Same time, same place, same level…16

On 30/11/2009, in Same time, same place..., by steve

Navigation, the art of getting lost – Part 1

navigateFaultless navigation plays an all important role in the safe operation of aircraft. There are scores of instruments both in the cockpit and on the ground, the purpose of which is to make sure that pilots and controllers are constantly aware of where their airplanes are flying. Of course, not all the available systems are of equal sophistication, while some provide direct readout of position, others require quite a bit of interpretation. Different aircraft may have different equipment installed and under certain conditions controllers on the ground are the only ones who can really tell at a glance the position of a particular plane.

Constant positional awareness of the flight crew is helped by specialized charts quite unreadable to the layman. What you see is a maze of lines, circles, symbols, figures and arrows, but to a pilot they tell all he needs to know. Controllers mainly rely on their radar to keep track of what is happening but they can read a navigation chart as well as any pilot can. Still, navigational errors do occur, almost always leading to hot situations in the cockpit and on the ground. Here are a few of the more notable ones from our experience.

Shitbombers and the mountains

If you loose your way in the sky while flying over flat ground on a bright summer day, though awkward, things are not likely to take a nasty turn in a hurry. You can always try to read the name of a nearby railway station or if this fails, call in to ATC for some friendly advice. However, if there are mountains around, you are flying in clouds and radar has difficulties tracking your flight, it is better to watch your every step.

Remember the old Chinese saying “Luck never comes in pairs or disaster alone”? Well, this seems to be especially true for flying. The five shitbombers (we called the agricultural sprayers shitbombers) were plodding along in a tight formation, heavily loaded with fuel, on a ferry flight bound for the Middle East.

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When blue means green

On 27/11/2009, in Environment - Without hot air, by steve

The KLM 747 shown below circled The Netherlands for an hour on 23 November with one of its four engines running on a 50 % mix of biokerosene. The new fuel aptly tagged “sustainable kerosene” was manufactured from the camelina plant by a biotechnology company in Seattle, USA.

KLM said that this was the first ever flight in Europe powered partly by sustainable kerosene.

Some 40 people, including politicians, airline officials and journalists, were on board.

KLM stressed that its interest in sustainable kerosene is conditional on the availability of solutions that do not jeopardize the food supply, forests or water resources.

This flight was definitely an important first step towards cleaner and sustainable air transport. The general availability of sustainable kerosene is one aspect that will determine how quickly companies adopt the new fuel.

I have only one nagging question… what color will the contrail be behind a fully bio aero engine? (SMILE)



My FAB my Castle – is there hope for the European air traffic management enterprise?

On 27/11/2009, in Viewpoint, by pbn

fabI guess from a purely political point of view, criticizing the Functional Airspace Block (FAB) concept is probably not correct. I will not criticize the FABs. What I will do is share a few thoughts with you and also raise a few questions. Who knows, someone may even have the answers.

So what is a FAB? Contrary to what you may have heard, the FAB concept was/is an effort by the European Union to bring some order into the fragmented European ATM scene. That this was not exactly to everyone’s taste was amply evidenced in the time it took to get the first FAB (and subsequent FABs) off the ground. The process stalled a few times and lots of screaming brides had to be dragged to the altar before it was restarted again.

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The new SESAR web site

On 26/11/2009, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

logoI guess it is a sign of the times that one of the measures of an organization’s maturity is the version number of its web site. Low numbers (say from 1 to 3) tend to be a real pain and it is usually only after version 5 that one is faced with a style, clarity and ease of finding things that rate a compliment.

The first version of the SESAR web presence was visibly an affair that had to be put together in a hurry and it was a real, classical version 1. But the designers of the new SESAR web presence have dispensed with the go-slow tradition and created something really nice for version 2.

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U.K. airspace “developments”?

On 26/11/2009, in Viewpoint, by cleo

Untitled-2A short article in Aviation Week and Space Technology caught my eye the other day. “Restructuring U.K. Skies” was the title and it announced that the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was beginning the process of defining airspace out to 2030, with industry-wide dialogue to begin in 2010. I counted the number of times the word “airspace” appeared in the item: six. I also counted the number of times the words trajectory based operations appeared. ZERO.

I think it is fair to assume that the editors of Aviation Week would have used the term “trajectory based operation” if they had seen it in the CAA’s press release or the “Airspace for Tomorrow” guidance document. So, its complete lack can be safely taken for an indication of its absence in the CAA’s material.

The United Kingdom is part of SESAR and experts from NATS have been involved in the writing of the SESAR Concept of Operations. So what gives?

