American Airlines in Chapter 11 Protection – Memories of Another Day

On 30/11/2011, in Airline corner, by steve

It was a sunny afternoon in Brussels when we gathered with Russ Chew of American Airlines and my boss from IATA in our little garden in Zaventem to discuss how to proceed with the implementation of air/ground digital link and controller/pilot digital link communications (CPDLC). American was deeply unhappy with the way the FAA was handling the subject and they wanted to join the EUROCONTROL Petal trials which were booking good progress (in spite of repeated efforts on the part of some European States that wanted to kill the whole thing). The rest is history… American Airlines’ 767s were the first to be equipped with VDL Mode 2/ATN avionics and they played an essential role in ensuring that the US and Europe kept their respective digital link programs synchronized and fully interoperable.

This bold and unconventional step was typical of the spirit and attitudes of this great airline which traces its routes to the 1920s when it started to carry mail for the US government. Then in 1936 AA was the first airline to fly the Douglas DC-3, notable as the first aircraft designed to carry enough passengers to generate a profit even without revenue from mail or cargo.

But the list of innovative firsts tied to the name of American Airlines is almost endless. 1942 the catering service Sky Chefs was started to provide meals to AA passengers and in 1948 American introduced coach class service and family fares to make flying accessible to more people.

1957 saw the opening of the world’s first Stewardess College and in 1959 the first non-stop coast to coast service was introduced using the new Boeing 707.

Sabre, American’s state of the art computerized reservation system became an icon in itself first being made available to travel agents and later evolving into the core element of internet based reservation systems like Travelocity.

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RIASS in Amsterdam – What is this?

On 30/11/2011, in Life around runways, by steve

RIASS stands for Runway Incursion Alerting System Schiphol and it is a system to warn air traffic controllers in the tower of an imminent danger involving the un-authorized presence of an aircraft or vehicle on a take-off runway or landing runway already in use.

The system was developed by Air Traffic Control the Netherlands and the National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR) to further improve ground safety by reducing the incidence of runway incursions. It is a supplement to current technologies and procedures designed to prevent unsafe situations around runways.

RIASS has further improved safety at a time when air traffic volume is increasing, the runway system has been expanded, the number of crossings has increased, and the passage of aircraft and vehicles through the manoeuvring area has intensified. All take-off runways and landing runways at Schiphol are currently equipped with the RIASS system.

John Schaap, Director of Operations of Air Traffic Control the Netherlands: ‘Safety comes first in the services provided by Air Traffic Control the Netherlands, and the new system is an example of innovation and an active safety policy. The RIASS system has essentially given air traffic controllers an extra pair of eyes that allows them to monitor the moving aircraft and vehicles on the manoeuvring area even more closely.’

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Old habits that refuse to die

On 29/11/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Things like the Single European Sky (SES), SESAR, even the FABs were supposed to bring a fresh air to European ATM, dispensing once and for all with bad habits and procedures that kept making life for airspace users unnecessarily hard and expensive.

Among those old habits, the persistent mismatch between mandates to equip aircraft and adding the capability concerned to ANSPs was one of the most striking and expensive. What did this mean? The industry, sometimes all on its own but more often after “gentle persuasion” by the service providers “agreed” that a new piece of kit had to be bolted on the airplanes and a date was set by which time the new kit had to be operational. There was never a mandate for the ground to also equip, this happened in a haphazard way if it happened at all and often aircraft flew around for years with totally useless boxes on board that had cost a fortune to install with no benefit at all (just think of Mode S enhanced surveillance if you want an example).

One would think that under SES and its Implementing Rules (IR) this kind of mismatch is a thing of the past. Fat chance.

A few days ago two new SES IRs were published in the EU Official Journal.

Regulation No 1206/2011 prescribes that air navigation service providers must make use of the aircraft identification down-linked via Mode S by the second of January of the year 2020. This is a cool 17 years after the corresponding airborne retrofit date which was in 2003. Oooops….

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Commission Report Puts the Lie to Claims that ATM is in Great Shape

On 26/11/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by cleo

Regular readers of Roger-Wilco know that we have been sounding alarm bells over the European ATM situation and the even brighter future that some reports would make us believe is just around the corner. We did not make many friends with this kind of reporting… of course. It is much nicer to believe that all is well even when the plane is crashing. But we were not reporting unfounded facts. Our sources are better than most…

And now a press release from the European Commission finally brings to light just how bad the situation really is.

The “traffic light” assessments published today by the Commission – based on two progress reports – highlight serious cause for concern in relation to two major elements which go to the heart of the Single European Sky project: the performance scheme and the functional airspace blocks.

