International Ops 2018

Flight Service Bureau | OPSGROUP

Author: Mark Zee (page 1 of 4)

Fixing Notams – we’re on it. Help us.

OK. We’re done writing articles about it, and making goat jokes – we’ve moved the “Fixing Notams” job to the top of our list..

OpsGroup is all about information – getting the essential risks and changes that flight ops personnel need to know about into their hands without delay. Our group agrees – plenty of colourful comments on Notams from members.

Now we want your ideas and opinions on the fix.

Here’s our ask:

1. Rate the current system – and then click the things you would like to see.

2. If you’re in charge of a group of people – whether you are the Chief Pilot at Lufthansa, the Tower Chief in Shannon, or manage an Ops team of two – Get this out to your people and ensure everyone has their say.

Forward this to your team of ATCO’s, Pilots, Dispatchers:

We especially want to hear from pilots, controllers, and dispatchers, and if you read on, you’ll see why.

Do it like this:

  • Send them the survey link: https://fsb1.typeform.com/to/irZiFM
  • OR, click here for a magic pre-written email
  • OR, send them a link to flightservicebureau.org/notams
  • OR, share this facebook post:

The survey direct link is: https://fsb1.typeform.com/to/irZiFM


The Solution

If you took the survey, you saw this:

That part is pretty easy – presenting the Output of the system is a straightforward enough task.

The Input part – that’s where the real work is.

First, we are working on an Artificial Intelligence answer to finding Critical Notams in the current legacy system. This will allow us to present the data flow in order of what matters, and leave those cranes, birds, and grass cutters right at the bottom.

Second,

If you read my article on MH17 – a darker truth, you’ll understand why it’s important to open up the system to allow a trusted group to shape the information flow.

That begins with Pilots, Air Traffic Controllers, and Dispatchers. I have the great fortune to be all three, and it’s very clear to me that just like Trip Advisor – and our own “Airport Spy” in OpsGroup – this idea will work. We’ve already seen in OpsGroup how much we trust the information from other users in our group.

It’s key to the future trust of the Notam system. Which we should rename, but that’s another days work.

If you got this far, thank you for being part of the solution! You can always write me a note at mark@fsbureau.org

Thanks!
Mark.

Here’s what pilots and controllers REALLY think about Notams

We think Notams suck. No other way to say it. After a few articles we wrote (BS Notams, The Notam Goat Show, and more worryingly, the MH17 Notam problem), we got some feedback in the comments section. And thought we should share, because they really show the problem. So, here they are.

Caution, some strong language!

We’re working on a solution, so you can help and add your thoughts as a comment below. Also, send us the really bad ones and enter the 2018 Notam Goat Show contest.

 



Personally I think taxiway and apron closure NOTAMs are too readable, I think they should be distributed in RADIAL/DME format, or perhaps raw Lat-Lon. Additionally, time should be specified in seconds since the founding of the FAA.

TAXIWAY CLOSED BETWEEN ORL180/08.5DME ORL181/08.6DME ORL181/08.65DME ORL180/08.65DME FROM 1829088020S to 1829190200S

What could be more clear than that?


I wonder if a buried Notam ever did contribute to bent metal, injury, or death? I agree that the volume of nuisance notams is a real task to read through wether it be a long or short turn. However, nothing will be done till there is blood. That’s how the FAA works. Till then, its on us to be like aviation lawyers before every flight regardless of schedule.


Maybe we can get them in binary?

You have to go to binary first, then convert to Morse.

01010100 01000001 01011000 01001001 01010111 01000001 01011001 00100000 01000011 01001100 01001111 01010011 01000101 01000100 00100000 01000010

—– .—- —– .—- —– .—- —– —– —– .—- —– —– —– —– —– .—- —– .—- —– .—- .—- —– —– —– —– .—- —– —– .—- —– —– .—- —– .—- —– .—- —– .—- .—- .—- —–

For good measure they should be put through an Enigma machine, too. And the output formatted to wingdings


Yes. The NOTAM system is fucked. We have Notams about those solar arrays near Vegas in every flight plan. Yes, I see them. I want to know if the damn runway is closed. Why the weird coding? Is it to make pilots feel multi-lingual?


It’s funny, they seem to have every little f*ing detail about towers that are under 400 agl 20 miles either side of my route with one light bulb missing but I can’t get a god damn reliable source for f*ing TFRs. Even the piece of shit FAA website for TFRs is not a “complete and accurate source” but some guy in a FSS station is?????? Such complete and utter bullshit.


The reason nobody reads NOTAMs is because they are mostly garbage.
Why do I care that a crane that is 200 feet AGL ten miles from any airport is unlit? We can’t fly below 500AGL anyway.
Why do I have to decipher code that can easily be written as: From 20170608 1900Z to 20170610 0000Z CYYZ Taxiway L Closed
The system is broken and nobody cares to fix it.


I f*in’ love doing a flight from Newark to DC and getting notams about the North Atlantic Tracks. Motherf***r, if I end up on the tracks during that leg in a 145, the Notams are the least of my damn problems.


The biggest frustration for me is the NOTAMs don’t match reality. KAUS often NOTAMs a runway closed for several hours a couple days each week. Yet we get there and it’s open.
Or an airport will NOTAM an ILS out of service for the day. Show up at the airport and they’re using that ILS.
My home airport is KDAL. One of the PAPIs was out for three days before they NOTAM’d it out of service. Delta landing in front of me asked about it. Tower said they showed it on and asked me. I said, “Uh… It’s been out for several days. I thought y’all knew?”
Finally, my favorite: Surprise runway closures for routine runway inspections. NOTAM? Nah. BTW there’s a 150′ tower 15 miles away with a light out and there’s birds around the airport. Awesome.


