Friday, June 21, 2013

Not A Real Air Crash (Sequester Sequester FNORD! Sequester)

     So, a week ago, we're told, a couple of jets "nearly missed" one another near New York City's LaGuardia Airport, coming possibly as close as one hundred feet to one another "while turning away from one another."

     And it's all the fault of those ding-dang Republicans and their heartless sequester, and never you mind about any fed.bux spent on First Lady safaris or Congressional perqs: unlike air traffic control, those things are Off Limits when it's time to spend less.

     How, exactly, do you fix this with money, anyway?  One of the pilots involved was cleared to land at JFK -- and did not carry out that landing.  Nope, he did something on his own initiative.  Possibly without making sure ATC knew he was doing it. (Which is not too clever, considering the visibility in a big plane and many small ones is about like a semi-tractor or a big passenger bus [1], if not worse and not to mention the inadvisability of doing unexpected things with an airplane over NYC.) Assuming the air traffic radar was working, assuming the big, fancy (and probably out-of-date; some are dreadfully old but the guiding philosophy is to use older, highly reliable tech, the sky being the original Blue Screen Of Death[2]) computer was running, assuming the controller was awake, it's a glitch; when you got in that plane, surely you understood it is not without risk.  The sky is big, but over a busy airport, it's not all that big.

     There was another close call in the air.  Civilization got away with it again -- just like happens every day.  (Or did it happen?  How many millions of people with smartphones and cameras in the Big Apple, and there's no video?)

     Is world.  Is not safe.
1. Or a train.  Hey, you know what happens when all the engines on a passenger train fail?  They open the bar!  And send another engine out.  The visibility thing, however, is worse than my examples imply: our thinking isn't quite set up for freedom of movement -- and intersecting traffic -- in every direction.  Flying an airplane is fundamentally different from operating any other means of mechanized travel.

2. This may be unfair.  At one point not all that long ago, it was claimed there were still all-vacuum-tube components on some parts of the Air Traffic Control hardware, and they were not including RADAR tubes.  I don't know if it's still true -- one hopes not -- but if a low-emission 6J6 or 12AT6 caused that "near-miss," you'd think someone from NTSB or Congress would be holding it up at a news conference already.


Jess said...

If they had crashed, months would have passed before we'd known it had nothing to do with the sequester.

Mike V. said...

If the pilot didn't land as directed and started freelancing in controlled airspace, he should loose his piloting license. If 2 cars bump on the road, usually bent sheet metal is the only damage. 2 planes bump at altitude, its death and destruction raining from the sky. If it was the controller's fault, he should be fired (but being a federal employee, we know how likely that is).

Anonymous said...

But, But...
It's supposed to be a NERF world!
We're all to be protected.
Don't you know?


Robin said...

The FY 2013 budget for FAA ATC - after deducting for the "sequester" - is still larger than 2012.

The Obama administration is desperate to make this "sequester" into some sort of fiscal holocaust ... and failing.

Robin said...

As for the FAA equipment being old, they've been whining about this for awhile and its all their fault.

Early in my career in software development, I worked for a subcontractor on a huge modernization project for the computer infrastructure of ATC in FAA. At one point, the contract was 22 months behind schedule ... of a contract that had only been awarded 18 months before. Complete fiasco. Much of the equipment that was supposed to be upgraded then is still in use, and this was 25 years ago.

jed said...

Just to amplify Robin's comment, the ATC system shows up periodically on Slashdot and other tech journals etc. Not only is the system itself a challenge to design and build by itself, but any new system will have to talk to and work with all the old crap in the field as it's rolled out. Either nobody has been able to do a realistic proposal for such, or the cost has been out of sight (i.e. unfundable). Probably, some of both has happened. My suspicion is that the ATC system evolved over time, and the interfaces are likely a hodge-podge of incompatible protocols. I'm reminded of a job I had once, where having a Vax (8-bit ASCII) talk to a CDC-Cyber (6-bit EBCDIC, 60-bit word) was a pain.

I have no confidence that any government agency can accomplish this. Boeing, Raytheion, Lockheed-Martin ... sure, as long as the FAA doesn't mismanage it into a quagmire.

CMac said...

The Federal ATC system no longer includes RADAR as such, the planes now have IFF modules that transmit their location, altitude and vector to the tower. Turn off the IFF module and the plane "disappears" from the civilian "RADAR" screen. Only the military controllers can still actually see what is up in the air via RADAR.

Old NFO said...

Roberta, not trying to be picky here, but flying rules are as follows- Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. In fact he was executing a missed approach according to the rules, and when it got the airplane cleaned up and called, ATC then had a conniption fit, because they had 'dropped' him as having landed, rather than actually following him through the missed approach. Also, safety of flight is the responsibility of the pilot in command, regardless of what the FAA/ATC want to say.

Roberta X said...

Not picky at all; clarification! And that means the "glitch" is between the ears of a controller on the ground, who assumed rather than observed.

Yeah, that actually gives a little credence to the fix-it-with-money notion, the ratio of flights to controllers watching being governed by how many of the latter they can hire; but having to watch fewer flights doesn't *guarantee* the watchers won't get careless, either.

xS3mdrvr said...

6J6 & 12AT6??? That triggered some ancient memory synapses. Best I can recall was (possibly) on some radar repeaters on a US Aircraf Carrier about 50 years ago!

Roberta X said...

Dual triodes, useful for building flip-flops! :) Also tube-type op-amps.

Anonymous said...

Ah. Now I remember. That would have been in ET "A" school at T.I. in 1961-2. Those are ancient. The FAA is still using them?

BTW, Here's hoping your trials & tribulations are mostly behind you now.

New poster. Former Tenn. plowboy, 35+yrs aerospace veteran, ex Space Shuttle Simulator driver.