Only 5 out of 27 Member States (Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) get a “green light” and are on track to meet both targets (for cost and capacity/delays) for the period 2012–14. The Commission has issued recommendations asking Member States to revise these targets. If necessary the Commission could adopt a binding decision requesting the Member State(s) concerned to implement specific corrective measures, although a short time remains available for the targets to be met without recourse to this action.

Existing plans by Member States would fail to meet the EU-wide capacity target of 0.5 minute delay per flight in 2014. If this target were achieved, some €920 million would be saved over 2012–14 due to fewer and shorter delays.

In addition, national performance plans would miss the EU-wide target for ATM cost efficiency by 2.4% in 2014. This would have a a major impact, both on airspace users and on the credibility of the Single European Sky. To meet the target, additional measures are needed to achieve a €250 million saving over the entire three-year reference period (2012–14).

Well, this is not exactly the bright picture that States and ANSPs would want the industry to see. Keep in mind also that all this is happening after the failure of EATCHIP and ATM2000+. I hope you are not going to say now that SESAR will be different. SESAR may be but the rest of the environment is not….

But there is more.

The great Functional Airspace Block fiasco.

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Airbus to support FAA Greener Skies Initiative with ATM expertise

On 25/11/2011, in Environment - Without hot air, by steve

Airbus has been selected to provide Air Traffic Management (ATM) and Performance Based Navigation (PBN) expertise for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Greener Skies Initiative. As part of Boeing’s FAA System Engineering 2020 (SE-2020) team, Airbus will identify procedures which fully utilize aircraft precision navigation capabilities to reduce fuel burn, lower emissions and decrease noise.

The Greener Skies initiative seeks to improve ATM efficiency and to minimize the environmental impact on the ground and in the air through the expanded use of PBN including Required Navigation Performance (RNP), area navigation (RNAV), and Optimized Profile Descents (OPD).

The industry consortium includes Adacel, Airbus, Boeing, Cessna and Honeywell, and is tasked with establishing methods for the full implementation of PBN by utilizing advanced flight deck and Air Traffic Control (ATC) capabilities while analyzing new policies and procedures. Airbus subsidiary Quovadis will provide PBN consultancy and implementation expertise for the initiative. Seattle will be used as a key site to enable these initial advanced operational capabilities to be introduced into the US National Airspace System (NAS). Click here to read the full article



On 24/11/2011, in Anniversaries, by steve

As the Sun approaches the shores of the United States to-day, a very special holiday breaks. It is Thanksgiving, something that has been celebrated official in the US since 1863. It was President Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed a national holiday that year but the concept dates from much earlier. The first thanksgiving was observed to thank God for safely guiding the settler to the New World. It lasted for three days and had enough food for 13 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

To-day, Thanksgiving is still a major holiday when most Americans are heading home, not unlike Europeans do at Christmas. It is a major boost to the travel industry, among them the airlines of course.

Of course, the significance of Thanksgiving is only partially in spending it with our loved ones. The significance is in seeing a nation bow its head in acceptance of the gifts received in so many forms, acknowledging that without the helping hand of a higher power we would be much poorer in spiritual wealth.

A less well known element of this festive season is Black Friday. This is the Friday following Thanksgiving and is traditionally the start of the Christmas shopping season. It is called “black” because retailers make their profit and so avoid going into the “red”…  Most stores open early on this day (4 a.m. or earlier is not unusual) and prices are slashed on millions of much sought after items. Some stores are the scenes of pretty wild tumults as shoppers vie for items the stocks of which are limited. Ah well…

Happy Thanksgiving America!


My Fifth Mistake as an Air Traffic Controller

On 23/11/2011, in ATC world, by jim

Yes, here I am again. You’d think by now I would stop this self-flagellation, but this is not for me. I record these incidents so you may see the mistake and avoid the same or similar in your life. I noted in my last missile that pride was a key ingredient in most of my mistakes. So it was and is.

Altimetry, a simple system; Know the pressure of the atmosphere and you can accurately judge distance above the surface. But we humans have made it a bit more difficult than stated. We have different methods of measurement. Some measure in inches others measure in centimeters. Compounding this is the insistence of some to measure height above sea level and others above the ground level. In the parlance of the time QNH and QFE.

Because of these anomalies the controller at Rhein-Main in 1957 had to have available the QNH and QFE in both Inches of mercury and Millibars of mercury. This means four numbers. The field elevation at Frankfurt International Airport was 272 feet Mean Sea Level. Therefore a QNH reading of 29.92 inches becomes a QFE of 272 feet less, or 29.65 and the concomitant millibar numbers, 1012.3 and —–.
Each hour when the weather observer recorded the observation on a Dimiphone recording, the QNH and QFE would be given in both inches and millibars. Those numbers would then be written on a backlit Plexiglas placard and posted so everyone in the control room could see the placard.

