Saturday, September 28, 2013

Here We Go Again

We get to get the threats of the "sequestration" again this fall. Of course we knew about it for most of the last couple years, and who has done anything about it? How about that, the only one who could do something, is congress, the same ones who chose to ignore the trouble.

Congress will play the same game of chicken again this weekend. Nothing new there.  Something will be the pawn, this time it is Obamacare. Fine, whatever, I really don't think we need congress messing with health insurance anyway, I can't see how they can make it better. (this conversation could get recursive about here, so I won't get into congress and health care).

The trouble is, the game of chicken costs everyone more money! Obamacare is in progress, and states have put money into making it work. The money is in the federal budget already, and could be funded. If congress tries to unwind Obamacare, well there will be money wasted by the states, and the fedral government that are working toward the Oct. 1 deadline. Corporations have their HR software ready, the rules were set over a year ago.

So they decide to boot the government out on Oct 1. Well, those government employees just go home, and watch daytime TV and don't get paychecks. Hmmm... they don't buy cars, and limit grocery purchases, and that ripples down to the Best Buy store, and the stock boys at the Albertson's. Yes the whole mess puts a strain on everyone, depending on how long things go on.

Lets see, air traffic control is in play again. Will congress like having their flights delayed? Maybe once, or maybe they have things rigged to not be personally affected this time. If they are delayed, you can bet congress will make a strong effort to adjust budgets to make that part less painful.

How is traffic affected by controllers?

As I wrote in my April Sequestration post, controllers are certified to work a limited section of airspace. If all the people scheduled to work a day can't cover a sector, then planes can't fly in that sector. There are also rules about how long a controller can work a sector without a break (bathroom and lunch breaks are not optional!).

Airspace in IFR conditions is positive control, or only one aircraft can be in a part of airspace until it is known where that aircraft is. I've flown IFR to Livingston Montana in a small airplane before. Livingston is in a valley, and unless you are over 12000ft up, there is no RADAR coverage, and there is no tower at the airport. Once I left Billings MT RADAR area, I was cleared for the approach into Livingston. That meant the controller gave me all that airspace, until I told her that I was on the ground, or back into some other controlled airspace. The controller had to give me exclusive access to that airspace, since she couldn't see me, and she wouldn't know where I would be relative to another aircraft.

If towers are closed the enroute controllers will give the aircraft the airspace around the airport, starting sometimes over 50 miles out. That means only one aircraft can be in that 50 mile area until it is on the ground, or reports that it is going somewhere else. With the tower open, the spacing can be 5 miles between aircraft. With the tower closed it maybe 50 miles of spacing. You can get 10 aircraft on approach with the tower open, and only 1 with the tower closed. Things slow down really fast like that.

Airplanes don't care if the towers are contract or FAA run. If there is proper staffing, then the pilot can fly closer to other aircraft. The aircraft won't have to hold or divert if there are enough people at the tower watching aircraft. There are towers that handle very little traffic, and the staffing could be reduced, and the FAA has tried, but usually some congress person has a special interest in that tower, and it stays open for many hours with few operations.

Again, as flights get late, the second shift or the midnight shift get to work overtime. Congress insures the money saving route actually costs more. If they would just do it right, and leave it alone, they could save real money. You and I have to live within our budget, and changes may cost us money. Congress ignores that whole thought, and let money get spent, knowing that in a year or two they will have to deal with a situation. Waiting until the weekend before will insure things will go bad.

We need a smaller government,  and we could start the cutting with congress.

P.S. Congress will continue to get paid during the shutdown. It is also likely that once the budget is passed, and funding is restored, all the government employees will get retroactive pay.