Genesis and the Story of the SERFR Arrival (according to FAA)

…But the Community continued to cry out in ever greater numbers.

And their complaints numbered in the thousands,

and then tens of thousands,

and then hundreds of thousands.

***

Crying out in a loud voice they said
Oh Lord, remove this plague of noise and pollution from above our heads.”
And the FAA said:
“For sooth. This has not happened before within our short memories. Why did the communities never before complain?”
And the Air Traffic Control angels replied saying:
Verily, the number of aircraft popping out of our bottom in ancient times were few. But now the number doth wax greatly.

A brilliant and humorous analysis of how FAA failed to serve the people impacted by NextGen arrival changes, feeding San Francisco [KSFO] from the south. The technical details presented in this are also impressive, and quite informative for anyone burdened with the health and quality-of-life costs imposed by FAA’s worsening NextGen implementation debacle.

Great work is being done by some very talented people at Sky Posse Los Altos.

Created by Ron Rohde, with Sky Posse Los Altos. Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

City of Santa Monica Rejects JetSuiteX ‘COP Application’ for Part 135 Charter

For a month now, an air charter operator based in Irvine, CA and affiliated with JetBlue, has been selling seats online for scheduled passenger flights to begin at Santa Monica in early February. Weeks ago, the CEO of JetSuiteX, Alex Wilcox, told reporters he believes the City cannot stop this proposal. This despite the fact that the airport is crowded dangerously close to dense residential neighborhoods, and there is no indication the City is prepared with the level of crash-fire-rescue support needed for scheduled flights carrying up to 30 passengers.

Here’s a PDF of the application for a Commercial Operations Permit, signed by JetSuiteX COO Michael Bata:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

And, here’s the City’s response letter signed by Airport Director Stelios Makrides, rejecting the application as incomplete, and requiring a valid Environmental Assessment:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

For the past month, FAA has been suspiciously (and negligently?) quiet on this matter. What’s needed next is for FAA to break this silence and take action.

FAA is the final federal authority and routinely usurps local authority, to effectively run airports from a distance and for the industry, often with severe negative impacts upon the local community. If they are to be responsible, FAA needs to immediately issue an Interim Cease & Desist Order against JetSuiteX, Delux Public Charter, and Atlantic Aviation, to ensure no scheduled air charter operations begin at Santa Monica without all required permits. This should be easy for FAA to do; after all, FAA has recent experience issuing Interim Cease & Desist Orders related to Santa Monica.

2017-01-06: ‘Accountability Check’

Below is a sample of a recent query to FAA, and a reply by an FAA official. This example relates to NextGen impacts in western Long Island, near the [KJFK] and [KLGA] airports. The original query was directed to Carmine Gallo, FAA’s Regional Administrator, but passed on to Rick Riley at the FAA HQ Noise Ombudsman Office.

You can judge for yourself … how well did the FAA official do in the reply?

  1. Did he or she answer any questions?
  2. Did he or she inform and educate?
  3. Did he or she clarify who is accountable, or did he or she identify who is responsible?
  4. Did he or she go a step further and identify the problem, then take action to actually FIX THE PROBLEM?
  5. …or, did he or she just return a mumbo-jumbo form letter response, with added platitudes and pro-aviation propaganda, while obscuring accountability and kicking the can down the road?

View copies at these links: Query, Reply. Here’s how the impacted homeowner judged Mr. Riley’s email reply:

We need our questions answered from the FAA &/or the PA and we need them now!! No more shifting blame. Someone needs to take responsibility!!

Answers Needed in Santa Monica

For safety and efficiency, we have design standards. Thus, we do not allow school playgrounds to overlap into highways, and we require freeway onramps to be constructed within specs such as gradient, lane curvature, pavement width and quality, signage and markings, etc.

