NTSB’s Preliminary Report on the Monck’s Corner Midair Fails to Present Critical Airspeed Data

It took NTSB ten days to release a report on a midair collision that killed two men, when their Cessna was broadsided by a USAF F16 ‘training flight’ north of Charleston, SC [KCHS]. A PDF copy of the report text has been created, and includes footnotes pointing at areas needing further detail and investigation.

As noted earlier on this website, both FAA and NTSB need to become more immediately transparent on serious incidents, especially low-altitude fatal midair collisions. At a minimum, we should be able to see radar presentations (showing positions at key times, as well as datablocks that reveal altitudes and groundspeeds at those times), just as we should be able to listen to a copy of the audio between the F16 pilot and the KCHS approach controller.

What new information was produced? Here are a few key points:

  1. Very significantly, the impact occurred at just 1,500 feet altitude, an incredibly low altitude for an F16 to be passing at high speed near a small general aviation airport (Berkeley County, SW of Moncks Corner, [KMKS]).

    20150720scp.. VFRmap re Moncks Corner midair (showing Shaw AFB E to KMYR S to KCHS)

    VFR sectional showing: F16 departure from KSSC (orange triangle), F16 practice approaches at KMYR (orange square), final destination for F16 at KCHS (orange circle), and approx. route of Cessna from KMKS toward KCRE (red line).

  2. The report notes a 10:20 departure by the F16, a flight to KMYR to conduct two instrument approaches, then a flight to KCHS for another practice approach. Thus, it took just 40-minutes for this F16 to fly 79 direct nautical miles to KMKS, fly two approaches, then fly 63 direct nautical miles to the collision near KMKS. The time used up to fly two practice approaches at KMYR is substantial, thus suggests: this F16 was likely screaming through the sky, and at only 1,500 feet altitude (though interestingly, at the initial press conference on July 7th, the USAF commander said they believe the collision was at 2,500 to 3,000 feet altitude).
  3. Although NTSB provided many valuable details, they made absolutely no mention of a hugely important factor: the F16’s airspeed leading up to the collision. Historically (and this goes WAY back to the almost weekly fatal midairs that happened in the 1960’s, when jets were first introduced commercially), airspeed differentials are a major contributing factor to midair collisions. Certainly a Cessna at just 1,500 feet altitude would have very little opportunity to avoid a fast-moving jet pointed straight at the Cessna. This pattern, with NTSB failing to mention a very pertinent detail in their Preliminary Report, is a repeat of what happened a year ago when a student from Germany was killed in a crash near St. Cloud, MN, for which there was strong evidence an arriving Allegiant flight was too low and too close, creating a wake turbulence upset.
  4. The controller’s handling suggests a systemic ATC aversion against ‘controlling’ military training flights. ATC should never have allowed the F16 pilot to scream along at just 1,500-feet, particularly since the collision was at roughly 18-miles northeast of the runway in Charleston. Typically, a normal stabilized approach descends roughly 300-feet per mile, so a ‘controlled’ civilian flight would expect to be descending through 5,000+ at 18-miles out. Had the F16 flight been properly controlled, ATC would have held the flight higher, to at least 3,000 or 4,000 feet, and with a moderate (even minimal?) airspeed consistent with safe operation of the F16 while mixing safely with low-altitude civilian flights. In the image below, note the TACAN approach is normally flown via a 24-mile arc (much further out) and has a crossing at LADRE at or above 3,000 feet. It appears ATC dove the F16 early to enable the pilot to get under the scattered layer, to conduct a quicker ‘visual approach’ to land KCHS Runway 15.

    Red circle marks the approximate midair location.

    Red circle marks the approximate midair location.

  5. The simple fact is, if this controller had asserted earlier and aggressive control of the F16 flight, or if the controller had NOT told the F16 pilot to turn south (which turn was delayed by the F16 pilot), there would have been no midair collision. I.e., timing and timidity conspired to translate ATC instructions into two fatalities and two destroyed aircraft.

As a former air traffic controller (forced into early retirement due to whistleblowing), I find this incident and the post-incident handling very troubling. Two men lost their lives unnecessarily, but the F16 pilot and the FAA controller were also victim. They have to live with what they saw unfold, and they will forever wonder, what could they have done differently to have prevented this accident?

An FAA that routinely looks the other way while F16 pilots scream at low altitudes is only enabling risky flying that will eventually produce tragic consequences. Frankly, it would not be at all surprising to see this controller retire on a stress-related disability, primarily because FAA is so eager to accommodate aviators, they too often fail to assert real and needed safety controls.


UPDATED 7/20/2015

FAA, NTSB Need to Accelerate Transparency about Midair Collisions

Two men were killed three days ago, when their Cessna was broadsided by a low-flying Air Force F16. This was a tragic accident that should never have happened, and would not have happened if any of the following practices had been followed by FAA:

  1. ensure the instrument approach procedures designed and approved by FAA do not create high-risk conflicts with nearby airport operations (in this case, the GA field at Moncks Corner);
  2. regulate military jet instrument practice in civilian airspace to include much slower maximum airspeeds (i.e., if  ATC cannot ensure that the route is clear of all other aircraft, then ATC must restrict the military jet to much slower speeds, as they would a civilian jet).

