And they come with no warning,
nature loves her little surprises.
Continual crisis!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

GPS, why, it's like magic!

So, if you listen to the news, you may have seen the new full-court press circus to change over the Air Traffic Controller System to GPS tracking from it's current radar/transponder based system.

This is being pushed by the businesses that stand to profit from forcing every pilot, carrier, and manufacturer to buy their systems. How do I know this? Because of the focus of the stories. GPS is the new snake oil. It can cure everything that's wrong with the current system. No more delays, no more waiting on the tarmac, no more endless circling over an airport, all the air traffic controllers will keep their jobs, nobody will have to be fired. Why, it'll even cure that stubborn acne that whatever Brittany Spears was touting won't get rid of. It's a salad dressing and a floor wax.

What a bunch of huey. It won't solve dick. And you know what. It'll make us less secure. Why? Because radar picks up everything in the air (okay, above and below certain altitudes escape notice). This new GPS Air System works on the premise that ALL the GPS devices are functioning. That ALL the GPS devices are in working order. That ALL the airplanes have one and have it turned on. So, if I want to disappear from the controller system, I turn the GPS device off. Bleep. Look at me, I'm a Stealth Ship. Right now if an aircraft turns off it's transponder it still shows up on the radar. The radar display just doesn't show all the data the transponder sends along.

Why would I want to do that? Oh, I don't know, like if I wanted to fly my airplane into a big building. I might want to disable the GPS. Not only would I do that to not be found (bleep, look, I'm a ghost) but one of those things that most people don't know about GPS is that it's run on military satellites that are specifically purposed to the GPS mission and are only using one fourth of their programming memory. Let that one sink in for a bit. Oh yeah, the Pentagon has officially said that GPS is theirs and they can turn it on or off when they want. They also retain the ability to adjust the signals when and to whom they want. Do you really believe that if I were a terrorist I would let my million dollar mission be subjected to such a risk? And if we dismantle the radar based system, when I go black, only the military would be able to find me with their targeting radar.

And it, at best, will only reduce the wait times a little. This is because the wait times are caused by overscheduled flight routes. That is, within 30 minutes most airports can have about 12 departures and arrivals (planes must be at least five minutes apart, using two runways). As I remember, LaGuardia has twenty departures scheduled for 8am. This new system will allow planes a three minute window. So while that means that they can handle 20 arrivals and departures, that only means half those planes will still leave withing the hour of their scheduled departure. So you might not be waiting two hours on the ground, but you'll still be waiting for a long time. And then people will start to remember that those five minutes inbetween aircraft also help disburse the air turbulance caused by passing jet aircraft because we've done this before and had problems. And now that pilots will be controlling their flights more, how many will really "fly slower" to their desitination when their performance will be based on on-timeness? So get read to be stacked up even higher as we lose the flight control between airports and in the skies. But, say the promoters, each aircraft will beable to see the other aircraft and determine their best approach. Oh yeah. Say, how's that working on our highways? And pilots, you know, are really laid back people for the most part. Not stressed at all by all the other equipment they need to keep an eye on. Most don't have control issues. Air rage is going to take on a whole new meaning with this system.

With the jobs of air traffic controllers, of course they won't have to fire anybody. Most of them are about to retire in the next few years, as this system would be put in place. So, no need to fire them, and no need to replace them with new controllers. So, less people watching the skies. Feeling safer already?

My judgement, this GPS system is one of those, "but, gee, it worked so well in the boardroom," kind of things. That phrase may need explaining, let me give you the short cut. I once had an argument about business planning and was told, "as an artist, surely you know you can draw a pyramid starting with any point. Just start with the top point," to explain a top-down management concept about how hiring good corner-office managers would solve any business problem (this was before the "revolution" of flat organizational charts). The person I was arguing with, who had a PhD in Business, just didn't comprehend it when I repsonded, "yeah, you can draw it anyway you like, just don't try and build one from the top point down." They understood it (well, some did) a year later when they discovered a guy in the mail-room was ripping them off by using their "infallible" tracking system. He had been doing it for six years. Yeah, don't try and build your pyramids from the top down is all I'm saying.

Say, did I mention the Chinese Anti-Satellite Missiles? Oh, forgot that part.

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