Aviation is no different. In fact, design standards at airports are even more critical, due to higher speeds and larger fuel quantities. A case in point is the last major fatal accident at Santa Monica, on September 29, 2013.

ksmo-20130929-c525-crash-while-landing-rwy21-fig-22-from-video-study-distance-groundspeed-on-satview-ntsb

(yellow marks show aircraft position during the crash sequence; large numbers show the groundspeed decreasing from 83 knots to 51 knots at impact; smaller numbers show net distance from runway threshold)

Four died when a Cessna 525 jet, while landing on Runway 21, swerved to the right and collided with a hangar near the west end of the airport. 20130929pic.. C525 crash at KSMO, ramp & smoke plumeThe accident investigation by NTSB failed to establish exactly what happened, though analysis of personal electronic devices did indicate a large dog was allowed to ride unrestrained in the jet’s cabin (could a dog cause this much loss-of-control?). So, all we know is that a local businessman who would fly almost every week between his homes in Santa Monica, CA and Sun Valley, ID, lost control during an otherwise normal landing.

This brings us back to the concept of safety design standards. If you or I are driving down a rural arterial – say, a regular old 2-lane paved highway, and right at the 55mph speed limit – we might suddenly swerve if a tire blows. Design standards exist to ensure we have a ‘clear zone’ so that our ‘errant vehicle’ can be brought to a stop without hitting a fire hydrant, a railroad trestle, a restaurant, or other object that could increase the odds of fatalities and/or serious injuries. By design, we want our ‘errant vehicle’, be it a car or an airplane, to have room to slow down and stop, with nobody getting hurt. With more room, there would not have been four fatalities on 9/29/2013; it would have instead been ‘a close call’, and likely would have triggered a decision by some of the lucky survivors to fly less. The Cessna 525 accident at Santa Monica turned out badly because the jet collided with a hangar built relatively close to the runway. After the accident cleanup, satellite images indicate that the hangar (as well as connected hangar structures, damaged by the fire) was rebuilt. It is not clear whether these structures should have been rebuilt, just as it is not clear if they were allowed to be too close to the Santa Monica runway prior to the accident. But, looking at other U.S. airports, there is evidence that a serious safety design oversight is being perpetuated at Santa Monica.

For example, consider Cobb County, GA [KRYY]. This airport, north of Atlanta near Kennesaw, also has a single runway and a ‘C-II’ Airport Reference Code (the same ARC needed for E135’s to fly scheduled charter service, as JetSuiteX proposes in early 2017).

kryy-20161230scp-alp-w-portion-of-runway-marked-up-for-rofas

(portion of the KRYY Airport Layout Plan. Red ellipses added, to identify the 400ft ROFAs, parallel to the north and south of the runway centerline. Not that the current hangars are much further than 400ft distant from the runway.)

But, within the May 2016 KRYY Airport Layout Plan (ALP), it is declared that FAA requires an 800ft wide ‘Object Free Area’ (OFA), thus 400ft either side of the runway centerline. kryy-20161230scp-alp-portion-of-runway-data-table-declaring-ofa-distancesNote, too, that on the ALP, the airport authority declares they are conformant with the OFA distance requirement, a point that is reinforced by online satellite images.

kryy-20161230scp-satview-of-airport-vicinity

The satellite image further illustrates yet another stark contrast with Santa Monica: look at all the wide open space, not just to enable a safe conclusion to an errant flight, but also to minimize noise and pollutant impacts on airport neighbors (it appears there are no residences close to KRYY; just a rock quarry, office parks, and highways).

So, what’s going on here? Why is FAA allowing and funding airport expansion near Atlanta with safety design standards that appear to be routinely ignored in Santa Monica?

A Few Simple Questions

Here are four questions that both FAA and the City of Santa Monica need to answer, prior to allowing JetSuiteX to begin scheduled 30-passenger charter flights out of Santa Monica:

  1. prior to the accident, what was the distance between the south edge of the destroyed hangar and the runway centerline? Was this distance in compliance with FAA’s design standards for this particular runway?
  2. after the accident, did FAA and City confer as to the wisdom of rebuilding these hangars? Did this reconstruction require FAA to issue a specific exemption from runway setback requirements, so the new structures could continue to penetrate the runway safety areas and obstruction free areas?
  3. given the absence of functional Runway Protection Zones (RPZs) at Santa Monica, was either FAA or City proposed banning jets to mitigate risks? In particular, with roughly 270 residences standing inside the standard RPZ boundaries, where is there ANY FORM of ‘protection’ being achieved?
  4. regarding JetSuiteX, a recent news story includes this line: “We’ll begin operating whether we get permission or not,” Wilcox said. “We can use the existing facilities at the airport.” Has either FAA or the City confirmed this cowboy assertion? Has either FAA or City (hopefully BOTH!) taken immediate action to inform Mr. Wilcox of his errant views and the reality that safety dictates he will NOT operate until both the City and the FAA are assured his scheduled charter flights can meet basic safety standards?

