongside Hybrid drive cars and wind turbines, my perpetual motion machine has a real chance. But what does this have to do with air traffic management?

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Same time, same place, same level… 3.

On 28/08/2009, in Same time, same place..., by steve

The fire extinguisher – 1

The fire hazard at an airport is  a  fact  of  life  one learns to live with very quickly. To overcome complacency,  staff are regularly reminded of the need  to  observe  fire  prevention precautions and a further, constant reminder is also provided  in the form of an abundance of  red,  hand-held  fire  extinguishers hung at strategic locations.

Fire extinguisherIn view of the extremely expensive equipment  housed  on the floor occupied by the air traffic  control  operations  room, these red bottles, with the funny, horn-like blowers, were to  be found on the walls at every corner. Originally, they were of  the CO2 type, the standard arrangement being with the  horn  facing downwards, nicely aligned with the  bottle  itself.  In  case  of need, the horn could be turned towards the fire once  the  bottle was taken off the wall.

In time non-usage saw the  joints  of  the  horns  become stiff enough  to  hold  it  unassisted  in  any  direction,  even straight upwards. One  nice  day  controllers  decided  that  the proper way for the horn to stand was straight up, like a …,well you know what. And so it became the sacred duty of each and every controller to coax the horn into an erect position,  whenever  they  happened  on  a bottle with a drooping organ.

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Fast trains and airplanes in China

On 27/08/2009, in Viewpoint, by steve

When we say High Speed Train, we tend to think of France and Japan first and foremost. We also know that there is a kind of love-hate relationship between those fast train companies and the airlines. Love is in the air, or rather on the tracks, when some Thalys trains run with an Air France flight number between Brussels and Paris Charles De Gaulle airport or when several of Germany’s ICE trains carry a LH number… But when trains take passengers away from certain flights instead of feeding the airline network, love changes to hate…

Xinhua photo

Xinhua photo

The competition war between air and high speed rail travel is being fought in several areas, some of which make the playing field anything but level. City centre to city centre or airport to airport, the nightmares of airport security and the lack of it on the trains, public money in the infrastructure against full cost recovery for the airlines… No one has figured out yet how best to make these two great forms of transport live with each other.

In 2009, China is investing 50 billion US dollars in the construction of the world’s biggest high speed train network. What are the airlines in China thinking?

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What have we learnt from TCAS?

On 24/08/2009, in View from the left seat, by Alex1

If there’s one sure bet in this world it is that pilots and controllers will disagree about TCAS. Controllers believe it is an invention of the devil, pilots love it, if it is u/s, they feel naked. It is a remarkable technical achievement. I remember several UK CAA briefings in the very early 80s which declared flatly that an airborne collision avoidance system was just impossible, so it was something of a surprise to find working prototypes within a few years. The first versions were very limited in their ability to adjust the advisory, and would quickly announce ‘TCAS Invalid’ if the original RA no longer suited the situation.

Pilots vetoed that, and the first operational version was vastly more capable, with the ability to upgrade, downgrade, or even reverse the advisory. Later versions improved the coordination logic. The basic collision avoidance algorithm, however, is still recognisable, based on ‘tau’ (range/range rate) criteria.

Before TCAS entry, I took part in a number of controller briefing sessions. People came up with all sorts of ingenious scenarios that they were convinced TCAS could not handle. Almost without exception TCAS passed those tests. But there is a flaw in TCAS that those controllers, and to be honest most of us working closely on the project, either ignored or under appreciated. It is the boring old problem of the human in the loop.

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Banging on an open door?

On 22/08/2009, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

The SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU) has just announced that they are launching a specific initiative on flight tracking in oceanic and remote areas. The call for tender (OPTIMI) is meant to select contractor(s) for the performance of a study and flight demonstrations – co-funded for a maximum amount of € 360.000 -aimed at demonstrating the feasibility to implement oceanic tracking services in the Atlantic at a reasonable cost and within a limited timeframe (2010).

The SESR JU was tasked to analyse the issue and provide recommendations on the way forward in response to the apparent lack of appropriate tracking over remote areas that came to light following the recent tragic accident over the South-Atlantic.

As I read this news in my office, one of the several computer screens was focused on the Pacific Ocean, showing the Western Coast of the US and the Hawaii Islands. All traffic was clearly visible and by pointing on any of the blips, I could immediately bring up corresponding, real-time flight data, including heading, level, speed, departure and destination aerodrome and the filed track was also presented.

Scrolling the map to the North Atlantic, as I briefly looked at traffic in and out of Paris, two questions came to mind.

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Is the training of air traffic controllers better?

On 20/08/2009, in Viewpoint, by steve

One of the surprising and possibly unexpected early recommendations coming out of the investigation of the recent Air France Airbus 330 crash is that training in certain basic piloting skills and the handling of unusual situations must be strengthened and improved. Excuse me? Have we already reached the stage where the pilots of a sophisticated aircraft like the 330 are left wondering what to do when the screens go blank or numbers no longer add up?

One accident, however tragic, is probably not enough to draw far reaching conclusions on this thorny issue. But it does pose a question in a different context: is the training of air traffic controllers any better and is it keeping up with developments in the cockpit?

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Two-way communication and the efficiency of public security

On 19/08/2009, in Battle stations, by krisztian

Strolling through the center of Brussels today my mind wandered off as my wife was shopping. I started an incognito surveillance of the security staff present in the mall, the different stores and the public areas. Of course, it was not all that hard to pick them out of the crowd, as they all wear clothing portraying the company they work for. This of course is done deliberately, if only to show the competition who is working where. More importantly, the clothing shows possible ‘threats’ that security is present and that somebody is keeping an eye out.

Shopping mall

With the law on security being very strict in Belgium, everybody is aware of the fact that security officers can not do much in case of a crime… Nevertheless the men and women in the field do a good job. They show the public that somebody cares, that somebody is there to assist and in this they do succeed.

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Scientific elite joins SESAR

On 18/08/2009, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Twelve renowned scientists have been signed up to create the new Scientific Committee of the SESAR Joint Undertaking. The Committee will deal with all scientific aspects of the work programme and will focus on:
• the scientific analysis of SESAR from different angles: economics, human factors, statistics, mathematics, computer science, physics, technology;
• the liaison between SESAR and the academic and scientific communities across Europe including education of the future “SESAR interested engineers & scientists”; and
• the scientific value of the SESAR results.

The list of personalities is impressive and covers institutions situated all over Europe.

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Runway incursions – a portal full of help

On 17/08/2009, in Life around runways, by steve

Flying is several orders of magnitude safer than road travel, we all know that. Yet there is a curious element of commonality between those two modes of transport, representing a serious danger in both. Drivers who manage to get onto the wrong side of a motorway and aircraft or ground vehicles that blunder onto the runway creating a collision hazard…

Runway incursions make it into the news only if an accident ensues. This does not happen often but a few notable cases, like Tenerife in 1977 and Milan in 2001 will sound familiar to all of us. But the problem is real and much bigger than one would think at first sight.

Skidmarks

On average there are two runway incursions of varying severity in Europe every day!

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