Category Archives: Opinion Piece

ATC Zero — The Nightmare at Chicago En Route Center


Standard FAA Facility Warning SIgn

Standard FAA Facility Warning SIgn

This week we got yet another lesson on the dangers of consolidating air traffic control facilities in the name of “saving money.” We also got a lesson on the abject failure of privatization, the “think tanks” that push privatization, contracting out maintenance of vital infrastructure, corporate greed, and the Washington corruption that breeds this sort of thing.

Harris Corporation employee Brian Howard allegedly cut radar and communications cables, set fire to vital equipment, and then attempted to go all Norman Bates on himself this past week.

Future Harris Corp. employee Norman Bates

The result is millions of dollars in damages and probably hundreds of millions in lost revenue to the airlines. That Harris contract, by the way, is worth some $331 million. Considering the impact to people, business, and national security, was it worth it? Ask your congressman and senators.  And ask if Harris Corp. is going to foot the bill, although we already know the answer to that one.

While you’re at it, ask where your congressman and senators stand on the consolidation agenda of Congressman John Mica of Florida’s 7th Congressional District, or the privatization of vital national defense infrastructure also pushed by him as well as the completely discredited Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation. For if both these men had their way it is very likely Indianapolis Center, Minneapolis Center, Cleveland Center, and Kansas City Center would not have been around to pick up at least some of Chicago Center’s traffic. Instead, if these two had their way, all those centers would have been in just one facility, and that facility would be the one down.

What would have been the impact of that? See for yourself:

FAA Area Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) Boundaries, a.k.a., “En Route Centers

We get this lesson on a fairly consistent basis. There was the 2003 evacuation of Southern California TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control), which handles approach services to every major airport in Southern California. That disruption resulted from a brush fire and effectively shut down to IFR aircraft nearly every airport in half the state. In the past three years alone we witnessed no less than three evacuations of the Chicago TRACON, which serves O’Hare, Midway, and other Chicago area airports. And in 2007 Memphis Center went ATC Zero because a single critical phone line bundle was cut. That disruption closed off 100,000 square miles of airspace for around three hours.

But that’s all peanuts compared to this latest failure. It will be weeks, possibly even a month, before Chicago Center is up and operational once again.  Meanwhile, adjacent centers are trying to pick up the slack and Chicago Center controllers are being assigned to various TRACONs to handle what part of the load they can.

By the way, we’ve already tasted the devastating failures of at least one of Robert Poole’s ideas — the destruction of this nation’s Flight Service Stations and the services they once provided to general aviation pilots. Read:

During the Cold War no one would have stood for consolidation and privatization of such vital national defense infrastructure, yet we have bought-and-paid-for politicians, “think” tank “experts,” and corporations pushing this agenda every day. Why? Because there’s a lot of money to be had, that’s why.  Government money.  Tons of it. And these people don’t care about national defense, so this latest lesson will be conveniently swept under the door mat once public memory has faded.

But rest assured that this lesson has not been lost on those who would do us harm. They now know our vulnerabilities. They’re probably counting on those vulnerabilities to exploit them in the future. And I’m sure those same people are sitting back, planning and plotting, and all the while cheering on the likes of Robert Poole, the Reason Foundation, and Congressman John Mica, and wishing them all the best of success in their endeavors. Because, as we all know, greed is good . . . if you’re looking to exploit an enemy. That’s why the standard FAA ATC sign you saw above — the one so prominently displayed outside every FAA ATC facility in the nation — should read:

How FAA Warning Signs SHOULD Read

How FAA Warning Signs SHOULD Read

Bibliography:

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Filed under Aviation Safety, Opinion Piece, R. Doug Wicker

Memorial Day Missive — The All-Volunteer Concept is a Complete and Utter Failure


American Cemetery in Normandy, France

Once again National Barbeque and Outdoor Grill Day is upon us . . . or so it seems from the lack of solemnity that greets this supposedly somber day.

In the waning days of the Vietnam War this country ended military conscription — “The Draft” — and with the draft’s demise so, too, ended any concept of shared sacrifice on the home front during time of war.  In wars prior to and throughout most of Vietnam citizens were asked to send their fathers and sons to battle, and to support the war effort through rationing, volunteerism, and, yes, even taxes.  Upon their return our fathers and sons were propped up during their transition from the horrors of war to the mundaneness of a civilian, nine-to-five, off-on-weekends existence.  We paid for their college education, tended to their wounds both physical and mental, rehabilitated their disabilities, and returned them to society for the most part as fully functioning members.

June 6 will mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day

Back then the Veterans Administration was a thing of wondrous humanity that defined how we as a nation cared for our warriors in their time of need.  It defined us as a people, and it let those who fought our battles know that we would not abandon them once the gunfire ceased.

Not so today.  We have now as a society isolated ourselves from wars we send our fellow citizens to fight.  No longer do we send our own off to perhaps die.  Now we are content to get someone else’s child — usually from the lower income and educational strata of our society — to “volunteer” into perhaps their only shot at a better life.

Meanwhile, we allow our political leaders to sell us on avoiding any related wartime pain while at the same time allowing corporate profiteers to enrich themselves on the sacrifices of others.  There is no rationing.  No one is asked to curtail their standard of living.  Taxes are cut.  The costs of today’s wars are pushed forward to future generations.  Our leaders tell us that it’s our patriotic duty to take the family and, “. . . get down to Disney World,” rather than do the unpopular things necessary as a society that has made the collective decision to wage war.

If the Draft was Good Enough for Them then it is Good Enough for Us

Now that the post-9/11 wars are coming to a close — one of which was totally optional and complete folly; and the whole raison d’être for the other having ended over three years ago on May 2, 2011 — we are once again failing our warriors at the most basic, civilized level.  This is far from new.  We as a nation have failed in this area ever since conscription ended in this country over forty years ago.

And that won’t change until conscription returns.  Needless wars will continue to be fought and necessary wars will extend well beyond the stated mission goal is reached as long as political leaders and business executives profit without risk to their own progeny and the majority of voters are isolated from any shared sacrifice and pain.

So, to clarify the title of this Memorial Day message, let me state the following:

When I say that the all-volunteer military has been a complete and utter failure I don’t mean that our men and women in uniformed service have failed us.  Far from it.  I mean that we as a nation have failed them, and it’s well beyond time to make amends by returning the pain and sacrifice of war back to the home front.  When everyone’s child is at risk, only then will our returning warriors get the help they so desperately deserve.

German Bunker Overlooking Pointe de Hoc, Normandy

 

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Season’s Greetings


Today’s normally scheduled blog will be up shortly.  That blog will be on Seville, Spain.

In the meantime, here’s my reminder as to what’s really important this day:

Once again
It’s that time of year
When friends arrive
And family’s here

So check beneath
The Christmas tree
But the best gift of all
Remains what’s free

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