[KORD]: Safety is Losing Out with the O’Hare Modernization Plan

One week ago, United 441 departed Orlando [KMCO] late in the day on a scheduled trip to O’Hare [KORD]. The flight history was normal up until the last moment, when the Boeing 757 slid off the edge of the runway and ended up in the mud at 12:53AM. FlightAware shows the flight made it to the gate two hours later.

It turns out, the flight was cleared to land on Runway 4L at a time when runway traction was reduced (after hours of light snow and mist) and the winds were poorly aligned with the runway (nominally a 70-degree crosswind per this official weather: METAR KORD 180651Z 33017G25KT 1SM R10L/P6000FT -SN BR BKN017 OVC043 M08/M11 A2994 RMK AO2 PK WND 33029/0618).

A group in the Chicago area, FAiR.org, issued this press release, making some very credible points. It appears that, in the mad rush to spend billions replacing the O’Hare runway system with a gazillion east-west runways, the busiest commercial airport in the world is losing its capacity to offer runways aligned with the wind, which are needed most during poor weather. The multi-parallel runways, and the NextGen reliance on automation (in the tower, and on the flight deck), are increasing runway throughput but decreasing safety margins.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

And what is driving all of this? The desire to be the world’s number one airport, in terms of operations per year. For a few years, Atlanta [KATL] took that title away from O’Hare. Atlanta operates using a set of five parallel east-west runways. Atlanta is Delta’s superHub, and an enormous fraction (well over half?) of arriving passengers never leave the airport… they sit and wait enjoying the comfortable seatpitch on the same plane, or they walk to another gate and depart on a different flight.

FAA is collaborating with the airlines with the same business plan at O’Hare, which is a superHub for both United and American. The safety consequences are not insignificant, but there are environmental impacts, too. Here’s two serious environmental problems with these superHubs:

  1. when a huge portion of arriving passengers are using the airport only as a connecting point, the number of flights in and out of the airport each day far surpasses what is needed to serve the actual community. So, you end up with double, triple, or more flights per hour as are needed. Under NextGen, some neighborhoods like Bensenville are inundated with nonstop noise related to the superHub airport.
  2. the carbon footprint for each passenger is greatly increased. Essentially, every time a passenger connects at a superHub not on the direct route between origin and destination, it increases miles travelled. It is quite common in the U.S. for airlines to offer discounted airfares to fill seats, so they offer itineraries that add 20% or more to the miles travelled. This translates to that passenger generating a proportional increase in fuel consuming to carry their butt/baggage to their destination. More time, more hassle, more CO2, but too many of us are conditioned to ignore that because we ‘stole a great deal’, saving $20 when we clicked the buy button.

Is FAA Failing in Their Safety Oversight of Allegiant Air?

On May 11th this year, we were deeply embroiled in the election primaries, with growing evidence that the U.S. election system is in a flat-line failure mode. So, it is not surprising that the 20-year anniversary of the ValuJet crash in the Everglades might have gone unnoticed, at least by some of us.

The crash took 110 lives, and deeply scarred thousands more. The investigation of the crash exposed cultural failures at FAA, and led DoT Inspector General Mary Schiavo to abruptly resign in July of that year (she was THAT disgusted with the inside politics and cover-up, not just by FAA but by the White House, too). The crash and victims were recalled in a Miami Herald article. Subsequent news articles this year have looked at Allegiant Air, noting its many connections back to ValuJet, and presenting evidence that FAA is AGAIN being lax in safety oversight.