The Cessna occupants died, so it is easy to try and pin the blame on them for having just taken off and being in the wrong spot when the collision occurred. But, based on statements made to reporters in the immediate aftermath, it is clear that FAA’s controllers were working the jet, and that it was at a very low altitude either setting up for or actually on a published instrument procedure. It is also clear that high-speed low-flying military jets were a huge concern in South Carolina, even a week prior to the midair. For example, a news article on June 29 generated the following selected reader comments:20150707scp.. Comments re low-flying SC military jets, from recent WYFF article, 'Fighter jets heard, spotted over Upstate'

There appears to be a developing trend toward more aggressive military training flying, with more impact upon residents below. This incident reveals the worst-case consequences of this trend. The ATC clearance issued by the radar approach controller to the F16 pilot is a matter of documented fact. It is recorded digitally, and the audio data is saved, by FAA. Likewise, the radar data used by the controller working the F16 just prior to the midair collision is also digitally saved. This data will show conclusively, where the actual collision occurred (the lat/long as well as the altitude), the flight directions of the two aircraft at time of impact, and what opportunities ATC had to ‘save’ the accident from happening.

These digital files are immediately retrievable by FAA, thus have already been shared with NTSB. When Boeing 787’s had battery fires a few years ago, NTSB did a fantastic job showing the problem (with pictures of a burnt battery, no less) in a timely news interview. Likewise, when the Asiana flight crashed while landing at San Francisco, NTSB again was wonderfully transparent. We need this transparency, not only to help answer the reasonable questions and concerns of many citizens, but also to accelerate the ‘lessons learned’ from aviation tragedies, to help active pilots avoid tragic repeats. It has been three days, and FAA needs to post these files online, for the world to see the scenario that led to this tragic midair collision.

The Need for Safely Designed Approaches

Many people do not realize that the flight of the arriving F16, reportedly doing instrument practice into Charleston AFB [KCHS], is not at all random. That is to say, the flight was communicating with FAA ATC, was flying in accordance with an ATC clearance, and was either on or joining a published approach procedure. These published procedures are supposed to be designed so as to minimize safety hazards. Dozens of different offices have to sign off before a new procedure is finally published, so it should never happen that a procedure is published that routinely puts aircraft at risk of collision. That said, take a look at this published approach, the RNAV (RNP) Z Runway 15 to KCHS:

KHS_IAP_RNAV (RNP) Z RWY 15

(click on image to view larger PDF copy)

Note the fix KREIS (upper red box), with a hard altitude of 3,000 feet. Note also the first speed restriction is at JCEEE fix, 4.4 miles after KREIS fix (lower red box). 20150707scp.. Midair VFRmap, showing potential routes & KREIS fixThe lat/long for KREIS places it as indicated in red on the VFRmap portion. A left-turnout departure by a Cessna from KMCS to Myrtle Beach would approximately follow the green curve. The red line leading south to KREIS fix would approximately depict an arrival from Shaw setting up to fly this published procedure (i.e., a radar vector or a ‘Direct KREIS’ clearance). It is common practice for pilots to level off at the next crossing altitude (in this case 3,000 feet) at least a few miles before arriving at the fix. So, IF the arriving F16 was in fact being set up for this published approach, the pilot would have likely been screaming along, even in excess of 300-knots, and at a very low altitude of just 3,000 feet. Also, look closely at this published approach and it quickly becomes clear: with the annotations about ‘Radius to Fix required’ and very advanced (low) RNP requirements, this is clearly an approach NOT for regular GA flights, but most likely for military use.

We do not know if the F16 was flying this approach or another. FAA can easily answer this question, as they need to do with no further delay. As a matter of practice, to best serve the entire public (not just the narrow interests of aviation), FAA needs to routinely and immediately disclose audio recordings, transcripts, and radar presentations that depict the facts, following significant aviation incidents such as midair collisions. Clearly, a timely internet posting at the FAA website would be both effective and efficient.

FAA Opacity on Safety Data: the ATSAP Black-Hole

It is also highly likely that the FAA controller immediately filed an ATSAP report. This program grants immunity to controllers if/when they have an incident, so long as they voluntarily report what happened. The controllers are not required to report all details, and being human, they tend to report a story that places them in a positive light. But, even with that, they do report important details, that need to be disclosed if the public is to understand the incident. Regrettably, FAA has gone to considerable effort to permanently conceal all ATSAP report content; i.e., the details reported are held in such strict confidence that FAA even tries to hide them from Judges. Despite the fact FAA could easily (and routinely) sanitize the report contents with minimal redactions (similar to the way NASA ASRS reports are slightly altered) and then immediately disclose the amended report, FAA refuses to do so. Thus, when people want to learn from tragic accidents that ATC failed to save, there are no facts to be studied. Instead, we have to wait until months and years later, when a fully sanitized and carefully coordinated story is released by FAA and NTSB.

