Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lemming Tracks: East Coast Air Travel; or, 'Oops'

First, the good news: Nobody got hurt.

Now, the sort-of-good-news: It's really quiet, that time of night, at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Which may explain why the air traffic controller fell asleep.

Looks like the FAA may be re-evaluating having just one air traffic controller on duty on the late-night shift. About a year ago, the one (1) air traffic controller locked himself out of the control room.

Meanwhile, the fire is out at Miami International Airport.

It's been a big day for east coast air travel.
"Air Traffic Controller Is Suspended"
Timothy Williams, Jad Mouawad, with Anahad O,Connor, Julie Creswell contributing, The New York Times (March 24, 2011)

"The Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday suspended the air traffic controller who was on duty just after midnight Wednesday, when two passenger jets landed at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport without clearance or guidance from the control tower. The controller may have been asleep, officials said.

"No one was injured in the incident, which involved two airplanes carrying a total of about 165 people.

" 'The F.A.A. is thoroughly investigating Wednesday's early morning incidents at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport's control tower,' said Randy Babbitt, the agency's administrator. 'While that is taking place, we have suspended the air traffic controller from all operational duties. I am determined to get to the bottom of this situation for the safety of the traveling public.'..."

There's more: mostly about the F.A.A. fellow being outraged; and something's going to be done; and he when he was a pilot he wouldn't have landed that plane, no way, no how.

Also, this isn't the first oopsie at R. R. W. N. A.:

"...According to transcripts of the radio communication between the pilot and a controller at the Potomac center on Wednesday morning, a third aircraft also approached the airport during the incident on Wednesday. 'So you're aware, the tower is apparently not manned,' the controller told the pilot of the third plane, an American Airlines flight. 'We've made a few phone calls; nobody's answering. So, two airplanes went in in the past 10 to 15 minutes, so you can expect to go in to an uncontrolled airport.'

" 'Is there a reason it's not manned?' the American pilot is heard asking.

" 'Well, I'm going to take a guess and say that the controller got locked out,” the Potomac controller responded. 'I've heard of it happening before.'

" 'That's the first time I've heard it,' the pilot said.

" 'Fortunately, it's not very often,” the controller said. 'It happened about a year ago. But I'm not sure that's what happened now, but anyway, there's nobody in the tower.'

" 'Interesting,' said the pilot, apparently exasperated.

"After a few seconds, the Potomac controller reported, 'The tower's back in business.'

" 'That was a close call,' said the pilot, who sounded relieved.

" 'Wasn't it, though?' the Potomac controller replied."

Television news that the Lemming's heard has been careful to point out that Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is pretty quiet after midnight, when this happened. And that it's several miles away from some of the most restricted airspace in the country. Or, looking at it another way, it's only miles away from some of the most restricted airspace in the country.

Still, like The New York Times pointed out, nobody got hurt. That's good news.

Meanwhile, near Miami, Florida:
"MIA fuel tank fire affecting flights into the evening"
WSVN-TV (March 24, 2011)

"Though the flames at Miami International Airport are no longer raging, the aftermath is still causing major travel troubles.

"Dozens of flights have been canceled following the fire that ignited late Wednesday night. The resulting fueling issues at MIA are expected to have a ripple effect into Thursday evening.

"Thursday morning, the aviation director spoke at the Miami-Dade Commission to explain what caused this fire. 'We think one of the 16 pumps that we have in line,' said Miami-Dade Aviation Director Jose Abreu. 'The problem is the underground infrastructure that connects these pipes was also aversely affected.'

"Abreu said the trigger was electrical in nature. 'I'm an engineer, and I go by the numbers,' he said, 'and based on what I've heard-- cause I was there up until about a few hours ago-- based on what I've heard from both the firefighters and the Miami-Dade Aviation folks, it was a short-circuit.'

"The blaze broke out at 11 p.m. at the airport's fuel farm, an area where fuel is stored for planes. Fire crews, including 110 firefighters, battled the flames into the early morning hours, at around 1 a.m., Thursday...."

More good news: nobody got hurt.
It's rough, getting suspended like that air traffic controller did. At this point, the Lemming hasn't a clue why the fellow dozed off. It could be anything from having to work shifts back-to-back, to carbon monoxide in the ventilation system, to putting decaf instead of regular in the thermos.

Whatever the reason - and whatever the F. A. A. decides to do about what they find out - the Lemming is glad that his traveling is of the virtual variety these days.

The Miami International Airport fire? That was one spectacular blaze: and the Lemming is very glad that nobody was hurt.

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