Below is a recent news article, critical of both Allegiant and FAA. In the pages that follow, aiREFORM provides an archived collection of articles and other documents related to Allegiant Air. The records are presented in chronological order on the following pages, mostly as scrollable PDF files.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

FAA Continues their NextGen Disinformation

At FAA’s ‘Optimization of Airspace & Procedures in the Metroplex (OAPM)‘ webpage, which is marked as last modified on 6/27/2016, there is a link to a video uploaded to FAA’s YouTube page. As has been the practice for FAA and others trying to dupe the Public into buying NextGen, the video is filled with disinformation.

Here’s an example. The two images below are screencaps, showing consecutive slides in FAA’s video, at times 1:07 and 1:13. The first is a satellite view of a hilly, minimally developed and predominantly forested land area; the second is a blue graphic with FAA’s splashy declarations alleging ‘transformative’ benefits of NextGen.

20160627scp-rnav-vs-conventional-zigzag-navigation-faa-lying-to-sell-nextgen-at-time-1m07s-of-4m45s-video

(a fraudulent and intentionally deceptive image provided by FAA, at time 1:07 in the video)

20160627scp-rnav-vs-conventional-zigzag-navigation-faa-lying-to-sell-nextgen-blueframe-at-time-1m13s-of-4m45s-video

No explanation is necessary, but what the hell. Lies annoy me, so I love to skewer them with facts. Here goes… the satellite view presents the direct green line and a zigzag red line route. The clear intent of this green vs red graphic is to impress upon us that our commercial airliner will become amazingly more efficient if, via NextGen, we let them fly those direct ‘greenlines’.

The problem is, it is utter bullshit. Our commercial passenger planes have been flying direct routes (the equivalent of these greenlines) for more than four decades. Thus, this graphic implies a change that will not happen, an alleged benefit never to be gained.

20140618-portion-of-pic-kiah-nextgen-metroplex-celebration-speech-pic-huerta-rinaldi-et-al

June 2014: Huerta hawking NextGen in Houston)

And, furthermore, study that satellite view. It’s fuzzy, but it offers enough detail, including roads and granularity related to both vegetation and topography, that anyone who studies aerial imagery can see: this land area is no more than 10- or 20-miles across. A commercial jetliner would NEVER be able to fly the red zigzag route as the turns are far too tight. But, of course, that does not stop FAA from pushing this kind of NextGen disinformation. All for the money.

And think this one step further: as stated by FAA,  those red lines represent a ground-based route; thus, there have to be navigational stations at the locations where the red lines bend. Out in the middle of this area of hills and hollers. Yeah, right. I wish FAA would show more respect for our intelligence, and for our money.

Michael Huerta: you’ve been FAA Administrator through all of this. Are you going to tell your FAA employees to clean this up, or are you just going to leave the NextGen mess for the next Administrator?

A Request to Carmine Gallo

“Dear Carmine Gallo,

…please consult with your managers and correct the misinformation they evidently gave to you. You passing the misinformation on in your nice reply letters to NextGen-impacted citizens only exacerbates the KJFK noise impacts.”

This plea to FAA’s Regional Administrator is after viewing recent correspondence about noise impacts for residents of the East Hills area, when the Arc of Doom is being used to land runways 22 at KJFK. Here is the timeline…

On September 15th, a concerned resident sent an email to FAA, expressing concerns about repetitive arrival noise impacts. A month later, in an October 13 reply letter, Regional Administrator Carmine Gallo offered what on the surface appears to be a reasonable and responsibly reply. Here is a JPEG copy of a portion, showing two key paragraphs:

kjfk-20161013-faa-response-letter-to-j-goldenberg-re-east-hills-impacts-extraction-marked-up-1p

(portion of Carmine Gallo’s reply letter; red-line emphasis added by aiReform. Click on image to view full letter and source post at Facebook)

It is commendable that Mr. Gallo does send these reply letters to impacted citizens; that is the right thing to do, and often not done by other FAA Regional Administrators. The problem is, Mr. Gallo makes points in his reply that are indisputably false. Those false points include:

