B. Butler (Oregonian)
(Top Gun)
09/29/14 07:58 PM
Re: FAA's many soft spots


we recommend a fully redundant system, tested regularly (that is key). That redundant system might cost 10 million,

You and Ward are over-simplifying:

The level of redundancy you seek is several orders of magnitude greater; perhaps $50 billion<?> and the vulnerability isn't really the infrastructure, which is largely redundant already.

FAA digitized its Center RADAR systems and moved their "data path" off of mountain-top microwave systems in the mid-70s, by 1990, they were able to direct radar data to adjacent centers in the event of emergencies. Theoretically, Chicago Center could be worked from Indy or Oberlin, or Auburn, WA, for that matter. There are only two things preventing that. One is the lack 50 or 60 installed but unused radar sector suites, and the other is the people to man them.

I can assure you that every air traffic facility has a "Continuity of Service" letter-of-agreement with the adjacent facilities and with the contained approach controls also, but if you think they can call a couple dozen guys out of the lunch room and the training office and run a 200-arrival-hour into O'Hare, 45 into MDW, 50 into MKE-airports and procedures with which they have only a minimal awareness-and 400 or so overflights per hour, you really don't understand the complexity of the system.

The adjacent facilities will be able to handle a significant fraction of the overs, and reroute many around the airspace, especially for a small center like ZAU, but the arrival capacity is going to fall to something on the order of 30%, and departures are simply out of the question.

Much of the system complexity operates outside-let's say adjacent to-the air traffic system. If capacity at a hub falls to-oh, say...50%, it actually approaches zero, because the airlines are bringing pilots, attendants, crews and passengers from disparate locations, and counting on all of them to arrive, shuffle, and depart. Drop one factor from that flight, and it gets cancelled, even if the air-traffic system can provide a departure opportunity.

As for fire-fighting, just what agents would you recommend for a space which includes both electronic devices and large numbers of people? I was at COS tower one day when they triggered the new halogen system and nearly asphyxiated a whole crew.

Be assured, the FAA is not stupid, they worry about this sort of thing every day, but the system they operate with a remarkable level of fidelity has a complexity which boggles the imagination of most of us.

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