I can honestly say that if it isn’t a runway closure or terminal closure then I don’t really care. The amount of closed taxiways at every airport is absurd. Not to mention many of them are closed year round with no intention of opening them again, just a permanent NOTAM.


Can only agree. It has been raised at the RAPACs, but no progress to date.


If I’m 5nm from the ARP at 150′ AGL, then I have more things to worry about than a crane without a red light…

Ass-covering gone mad. Really… a tree

OBST TREE 58FT AMSL
PSN 386M FM THR RWY 25 AND 183M LEFT OF RWY 25 CL
BRG 047 MAG 0.91NM FM ARP
FROM 01 310536 TO 03 300500 EST


My personal favourite is the “trigger notam” cross-referencing to yet another unfindable / unreadable pile of nonsense.
Just tell us what matters to an “Airman”; today and leave the grand plan, 12 month projection crap out of NOTAMS.


All of this so true, I imagine a world of technology and wonder (ozrunways/avplan/anything but airservices/casa))where we can quickly read a Notam and weather briefing without having to nut it out and do a slow-ass flight plan every time. 2017 and we still cant embrace all the tech.


I totally agree. The last thing any crew is going to be able to do when checking NOTAMs before departure is to magic up a way to access cross-referenced documents in various other publications. Especially when the departure point is not anywhere near base ops, or even any other operations centre.


B.S. NOTAMS….100% concur. Our whole world of aviation is being swamped by similar legal ass-covering paperwork. How can ANY pilot be expected to remember all the additional codicils that do NOTHING to improve safety of flight, but rather give an army of lawyers and providers more chances to fleece an already cash-strapped industry?…..Rant over!


Congratulations, its our industry, the users should be heard.
Start with a blank sheet of paper, what do we want to know in a “NOTAM” and how best to communicate it in a cockpit / in a flight briefing package. If the current format was frozen in 1924, the next system needs to be good for a couple of years.


This information ceased to be “NOTAMs” long ago. Today they are “NOTOLs”, Notice To Litigants. Thanks for making an effort to change this ancient system.


How many pilots out there actually read ever Head Office Notams or even daily Notams in meticulous detail? Few (if any). You sign on an hour before departure, there is simply not enough time to divulge all the ass covering crap that’s generated daily. Airline companies only want one thing, OTP; how a pilot goes about that they couldn’t care less as long as you don’t break any rules! NOTAMS = “None Other Than Aircraft Missing Slots”


You can bet your life, the one you needed to see at 3 in the morning was the one you missed! Any wonder…


Well said. Have you ever read “MEN AND EQUIPMENT NEAR THE RUNWAY: LANDING WITH CAUTION”?
So, If you don’t tell me that, I will land recklessly..


You are a mind reader.
You captured the issue perfectly and the historical context was excellent. While airspace and aircraft have all continued to develop our most basic system of communicating the status of an airport/airspace has not. I could take that further and say communication with ATC is still by AFTN for the most part.So now put yourself in the position of dispatcher/FOO working a series of long haul ETOPS Flight. You might have 20 or more departure /Take off alternate station notams, a whole galaxy of FIR/UIR Notams, not to mention all of the ETOP alternates and if you re-dispatch/re-analysis, you will get to do it inflight once again. Now do that 15-20 times depending on workload. Can you say human data saturation?
This article certainly illustrates the infrastructure issues we face, but it doesn’t come close explaining some of the processes and procedures we have had to put in place to ensure:
1. That we actually get NOTAMS.
2. That we get airport conditions as some countries don’t put them out as Series-S ICAO NOTAM versus Series-A (Yes, theses are the countries that haven’t fully adopted ICAO standards which were adopted in 1944 and ratified in 1947 by the Chicago convention).
Question: What is the current year?


I absolutely agree. My personal bugbear is those lists of co-ordinates …. do they think anyone actually plots them on a map? They might as well not be published at all.


What is clear is the professional approach to the information received: too many inputs, disorderly given, contextually irrelevant, redundant and unusable. A kind of “cry wolf” syndrome, making the pilot complacent about such a bullshit. The very day someone of us is caught in a legal battle for a system-induced mistake leading to a incident, overlooking the NOTAMs will not appear as an excuse. How to make these information valuable?


Yes… and why oh why are we still using the coded TAF language. We don’t have bandwidth issues anymore. We take plain English, code it, then decode it back to plain English. Surely a TAF written in plain English is not too hard a transition.


We train the pilots of tomorrow, they are inundated with everything the industry throws at them and the unintelligible Nonsense contained in some NOTAMS are just another accident waiting to happen. With all the technology at our disposal today, the filtering systems, electronics messages systems, integration tools and smart people to think about it, there is a solution out there. I suppose we just need to make enough noise in the right places to make a change. Oh well best we get started. hmmm, perhaps a NOTAM about change is needed.


And don’t forget about TFR’s that pop up. The one time I didn’t look at TFRs I got trapped having to divert from Chicago to an outlying airport even though we were part135 and even though we got an IFR clearance and the tower gave us takeoff permission. And center control for an hour just kept passing us on.


How about a change in the format of NOTAMS too, so we don’t have to wade through the whole lot in order to parse the relevant information. NOTAMS are removed when thy are no longer valid, so why cling to chronological order as an indexing system. How about putting them in order of critical relevance: Firstly, changes to airfield opening hours and services (fire, fuel etc). Secondly, changes to runway lengths/closures/etc. Thirdly, changes to approaches available. All the rest can be thrown into the mix at the end of the NOTAM.