  1. Mr. Gallo inaccurately states, “…the data illustrates that aircraft landing at this airport pass at no lower than 3,000 feet.” Not only does the radar data consistently show these arrivals level at 1,800 to 2,000 feet altitude in this area (see the numerous arrival examples, compiled at this link), but also, the primary approach procedures (ILS approaches for runways 22R and 22L, copies at this link) both have 3-degree glideslopes … which, at the East Hills location would mean arrivals should intercept the glideslope at roughly 3,000 feet altitude … or at 1,800 feet closer in at a 6-mile final.
  2. Mr. Gallo inaccurately states, “…NextGen procedures are not a contributing factor for aircraft overflying Nassau County.” Well, actually, the REAL purpose of NextGen is to increase runway throughput (ops per hour), which clearly WILL increase the frequency of arrivals, thus the intensity of repetitive noise impact by these arrivals. Thus, as perceived by many in East Hills and elsewhere, NextGen IS A REAL CONTRIBUTING FACTOR to the noise impact problem.

The superficiality of Mr. Gallo’s response to citizen concerns related to NextGen was preceded two years ago by another FAA Regional Administrator. That time it was Phoenix, when Glen Martin paused while speaking, in evident disbelief at what he had been given to read. See it here: link.

All FAA officials (as well as at airport authorities, and in Congress, too!) need to understand: whenever they send a reply, they need to be absolutely truthful and accurate. If instead a reply passes on misinformation, it will only make matters worse. Much of the impact of aviation noise is rooted in a sense that authorities will do nothing to fix it. And, nothing says ‘go to hell, citizen!’ more than a polished letter centered on a set of polished lies.

FAA & Other Agencies, Using Pay-to-Play and Other Tactics to Deny Us Our Rights Under Federal FOIA Laws

It is a separate issue, yet thoroughly intertwined: the ongoing revelations about Hillary Clinton’s emails on a private server, expose the fact that our elected officials and agency leaders – all the way to the top, and regardless of which party has the White House – are waging a war against our citizens’ right to see what government officials are doing. As such, they are ensuring we can have no real Democracy.

(click n image to view source article at Washington Examiner)

(click on image to view source article at Washington Examiner)

Our FOIA Laws were passed by Congress in 1966. An incredible amount of careful deliberation went into defining the rules needed to be followed, to ensure transparency. FOIA was signed into law by LBJ, on 7/4/1966. The original laws have since been amended to incorporate electronic media. As President Obama wrote in his brilliant FOIA memo on the day he was inaugurated, January 21, 2009:

“…the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.”

Words are wonderful things, but they need to be backed up by actions. Such has not happened since January 2009. Simply, although FOIA is a critical tool for government transparency, accountability, and performance, it is being side-stepped and ignored. At FAA (and elsewhere), here is what they are doing:

