April Madness - A Work in Progress

Newsletter

Updated February 27, 2012 Visitors

Definitions

'PATC' Potomac Aviation Technology Corp

'FAA HQ' FAA headquarters

'FAA OKC' FAA Oklahoma Tech center

'FAA OPR' FAA HQ Office of Primary Responsibility, authority for FAA orders, regulations, and their interpretation.

Dates are specific where noted, approximated by "~." As time permits, details will be filled in.

Executive Summary - FAA Palace Intrigues

The first question to ask is "Who and why would FAA oppose a low-cost, low-maintenance, proven safety technology for smaller airports?"

Why indeed?

SuperAWOS offers smaller airports advanced modern technology which allows smaller airports to reduce labor costs, and avoid costly service contracts, which makes providing weather affordable. SuperAWOS simplicity and low-cost glaringly contrast with some of FAA's own high-cost, labor-intensive programs.

Background of Current Tempest

There have never been any issues of SuperAWOS accuracy or reliability, which are the only legitimate reasons for FAA to decertify anything. The accuracy of SuperAWOS can be independently confirmed by reviewing archived as well as current hourly NOAA data, available online for any SuperAWOS site.

This is merely a debate about process: Will FAA allow small airports to save labor costs by following the FAA HQ approved procedures for SuperAWOS, or will vested interests be allowed to counter-mand those cost savings, to defend the status quo of various FAA programs?

As the following testifies, FAA's recent decertification was not justified, nor did it even follow any legitimate review or process. FAA OKC basically ignored and dismissed any communications or evidence which contradicted its initial position, determined to justify and defends its arbitrary actions.

FAA's actions have been arbitrary and capricious, only intended only to kill off a better, private-sector, lower-cost solution, which glaringly contrasts with FAA's own programs.

AC 150/5220C

"5. CONTENT OF THIS AC. Accordingly, this AC provides guidance about the program elements that should be incorporated into an AWOS. It provides the guidance and suggestions for one method, but not the only method, of complying with all pertinent regulations."

FAA OKC personnel are interpreting the AWOS advisory circular as if it were a regulation, thereby not allowing any room for innovation, or simplification, and effectively second-guessing prior FAA HQ certifications.

FAA OKC not only failed to follow any legitimate process as required for legitimate de-certification, but instead made up a 30 days process to redo a two-year process, then didn't even wait to follow the 30 day process they just made up.

Prior FAA Approvals and Certifications

FAA Moving Forward- Forward thinkers at FAA HQ previously approved and certified SuperAWOS including a number of unique system designs offering an equivalent or better way of doing things than the explicit language in the Advisory Circular.

An Advisory Circular is not a regulation, merely a 'guidance' document, as stated at the beginning of every AC. Thus FAA has the discrtetion to interpret guidance, including alternative ways of achieving the objectives of governing orders, regulations, or advisory circulars.

FAA HQ Certifications and Approvals - Forward thinking FAA Headquarters subject matter experts (SME) were repeatedly and deeply involved in all phases of SuperAWOS' multiple system approvals and certifications (see link).

SuperAWOS' multiple approvals and certifications specifically included simpler procedures, allowing smaller airports considerable savings on operating costs (See below).

Cost Savings for Small Airports Enable Safety

Only by significantly reduced operating costs for smaller airports, with smaller budgets, can they afford to enhance flight safety at their facilities, by providing weather flight requirements, and opening their facilities to emergency and commercial operators.

By affordably meeting the weather flight requirements of operators, altimeter for IFR operations and visibility to authorize commercial operators, rural and community airports, and heliports, are thereby unlocked to reliable all-weather operations.

SuperAWOS is a practical, real-world, low-maintenance solution for smaller airports, which enhances both the political and economic value of smaller community airports and heliports, by allowing them to cost-effectively support essential emergency and commercial services.

Why are Cost Savings Controversial?

SuperAWOS cost savings and simplicity challenge the status quo, and seriously gores some sacred cows.

It is now 2012. An army of advanced technicians, paid for on the backs of small communities, is no longer needed to maintain technology which is as simple and reliable as a digital clock.

