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Monthly Archives: February 2013

787 Battery Fix

Boeing isn’t going into detail about the fix they proposed to the FAA, but Dominic Gates at the Seattle Times thinks it’s along the following lines:

  • A stronger, sealed containment box enclosing the eight battery cells
  • A system of venting tubes that in case of an incident would channel any flammable vapors or liquids directly out of the airplane
  • Continuous monitoring of temperature and voltage of individual cells within the battery
  • Better thermal separation of the cells, with some barrier such as high-temperature glass inserted between them

The article further explores the type of battery testing that may be required, moving forward, to satisfy the FAA and the Japan Transport Safety Board.

Not A Temporary Fix

Boeing says their proposed fix is not just a temporary fix but is meant to prevent short circuits in the batteries, not just contain them.

More on Budget Cuts

Secretary Lahood isn’t letting up, insisting that furloughing FAA air traffic employees is the only way he can balance the DOT books if he’s forced to cut a billion dollars. Standing in front of the White House emblem saying things like this,

“I think Republicans need to step up here,” said LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois. “This requires compromise. This requires Republicans stepping forward with some ideas about how to keep essential services of government running at the level that people have been accustomed to.”

the politics is obvious.

The Secretary of Transportation should be a problem solving guy not a rank and file politician.

Photo – An Introduction

An Introduction

My wife took this one. In October 2012 we took our two boys back to my hometown of Topeka, KS. Berton loves trains so much I wanted to take him to see the real deal. This is one of my old haunts for train watching back in Topeka. The UP mainline never disappoints. This westbound was in the siding waiting for an eastbound to roll by.

More on DOT Budget Cuts

CNN’s Candy Crowley did an interview with DOT Secretary Lahood and challenged him on the effects of the sequester budget cuts. So glad I’m not the only one dumbfounded by the whole “we have to furlough Air Traffic Controllers” line of thinking.

At one point Lahood says the following:

Well first of all, we’re required to cut $1 billion. The largest number of employees at DOT is at FAA of which the largest number are FAA controllers. We’re going to try and cut as much as we possibly can out of contracts and other things that we do. But in the end there has to be some kind of furlough of air traffic controllers. And that, then, will also begin to curtail or eliminate the opportunity for them to guide planes in and out of airports. It’s a big part of our budget.

How do you take the following numbers and come up with $600 million in cuts to the FAA and furloughing 47,000 employees?

  • DOT FY 2013 budget is $74.5 billion.
  • FAA FY 2013 budget is $15.2 billion.
  • FAA Operations FY 2013 budget is $9.7 billion. (Air Traffic Control is a part of this $9.7 billion, not the entirety)
  • DOT FY 2013 budget cuts are $1 billion.

Politics and not problem solving.

DOT and Budget Cuts

Ray Lahood, Secretary of Transportation, says that DOT will have to cut nearly one billion dollars as part of the “sequester” that goes in effect if the President and Congress can’t agree on a budget. First of all, let’s just call the sequester what it is, a budget cut.

Now, no one wants to cut their budget. No person, no family, no company, no governmental agency. But when you’ve got runaway spending, no budget, and lots of debt there is really only one intelligent course of action… you spend less.

Secretary Lahood says the following in his statement on the budget cuts,

At DOT we will need to cut nearly a billion dollars, which will affect dozens of our programs. Over $600 million of those cuts will need to come from the Federal Aviation Administration – the agency that controls and manages our nation’s skies.

DOT has submitted a FY 2013 budget of about $74.5 Billion. Of that, the FAA accounts for about $15.2 Billion, or about 20% of the DOT’s budget. If the FAA accounts for 20% of the DOT budget why would they be expected to shoulder 60% of the DOT’s budget cuts ($600 million in FAA cuts divided by one billion dollars in DOT cuts)? Why so disproportionate?

Lahood only makes matters worse as he continues:

As a result of these cuts, the vast majority of the FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees will be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year and in some cases it could be as many as two days.

To save $600 Million the DOT is going to basically take it out of FAA employee’s paychecks. The FY 2013 budget for FAA includes over one billion for NextGen, the new radar and air traffic control system. Surely that can be trimmed to prevent cutting paychecks of employees.

For that matter, if we broaden our look at the entirety of the DOT’s budget we can find a lot of areas to cut spending without impacting the FAA so deeply and cutting into employee paychecks. The FY 2013 budget calls for $4 Billion in spending, under the Federal Highway Administration, on the Livable Communities Program.

Again, from Secretary Lahood:

Livability means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or Post Office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids at the part – all without having to get in your car.

So the Federal Highway Administration is spending $4 Billion on getting people out of their cars? That may be a good and responsible use of DOT dollars, but it sure seems like low-hanging fruit compared to FAA employee paychecks when it comes to budget cuts.

This seems like a great example of Problem #3, Politics Trumps Solutions. Secretary Lahood’s statement is nothing more than another swing in the Washington DC political fistfight over spending cuts. The cynical side of me says the Secretary of Transportation is proposing his cuts so as to provoke as much alarm as possible. Cutting pay to FAA employees and cutting the hours at Air Traffic Control towers is certainly going to sound ghastly once the media runs with it.

Why isn’t anyone challenging the decision-making behind these cuts? I find it hard to believe that the DOT can’t absorb what would amount to a 1.3% cut in their FY 2013 budget.

FAA and the 787

So the FAA sat down with Boeing on Friday to hear their ideas on a fix for the battery problems. The FAA has basically said the 787 can’t return to service until “we’re one thousand percent sure they are safe to fly”. Those are actually the words of Ray Lahood, Secretary of Transportation, but they represent the FAA’s take on the issue.

I’m kind of torn on this.

On the one hand, they still aren’t entirely sure what caused the battery problems to occur in the first place. From what I understand, the National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the failed batteries. How do we know that any fix is really going to help until we know the true problem? I don’t really feel good about just designing a fix to contain the problem (ie. a containment box). What is the problem? Will the proposed fix really help with the actual problem?

However, the 787 is a big step forward in aeronautical engineering. Composite construction, lightweight Li-ion batteries, etc. It is pushing the efficiency envelope. That’s risky. Big steps forward always are. Waiting for “one thousand percent” certainty of safety would actually mean never flying. Obviously Secretary Lahood’s comments aren’t literal, but government regulators are not big fans of risk, even those that move us forward.

Boeing and the FAA are going to have to agree on a fix that is, hopefully, based on the actual causes of the battery failures. But the proof will be in putting these planes back in the skies and seeing just how well the “fix” actually works.

Simpson Railroad Switcher

Simpson1201
Photo by Drew Jacksich (drewj1946 on flickr).

This is a Simpson Railroad SW1200. The Simpson Railroad is a small logging/mill railroad in western Washington state. I loved the small-town feel of this shot… and the look on the boys face. Drew has a ton of great photos in his collection.

Colin McRae – Champion Rally Driver

The BBC Racing Legends series has another good one on World Rally Champion Colin McRae. Just a phenomenal driver who loved the skinny pedal.

Dreamlifter

dreamliner
Photo by Scott Wright (scot_w_9 on flickr).
This is a Boeing 747-400 that has been modified to haul pieces of the 787 Dreamliner around the world for final assembly. Very cool photo.