  • Ignoring FOIA requests: just like the Secretary of State did in the article/link shown above, FAA and other agencies are choosing to outright ignore FOIA requests. This is not legal. Legal recourse for citizens is in the U.S. District Courts. However, the district courts are bogged down with both a wholesale indifference and processes that are deplorably byzantine, to the point of making it impossible for justice to be served. The Judges are all political appointees, thus inclined to serve the power status quo in DC. We can have all the laws we want but, if the laws are not enforced, they mean nothing.
  • Delaying & Side-stepping: with time, even the best of laws become ruined by workarounds. There are so many ways FAA fails to comply with the FOIA Laws, yet excuses off their failures. Some of these include:
    1. they’ll spend months delaying on your reasonable request for a fee waiver, and use their indecision to rationalize that the FOIA request could not be started until the the fee waiver issue was resolved.
    2. they’ll claim the FOIA request was never ‘perfected’, lacked specificity, etc.
    3. they’ll use ‘Pay-to-Play’ to intimidate regular citizens away from using the FOIA Laws (see below).
    4. they’ll pretend to not comprehend even the most explicit FOIA request. Even more, they may not call to clarify but process it anyway, building months and years of delays producing a series of response packages that slowly migrate back toward the real response … but only IF the requestor sticks with it for all that time.
    5. they’ll route the FOIA request to multiple offices and refuse to produce ANY responsive records until all offices have finished their seperate sub-response; and, at least one of those offices will never finish … so nothing ever gets released.
    6. they’ll sweep the floor and compile all sorts of unrelated documents so a request that should have cost nothing (under 100 pages and less than 2-hours administrative time to produce), instead costs hundreds of dollars and swamps the requestor with thousands of pages of irrelevant records.
    7. they’ll cry to the People, to the media, and to Congress that they just lack resources and cannot comply with burdensome FOIA laws. It is like declaring, “Pay us more and maybe we’ll do our job,” and Congress does nothing to compel them to perform. Of course, all of this happens while ignoring the simple reality that:
      • they have full-time paid FOIA specialists on staff;
      • the vast majority of their workload is arbitarily added and focused on obstructing the release of disclosable records; and
      • if they ‘erred on the side of disclosure’, their workload would all but disappear.
  • Pay-to-Play: a very effective way to obstruct the FOIA Laws is to demand exorbitant payments and watch the requestors withdraw their FOIA requests. No pay, no play. This violates the spirit and the law within FOIA. Agencies are expected to grant fee waivers, and are also expected to routinely waive requests that require minimal time to produce (e.g., less than 2-hours of administrative processing, and less than 100-pages of responsive records). There is also the Office of Information Policy guidance initiated in 2008, that precludes agencies assessing fees for simple FOIA requests, if the agency fails to comply with the 20-day time limit:
20081231scp-portion-of-guidance-new-limitations-on-assessing-foia-fees-doj-oip-opening-para

(click on image to view an archived copy of the OIP Guidance)

Despite these clear requirements, all of which are aimed at ensuring the People can easily see inside government operations to keep those operations from running astray, FAA and other agencies routinely use Pay-to-Play.

Ten Years Later: FAA’s Pattern of Concealment After the Comair 5191 Crash

Among the greatest lessons learned from this year’s democratic party primary debacle was the complicity of the mainstream media in aiding corrupt party officials. Those leaked DNC Emails – nearly 20,000 emails total! – showed an incredible level of collusion between DNC officials (unapologetically hell-bent on defeating Bernie Sanders and nominating Hillary Clinton) and the mainstream media players (also corrupted, hell-bent in their lust for campaign advertising dollars).

Just to be clear, this was NOT a lesson about solely the democratic party; no, this was a lesson about the troubling reality of U.S. politics today… that We The People are being manipulated by the two dominant parties, using tools of propaganda. This is being called ‘engineered consent’ and, yes, this manipulation is being done by both oppressing political parties. In the process, the reigning duopoly that serves up ‘lesser-of-two-evil’ choices each cycle, has all but destroyed our so-called Democracy.

One critical tool of this manipulation is in the repetitive framing and reframing of so-called facts to crystallize acceptance of a historical perspective that fits the needs of the established political powers. We see this in politics, and we see it outside politics in retrospective news stories, for example. One of those retrospectives just happened again: the ten year anniversary of the horrific crash in Lexington, of Comair 5191. Here is a PDF copy:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded; or click here to view original source article.

If you read the article and research other U.S. aviation disasters, a clear pattern emerges: FAA’s response consistently is to hide disclosable information, obscure employee/management accountability, obstruct any proposal that would cost money, and delay-delay-delay on what few reforms are eventually emplaced. See for example the 10-year restrospective on the ValuJet Everglades crash in 1996, opined by FAA Whistleblower Gabe Bruno.

A few analysis points about the Comair/Lexington accident:

  1. FAA’s failures surrounding the Lexington crash were many. Not just the chain of seemingly tiny failures that led to the fatalities, but also the many, MANY efforts since to distort facts and reject long overdue safety and culture reforms.
  2. the principle cause of this accident was fatigue, for both the flight crew and the air traffic controller. This was perhaps the most important fact revealed by the extensive NTSB investigation. Cost-cutting by both the airlines and the FAA contributed to a combination of fatigued personnel that led to a chain-reaction of inattention, costing 49 lives.
  3. this accident should never have happened. The same combination of fatigue (in both the control tower and on the flight deck) had occurred over and over again, and continues to occur even today. BUT, the fact that aviation professionals can and will become bored/inattentive/fatigued is a given, and a key part of why so many redundancies are built into the aviation safety system. When simple redundancies – like, re-scanning the runway – are skipped, the system can and will break down.
  4. the controller, Chris Damron, simply failed to look out the window, not even once during the critical 2-minutes between when he issued a takeoff clearance and when he called out the emergency crews, nearly 45-seconds AFTER the crashed jet exploded in flames.
  5. just one look, during the critical 50-second window prior to start of takeoff (the time it took to move forward, turn onto and line up on the runway, finish the checklist and open the throttles), would have produced a quick transmission, cancelling the takeoff clearance.
  6. the transcript at the back of the 174-page NTSB investigative report shows the abrupt end of audio and data recording a half-second after the last audible exclamation by the pilots; thus, it appears that the explosion happened immediately, yet the controller did not make the crash phone call until another 44-seconds passed. It was a quiet Sunday morning, and there were no other airplanes. When he did make the call, his voice was markedly different, with a clear panic (the call was initiated at time 6:28 in the Crash Phone ATC recording, and the airport emergency crews picked up the call almost immediately).
  7. was the controller inattentive? Absolutely. He did not actually watch what played out, or he would have spoken up. He was either focused on nothing at all – resting while on position – or focused on another activity (distracted).
  8. was he possibly resting on position? Yes, quite possibly. It was the end of his workweek and the final hour of an overnight shift, so he was certainly tired. When fatigued while on position, nearly all seasoned FAA controllers do this: they physically rest, even shutting their eyes, while vigilantly listening to audible cues such as the power-up sequence. In this situation, with no other traffic, fatigued controllers are conditioned to apply an internal timer, reflexively waiting another half-minute or so after the last audible jet-noise cue, to then perform the next task for that flight – establishing radar contact on the digital radar display. While waiting, a common physical posture would have him reclined in his controller chair, eyes shut, but otherwise attentive and listening, much like a reliable watchdog. This is a strategy of fatigue management; it is practiced by both controllers and pilots. The pattern is repeated ad nauseum; it commonly creates a workplace boredom that can potentially become a lethal complacency, as happened at Lexington.
  9. how might he have been distracted? Three possibilities: he may have been doing other controller duties, he may have been doing administrative duties, or he may have been distracted with non-ATC activities.
    1. controller duties? not possible. He had no other controller duties to perform, since all his other traffic was gone.
    2. administrative duties? not plausible. The only excuse offered to investigators comes nowhere close to explaining nearly two minutes of inattention. The only cited administrative task was counting fourteen (14) 1″ by 8″ computer-printed paper strips, representing the entirety of his work the previous six hours. Any truthful controller will note this task I a quick finger-shuffling and recording a half dozen figures, thus would require less than 10-seconds. Any competent controller would perform this task quickly, only when traffic allowed, and then immediately scan the runway and airspace.
    3. non-ATC activities? very possible, and indeed likely, if he was not resting on position. He may have been reading, watching a movie or a TV show, playing a game on his laptop, online and surfing the internet, or texting with his cellphone device. In my FAA ATC career, I saw all of these activities routinely happening, and all were accepted by most on-duty supervisors as helpful strategies to manage fatigue.
  10. was the controller’s fatigue excessive and noticeable on the audio? No. Listen to the official Tower ATC recording and, frankly, Mr. Damron sounds professional, alert, and competent. His speech is quick and focused; he is clearly doing tasks that have been done many times before. He efficiently handles a departure push, with three flights to hubs at Chicago, DFW and Atlanta. There is no slurring and no hesitation. Based on this, his momentary inattention would logically happen ONLY if he was distracted into another activity such as using a digital device.
  11. were there larger national-level issues between FAA and NATCA? Absolutely. At the time this happened, controller morale was extremely low and FAA management was imposing draconian work rules onto all air traffic controllers. It was nearly three years later that a mediation panel ordered FAA management to abandon these imposed work rules (aka ‘The WhiteBook’).
  12. would a second controller have helped? Probably not. A few years after Lexington, in 2013, a fatigued controller lost two fatigued pilots when a UPS flight crashed at 4:49am on approach at Birmingham [KBHM]. One of his first actions was to use the tower phone system to call the other controller back to the tower. On overnight shifts, as another fatigue-management strategy, it is very common for paired controllers to alternate; one controller works the combined positions (which is generally easy, since traffic levels are very low), while the other controller can relax, catch a nap, or stay alert with other non-ATC activities (internet, DVD movies, music, studying, etc.)
  13. caused a near-midair collision in March 1989