A. Seeking to Protect FAA jobs and High-Priced Service Contracts

Certain individuals within FAA are attempting to 'protect' jobs that will never exist: The FAA has been moving aggressively to reducing its own labor costs through Remote Maintenance Monitoring (RMM), which is just common-sense in the modern era. RMM means modern equipment has built in diagnostics and remote connectivity to allow for performance monitoring, eliminating the high labor (and transportation) cost of physically and periodically visiting each remote site.

While approach is rapidly being incorporated into federally-owned systems, it is still being fought tooth-and-nail by those who provide labor to perform inspections and repairs, i.e. trying to protect makework only needed for older style technology.

Maura McGrath, the non-federal navaids program manager was briefed on how SuperAWOS reduces operating (labor) costs for smaller airports. Her response was SuperAWOS was a threat to labor, her intent to "protect jobs." See affadavits below.

Affadavit1

Affadavit2

For years Ms McGrath (and others) have been aggressively attempting to re-write and undermine the simpler, lower-cost, labor-saving procedures approved by FAA HQ for SuperAWOS equipment, because it demonstrably reduces labor costs for airports.

Several years ago Ms McGrath attempted to shut down SuperAWOS across the USA, which was the first time the DOT Inspector General had to get involved. Steve Zaidman, then VP of Technical Operations had to intervene. "We don't shut down working equipment."

Now apparently they do!

B. Seeking to Protect High-Cost Federal programs: Years ago FAA was given a $10M earmark to develop its own version of an airport weather system, the AWSS. PATC has been told on more than one occasions these systems can cost upwards of $750,000 per installation. SuperAWOS demonstrated lower-cost, simpler solution is an obvious threat to FAA's own high-cost program. While AWSS is indeed an amazing bit of federally-funded engineering, which could only have been born of such near-infinite funding, and perhaps may be ideal for major airports with immense maintenance budgets, AWSS' is totally impractical for any smaller or remote airport.

SuperAWOS has proven very low cost, highly accurate, and a reliable track record across the USA; the proof of which is a fundamental threat to otherwise unnecessary high-cost labor (which small airports cannot afford, regardless), and a threat to a high-cost FAA federal program.

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Current Actions

=> An investigation of failure to follow due process is currently ongoing by the Inspector General's office.

=> Congressional staff on a number of committees are waiting updates

---------

=> The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

=> PATC has provided FAA OKC (and others) documented regulatory and technical rebuttal on all points

=> To date FAA OKC has ignored these (uncomfortable documented) facts

=> PATC is in active contact with proper higher authorities at FAA HQ, who are in review

 

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Timeline of Recent Events

March 22, 2011 - FAAinternally produces a letter of vague 'Irregularities' dated March 22, to be sent to PATC, alleging open-ended, unspecified concerns. This letter will give PATC 30 days (Until April 22nd) to 'comply' with unspecified 'requirements,' and adds that any failure to address all of the unspecified concerns and complete the unspecified process will automatically be basis for decertification at the end of the 30 days (April 22nd).

This letter sent by regular mail, with no traceability as to when actually mailed.

Initial Sabotage

April 13, 2011, FAA OKC 'decertifies' SuperAWOS and cancels AIP funding by internal FAA memo. (D. Kamin). before PATC receives notice of any kind,

FAA's OKC's internal memo immediately leaked 'by FAA persons unknown' to PATC competitors.

April PATC Finally Recieves Initial Letter

April 17, 2011 - PATC finally receives FAA's initial March 22nd letter of vague, unspecified concerns, the 30 day time limit to expire in 5 days

PATC Requests Extension for Reply

April 18, 2011 - PATC Requests Extension to Reply - Smelling a rat, PATC submits written request to FAA for a 60 day extension to respond, which FAA HQ grants, by FAA email.

FAA Reverses Initial Sabotage

April 25, 2011 - FAA OKC intervences (J. Pritchard) and reverses de-certification and cancelling of AIP, by another internal memo; a copy of which is provided to PATC, to clarify for its users.