Excellent analysis. My personal favorite is the NOTAM sort order which tells me that the REIL lights don’t work, the glideslope is out, the runway markings are non-standard, the localizer is out… ending with: runway closed. Tell me that first, all the other BS becomes irrelevant.


About two days before I saw this post, I’d sent a long email to my company telling them of the NOTAMs we don’t need to see. Then I saw this. Brilliant! I’ve just sent the link to this piece to the company to reinforce that opinion. I’m hoping our briefing pack will be several pages thinner the next time I go to dispatch.


I have come up with a name for this problem: “NOTAM Spam”. It’s a serious one, alright — ASRS Callback #426 brought it up in the context of the US NAS, and I’m sure it’s only worse for international operations. It sounds like ICAO needs to put out a recommendation or SARP about NOTAM spam control…


95% of Notam’s we read are not applicable, or nothing can be done about them. Oh great, I’ll pull out my chart and plot the 25 co-ordinates to see if this airspace will affect my flight -_- that’s one Notam example from plenty of the same type, in the same Notam briefing. Now add the other irrelevant Notam types as mentioned by others in the comments.


Thanks for the article. I shared it with my fellow dispatchers at AAL. We read pages and pages of BS notams on a daily basis and wondered if anyone else had similar feelings about the whole process.

 

Post your thoughts below! 

OpsGroup – the power of the group

The power of the group

In the last 30 years, there has been a massive change in how the world works: thank you, internet. We are witnessing a shift from the power of a central source – like government, and large corporations – to the power of the individual. Each of us is now connected to the entirety of human knowledge through a small, handheld device, and can connect with others to effect powerful and positive change.

OPSGROUP is founded on this premise.  International Flight Operations is an inherently tricky area, full of gotcha’s and unforeseen changes for even the most diligent airline or aircraft operator. One operator versus a myriad of often unreadable government-sourced regulations and information – Notams, AIC’s, FAR’s – is a battle with guaranteed casualties.

But by connecting with other people, just like you, with the same problems and challenges, you can solve and share solutions.

When we started this group last year, we had a small handful of pilots, dispatchers, and managers that figured coming together in this way was a winner. As of November 2017, we’re now heading for 4,000 OPSGROUP members, with a great variety in operations roles: Airline and Corporate pilots, Military operators, Federal agencies, Flight Dispatchers and Schedulers, ATC, and Civil Aviation Authorities – all working together.

It’s still early days, and we have a way to go. But with some basic core principles – plain language (we call a spade a spade), operator and passenger safety ahead of lawyer-speak, cooperation instead of competition  – and a huge appetite for development, there is much to gain.

So what’s good in the group? Read on …

1. Information

First on the plate for almost every operator is staying current. Rules and regulations are changing with increased voracity. Did I miss something? Yep, almost definitely. Each week we produce the International Operations Bulletin. We try to cover all the big changes in the last 7 days. If we miss something, we’ve found that someone in the group is pretty quick to tell us, and it appears in the next one.

 

 

2. Fun (including Goats)

We promise to keep it entertaining“. Without your attention, we’ve got nothing. Not only that, but we get as bored as you do with the standard aviation legal-language speak that permeates even the most important documents. Which is why sometimes we’ll run a Goat Show. Sometimes it’s just great to be “unprofessional“.

3. Members

Like we said, approaching 4,000. All working together with the same goal: making International Flight Operations better. Click on the links to read what they say.

Airlines like United, Fedex, and Etihad
Small Part 91 Flight Departments like CAT3, Fayair, Pula
Big 135 Charter Operators like Jet Aviation, TAG and Netjets
Companies like Visa, IBM, and AT&T
Manufacturers like Boeing, Airbus, and Lockheed
International Pilots like Matt Harty, Bill Stephenson, and Timothy Whalen
Organisations like IFALPA, the NBAA, and CAA Singapore

 

4. Airspace Risk

MH17 was a tragedy that must not be repeated. A small handful of operators were privy to information on the risk, and the Notam writers of Ukraine that were aware of previous shoot-downs released the information in a language almost designed to confuse. Through our safeairspace.net project, we can now share risk information within OPSGROUP and make sure that every single member has access to a current picture of airspace risk.

 

5. Airport Spy

One of our group members came to us with a great idea last year – why don’t we share our knowledge of operations at airports around the world. So we made a TripAdvisor style section in the member Dashboard, and allowed members to add their own reports on Airports, ATC, and Handlers. We now have 3000 or so reports.

 

6. Member Dashboard

We don’t need to explain this one too much. Everything the group has, in one place.

 

7. Slack

Slack is cool. It’s a chat app, but it’s more than that. Internally, we don’t use email anymore, we use slack. There are different channels like #crewroom, #todays-ops, #usefuldocs, and #questions. When there are special events, like #FranceATCStrike or #NewYorkSnow we open a special group for that. About 1200 members use this regularly, and it’s the perfect way to connect with other crews, ATC, or the Feds.

 

8. George

George is a bot. He’ll fetch information for you on airports, get weather, the NAT Tracks, and a few other things. We’re working on making him a little smarter.

 

9. Ask Us Anything

Getting an answer to your question is what keeps us awake at night. There’s not much we can’t help with, but usually someone else in the group beats us to it. If not though, the FSB International Desk team will research that ops question that is threatening to make your life hell.

 

10. The future

The best part of OPSGROUP is that we’re really just getting started. The future of the group is unwritten, but placing the planning power in your hands as an operator rather than 3rd parties, and having the security of knowing that the group has your back, is a great way to start. There is much to build and develop, and we’d love you to be involved!

