GAO’s Dillingham, video interview by ‘Government Matters’

This is how compromised the ‘watchdog’ GAO is: creating videos laced with promo statements about NextGen. Unbelievable.
The video interviewer opens with, “Before we get into the numbers, what is NextGen, and what will it do for the American people and the aviation system when it’s fully deployed?” Dillingham then proceeds to offer the Av-Gov scripted salespitch on the alleged needs for and benefits of NextGen. The effect is that GAO, rather than doing critical and objective analysis, is instead lending credibility to the NextGen fraud.

In context, the timing of this interview closely follows release of the latest GAO Report on November 17th: ‘NextGen – Information on Expenditures, Schedule, and Cost Estimates, FY 2004-2030’ (click on the link to view/download a copy of the 13-page report, archived at aiREFORM).

Why They are so Upset in Malverne and Under the L.I. ‘Arc of Doom’

Below are two scrollable PDF plots, one for KJFK Runway 4L departures impacting Malvern, and the other for KJFK Runway 22L arrivals using the infamous low-altitude ‘Arc of Doom’. Both plots were extracted from the recent noise study report done for FAA, by ESA, posted online at the airport authority PANYNJ website (report referenced in this article). Be sure to expand the view to see the finely detailed color-dots for these routes.

Click on the images below for a scrollable view; click here for a downloadable copy of the first PDF (Departures Runway 4L) and here for a downloadable copy of the second PDF (Arrivals Runway 22L) .

Generally speaking, repetitive noise impacts are more problematic the closer the flights are to the ground, but impacts tend to abate to a tolerable level at or above 8,000 feet altitude (blue dots on the Departure PDF, above).

Note also the extraordinary added distances being flown for these arrivals (see the light gray dots, at or above 6,000 altitude). Anyone who has been a passenger on a flight to KJFK has experienced the interminable arrival path that chugs along at low altitudes. This added work by ATC is created by too many flights, in too small an arrival window, forcing controllers to over-control the flights. The simplest solution, to reduce delays and noise and air pollutants, and to optimize efficiency, is for FAA to start managing capacity: setting and enforcing much lower hourly arrival rates and departure rates.

And What are PANYNJ Authorities Doing About It?

After years of complaints, Part 150 Studies were ordered for KJFK and KLGA. This formal process is designed to create an enormous volume of documents, many of which are almost indecipherable, to feed the illusion that citizens have an opportunity to aid in a decision-making process. In truth, it is all only for show; there is no meaningful or effective citizen involvement.

Here’s a challenge: go to this website (PANYNJ’s official webpage for the KJFK Part 150 Study) and spend a few minutes reading it and intuitively navigating. Try to learn from it, and see what valuable info/data you can find. More likely than not you will quickly leave your exploration, because PANYNJ, FAA and their well-paid pro-aviation consultant have created such an incredible volume of technobabble, and presented it in such a bizarre layout, that only the most obsessive individuals will press onward past the many click-deadends and long download times. I located some documents and spent well over an hour downloading the October 2016 ‘Draft Noise Exposure Map (NEM) Report’; 13 PDF files, measuring 1,349 pages (149Mb) total. Just finding and copying the documents is a substantial effort, and then to read all those pages? Do they really expect the average concerned citizen to do this much work??? Of course not.

If you liked that challenge, do it again at this website (same Part 150 page design, this time for KLGA!).

This appears to be what has evolved. Whether it is for a small and nearly dead airport in MN, AR, or wherever) or a huge chunk of airspace such as the LA Basin or the NYC area, FAA has evolved the public participation process (a requirement dating back to even before the 1946 Administrative Procedures Act) to make sure the average citizen is blown away with so much documentation (and much of it superfluous) that they simply give up even trying.


UPDATE, 11/25/2016: — A recent email by a resident with Plane Sense 4 LI points out repetitive noise impacts on Malverne, caused by approaches to LaGuardia. Click here to view an archived copy.