FAA Outlines 'Initial Concerns' - (Only After Initial Sabotage & Leak)

May 20, 2011 - PATC submits written point-by-point reply to FAA's letter of 'Initial Concerns,' requesting a meeting to go over any concerns.

~ PATC receives no response

PATC Escalates Outside FAA Agency

May 31, 2011 - PATC submits documentation to DOT IG, FAA ignoring all due process in an apparent attempt to sabotage of PATC by specific persons at FAA. Includes evidence of FAA 'decertification' by internal memo from D. Kamin and its immediate 'leak' to competitors, pre-dating any notice of any sort to PATC.

PATC contacts SBA office of the Ombudsman, tasked with Government Fraud Waste and Abuse.

SBA Makes formal Inquiry to DOT, passed down to FAA.

FAA Replies through DOT to SBA "Everything fine, thank you for contacting us"

PATC Provides SBA documented rebuttal of False representation by FAA through DOT to SBA

FAA Outlines 'Ongoing Investigation'

August 18, 2011 - FAA sends PATC another letter of 'Ongoing Evaluation.' FAA's letter ignores PATC's prior replies and communications to 'Initial Concerns.'

October 6, 2011 - PATC submits a second point-by-point reply to 'ongoing investigation,' and again requests meeting or telecon to discuss the points.

PATC received no reply or discussion to its submissions

PATC Goes to Higher Offices within FAA

November 25, 2011 - Having received no reply, discussion, or dialogue to its submittals, PATC contacts appropriate FAA HQ technical Offices of Primary Responsibility (OPR), with technical depth and authority to properly review to PATCs technical replies.

December 2, 2011 - FAA HQ Spectrum Policy office concurs with PATC's position in written reply.

December 22, 2011 - PATC submits other technical documents to FAA HQ OPR's, having proper technical depth and authority to interprete FAA orders, rules and regulations.

~ PATC dialogue with FAA HQ OPR's is delightfully refreshing, coherent, and productive! ~

PATC Asks FAA If they have actually read any PATC Submissions

~ December 22, 2011 - Just days before Christmas holidays, PATC contacts the two individuals to whom PATC's replies had been sent Fedex traceable, FAA OKC (J. Pritchard) and FAA HQ (J. Walker).

PATC asks them each individually:

1. Had they had received the documents?

2. Had they read the documents?

Both replied they had received the documents, but had not actually read them.

PATC Again Tries to Pickup the Ball with FAA after Holidays

January 5th, 2012 - Immediately after the holiday break, PATC again contacts the same persons at FAA OKC and FAA HQ to try to pickup the discussion of PATC's previous written replies, hoping that by this time that PATC's submissions had been read, and to request meeting.

PATC discovers the primary contact at FAA OKC (J. Pritchard) has suddenly retired over the holiday, and is no longer available. (No kidding!).

PATC informs contact at FAA HQ (J. Walker) that PATC has given up on FAA OKC's apparent disregard of any PATC submissions or position, and instead PATC is talking directly with FAA HQ offices of primary responsibility (OPR), to provide qualified technical review from inside the FAA.

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FAA Decertifies SuperAWOS - Ignores All Evidence Provided

January 25th, 2011 - FAA sends letter decertifying PATC equipment, ignores and dismisses PATC's documented rebuttals entirely, going so far as to dismiss FAA HQ OPR's concurrence with PATC's position, as if PATC had done said or done nothing.

===> I am not kidding. This is the actual sequence of events <===

 

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PATC SPECIFIC TECHNICAL REBUTALS
PROVIDED TO (AND IGNORED BY) FAA OKC

========================

FAA Oklahoma Tech Center Allegations
Specific Non-Technical Rebuttal by PATC

1. "Unapproved Changes"

The FAA approved sensors, practices, software and hardware are as they were approved and certified by FAA HQ

FAA OKC was apparently unaware of the intentional boundaries PATC put on FAA certification of SuperAWOS, specifically intended to LIMIT FAA certification only to Altimeter and Visibility, so that Advisory features could continue to evolve. This was the specific language accepted by FAA HQ in SuperAWOS certification.