 

11. Joining

You can choose an Individual, Team, or Flight Department membership. All the information on that is on the OpsGroup website. We limit joining windows to certain months of the year, so that we can be all hands on deck with building new things for the group once membership is closed. If we’re not accepting new members at the moment, you can waitlist for the next opening.

 

Further

 

Here’s why North Korean missiles are now a real threat to Civil Aviation

  • July 2017: First launches of ICBM’s from North Korea
  • Western portion of Japanese airspace is a new risk area
  • New OPSGROUP guidance to Members, Note 30: Japanese Missile risk

The North Korean game has changed. Even if aircraft operators stopped flying through the Pyongyang FIR last year, nobody really thought there was much of a tangible risk. The chances of a missile actually hitting an aircraft seemed slim, and any discussion on the subject didn’t last long.

Things look different now. In July, the DPRK tested two Hwasong-14 Intercontinental missiles (the July 4th one is above), the first ICBM’s successfully launched from North Korea. ICBM’s are larger, and fly further, than the other missiles we’ve previously seen. Both of these landed in the Sea of Japan, well inside the Fukuoka Flight Information Region (Japanese airspace), and significantly, at least one did not re-enter the atmosphere intact – meaning that a debris field of missile fragments passed through the airspace, not just one complete missile.

We drew a map, with our best estimates of the landing positions of all launches in the last year that ended in Japanese airspace. The results are quite clear:


View large image

Zooming in even further, we can see each of the estimated landing sites. It is important to note that the landing positions vary in the degree of accuracy with which it is possible to estimate them. The highest accuracy is for the 28JUL17 landing of the Hwasong-14 ICBM, thanks to tracking by the Japanese Defence Force and US STRATCOM, as well as visual confirmation from land in Japan. The remaining positions are less precise, but in an overall view, the area affected is quite well defined – south of AVGOK and north of KADBO. In 2017, there have been 6 distinct missile landings in this area. The primary airways affected are B451 and R211, as shown on the chart.


View large image

So, in a very specific portion of Japanese airspace, there have been regular splashdowns of North Korean missiles. As highlighted by the Air France 293 coverage, this area is crossed by several airways in regular use, predominantly by Japan-Europe flights using the Russia route.

Determining Risk

The critical question for any aircraft operator is whether there is a clear risk from these missiles returning to earth through the airspace in which we operate. Take these considerations into account:

The regularity and range of the launches are increasing. In 2015, there were 15 launches in total, of short-range ballistic and sub-launched missiles. In 2016, there were 24 launches, almost all being medium-range. In 2017, there have been 18 so far, with the first long-range missiles.

– In 2016, international aviation solved the problem by avoiding the Pyongyang FIR. This is no longer sufficient. The landing sites of these missiles have moved east, and there is a higher likelihood of a splashdown through Japanese airspace than into North Korea.

– Almost all launches are now in an easterly direction from North Korea. The launch sites are various, but the trajectory is programmed with a landing in the Sea of Japan. From North Korea’s perspective, this provides a sufficiently large area to avoid a missile coming down on land in foreign territory.

– The most recent ICBM failed on re-entry, breaking up into many fragmented pieces, creating a debris field. At about 1515Z on the 28th July, there was a large area around the R211 airway that would have presented a real risk to any aircraft there. Thankfully, there were none – although the  Air France B777 had passed through some minutes before.

– Until 2014, North Korea followed a predictable practice of notifying all missile launches to the international community. ICAO and state agencies had time to produce warnings and maps of the projected splashdown area. Now, none of the launches are notified.

– Not all launches are detected by surrounding countries or US STRATCOM. The missile flies for about 35 minutes before re-entry. Even with an immediate detection, it’s unlikely that the information would reach the Japanese radar controller in time to provide any alert to enroute traffic. Further, even with the knowledge of a launch, traffic already in the area has no avoiding option, given the large area that the missile may fall in.

Can a falling missile hit an aircraft?

What are the chances? Following the AFR293 report on July 28, the media has favoured the “billions to one” answer.

We don’t think it’s quite as low.

First of all, that “one” is actually “six” – the number of North Korean missiles landing in the AVGOK/KADBO area in 2017. Considering that at least one of them, and maybe more, broke up on re-entry, that six becomes a much higher number.

Any fragment of reasonable size hitting a tailplane, wing, or engine as the aircraft is in cruise at 450 knots creates a significant risk of loss of control of the aircraft. How many fragments were there across the six launches? Maybe as high as a hundred pieces, maybe even more.

The chances of a missile, or part of it, striking the aircraft are not as low as it may initially appear. Given that all these re-entries are occurring in quite a focused area, prudence dictates considering avoiding the airspace.

What did we learn from MH17?

Whenever we discuss missiles and overflying civil aircraft in the same paragraph,  the valuable lessons from MH17 must be remembered. In the weeks and months leading up to the shooting down of the 777 over Ukraine, there were multiple clues to the threat before the event happened.

Of greatest relevance was that State Authorities did not make clear the risk, and that even though five or six airlines decided to avoid Ukrainian airspace, most other operators did not become aware of the real risk level until after the event.

Our mission at Flight Service Bureau is to make sure all aircraft operators, crews, and dispatchers have the data they need to make a fully informed decision on whether to continue flying western Japan routes, or to avoid them.

Guidance for Aircraft Operators

Download OPSGROUP Note to Members #30: Japan Missile risk (public version here)

Review the map above to see the risk area as determined by the landing sites in 2017.