Midair Collision at Moncks Corner, SC, on July 7, 2015

CBS46 News

News reports indicate that an Air Force F16 flying a short flight from Shaw AFB in Sumter, SC [KSSC] to the Air Force Base in Charleston, SC [KCHS] broadsided a Cessna C150 over Moncks Corner, SC. The Cessna is believed to have just departed the Berkeley County Airport [KMKS], southwest of Moncks Corner, and was reportedly heading east for Myrtle Beach [KMYR]. Note that the straight-line distance from Shaw AFB to KMKS is 52nm, and from Charleston AFB to KMKS is 17nm. In a TV news interview, the Shaw AFB commander indicated the collision occurred when the F16 was at 2,000- to 3,000-ft altitude.

Orange line shows approx. route for Cessna, to Myrtle Beach. Green line shows extended centerline to KCHS Runway 15 (the F16 final course). Collision at center of red rectangle (approx.).

Shaw AFB is in upper left corner, Charleston AFB is near bottom left corner. Orange line shows approx. route for Cessna, to Myrtle Beach. Green line shows extended centerline to KCHS Runway 15 (the F16 final course). Collision at center of red rectangle (approx.). (click on image to view sectional at VFRmap.com)

Focal areas of the investigation will include:

  1. What was the precise lat/long, altitude, and time for the actual midair collision? This should be easily produced from FAA radar records.
  2. What is recorded by FAA/ATC on the radio communications? (this should show precisely what the F16 pilot requested, what ATC issued, whether any transmissions were made to help the F16 pilot not collide with the Cessna, etc.)
  3. For the F16, what time did they depart Shaw AFB, and was this just a quick hop to Charleston AFB, or was it more involved, including setting up with ATC for an instrument approach?
  4. What was the route of flight, altitude at top of climb, and flight condition (level, descending, on a radar vector or DME arc, etc. at the moment of impact) for the F16?
  5. Exactly what was the so-called ‘instrument training’ reportedly being done by the F16 pilot, during the minutes leading up to the collision? (in particular, experienced pilots will note it appears hazardous and not consistent with published instrument approaches, for a military jet to be so low, so far from KCHS, and in the vicinity of Lewisfield Plantation)
  6. For the Cessna, the airport and runway of departure, route of flight to the point of impact (left downwind departure off Runway 3 at KMKS?), flight condition (particularly, had the flight levelled or was it still climbing, at the point of impact?), and first and last times the radar target was displayed for ATC.
  7. What guidelines are local GA pilots advised to follow, as set up by FAA/ATC, to minimize the risk of conflict with Air Force training to KCHS Runway 15?

See also:

ANALYSIS: High-Altitude Shoot-Downs in Ukraine Started Just 3-Days Before the MH17 Crash

20140717.. MH17 debris and investigators in wheat field 7-22-14For the past ten days, the world has witnessed an intensive propaganda war where both sides are trying to spin the story of how MH17 ended up widely scattered over wheatfields and farms in east Ukraine. The one known element of the story is that the Boeing 777 was shot down. The consensus is that the source was a ground-based Russian-made SA-11 missile, also known as a BUK or ‘gadfly’, but it is also conceivable that the aircraft was shot down air-to-air.

On the one side we see the Russians and pro-Russian rebels, who are seeking to separate from Ukraine. On the other side we see Ukraine. And there are other players, such as the U.S., whose top officials have satellite imagery and other advanced intelligence and certainly know far more than they are sharing with the Public.

One core element of the spin aims to create plausible deniability for the prospect of involvement by major states. Early news stories talked about Russian SA-11 missile launchers being moved into eastern Ukraine, then being seen moving back to Russia shortly after MH17 was shot down. There does not appear to be any substantial denial of these movements; instead, the early spin aims to claim that the SA-11 units were brought into Ukraine then used by separatist rebels who ‘accidentally’ shot down MH17 while aiming for a Ukrainian military aircraft. It seems hard to imagine that a complex system* would be delivered by anyone other than a trained crew, and even harder to imagine that they would then let others play with the system.*Experts note that the SA-11 has three separate vehicle units: a radar (for target acquisition), a control center, and tank-like launchers with four loaded 18-ft missiles. It seems far more plausible that the SA-11 was used by trained Russian soldiers, under a cover claiming the separatists pulled the trigger. Alternatively, there have been some charges that the Ukrainian military used their own BUK to intentionally shoot down MH17, with the intent of pinning the blame on the Russians. Given known world history, it is difficult to reject this as the possible true story.