All SuperAWOS features beyond Altimeter and Visibility were and remain advisory, as per the system's FAA HQ certifications, and thus were intentionally placed beyond the outdated constraints of FAA certification (see link). A simple example: FAA has no technical standard for 'certifying' when and how to call a simple crosswind, so SuperAWOS crosswind feature remains advisory.

SuperAWOS' Advisory features are perfectly accurate, in fact NIST certified, the highest standard for government, academia and scientific work, but there are no 'standards' for innovative ideas; even the most obvious ones.

None of the FAA approved capabilities, hardware or software, limited to Altimeter and Visibility, have ever changed. In fact, PATC began submission of an alternative pressure sensor, already approved in other systems, but was met with open hostility and stonewalling, so PATC abandoned that submission.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has provided Technical documentation and reply to FAA OKC

=> FAA OKC has failed to respond

 

2. "Altimeter Setting Procedure"

PATC's design as it is today is as was approved by FAA HQ during the system's certification by FAA HQ.

The altimeter setting procedure for SuperAWOS was incorporated into PATC's FAA approved manuals multiple times. The procedure is very simple and intuitively obvious (at least to any private pilot). This simple procedure was approved by proper FAA HQ authorities FOUR times; then reviewed a fifth time by FAA HQ and the Non-Fed coordinator at Potomac Airfield.

The Non Fed coordinator was directed to confirm no objection in writing, an action which was never completed.

The SuperAWOS procedure is, basically as follows: "First determine the current altimeter value from an FAA or NWS approved altimeter source. Second, set the known-good altimeter value into the equipment as a starting point. The equipment then tracks increases and decreases in station pressure and adjust the altimeter value accordingly."

This was the procedure repeatedly certified and approved by FAA HQ (see link)

It remains beyond PATC's understanding why this simple, repeatedly approved procedure, apparently remains beyond the comprehension of certain persons at FAA.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has provided Technical documentation and reply to FAA OKC

=> FAA OKC has failed to respond

 

3. "VHF Power"

PATC's design as it is today is as was approved by FAA HQ during the system's certification by FAA HQ.

As certified TWICE with FAA HQ, SuperAWOS uses a low-power transmitter matched with a very high gain antenna (>6 dbi), more common in modern low-power RF design. This combination delivers an RF field equal to (or in fact greater) than FAA requirements.

While FAA OKC continues to measure RF power at transmitter output, that value does not accurately reflect the actual RF field delivered. While FAA's practice has been sufficient in the past, it fails to grasp the basics of modern antenna design, such as used in SuperAWOS.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has submitted documentation to proper current FAA HQ authorities for updated review

=> FAA HQ review is pending

 

4. "Lightning Protection"

PATC's design as it is today is as was approved by FAA HQ during the system's certification by FAA HQ.

FAA OKC 'requires' we retroactively install 'grounding aerials' over the equipment.

In fact, the lightning protection, which includes the antenna, was reviewed and approved by FAA HQ as part of the system's approvals.

In total fairness, it is understandable FAA OKC may have been unaware SuperAWOS antenna is already a solid grounded rod, only becoming an RF radiator at its tuned frequency. The visible tip already goes directly to ground, ...had anyone bothered to ask.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has submitted documentation to proper current FAA HQ authorities for updated review

=> FAA HQ review is pending

 

5. "Spread Spectrum Device"

PATC's many discussions with FAA Spectrum Policy over the years shared understanding that the spectrum for FCC Part 15 devices is unprotected, which is why in cannot be in the path of flight critical information.

The problem with FCC Part 15 devices is that should there be a source of external interference, without a specific license 'controlling' use of that frequency at that location, neither FAA or FCC has the legal authority to stop the source of interference. That is all well and understood, and for good reason.

Other AWOS systems are split, with sensors out in the field and the processor in a building, only connected by wireless link. In other words, if their radio link gets interrupted the system becomes useless. The radio license for the link gives FCC legal authority to force any source from interfering with the licensed user.