Consider rerouting to remain over the Japanese landmass or east of it. It is unlikely that North Korea would risk or target a landing of any test launch onto actual Japanese land.

Check routings carefully for arrivals/departures to Europe from Japan, especially if planning airways R211 or B451. Consider the previous missile landing sites in your planning.

– Monitor nti.org for the most recent launches, as well as flightservicebureau.org and safeairspace.net.

OPSGROUP members will be updated with any significant additions or updates to this Note through member mail and/or weekly newsletter.

References

– Nuclear Threat Initiative – nti.org

– Opsgroup Note to members #30 – Public version

OPSGROUP – Membership available here.

– Weekly International Ops Bulletin published by FSB for OPSGROUP covering critical changes to Airports, Airspace, ATC, Weather, Safety, Threats, Procedures, Visas. Subscribe to the short free version here, or join thousands of Pilot/Dispatcher/ATC/CAA/Flight Ops colleagues in OPSGROUP for the full weekly bulletin, airspace warnings, Ops guides, tools, maps, group discussion, Ask-us-Anything, and a ton more. Curious? See what you get. Rated 5 stars by 125 reviews.

– Larger area map of Japan airspace risk 2017

– Contact team@fsbureau.org with any comments or questions.

ATC Nightmare in the Hills

This article was originally published on medium.com

In any one of the plausible alternative endings to this event, a departing Boeing 777 impacts the San Gabriel mountains at about 5000 feet, just east of Los Angeles, at 1.25am.

Exactly how this didn’t happen is almost unexplainable. With 353 people on board, this was 22 seconds away from being the worst air disaster in the US.

For a solid 3 minutes in the early morning, the Boeing was being guided not by the pilots, not by the Air Traffic Controller, but by the precipitous balance between good fortune and tragic fate.

At 1.24 am, level at 5,000 feet, the flight is 40 seconds from impacting a ridge-line west of St Gabriel Peak. A minute later, a wide turn to the right points the aircraft instead at Mt Wilson — now 22 seconds away and above the aircraft. Only a slow climb, the result of fumbled instructions and a gradual realisation by the crew of the danger, released the flight from a certain and conclusive end in the dark hills.

So exactly what happened? On December 16th last year, at 1.19am, EVA 015, a Boeing 777–300ER with 353 occupants, got airborne from Runway 7R at Los Angeles. 2 minutes after departure, the aircraft starts to make a turn in a direction opposite to that expected by the controller. That left turn immediately sets up a conflict and potential loss of separation with Air Canada 788.

With that conflict resolved, more by the natural tendency of airplanes to diverge than by any positive control instruction, the overall scene becomes bleaker. Rattled by the unanticipated loss of separation, the controllers’ picture is lost; fumbled left-right-left instructions confuse the Boeing crew, and very soon, nobody is actually flying the airplane.

Time are in UTC(GMT) — showing the aircraft track for the three minutes starting at 1.23 am local time. 

______

The ATC recording and track replay is YouTube nirvana for the congregation of armchair experts (the writer included). “Terrible controlling” is the common cry. “The pilots were at fault” say the counter-parties.

There is no doubt that this is Air Traffic Control at its darkest. But in any incident where we smugly allocate blame to one individual, we are blind to a bigger story. There is always a systemic failure to look at. In this case, there are several.

Loss of Separation vs. Real collision risk

For an Air Traffic Controller, there is a subconscious difference between the fear of losing separation (the legal minimum distance), and the fear of an aircraft collision. The purpose of ATC is to prevent collisions, but the mindset of an Air Traffic Controller is focused on preventing loss of separation. This is an important distinction.

A loss of separation is a traumatic experience for any ATCO. It results in immediate suspension of the right to work, remedial training, a loss of confidence, and a few sleepless nights. Even if the required separation is 5 miles, and a controller allows aircraft to pass with 4.9, it’s game over.

And so, in any conflict on the radar scope that looks like it might become a loss of separation, the controller (being a human being) will encounter physiological symptoms — shock being the first, activating the autonomic nervous system — increasing heart and breathing rate, and releasing adrenaline. These are helpful for both of the Fight or Flight options, but not for thinking clearly. The psychological impact of the loss of separation blurs the importance of preventing a collision.

Training wins

I’ve worked as both pilot and controller. Faced with pressure, we revert to the level of our training. This is why pilots visit the flight simulator every couple of months. We’ve trained to the point that an engine exploding as we rotate the aircraft off the runway is no longer a shock that renders us useless. If this were to happen in reality, we still feel the adrenaline and shock — but we can plunge straight into the “Engine Failure subroutine”. We have training to revert to. Listen to Aer Lingus Flight 120 experiencing this. You can hear the training, and you can also hear the adrenaline. Training wins.

For Air Traffic Controllers, faced with an unexpected situation, we also revert to training —but we don’t train for our emergencies in the same way that pilots do. The training, in fact, isn’t there to revert to.

As a controller, I’ve held Tower, Approach, and Enroute ratings in different countries. ATC training in how to separate airplanes is excellent. Training in how to recover from the unexpected is not.

Ultimately, it’s the same deal. Both Pilots and Controllers spend 99.99% of their time operating in the routine. It’s not uncommon for a pilot to spend his entire career without encountering an engine shutdown. Similarly, many controllers retire without ever having lost separation.

But it would be unthinkable for an airline to have crews that don’t know what to do in an emergency. Why then, is it acceptable to not offer controllers the same degree of contingency training?

Emergencies and ATC

When we talk about ATC Emergency training, what we are really used to looking at is what to say and do when a pilot has an emergency. Mayday, Pan-Pan, Emergency descent, Hijack.