In a world of spin-control, one strategy is to launch a diversionary story. Ukraine was shockingly quick to release a collection of alleged intercepted communications, first between rebel leaders and Russian military officials and then amongst rebel leaders. They reflect that the news story broke as a shoot-down of an An-26 military aircraft (as first happened three days earlier, in the first high-altitude shoot-down, on 7/14/14), but soon transitioned to a realization that a civilian aircraft had been hit. Some charge that this is all a fabrication to cover for what may have been an air-to-air missile shoot-down from a Ukrainian jet.

One key area where Ukraine is clearly blocking Public knowledge is their refusal to share ATC data. The airspace is managed by Ukrainian air traffic controllers, under an international agreement. Sadly, that agreement does not mandate each state to be transparent and produce data, even after a major incident such as MH17. Interestingly, Russian radar claims to have tracked portions of MH17, and in a Defense Ministry presentation on 7/21/14, Russian officials offered radar data which they interpret as showing a Ukrainian military Su-25**Ten days earlier, on 7/7/14, an Su-25 was reportedly captured by separatists. So, conceivably, the alleged shadow Su-25 may have been Ukraine, rebel, or even Russian. shadowing 3-5 kilometers from MH17. If this is true, perhaps Ukraine is trying to hide the important fact that they did have a military aircraft in close proximity to the downed airline. That same Russian Defense Ministry presentation had many other strong arguments questioning the veracity of western claims, many of which are laid out near the bottom of the lengthy 7/26/14 report by Andre Vltcheck, at Global Research.

High-Altitude Shoot-downs were New on 7/17/2014

The first high-altitude shoot-down was just three days earlier, on 7/14/14, when an An-26 was hit; eight parachuted out and two died. Then, on 7/16/14, two Ukrainian Air Force Su-25’s were downed, apparently at higher altitudes, producing no fatalities; one was claimed to have been a MANPADS hit, and the other was claimed to have been an air-to-air hit by a Russian fighter. Prior to 7/14/14, there had been numerous shoot-downs, but most were helicopters, and all were at low altitudes, generally during takeoff or approach. In other words, the SA-11 system appears to have been first used on 7/14/14, just three days prior to MH17. Given the higher altitudes, it is quite conceivable that the two Su-25’s on 7/16/14 were also shot down using the SA-11.

Certainly, the major world military powers know the precise date and time that the Russian SA-11’s were delivered into and became operational in eastern Ukraine … but we don’t know that, because the leaders are hiding this information. The spin-games will continue and all parties will ensure the Public is in the dark. This is a pattern we have all come to expect in recent decades … from the U.S., Russian, Ukraine, the agencies (e.g., FAA), the airlines, etc. It is said that power corrupts; here, it appears a key part of the corruption is to control the flow of even basic information. Where is a good Whistleblower when we need one?

We Have to Look Elsewhere for the Facts

An outstanding resource for information on aviation accidents and incidents is AviationSafetyNetwork (A-SN). It includes two databases: one that covers major aviation incidents, and another that allows user-inputs to compile data and news links for even minor GA incidents. The A-SN database was queried by aiREFORM.com, using a filter to show all recent Ukraine accidents. Nearly all ‘accidents’ are war-related; all shoot-downs are listed in the table below:

5/2/2014 (2) Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-24 helicopters, shot down near Luvyansk, using MANPADS. 5 fatalities.
5/2/2014 Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-8 helicopter, damaged by gunfire near Slavyansk. No fatalities.
5/5/2014 Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-24 helicopter, shot down by ground-fire near Luvyansk, crew is rescued, then Ukrainian Su-25 fires to destroy the downed helicopter. No fatalities.
5/29/2014 Ukrainian National Guard Mi-8 helicopter, shot down by ground-fire near Slavyansk. 12 fatalities.
6/3/2014 Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-24 helicopter, shot down by small-arms fire near Slavyansk. No fatalities.
6/4/2014 (3) Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters were damaged/destroyed by MANPADS and ground-fire near Slavyansk. No fatalities.
6/5/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Mi-8 helicopter, hit by small-arms fire near Slavyansk, forced to make emergency landing. No fatalities.
6/6/2014 Ukrainian Air Force An-30 jet with 8 on board, hit by ground-fire near Drobyshevo, catches fire and crashes. 5 fatalities.
6/14/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Il-76 jet, hit by MANPAD while on approach to Lugansk airport. 49 fatalities.
6/24/2014 Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-8 helicopter, hit by MANPAD while taking off near Slavyansk airport. 9 fatalities.
7/1/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 jet, on an attack mission and hit by defense forces but able to return to its base. No fatalities.
7/2/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Su-24 jet, on an attack mission and hit by defense forces but able to return to its base. No fatalities.
7/12/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Mi-24 helicopter, on an attack mission near Snezhny, shot down by MANPAD. No fatalities.
7/14/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 jet, destroyed by separatists (no other information available). No fatalities.
7/14/2014 Ukrainian Air Force An-26 jet, shot down at higher altitude (6,500m) near Izvaryne. 2 fatalities.
7/16/2014 (2) Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 jets, one shot down by MANPAD, the other allegedly shot down by Russian fighter, both at altitude around 20,000-ft, near Ukraine-Russian border. No fatalities.
7/17/2014 Multiple older aircraft damaged/destroyed by Ukraine forces while parked at Tarasovka Airfield, northwest of Crimea. No fatalities.
7/17/2014 MH17 shot down at FL330, flying east of Donetsk. 298 civilian fatalities.