Aviation Impacts are Non-Partisan

Here is a screen-cap of a thoughtful Facebook post. Susan is a ‘victim’ of TNNIS and other NextGen routes east of LaGuardia Airport [KLGA], who has worked tirelessly trying to get FAA to responsibly fulfill their role as a regulator that can mitigate environmental impacts.

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

It is important to understand that NextGen is really just about spending lots of money. The money comes primarily from airline passenger taxes and Congress, and the recipients are a small group of avionics manufacturers, as well as lobbyists (many of whom are retired FAA ‘regulators’).

In order to obtain needed funds, the Av-Gov Complex had to sell the NextGen concept to Congress. This meant building an appearance of cohesive support, including especially the airlines and labor. This they accomplished by ‘collaborating’ to produce the following strategy:

  • dupe the public (including Congress) by claiming NextGen offers something new and incredibly efficient … such as their coordinated sales pitch with graphics showing zig-zag routes that have not been commonly flown for more than five decades!
  • ignore the many examples of how no substantial efficiency gains are achieved; for example, the routine use of enroute delay vectors (which commonly more than compensate for the short time savings of low/early departure turns);
  • entice the airlines by promising the elimination of noise mitigation routes at major hub airports … allowing turns lower and closer to the runways, for both departures and arrivals;

The airlines and the controllers’ union (NATCA) could say lots about how bogus the whole NextGen sales pitch is, but their silence has been bought. Just a few years ago, NATCA was strongly critical of NextGen; today, controllers who question why the NATCA leaders are advocating ATC privatization (which is hand-in-glove with NextGen implementation) are pressured into silence. And, as for the airlines, Delta stands alone as the only major airline willing to critique the Av-Gov sales pitch.

In simplest terms, FAA is committing a fraud while diminishing quality of life at the homes of hundreds of thousands of residents. This is a ‘taking’, without just compensation. It is being done by FAA, against the People, to narrowly benefit the Av-Gov Complex.

Aviation Should Serve People, Not Profits

Aside

Grand Canyon National Park:

“There are few places in this great land so

suited for contemplative recreation.”

The destructive noise impacts of aviation are many and varied: from FAA’s newly imposed concentrated NextGen routes, to circling skydive climbs, to helicopter flight schools, and more. Add to that list air tourism, even in places as sacred and beautiful as Grand Canyon. This 4-minute video is well worth watching.

(click on image to view video)

(click on image to view video)

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.

[ARCHIVE] 1994-08-09: A Congressional Hearing About FAA’s Bureaucracy, GPS, and ‘Free Flight’ (140p)

20161010cpy-timeline-showing-control-of-us-house-senate-whitehouse-1855-2017-cropped-w-markup-1994Summer of 1994 was one of the rare times where control of the White House, the Senate, and the House was owned by one party, in this case the Democrats. In aviation, 1994 was a time of transition into the use of new GPS technologies.

To put it into context, it was two years later, in 1996, that GPS took center stage in the newest round of proposals (or would ‘schemes’ be a better word?) to secure billions to fund another upgrade of ATC technologies. We had seen hellish commercial accidents (ValuJet 592 in May 1996, and TWA 800 in July 1996) as well as the abrupt resignation of DoT Inspector General Mary Schiavo (due to industry and internal opposition against her aggressive stance on FAA regulatory failures), and we were in the middle of the General Election of 1996, when incumbent President Clinton created the ‘White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security’, chaired by Al Gore. The testimony and the final report drifted far from the ‘security’ aspect, instead emphasizing ‘efficiency’ changes to be achieved using GPS. And, then too, despite the effort by this commission and spin by the administration, five years later we had a total breakdown of aviation security on September 11th.

Twelve years later, two things happened:

  1. in June 2006, Al Gore’s movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ made CO2 pollution and climate change a ‘popular concern’
  2. and then, in the Fall of 2006, the label ‘NextGen’ was first applied by FAA Administrator Marion Blakey as a brand name for supposedly ‘new’ GPS-based aviation management tools.

And here we are, another ten years further along, and both FAA/Industry are continuing to propagandize for greater NextGen spending, but with almost no tangible benefits beyond what we were already able to do more than two decades ago.