But what about when ATC has their own emergency. When you’ve missed a conflict, have a deep loss of separation, lost the picture — when you’ve completely screwed up. Somewhere in the manual, there’s probably a few lines about using standard phraseology, exercise best judgement, provide traffic information, don’t interfere with an RA.

As humans, this doesn’t help us. There is no patter to fall into. We need trigger phrases to kick off trained behaviour when the shock of the event wants to take us elsewhere. In the cockpit that I flew in, whatever happened, the trigger phrase was “Take action”. From here, whatever the situation, we knew where to go. Identify the problem, run the checklist, push buttons, talk to ATC.

In the Aer Lingus example above: Mayday, Shamrock 12G, Engine Failure, Climbing straight ahead, Standby.

Alert — Identification — Situation — Intentions — Request.

Clear as a bell.

On the EVA tape, it is clear that the controller has no such place to go to. It’s the equivalent of trying to exit an underwater shipwreck with no guide rope. You need something to hold onto as you find your way back to the surface.

She never did. After the shock of the loss of separation, she was now faced with a 777 heading into the 6500ft San Gabriel hills level at 5000 feet. She did not move on from preventing a loss of separation to preventing a collision with terrain. Even when apparently finally realising the aircraft was heading for high ground, there was little in the way of an urgent climb or turn instruction, and nothing that mentioned to the crew that they were in immediate danger.

Losing the picture

_

If we consider ourselves to blame for the situation, it will cloud our judgement, obscuring the true picture. If we allow that to develop further, we can lose the picture entirely. There is nothing in our training that gives us a clear path out of the loss of separation. No mnemonics, no patter, no phraseology.

This is the lesson to be learned from this event. ATC agencies should make available to their controllers the same degree of emergency and “unusual situation” training that airlines offer to pilots. And somewhere in there has to be an ingrained, trained-by-rote-reminder that when you lose separation, you immediately pick up the fallen cards and move on to preventing a collision, whether that is with another aircraft or terrain.

In the EVA 015 incident, we can be thankful that the sheer mercy of fate allowed all on board to thread their way through and out the other side of the San Gabriel mountains. If ATC training were more cognisant of the human factors aspect of the shock of losing separation, we may not have to rely on the mercy of fate next time.

Airbus 380 flips CL604 – full report is now published

  • Interim report finally released by the German BFU
  • Flight Service Bureau version of events confirmed
  • New pictures released by the investigators

Back in March, FSB covered a major wake turbulence upset experienced by a Challenger 604 after passing an A380.  After our initial story was published, it was covered in various versions in The Times of London, Flying magazine, AIN Business Aviation News,  Deutsche Welle, and NBC. The picture on the Flight Service Bureau facebook page was viewed 1.1 million times.

From the interim report, these facts are confirmed:

  • The incident was caused by the wake from an Airbus A380 at FL350
  • The Challenger 604 passed directly underneath the A380 at FL340
  • The wake encounter occurred 48 seconds after the cross – when the two aircraft were 15nm part
  • The Challenger initially rolled 42 degrees to the right, then 31 degrees left, and experienced G-Loads of 1.6g positive followed 1 second later by -3.2 g.
  • It lost altitude from FL340 to FL253 over a 2 minute period – loss of 8700 ft.

In an interview, the crew said:

The airplane shook briefly, then rolled heavily to the left and the autopilot disengaged. [We] actuated the aileron to the right in order to stop the rolling motion. But the airplane had continued to roll to the left thereby completing several rotations. Subsequently both Inertial Reference Systems (IRS), the Flight Management System (FMS), and the attitude indication failed”

“… since the sky was blue and the ocean’s surface almost the same colour [I] was able to recognise the aircraft’s flight attitude with the help of the clouds

The BFU published the FDR excerpt above, and a full interior picture of the cabin, post event.

 

Flight Service Bureau has issued guidance to OpsGroup members, in Note to Members #24 (March 19th, 2017), which can be downloaded publicly here. The highlights are:

  • As Aircrew, use SLOP whenever you can.
  • As Controllers, be mindful of smaller aircraft passing underneath A380’s.
  • Avoid flying the centreline if you can. SLOP 0 is not an offset. Choose 1nm or 2nm.
  • Note the new SLOP rules from ICAO in the 16th edition of Doc 4444.
  • Expect guidance from EASA and the FAA to follow

With very recent updates to both NAT Doc 007 and ICAO Doc 4444, the rules for SLOP are a little different than before.

 

References:

 

This is what an Airbus 380 looks like when it’s coming to get you

  • New guidance issued to OpsGroup by Flight Service Bureau
  • New warnings to be issued by Air Traffic Controllers – EASA SIB to follow
  • Updated 2017 SLOP offset procedures


With the A380 vs Challenger 604 incident,
there is now growing concern amongst aircrews about the effects of the A380’s wake turbulence.

In this incident, reported by the Aviation Herald, a Challenger 604 at FL340 operating from Male-Abu Dhabi passed an A380 opposite direction at FL350, one thousand feet above, about 630nm southeast of Muscat, Oman, over the Arabian Sea. A short time later (1-2 minutes) the aircraft encountered wake turbulence sending the aircraft into an uncontrolled roll, turning the aircraft around at least 3 times (possibly even 5 times), both engines flamed out, the aircraft lost about 10,000 feet until the crew was able to recover the aircraft, restart the engines and divert to Muscat. The aircraft received damage beyond repair due to the G-forces, and was written off.