Terrorism Comes Home

Both days were bright and sunny, and yet both mornings brought the darkest of news.

20010911.. twin towers pic, second impactIn September 2001, I awoke to yet another beautiful day in Fremont, CA, and prepared to run before heading to my afternoon shift, working as an oceanic air traffic controller at FAA’s Oakland Center. I was renting a room in a house where an 89-yr-old former merchant marine was being cared for by his niece, with extra care provided by a cheerful Filipina who arrived each day. He lived in a reclining medical chair/bed next to the kitchen, adjacent to a phone and a breathing machine, and his TV was often on. I came out ready to run and walked by just to say ‘good morning’. I stopped when I saw his TV showing the images of the first tower strike, and minutes later I watched as the network showed images of the second tower strike. I watched a bit more, in shock, then went for my run. Not a quarter mile later I stopped and I bent over and I cried.

In July 2014, I awoke in my rural Oregon home, with plans to harvest more blueberries and finish building planter boxes for my Fall garden. I was having some coffee and checking the news online when I learned that a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 had crashed, and was possibly shot down by a missile. I spent the next few hours learning as much as I could about Ukraine, Russia, the history of the area, and the emerging details of what soon was confirmed to be a terrorist attack that killed all 298 aboard.

Thirteen Years Later, Things are Just Slightly Different

In 2001 I cried, but in 2014 I did not. Was it that they were different, in Ukraine, not American? No, not at all. In fact, as I hurriedly searched for information about the crash/attack, I was frankly stunned when I saw the local videos on YouTube. I was stunned, not by the black smoke and falling debris, but by the peripheral image: the rustic farm buildings, the vibrant mid-summer garden, the young walnut tree — it all looked just like my home, here in rural Oregon. 20140717.. MH17 screen-cap showing black cloud and gardenAs I studied the images, I heard the muffled crying of Ukrainians, also shared by YouTube. These Ukrainians were witnessing this event with debris and bodies raining upon their homes, and I felt they were just like me and my neighbors here in Oregon. God, this debris could have fallen here today. It has been a week, yet I still cannot help but to wonder: the way things appear to be trending, how many years will it be before domestic terrorists bring down U.S. airliners upon sleepy agricultural areas in the American heartland? Really, just how sick is humanity?

I cried in 2001 because this terrorist act was new and ramped up; and, it indicated how the world was changing in the wrong direction. I cried for my kids, and for our future. But, in 2014, I did not cry. At least not yet. I think it was the numbing effect, of a horrific human tragedy repeated. It makes us stoic; it destroys our humanity.

The aiREPORT: [2013Q3, week-10]

aiREPORT is a weekly collection of notes and links to news items relevant to aviation impacts and FAA reform. It is provided as a research tool…

Third Quarter, Week #10: September 1 — September 7, 2013

summary:

Top AvNews story: A Judge has rejected airline arguments that the testimony of FAA Whistleblower Christopher Monteleon and the Report compiled by consultant (and former FAA official) Nick Sabatini are irrelevant in trials related to the Colgan 3407 crash in Buffalo. Attorneys representing families of the deceased will have access to these resources. … Also, many more news releases appeared, with elected officials grandstanding about the FAA/AIP money coming home for their constituents. And, lots of what appears to be early maneuvering, to get Congress to exempt FAA from a repeat of last Spring’s sequester debacle…

QUICKlooks:

  • 9/3/13: Helicopter Association International president Matt Zuccaro said HAI is evaluating its legal and political options in the wake of a federal court decision upholding the authority of the FAA to mandate the “North Shore Route” for helicopters transiting New York’s Long Island. [link]
  • 9/4/13: FAA has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to make it legal for some pilots to fly down to 100′ above the touchdown zone elevation without seeing the airport, before they must execute a missed approach. The current is 200′ (generally). The new standard would apply to crews using enhanced forward vision systems (EFVS) using a real-time image of the flight environment while flying on straight-in precision approaches. [link]

Airports in the News:

  • Cedar Rapids, IA (The Eastern Iowa Airport [KCID]): FAA has announced a $5.2M AIP award for construction of a new taxiway. The new ‘Taxiway Echo’ will parallel the north end of crosswind Runway 13/31, along the east side, and will replace a portion of current Taxiway Delta. The airport averages 153 operations/day (four takeoffs per hour of ATC service), with roughly 30 daily commercial passenger departures. Airport operations have declined 33% since the peak in 1999. News articles from earlier this year expressed concern the project would be delayed by the FAA budget sequester.
  • Telluride, CO (Telluride Regional Airport [KTEX]): A new ATC aircraft tracking system has been activated, which will allow controllers at the center in Longmont to ‘see’ flights below 12,000′, all the way to the ground. The system uses ground-based and satellite-based technologies, and should substantially reduce delays during heavy traffic periods in the ski seasons ahead. [link]
  • Butler, PA (Butler County Airport, Scholter Field [KBTP]): $1M in FAA and state funds will be used to acquire 4 acres and widen the taxiway. This airport is home for roughly 100 GA aircraft, has no control tower, and averages 200 operations per day. Nearby airports include Pittsburgh (KPIT), Alleghany (KAGC), Beaver (KBVI) and Zelienople (KPJC), and are all substantially underutilized. [link]
  • Louisville, MS (Louisville Winston County Airport [KLMS]): FAA will pay 90% of the $734K needed for construction of a new terminal building. This airport has twelve based aircraft and averages 21 operations per day. It is midway between Tupelo and Meridian, both of which have control towers at very slow airports (averaging 150 ops/day). [link]
  • Fort Meyers, FL (Southwest Florida International Airport [KRSW]): A coooerative effort aimed at reducing residential noise impacts began on 8/1/13. The preferred runway for the hours of 10PM to 6AM changed from Runway 6 to Runway 24. The tower closes at 10PM. [link]

Links to Articles:

9-6-2013FAA Cuts the Red Tape to Let UAS Work Yosemite Wildfire
An FAA News Release putting a positive spin on their working with the Department of Defense and the California National Guard to quickly approve use of a drone to aid in monitoring the fires at Yosemite National Park.
9-4-2013It’s a bird; it’s a plane; no, it’s another annoying helicopter
Some good background information on the long history of helicopter noise impact (and safety concerns) related to helicopters in the Hudson River area. Discusses an 8/27/13 symposium held at Teterboro Airport, attended by Senator Menendez, Congressman Sires, and many other local officials. Some say it the problem is beyond tourist helicopters, which supposedly cease at 7PM. The problem is said to be later traffic using the Paulus Hook Heliport and the repair facility at Kearny. A quote: “The quality of life of our residents has suffered due to the constant noise being generated by these aircraft, and we are all concerned about the frequency and dangerously low altitudes at which these helicopters are flying over our neighborhoods.”
9-3-2013Judge grants access to internal review, FAA inspector in advance of trial in 2009 plane crash
Fifty people died when Colgan Flight 3407 (flying as Continental Connection) crashed into a house in Buffalo in 2009. The accident investigation unveiled very troubling details about pilot pay, pilot fatigue, FAA blocking of Whistleblower concerns, etc. The airlines used a bankruptcy to delay the release of critical records. OF 40 filed lawsuits, all but eight have been settled through mediation. A trial is set to start on 3/4/14. Shortly after the crash, Colgan hired Nick Sabatini (FAA’s Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, who had just retired on 1/3/09) to look at their operations and draft a confidential report. The airlines did not want to share the report, and claimed the report was irrelevant because the work culture at Colgan had changed. U.S. District Judge William Skretny disagreed;  he said the report was potentially relevant because it was unlikely that the culture at Colgan had significantly changed in the weeks after the crash. Additionally, the Judge approved testimony by FAA inspector Christopher Monteleon, a Whistleblower who had warned of Colgan problems prior to the crash. Judge Skretny agreed with attorneys for the passengers’ families, who said Monteleon may have information that is either new or fills gaps in other witnesses’ testimony.
9-2-2013Alabama and Tennessee team for effort to land 1 of 6 FAA drone test sites
FAA holds the authority to decide which six locations will be designated for drone development, research. (Perhaps this authority should be reassigned, for drone activities below a low altitude such as 1,000′ and at least five miles from airports, so that FAA is no longer in the loop?)
9-2-2013FAA deferring ERAM functionality as money runs out
The program, En Route Automation Modernization, replaces the 4 decades old high altitude radar tracking system known as Host; currently, ERAM is operational either full- or part-time at 16 of 20 air route traffic control centers. FAA officials told  auditors that sequestration will significantly impact ERAM implementation, although the report doesn’t say if they anticipate missing the 2014 deadline.
9-1-2013AIN Blog: Torqued: What If Aviation CEOs Were Held Accountable for Employee Safety Violations?
John Goglia (former NTSB member) with yet another interesting blog. This time, he discusses a recent court action that held former New Jersey Governor and Senator Jon Corzine accountable for the malfeasances of a subordinate employee that resulted in massive financial losses for investors. Goglia then suggests: why not extend accountability for aviation blunders up to the levels of management, especially when management creates the culture and pressure that often precipitates errors, accidents, and other system failures?
9-1-2013FAA’s 2014 Budget Remains Unresolved
An AIN article by Paul Lowe, noting that Congress went on their summer break with no evident progress toward resolving the sequester threat. Looks like another round of primetime sequester reactions coming soon…
9-1-2013Industry Lobby Groups Prepared To Take On FAA
A review of the growing distrust of FAA officials, as expressed a month ago at Oshkosh. The opening paragraph: “The alphabets are angry. Reflecting the growing frustration of their members, presidents of the trade associations tasked with representing general aviation interests showed up at this year’s EAA AirVenture with both barrels loaded full of criticism for the FAA and for the congressional oversight of the agency. The rhetoric was a marked shift from the traditional message of cooperation with the FAA. Other than controllers and their supervisors, top FAAofficials, including agency Administrator Michael Huerta, were conspicuously absent from this year’s AirVenture, allegedly because of federal budget sequestration. It was the first time an FAA Administrator has skipped the event in many years.”