How is this all relevant to the CatEx-approved version of NextGen being imposed since 2012? Well, reducing CO2 has now become one of the Av-Gov Complex’s key justifications for imposing noise impacts; i.e, they are trading noise pollution against CO2 pollution and thus Climate Change (…really! …they want us to believe that Congress believes in Climate Change enough to give FAA approval to NOT conduct environmental reviews so long as CO2 will be reduced by the proposal).

On top of that, as another key element of the NextGen Fraud, they are careful to not talk about the significant enroute delays being imposed to facilitate the appearance that arrivals (in the last 100-miles or so) are less subject to holding patterns, long downwinds, delay vectoring, and other inefficiencies. With NextGen, FAA is making airports look more efficient, simply because they have offset the inefficiencies into the enroute portion of the flights. It’s all just smoke and mirrors.

The 140-pages in this Congressional hearing transcript (with submitted letters, etc.) is illuminating. It helps to clarify not just the goals of 1994, but the spin models used then and still used today.

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

View related articles tagged [TAG-NextGen]


UPDATED 11/21/2016

The Original NextGen RNP Approach Is Now More Than Twenty Years Old!

NextGen is a label, a brand name if you will. The name was created by FAA and industry more than a decade ago. The product this brand name is attached to is essentially an evolved technology system for air traffic control and navigation that reduces the jobs of controllers and pilots to one of monitoring what the automation is doing. That is to say, under NextGen, the flight procedures become so precisely proceduralized (defining exact altitudes, lat/long positions, and speeds) that pilots will not want to try and hand-fly the procedure as doing so would risk a violation… so they let the airplane computers do the actual flying.

For the entire last decade, FAA and industry (with a LOT of help from Congressional insiders like Bill Shuster) have been carefully coordinating what is effectively a propaganda campaign, and they keep pressing Congress with the idea that NextGen is something new. It is not. As far back as 1994, Alaska Airlines was allowed to develop the first RNP approach, at Juneau, where difficult weather and nearby mountainous terrain made FAA unable to develop approach procedures landing to the west (i.e., to Runway 26).

What Alaska did was apply pre-existing technologies built into their Boeing aircraft. As noted in a Spring 2008 article by David Nakamura in Boeing’s ‘Aero’ magazine“…all Boeing commercial airplanes manufactured since the 1980s include RNAV capabilities … Boeing began implementing RNP on airplanes in 1994 … (and) as of 2000, every Boeing commercial airplane included RNP capability.” Research Airbus and you will find a similar timeline for these new technologies. By the way, one of the principle authors of this Boeing article, David Nakamura, is a very significant person in the evolution of NextGen. He chaired the Performance-based Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee (PARC) and authored a 4/21/2009 letter to Margaret (Peggy) Gilligan, an FAA Associate Administrator. Read the letter carefully to learn the strategies for NextGen implementation, as they existed more than seven years ago, in early 2009.

In other words, the airlines have had the capability of flying NextGen-type departure and arrival procedures for roughly two whole decades. In that timeframe, at the 35 primary U.S. airline airports (the OEP 35), the number of airline operations has declined by more than 20%. This has not stopped FAA from spinning the ‘new technology’ idea into billions of dollars worth of Congressional funding authorizations that in reality have produced little meaningful change from what Alaska started doing in the mid-1990s.

The Juneau RNP Runway 26 Approach

For reference, here are a couple maps (with links) showing the geography at Juneau.

(click on image to view source map at Bing)

(click on image to view source map at Bing)

(click on image to view source VFR sectional at FlightAware)

(click on image to view source VFR sectional at FlightAware)

Interestingly, a PDF copy of the approach procedure cannot be found online. Although Alaska has an ‘OK’ from FAA to fly this approach, it would appear that none of us are allowed to see what that exact procedure is; i.e., FAA considers the approach to be ‘proprietary’ for Alaska Airlines. Nonetheless, we can see what the approach looks like thanks to these two videos; the first is a video by Alaska of a passenger arrival during ‘nice’ weather, and includes use of a heads-up display and checklists; the second is what appears to be a very well-made simulation created by a gamer.