This is a recovery that is in the same category as the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’, and the DHL A-300 recovery in Baghdad. Envision the alternate scenario, which was far more likely: Challenger 604 business jet missing in remote part of the Indian Ocean. Last contact with was a HF radio check with Mumbai. No recent satellite logons. Position uncertain. Search and Rescue attempt called off after 15 days. Nothing found. Probable cause: flew into CB.

Thanks to the remarkable job by the crew, we don’t have to guess. We know what happened. And now, there are questions.

We’ve seen this story before

Back in 1992/3, two back-to-back fatal crashes (a Citation, and a Westwind) were attributed to the unusual wake turbulence pattern of the Boeing 757. In fact, at the time, NOAA said it was the most intense wake they had ever seen. In December 1993, the FAA told controllers to increase the separation, and warn aircraft following a 757 of its presence.

This was 10 years after entry into service of the 757, which had its first revenue flight in 1983.

Sound familiar? The A380 had its first revenue flight in 2007. We are 10 years down the track, and it’s very tempting to apply the logic that because this degree of incident hasn’t happened before, it’s a one-off. An outlier. That the crew reacted erroneously to a small wake upset at the limit of their flight envelope. This is both unlikely, and, given the potential threat to other crews, a dangerous perspective.

The last review of A380 wake turbulence was done in 2006, primarily by Airbus. As a result, a new category was required – “Super“, in addition to the existing Light, Medium, and Heavy, for use by controllers when applying the minimum separation on approach and departure. However, no additional considerations were applied for enroute wake turbulence.

Most pointedly, the review concluded that the A380 did not need any wake turbulence separation itself, because of its size. The A380 is the only aircraft in the world to have this “out”. It’s a beast. Even an Antonov 124 or Boeing 747 needs 4nm from the traffic ahead.

New guidance

Given the incident, the similarity to the B757 story, and that quiet pointers towards a bigger risk, Flight Service Bureau has issued guidance to OpsGroup members, in Note to Members #24 (March 19th, 2017), which can be downloaded publicly here. The highlights are:

  • As Aircrew, use SLOP whenever you can.
  • As Controllers, be mindful of smaller aircraft passing underneath A380’s.
  • Avoid flying the centreline if you can. SLOP 0 is not an offset. Choose 1nm or 2nm.
  • Note the new SLOP rules from ICAO in the 16th edition of Doc 4444.
  • Expect guidance from EASA and the FAA to follow

With very recent updates to both NAT Doc 007 and ICAO Doc 4444, the rules for SLOP are a little different than before.

Download the OPSGROUP Note to Members #24 – Enroute Wake Turbulence.

 

A personal note about NOTAMs

I learned a lot this week.

On Wednesday, I published an article in our International Flight Ops Bulletin. Our normal readership is 40,000, and that usually results in 4,000 or so immediate looks at our blog website.

By Friday, a quarter of a million people had visited flightservicebureau.org.

My inbox overflowed. I’m still replying one by one, with a couple hundred still to go.

The reason? I called a spade a spade, and used a profanity to describe what has become of the International NOTAM System. My own frustration forged the narrative. For many, I tapped into a channel of visceral agreement. For some, however, the word bullshit is not acceptable.

For me, this is not a question of whether or not it was the right word to use. This is not a question of free speech or the First Amendment. It’s not a question of ‘being polite’, or remembering our ‘professional audience’.

It is a question of not holding back. Not having a public and private persona. Not bowing to the stifling rules of Corporate Comms. Not assessing how this might impact ‘the business’. And not being afraid to get it wrong.

We have a voice here at Flight Service Bureau, and we’re going to use it. And sometimes, we might get it wrong. Sometimes, we might cross lines that make people uncomfortable.

In fact, we do that every week. We routinely receive government requests, demands in fact – from Aviation Authorities, from Foreign Affairs Ministries, Company Lawyers – to remove information from our bulletin, to say less, to not call their airspace ‘unsafe‘, not report on incidents at their airports, not voice airlines and pilots frustrations, lest others turn away their business.

And by very definition, sometimes we have to get it wrong. If we craft and control every bit of information, every warning, and every article, editing the life out of the story and the truth, then we’re failing. We’re not being brave enough. Maybe we could have said it differently, but that’s not the point.

This week, when I got 400 emails in an amazing show of support, it made me realise that we are doing this for a large community that love what we do, and that makes me very proud to serve you. Going above 2,000 members in OPSGROUP is major milestone.

We have a clear mission: keep the International Ops community – Pilots, Dispatchers, Controllers, Airlines, Organisations – informed and safe, in an ever-increasing web of bureaucracy, complexity and litigation.

We’ll fight the fight for you, and we’ll tell it how it is.

Mark.

 

 

The problem of Bullshit Notams

 

This article created a firestorm of engagement – several hundred emails and 127,000 people that visited the blog. Most of it was overwhelmingly positive. Some of it wasn’t. Please read my follow up in response.

 

It’s absolutely ridiculous
.

We communicate the most critical flight information, using a system invented in 1920, with a format unchanged since 1924, burying essential information that will lose a pilot their job, an airline their aircraft, and passengers their lives, in a mountain of unreadable, irrelevant bullshit.

Yes CASA Australia, that’s you. Yes, Greek CAA, that’s you. And you’re not alone.

In an unintended twist of irony, the agencies seeking to cover their legal ass are party to creating the most criminal of systems – an unending flow of aeronautical sewage rendering the critical few pieces of information unfindable.

This is more than just hugely frustrating for each pilot, dispatcher, and controller that has to parse through it all; it’s downright dangerous.

