Semi-Farewell to the Tower

On 31/12/2013, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

frThis year I was really impatient for the last day of 2013 to come. In my mind I was cutting the measuring tape’s centimeter pieces like anno during the last days of my military service. Why?
I am keen to start working in my new position and be finished with suffering the slow death of the tower, to be able to do something against it. For a long time I had the feeling that the tower, which turned 30 this year, was in a horrible state and the neglect only increases. What with the celebrations that had been promised for the round-year anniversary and which was almost forgotten! The photos I sent in showing the two-legged monster were simply ignored…
So, for lack of a better opportunity, I am mentioning here and now that Ferihegy Tower has turned 30 in 2013! 30 years is both a lot and not really so many. As age it is nothing to write home about but when considering all the events that rocked the poor thing, it is a wonder it still stands in the middle of the Ferihegy wasteland. Will it survive the next 30 years? A big question and I have serious doubts about it.
This was one of the reasons for my wanting a change. Especially the last 10 years a feeling of powerlessness was creeping up on me seeing that my words about the tower were falling on deaf ears. My new job is in headquarters and I have been heard there in the past when I had something to say about the tower. Is it possible that we were so completely cut off from the real world that in HQ they were not aware of just how big the problems had become?
If for nothing else, this is why I am so keen for 6 January to arrive so that I may see things more clearly.
True, I am jumping ship (well, tower…) but I am doing this to save it or at least to extend its life. To show just how true this sinking thing is, let me give you an example, the case of parking with one’s own car.
Believe me when I say I hate acting like an old wheezer who speaks of nothing else but the faded glory of yesteryear but when there is nothing else I can do, I am forced to turn into a grumpy grandpa.

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What is the definition of a pilot?

On 27/12/2013, in Safety is no accident, by steve

A while back somebody answered this question, admittedly rather unkindly as: a pilot is an expensive source of accidents. My pilot friends, please bear with me… and read on.

Social-Media-Automation1While I do not agree with this definition as such, it does dovetail with a number of recent incidents (Turkish Amsterdam, Calgon Air Buffalo, Air France South-Atlantic and Asiana SFO) as well as the long lasting debate about the erosion of basic piloting skills in an environment where highly automated aircraft have become phenomenally reliable and predictable.

A recent article in Aviation Week and Space Technology also discusses the issue, highlighting the disturbing truth that in spite of the widespread recognition of the existence of the problem, there is no agreement on “why a pilot’s hand flying skills decay, what to do about it and what constitutes an adequate set of manual piloting skills”.

The recommendations from the FAA flight path management working group are also telling. Inter alia they state: Pilots must be prepared for dealing with the unexpected, and the equipment design, training, procedures and operations must enable them to do so.” They keep mum about this should be done…

So, to over simplify things a little, we have aircraft that fly themselves most of the time and on the few occasions when they do not, the pilots turn out to have forgotten how to fly manually. How do we solve such a dilemma?

Obviously, there are to possible options here: eliminate the pilot and make the aircraft totally capable to do its own thing; or find a way to keep the pilot current and ready to handle “the unexpected”.

Does the first choice sound outlandish? Well, if you listen to the box shifters, they think it is not and they at least can hardly wait until the technology is there to make their MD-11s and other big metal fly from A to B without the benefit (and costs) of a pilot. Packages do not care if the front office is empty. Opponents will argue that while we have news of accidents where the pilot was to blame, we seldom hear about the cases where things did work out ok with the pilots actually saving the day. Indeed, the Air France accident was preceded by several incidents of loss of airspeed indications… While it is true that we do not have full statistics of how many times the pilots as the last line of defense saved the day, it is worth pointing out an inherent flaw in this argument.

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FAA Gives Santa, Sleigh & Crew a GO for Launch

On 24/12/2013, in ATC world, by steve

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today said Santa Claus, his elfin crew and the Santa One sleigh are GO for the annual round-the-world flight that will deliver presents to good boys and girls everywhere.

“This is my first holiday season as Secretary of Transportation, and I feel a special responsibility to make sure Santa’s flight goes off without a hitch,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

While there were no external changes to Santa One this year, FAA inspectors put in many hours ensuring that the sleigh’s systems – and especially its crew – met all applicable regulations. The agency approved installation of a state-of-the-art WiFi system so Santa’s helpers can use their Portable Elftronic Devices (PEDs) to connect with the internet. Thanks to the FAA’s policy change in late October, the elves may now use their PEDs from takeoff to landing to keep in touch with the North Pole.

The Jolly Old Elf himself will employ modern computer technology in the sleigh’s Captain’s seat. After an evaluation period, FAA inspectors gave Santa a thumbs-up to use a tablet computer instead of paper documents to store his flight plan, chimney approach charts and Naughty-or-Nice checklist.

“We’re helping Santa fly smarter and faster while making sure he has a safe and successful mission” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

Pilot issues occupied much of the FAA’s Santa-related activities this year. Inspectors verified that Santa has an appropriate flight, duty and rest program, and that Santa One has an approved crew rest area. The FAA also confirmed that Santa’s First Officer, Amelia Elfhart, has the required 1,500 sleigh piloting hours and Santa One type rating. Santa made sure he could continue to serve as Sleigh Captain by completing a new FAA-approved Sleigh Transport Pilot training program.

You can follow Santa’s flight at the NORAD Tracks Santa website here.


Operational Use of Flight Path Management Systems

On 17/12/2013, in Safety is no accident, by steve

wgThe report of the FAA’s Flight Deck Automation Working Group, originally submitted to them in September, has been released to the public on 21 November. The Working Group found that the use of modern, highly automated flight path management systems can lead to degradation of piloting skills as well as other new risks not sufficiently recognized. They formulated 18 recommendations aimed at mitigating this worrying tendency.

The FAA will establish a new government-industry group early next year charged with developing measures to reduce identified risk areas via encouraging voluntary changes in pilot, flight attendant and dispatcher training. The group will review 25 safety recommendations from the NTSB and the FAA itself and decide the top 5 focus areas that will have to be addressed with priority. Some of the 25 recommendations stem from the 18 recommendations referred to above.

You can read the full report here.


Traffic Aware Planner – TAP. What is this?

On 17/12/2013, in Buzzwords explained, by steve

air_trafficIn the traditional scheme of things, an aircraft operator will plan a flight, submit the flight plan and then operate at the “mercy” of air traffic control, a service which will ensure a safe flight in terms of avoiding conflicts with other traffic but which may not always excel at allowing the flight to actually fly what was originally planned. There are many reasons for this and ineptitude of the air traffic controller is not among them. Often, the originally planned trajectory may simply be impossible due to the amount of traffic around. Things get even more complicated if the flight crew requests an in-flight change to the trajectory. The air traffic controller needs to check the consequences of the change before approving it and often there is no time to do this, there is simply too much work. The catch here of course is that the request from the flight crew is based solely on what they consider as best for their flight. Traffic, airspace limitations, weather will all play a role in whether or not a change is feasible from an air traffic management point of view and it is the controller who has to figure it all out. You cannot blame him or her if they balk when the request comes in the middle of intense traffic.

But what if the request sent by the flight crew were of a more considered nature? What if the flight crew did some of the preliminary work, checking traffic, airspace availability and weather in order to generate a request that controllers could approve with a minimum of additional checking?

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