The aiReport …a link to the full report…

…from My Lai to Baghdad

“Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santayana ( ~1905)

Two different times, but a very similar story

In the early 1970’s, just a few years after Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was remarkably candid in a transcribed conversation:

20130413.. Kissinger photo, from Amy Goodman article at NofC

“…Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, ‘The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that….”

This he said during the time period when the Pentagon Papers were leaked, when the Malek Manual guided federal managers on how to get rid of unwanted employees, and when President Nixon was authorizing dirty work like the Watergate break-in. This transcription (and many others) was not released to the Public until three decades later.

Fast-forward more than forty years, to today’s digitized world. On July 12, 2007, a U.S. military helicopter circling over the streets of Baghdad, opened fire on a group of nine men in an open courtyard. Two reporters from Reuters News Service were among those killed. Reuters sought information with a FOIA request, but they were denied. Then, in April 2010, a video responsive to that FOIA request showed up, via Wikileaks. It is viewable online (though it is a disturbing experience to watch, in what feels like a lethal and inhumane turkey shoot against people). Young Bradley Manning, born in 1987, later takes credit for giving that video to Wikileaks. Here is what Manning had to say about the video:

“…The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemingly delightful bloodlust of the aerial weapons team. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as ‘dead bastards,’ and congratulating
each other on the ability to kill
in large numbers….”


Kissinger v. Manning…

One is a very gifted and accomplished adult, a Nobel Prize winner who served within the inner circle of perhaps the most corrupt presidential administration in U.S. history, though he never spoke up to inform the Public. The other is a young man trying to serve his country. He becomes aware of failures in which people are actually being killed. He likely feared that his own military organization would not accept his speaking up about the failures, so he ‘blew the whistle’ to the outside world, sharing stale records via Wikileaks. How stale? The video of the 2007 Baghdad aerial attack was nearly three years old when it was leaked. The Army had given Manning clearances and access to records, and these records were accessible to who knows how many thousands around the world. The Army was so indifferent about the possible leaking of these stale records, that nothing stopped Manning from easily making digital copies on music CD’s and camera memory cards. While his action put nobody into direct danger, it did inform the Public … nearly three years after the aerial attack.

One has to wonder: why did it take nearly three years for the Public to learn about the failures of July 12, 2007? Shouldn’t the military leaders have had an ethical obligation to share that video way back in 2007, when they reviewed the airstrike and assessed the kills and recognized that the strict military discipline of their soldiers had temporarily failed? It sure seems like the military should have been open; but, maybe instead, in 2007, they saw the need to sweep it all under the rug. Which has happened before…


My Lai .. 3-16-1968

When the My Lai massacre happened in March 1968, U.S. military officials were immediately aware of the massacre, as it had been fully reported by Warrant Officer Thompson. Predictably, the Army buried the story. One concerned soldier, Ron Ridenhour, quietly investigated, collecting details from fellow GI’s. When Ridenhour came home, he blew the whistle in early 1969 with letters to thirty members of Congress and other high officials. It took twenty months for the press to catch up with history, and share the details with the Public. This photograph, published on November 20, 1969, became the key image driving Public outrage.
The spin is another extraordinary and disturbing story. Initial reports included congratulations to the soldiers for prevailing in ‘a fierce firefight’. A mimeograph from an official press briefing read: “In an action today, Americal Division forces killed 128 enemy near Quang Ngai City. Helicopter gunships and artillery missions supported the ground elements throughout the day.”
Although hundreds were killed, the massacre was eventually ‘tidied up’ by attributing it to one junior officer. Most soldiers refused to testify. Eventually, that one lieutenant was found guilty and served time. No other officers were convicted. Such is the capacity for a closed unit to hide the truth.

In Kissinger’s time (and leading up to his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973), we had the My Lai massacre. On March 16, 1968, as many as 500 Vietnamese civilians, mostly women, children and elderly men, were gunned down by American GI’s.

One American pilot, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, was shocked at what he saw. While doing his job providing helicopter support, he interacted with the rogue ground units, and went so far as to question who gave the orders to shoot. He took action to get assistance for some civilians in need, then came back later to find them shot. He then took additional action to protect some schoolchildren, including flying them out of danger. At the end of the day, he reported what he saw. For these efforts, he was issued a ‘Distinguished Flying Cross’; he promptly threw it away, because the citation grossly misrepresented the events, declaring he had rescued an injured girl “from intense crossfire.” It was thirty years later before his heroics were finally recognized with a Soldier’s Medal, and a citation that more accurately read: “…for heroism above and beyond the call of duty while saving the lives of at least 10 Vietnamese civilians during the unlawful massacre of non-combatants by American forces at My Lai.” It took thirty years for this extraordinary military failure to be squarely acknowledged.