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GNSS Landing System (GLS) to the rescue…

On 25/11/2009, in Life around runways, by steve

photo_honeywellLast year in September we were on the last leg of a longish trip that started in Honolulu and after a stop-over in San Francisco we were finally on-board Continental Airlines’ 767- 400 bound for Brussels. We were late pushing back (no fault of the airline) and taxi was more an occasional crawl than continuous movement. In just a few minutes I could understand why the Newark-Brussels flight is so often late getting into BRU.

After about 15 minutes of not going anywhere, the captain apologized for the delay and explained that the airport was very busy and that we would probably not be taking off for another 35 minutes or so. He suggested that we take out our laptops and work, walk around visiting friends if we want to… he would be extra gentle with the occasional spurt forward. In the end, the waiting was more like 45 minutes but at least we made many friends onboard.

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SITA selected to provide PENS – but SWIM is more than just ANSPs!

On 24/11/2009, in SWIM, by steve

pensThose of our readers who have looked at the various postings on System Wide Information Management (SWIM) will be familiar with the abbreviation PENS which stands for “Pan European Network Service”. PENS will allow air navigation service providers from 38 countries to exchange operational data communications across a common network for the first time.

Following an intensive competitive tendering exercise, SITA was selected as the provider of this managed IP based regional communications backbone service.
PENS will enable the 38 ANSPs of the EUROCONTROL Member States to exchange operational ATC data communications in a seamless and integrated manner; it will provide an alternative to the ad-hoc bi-lateral communications that are largely in place today between the ANSPs, resulting in improved service levels and reduced overall costs.

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Aircraft Operational Fuel Savings & Noise Reduction – Past and Future

On 23/11/2009, in View from the left seat, by phil

A380The way pilots fly their aircraft can have a significant effect on the economics, fuel consumption and environmental performance of their airline. Many airlines and Air Navigation Service Providers are working on Constant Descent Approaches (CDAs) but to do these it is necessary to have well motivated pilots, good operating procedures and efficient ATM procedures.

Particularly on long flights, the pilots have many more things to do than just flying the aircraft. The tactical decisions they make on the day with regard to fuel load, payload, routes and altitudes, descent profiles and the deployment of flaps and landing gear can all affect the bottom line economics. In a lecture given to the Royal Aeronautical Society’s CEAS 2009 Conference last month, Captain Hugh Dibley described the work done in the past to improve operating procedures, the influence the flight crew can have over the fuel used, and some of the possible improvements in the future. In one example he showed that a fuel economy campaign and improved procedures produced savings in the order of 8%. Some recent simulation work done by SAS has shown that CDAs and optimised procedures could produce comparative savings of 18.4%. And even minor changes in operation can save at least 1% at no cost – in comparison, one engine manufacturer currently spends over £800,000,000 per year in Research and Development to improve consumption by 1%. The paper also shows how some airlines were able in the past to reduce their fuel burnt by nearly 10% virtually overnight.

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NCS – What? Not CNS?!

On 22/11/2009, in Viewpoint, by steve

navigatorWhoever came up with the abbreviation CNS (a.k.a. Communications/Navigation/Surveillance) probably had no idea how much damage their invention would cause in air traffic management by perpetuating the kind of silo mentality that keeps many organizations hopelessly divided and experts retreating into their respective ivory towers.

If at least the inventors had the good sense of putting their beloved letters into some kind of logical order, like history, which would have given us NCS… We did navigate first (as in trying to find our way by reading the names of train stations and flying along highways), then communicated at first with lights and hand signals and later via radio and more recently we do surveillance. Not that NCS would have been any better at driving the silo mentality from the face of the earth.

Of course in the old days there was some logic in looking at navigating and communicating as something totally different from each other. You trained for one or the other, aircraft carried separate navigators and radio operators and when radar came along, the wizards of that kit were a completely new breed yet again. It was only logical also that separate fiefdoms should grow up along the letters NCS with hardly any horizontal contact between them. That they should fiercely protect their respective domains was perfectly natural…

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Italian holiday

On 20/11/2009, in The lighter side, by steve

fontana_di_treviI hope that after the last three Fridays when I dished up a poem in “The lighter side” have not made you decide not to read the blog on Fridays… I really hope so because it is once again Friday and I have yet another poem for you… As befits its category, these poems are only remotely connected with air traffic management but they were all born in an aviation context. Waiting in a departure hall, sleepless high over the Atlantic Ocean or just seeing a 747 soar into the air… Anyway, hearing the name of the Italian airline Alitalia, you cannot fail to notice the inherent melody in it. You almost hear a gondolier in Venice singing the latest ad for the Italian carrier. Here is something then, inspired by an Alitalia flight.

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