For those who are interested, the QNH and QFE three letter groups are from the days of Morse code transmission of information. They are from the list of “Q” signals. QDM is the magnetic course to a station, QSY is, “Change your radio frequency to xxxx“. There is a long list of these abbreviations. Many were still used as shorthand phraseology in radiotelephony in the 50’s and 60’s, especially in the international aviation system.

With all that as preface, this is the incident as it happened:

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The pessimism of an optimist

On 21/11/2011, in Viewpoint, by cleo

Some readers of Roger-Wilco asked me why we tend to report on problems so often. The answer is simple. Because almost nobody else seems to be doing it.

If you read the official communiqués from various projects, they do tend to project a much brighter picture and if you read only those, you will sleep well. All is fine in the world of ATM. I am not saying that the official sources of information are saying things that are not true. But what they often do is leave out the context or simply ignore certain pertinent facts.

Let me give you a few recent examples.

SESAR has split its plan for implementing things into three packages, IP1 to IP3. Everyone is now raving over IP1 and the super effort going into realizing it. Great. What is rarely added is that the content of IP1 is nothing more than what should have happened under the previous European project, ATM2000+ anyway and some of the elements got delayed by 3+ years because everything stopped while the world was waiting for the SESAR miracle to happen…

A while ago the folks in the FAB Europe Central announced that airlines will be saving millions in fuel due to the more direct routes now formally agreed for night operations. What they did not add was the simple fact that most aircraft have been flying those direct routings at night for many years now on an ad hoc basis and these were now formalized. Sure, being able to plan for the shorter route brings some savings but to claim credit for the millions that were already being saved is not exactly how these things should be communicated.

SESAR has some 300 projects running… When was the last time you read in their official communications how far those projects have come and whether or not they are on schedule?

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Island hopping with Travel Service

On 18/11/2011, in The lighter side, by heading370

Summer months are of crucial importance for all airlines but they are even more so for those in the charter business. Airliner World was happy to accept the invitation of one of those charter companies, Travel Service Hungary – an affiliate of its owner Travel Service A.S. – to check how their operations are conducted from their Budapest base.

The Czech company was founded in 1997 and became one of the fastest growing Central European charter operators. In 2008 the company transported 2.8 million passengers using a fleet of 18 aircraft. The company has 2 Boeing B737-500, 12 B737-800 (of which OK-TVJ and OK-TVK were delivered brand new), 2 Airbus A320 and two B737-800 on wet lease. They have been present in Hungary since 2001 and operate about 32 medium and long haul flights a week from Hungary while employing 21 full time pilots at that base.

On a beautiful Sunday morning in July at Budapest-Ferihegy (ICAO:LHBP, IATA: BUD) Terminal 2B I met one of the airline’s young captains Peter Buliczka and his crew getting ready for an interesting trip. The flight’s first stop will be at Heraklion, Nikos Kazantzakis airport (ICAO: LGIR, IATA: HER) Crete then we will fly on to Rhodes (Rodos) Diagoras (ICAO: LGRP IATA: RHO) before heading back to Budapest. Some time ago the airline would have operated two separate flights to these two destinations, but because of the falling demand this summer travel agencies struggled to fill these flights every week.

Captain Buliczka introduced me to the entire crew: the captain will be assisted by First Officer Attila Lanc in the cockpit, while in the cabin the usual crew of four will be supplemented by two young trainee flight assistant colleagues under the supervision of Purser Zoltan Koltai.

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NextGen and SESAR – is this a race???

On 16/11/2011, in NextGen, by steve

For the past several years news from the US repeatedly mentioned how the FAA was teetering on the brink of running out of money while Congress was debating the so-called FAA reauthorization bill. At one point the Agency actually shut down for a few days while extra funds were made available for them.

Of course this unholy situation was anything but helpful for NextGen, the FAA’s flagship project aiming to modernize the ATM system in the US. However, after all this wrangling, there is light at the end of the tunnel… and it is not the train that is coming!

A bill that would finally settle the funding issue will probably be on the President’s desk by Christmas. This was announced recently on the occasion of the opening of the renovated NextGen Test Bed at the Daytona Beach International Airport in Florida. This airport is famous among others for being the home-base of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The bill in question will provide a four-year blueprint for the development of NextGen and will eliminate any reauthorization issues for the FAA during this time. Congressman John Mica, when talking about the bill, highlighted the fact that it includes deadlines, incentives to attract private money into the project and also a streamlining of the FAA processes used to certify new technology.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said that “NextGen will be more convenient, more dependable and it will improve safety and efficiency all at the same time.”

More surprisingly, it seems that there is a belief in some US circles that if the US gets NextGen up and running before Europe’s SESAR is ready, the US stands to reap important economic benefits. They believe that whoever sets the protocols and standards will also win he world market. The same people indicated that in their view, the US is ahead of Europe in this “race”.

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