If you’re a pilot, you’ll either have already experienced this, or you’re going to – you stuff something up, and then be told: “but there was a Notam out about that”. Sure enough, there it is in black and white (and in big capital letters). Do you think that “but there were 100 pages of them” is going to be a valid defence?

 

Well, it should be. The same agency conducting your post-incident interview is busy on the other end stuffing the system full of the garbage that prevented you from seeing it in the first place.

There are three parts to the problem: the system, the format, and the content. The system is actually quite amazing. The AFTN network connects every country in the world, and Notam information once added is immediately available to every user. Coupled with the internet, delivery is immediate.

The format is, at best, forgivable. It’s pretty awful. It’s a trip back in time to when Notams were introduced. You might think that was the 1960’s, or the 50’s. In fact, it’s 1924, when 5-bit ITA2 was introduced. The world shifted to ASCII in 1963, bringing the Upper and Lower case format that every QWERTY keyboard uses today, but we didn’t follow – nope, we’ll stick with our 1924 format, thank you.

Read that again. 1924. Back then, upper case code-infested aeronautical messages would have seemed impressive and almost reassuring in their aloofness. But there weren’t in excess of 1 million Notams per year, a milestone we passed in 2013. The 1 million milestone is remarkable in itself, but here’s something else amazing: in 2006, there were only 500,000. So in seven years, Notams doubled. Why? Are there twice as many airports in the world? No. Twice as many changes and updates? Possibly. But far more likely: the operating agencies became twice as scared about leaving things out.

And so onto the culprit: the content. The core definition of a Notam is ESSENTIAL flight information. Essential, for anyone tasked with entering information into the Notam System, is defined as “absolutely necessary; extremely important”. Here’s a game you can play at home. Take your 100 page printout of Notams, and circle that ones that you think can be defined as essential. See how many fit that bill.

So why is all this garbage in the system? Because the questions that the creators of Notams ask are flawed. The conversation goes like this:

– “Should we stick this into a Notam?”
– “Yeah, we’d better, just in case”.

How many are actually asking, “Is this essential information that aircrew need to know about ?”. Almost none. Many ‘solutions’ to the Notam deluge involve better filtering, Q codes, and smart regex’s. This overlooks the core problem. It’s not what comes out that needs to be fixed, it’s what goes in.

Even in 1921, we had much the same problem. Obstacle, 18 feet high, several miles from the runway.

Nobody cares. Unless you’ve parked the Eiffel Tower on the threshold, leave this stuff for the AIP. And nobody cares about kites either. Nor about goat-grazing times. We don’t care if your bird scarer is U/S. We don’t care if there’s a cherry-picker fixing a bulb somewhere. We don’t care when you’re cutting your grass.

Nor do we care about closed taxiways. The only way I can get onto a taxiway is with an ATC clearance, and ATC will not clear me onto a closed taxiway.

We care if the airport is going to be closed when we get there. If we’re going to have to divert because the runway is shut. If someone might shoot at us. If there are new rules. We care about the critical items, but we won’t see them as things stand.

And so, about here is where a normal editorial piece might end with “we hope that the authorities improve the system”, and sign off.

 

But not here.

We’re in the business of doing things here at FSB, not just talking about them.

Last year we wrote a few pieces about the Greece vs Turkey Notam battle. This month we did a group look at Briefing Packages, and it was astonishing to see how many pages of this diplomatic drivel still appeared in all our members’ Briefings. All in all, on average 3 full pages of every briefing for a flight overflying Greece or Turkey contained this stuff.

So, we sent Greece a polite AFTN message on behalf of all of us.


That’s just one piece of a thousand-piece puzzle, and it would be nice to think that one piece at a time we could fix the sytem. Let’s get real. It’s a monster, and it’s out of control.

We don’t think that we can fix the Notam system.

But, we can think about a different solution. And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now in OpsGroup. With almost 2000 members, we can make a difference. Watch this space. Or, if you want to help take action, send your thoughts to goatams@ops.group.

 

 

 

What altitude is ‘safe enough’ to overfly a Conflict Zone?

Most conflict zone guidance from Aviation Authorities is based on the risk posed by MANPADS – Man Portable Air Defence Systems, or more descriptively – Shoulder Launched Surface to Air Missiles (SAMS).

Large-Unit SAM attacks on aircraft are uncommon – MH17, removed from the sky by a Russian-made Buk missile, was the first aircraft to be shot down by a large SAM unit since a Siberia Airlines Tupolev in 2001. These large units – requiring a radar system as part of the mechanism – have never been used by terrorists. Almost all incidences involving large-unit SAMs have involved misidentification. There is no safe altitude from a large SAM.

MANPADS, on the other hand, represent a greater threat to aircraft in 2017. These shoulder-launched systems are very portable, and far more likely to fall into the wrong hands. Common ranges are in the 10,000 – 15,000 ft range. The most dangerous is the FIM-92 Stinger, which has an operational ceiling of 26,000 ft (and there is concern that these have reached anti-government rebels in Syria)

The internationally promulgated standard safe altitude for overflight has now become about 25,000 ft AGL. Most CAA/State guidance is issued based on this number. There are two important points for aircraft operators to note:

    • That is 25,000 feet Above Ground Level. A missile could easily be launched from a mountain, or higher ground, so if you take 25,000 feet as your safety margin, make sure to add the terrain elevation beneath. In South Sudan, for example – Juba is at 2,000 feet – most of the country is at about this height. So 27,000 feet should be the minimum safe level, and you can work with FL270.
    • This is based on the assumption that we’re not worried about Stingers. Especially in the Middle East, a higher safe altitude might be better. FL300 seems like a good place to start.

 

References:

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