Baghdad .. 7-12-2007

On the day of the attack, US military officials in Baghdad said that the helicopters had been called in to help American troops who had been exposed to small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades during a raid. “There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,” Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad, said at the time.
But the video does not show hostile action. Instead, it begins with a group of people milling around on a street, among them, according to WikiLeaks, Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh. The pilots believe them to be insurgents, and mistake Noor-Eldeen’s camera for a weapon. They aim and fire at the group, then revel in their kills.
“Look at those dead bastards,” one pilot says. “Nice,” the other responds.
A wounded man can be seen crawling and the pilots impatiently hope that he will try to fire at them so that under the rules of engagement they can shoot him again. “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon,” one pilot says.
A short time later a van arrives to pick up the wounded and the pilots open fire on it, wounding two children inside. “Well, it’s their fault for bring their kids into a battle,” one pilot says.
At another point, an American armored vehicle arrives and appears to roll over one of the dead. “I think they just drove over a body,” one of the pilots says, chuckling a little.
– excerpted from a 4/6/10 New York Times article

While Kissinger’s story may be new to some of us, we all know (and debate) how we got to Manning’s story. At the time of the aerial attack, we had been mired in Iraq for more than four years, and still had not found those alleged ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Instead, we found a lameduck president whose approval rating had steadily declined to less than half his ‘disapproval’ rating. And, we found an economy beginning to crumble, and clearly on the verge of collapse.

Our larger culture had disintegrated, too. We had become obsessed with security and control: airport lines and 3-ounce containers; ‘warrantless wiretaps’ and ‘state secrets’. The level of fear and distrust between regular citizens was peaking. It was the worst of times to be ethical and, by 2007, especially in federal workplaces, it had become an open season on Whistleblowers. The lethal failure of military discipline in Baghdad was videotaped in July 2007. In that same month, FBI agents conducted gestapo-style raids into the homes of citizens, connected to the Thomas Drake Whistleblower case. Why? Because Drake had exposed waste, fraud and abuse within the security hierarchy at NSA.

And we are still feeling the damages today. Some would reasonably argue that the fog of distrust in those years – practically a collective paranoia – eventually rotted the foundations of our political system to a point where real problems could no longer be addressed, let alone resolved. Where news outlets serve only power while knowingly manipulating the Public. Where we are, in short order, destroying the future, to the detriment of our own children.


Nobody Wins, and Everyone Loses

In  Vietnam or in Iraq or in the next hellhole, war is not clean. We understand it is filthy and horrific, and as Kissinger would agree, some damages are immediate, some take a little longer, and some set in years later, in illness or even in suicide or homicide.

In war, rules are broken, lives are taken. In a military context, a whistleblower can be very dangerous, such as if he or she tips off the enemy about an impending attack. But, once history has happened, the main hazard of a person in the military speaking up about a past failure is the risk of embarrassment to that military unit. It is an embarrassment and yet, at the same time, it is also an opportunity for the unit to improve its performance. Clearly, the value of a later disclosure, if it is used constructively to inform the Public and prevent a repeat failure, is far greater than the cost of embarrassment. That later disclosure forms the basis for Public trust of their military; the absence of that disclosure feeds Public distrust. So, why is Manning locked up?

Everyone loses when Whistleblowers are silenced or ignored. Indeed, the very existence of a Whistleblower indicates a corrupted work culture. Show me a workplace with open communications, where problems are immediately identified and resolved, and I will show you a strong and ethical leader whose employees are fully engaged, thriving, and productive; look closely, and you will find no Whistleblowers. On the other hand, show me a workplace where the leaders fail to support the Whistleblower, and I will show you inefficiency and fear and disillusionment and indifference and internal conflict … classic indicators of a failed and lost organization. You will also find a rare Whistleblower, if they can bear to stay around…

Whistleblowers should be supported, not attacked.

If President Ford could pardon President Nixon, then surely,
President Obama can
pardon Bradley Manning.
…why not?


Additional links:

3-20-2013 – “NSA Whistleblower Thomas Drake: All Doubts Dispelled, Bradley Manning’s a Whistleblower”
4-11-2013 – …link to the news story that inspired this article (thanks, Amy!)
4-16-2013 – Bradley Manning Update: How to Commit Espionage Without Trying!

An analysis of last week’s pre-trial hearings, in which government prosecutors are essentially declaring that anything posted on the internet might aid an enemy, thus becomes a basis for an espionage conviction. An excerpt: “…Making a government the final arbiter of what should and shouldn’t be seen on the Internet is corrosive of democracy. Claiming that merely publishing information is effectively terrorism is a nightmarish trashing of protected communications….”