    The TV set at another FAA tower, that caused a near-midair when a controller became distracted watching the NCAA basketball playoffs on a sunny Saturday in March.

    what does the controller probably want/need to say? As a retired ATC whistleblower, I spent decades working inside the ATC culture. I do know that concealment of facts is a big part of that culture. I also know that concealment is very destructive to those stuck concealing. My first whistleblowing was about a TV set at my first ATC tower, that was connected to a near-midair collision; I spoke up and endured retaliation, and was eventually fired 6-months prior to turning age-50, to force me to voluntarily retire at earliest eligibility. My gut-sense is that when the investigation started, Mr. Damron wanted to tell the whole story and was probably ready to talk, but was shut down. He would have had both FAA management and the union (NATCA) leadership scaring him into silence, with ample help from the attorneys brought in from the start. It is chilling to imagine his having to live today with the knowledge of what really happened, yet not be allowed to talk about it.]

  14. the controller’s identity was protected for four months, even though the identity had to be revealed eventually. A basic purpose of the NTSB investigative process is to give the public some transparency on transportation safety issues. FAA’s initial opacity was a classic knee-jerk reaction: acting from bureaucratic fear, protecting culturally entrenched failures from becoming exposed, and hoping to salvage what they could by over-controlling the flow of information.
  15. an initial effort was made to pin the blame on the Lexington tower manager, Duff Ortman. This failed when emails soon emerged, showing how Mr. Ortman was rebuffed in his many efforts to secure resources needed to cover the staffing: either two additional controllers, or an increase in allowed overtime funding.  The emails included comments by Eastern Terminal Services Director John McCartney, attempting to brand Mr. Ortman as a ‘renegade’.
  16. TVs, DVD movies, and other workplace distractions have been documented elsewhere and in numerous national news stories, including:
    1. There was the controller at Cleveland Center, who took off his shoes while watching a movie DVD on an overnight shift; he accidently had a hot mic when a shoe tipped onto a pedal-switch. A ham radio operator was doing his thing that night and heard a movie soundtrack on an ATC frequency, so he called FAA to report what appeared to be a dangerous situation. The FAA manager on duty  promised to investigate; while walking down to the control floor, he stopped at the technicians’ desk and mentioned the problem, and they noted ‘well, he’s probably watching a movie!’. Sure enough, he was. Made the national news but NOBODY was disciplined because it was a ‘prior working condition’ and had been condoned by supervisors for more than a decade. An aiREFORM FOIA request [F11-8134] eventually yielded hundreds of pages, including a confirmation that nobody was ever disciplined.
    2. There was the case at New York Center (Ronkonkoma, NY) where in 2010 a new supervisor, Evan Seeley, spoke up about common practices of sleeping on the job, early undocumented departures, and use of personal electronic devices while working. He was then subjected to vandalism and harassment, and found a management team that could do nothing to correct the situation. An OSC investigation confirmed Mr. Seeley’s claims.
    3. There were the many cases of sleeping air traffic controllers in 2011. Eventually, the Air Traffic COO, Hank Krakowski, was forced to resign.
    4. There was another news story that broke in 2012, when a controller Whistleblower at White Plains, NY [KHPN] leaked cellphone images and video exposing widespread napping and personal electronics in the control tower.
    5. And, there was the TV wired into a cabinet at Troutdale, OR (the photo above). This was the safety risk that launched my career as an ATC Whistleblower in 1989, and eventually led to a forced-voluntary retirement in 2009; see that Whistleblower case study here.