Latest Draft Noise Maps Made Public for JFK & LaGuardia Airports

The New York City area has many neighborhoods that are substantially impacted by airport noise, including new NextGen procedures. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that all three NYC major airports (KEWR, KJFK, KLGA) serve not only the large local population, but ALSO many people from around the world who use these airports to travel THROUGH NYC (while not actually visiting). More through passengers translates to more flights, thus more pressure to cram too many arrivals into each hour. This works well for for airline profits, but is terrible for the quality of life of local residents.

Part of the collection of tactics Av-Gov Complex uses to nullify citizen involvement in local airport noise mitigation plans is to bog down processes with long delays. Multiple overlapping committees are formed, with large memberships. The committees are seeded with pro-aviation players who reliably spin and reset the process (imagine how impossible it would be to fully bake a cake, if you kept pulling the cake out of the oven; that’s what these committee members do).

Len Schaier is a retired electrical engineer who serves on the Technical Advisory Committees (TACs) for both the JFK and LaGuardia airports. He recently shared this insightful email (scrollable PDF below), attaching the latest draft noise maps being studied by the two TACs (also below, as JPEGs).

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

kjfk-20160914cpy-preliminary-noise-impact-contours-55dnl-thru-75dnlklga-20160914cpy-preliminary-noise-impact-contours-55dnl-thru-75dnlHere’s the bottom line, as seen by aiREFORM: people are losing sleep and quality of life, and they need relief, not years from now but RIGHT NOW! The DNL metric itself is flawed, yet FAA and industry players (aka the Av-Gov Complex) continue using this metric to obscure impacts and to obstruct and delay long overdue changes needed by people. So, …

  • Should the DNL threshhold be reduced, from the current absurdly high 65 DNL to the international impact standard of 55 DNL? Absolutely.
  • Should DNL be replaced or supplemented with new noise metrics that recognize the impact of repetitive noise patterns? Absolutely.
  • Should we delay further, wasting any more time bringing relief – and enabling a decent night’s sleep – for the impacted residents? Absolutely not!

Let’s get on with it … use the 55 DNL contours on these maps to earnestly formulate solutions that give relief to the tens of thousands of people currently impacted at these two airports. Think outside the box this time. Press FAA to scale back hourly flow rates at these airports, so the community is better served with less noise and pollutant impact.

NextGen Impacts, Reported in Baltimore Sun Article

“This NextGen system … has been a huge detriment to the quality of human life to us little ants on the ground … (and has ruined) the ordinary pleasure of sitting in your backyard and listening to the birds and the trees.”

– Barbara Deckert, Homeowner near KBWI

Yet another example of FAA imposing NextGen to benefit airline profits at the expense of local community quality of life. Same patterns found across the nation, too:

  1. FAA imposes NextGen changes to increase ‘runway throughput’, enabling improved profit margins for the airlines; the airlines are thus able to pack more departures or arrivals into compressed time blocks … which means neighborhoods now have to contend with a ‘drip, drip’ of repetitive aircraft noise;
  2. to justify these changes, FAA exaggerates benefits while ignoring not only the local community impacts but also ignoring the increased fuel consumption and CO2 pollution due to delay turns commonly imposed during the enroute phase of the flights;
  3. more and more people lose sleep, and lose the calming benefit of being able to peacefully enjoy their backyard;
  4. residents deal with the noise the only way they can… organizing locally, and submitting noise complaints;
  5. in short time, residents realize their noise complaints are being ignored by the airport authority;
  6. when residents air their concerns with elected officials, those officials try to appeal to FAA to correct the problems, but FAA ignores them, and frequently lies in the response letters;
  7. when reporters get involved, no matter how hard they work to fully cover the story, FAA refuses to cooperate, and does not offer an official to answer questions.

Click here to view an archived PDF copy of the online article (9/10/2016, by Colin Campbell at The Baltimore Sun).

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.