The FCC Part 15 device used on SuperAWOS (netlink) is only used to provide free connectivity for the airport, to provide non critical information, things like weather trend information for access by telephone and web, and remote equipment performance monitoring. Even though non-critical, SuperAWOS uses global satellite modems to backup the FCC part 15 data channel. Interference with this wireless link cannot affect flight or time critical information; and at worst can only briefly delay what information it does provide.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has submitted documentation to proper current FAA HQ authorities for updated review

=> FAA HQ Spectrum Policy has already reviewed and confirmed PATC's use as acceptable (see link )

=> FAA OKC does not consider FAA HQ Spectrum Policy to have standing on this issue. I am not kidding.

 

6. "Various"

2.1 "Pressure Sensor Temperature Range"

PATC's design as it is today is as was approved by FAA HQ during the system's certification by FAA HQ.

FAA OKC alleges the Pressure Sensors are only certified for operation down to 30F. Again, this may have been an innocent mistake based on the labels; but FAA OKC failed to note the thermal insulating jackets and thermostatically controlled heaters which maintain these sensors within their certified operating range down to external temperatures of -40F, or more; as was reviewed, certified and accepted through multiple FAA HQ certifications. Again instead of asking any questions, or looking even superficially, FAA acted in ignorance.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has provided Technical documentation and reply to FAA OKC

=> FAA OKC has failed to respond

 

2.2 "Battery Charger Temp"

FAA OKC is concerned the industrial battery charger used to recharge SuperAWOS' internal batteries is only certified by its manufacturer down to to 30F. FAA OKC 'suggests' wrapping the chargers with thermal insulation.

These chargers get quite hot when charging. That is why they have heats sinks. To wrap them in thermal insulation would simply be insane, foresee ably inducing across-the-board failures in all the chargers across the USA, as they would no longer be able to dissipate the heat they need to dissipate when charging.

FAA OKC also fails to appreciate or understand the charger manufacturer has no reason to certify to any lower temperature, for their standard commercial application. FAA OKC somehow fails to understand these devices operate BEST at colder temperatures, and still produce considerable HEAT when charging, even at low temperatures. The real technical challenge is not operating at cold temperatures, but at high, where heat dissipation becomes more difficult.

To follow FAA OKC suggestions would induce rapid failures of chargers everywhere.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has provided Technical documentation and reply to FAA OKC

=> FAA OKC has failed to respond

 

2.3 "VHF Power"

PATC's design as it is today is as was approved by FAA HQ during the system's certification by FAA HQ.

See discussion above. While FAA OKC continues measuring 2.5 watts at the transmitter output, this does not actually reflect the actual RF field delivered, such as by the type of high gain antenna used by SuperAWOS.

The RF power delivered by SuperAWOS low-power transmitter, combined with a very costly, very high-gain antenna, which meets or exceeds AC objectives, as well as complies with multiple FCC regulations governing operation on Unicom.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has provided Technical documentation and reply to proper authorities at FAA HQ

=> FAA HQ response is pending

 

2.4 "Message format different from unicom to discrete VHF"

PATC's design as it is today is as was approved by FAA HQ during the system's certification by FAA HQ.

FAA OKC fails to understand basic difference between a system adaptively sharing a busy unicom, where it is essential to avoid interference with flight operations, vs generic transmission on a set aside discrete frequency.

Even when set to operate on a discrete frequency, SuperAWOS still allows automated two-way radio checks during the pause between messages. While to some this may seem inconsistent with the 'standard,' to any basic private pilot it is obvious.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has provided Technical documentation and reply to FAA OKC

=> FAA OKC has failed to respond

 

2.5 "Lightning Protection"

PATC's design as it is today is as was approved by FAA HQ during the system's certification by FAA HQ.

FAA OKC fails to understand SuperAWOS' antenna already serves as a lightning aerial, two solid metal rods having direct connection to ground. Again, it is possible FAA OKC did not understand this because it is not obvious from the outside of the antenna. Yet again, FAA OKC acted without even asking any questions.

FAA OKC proposes a 'requirement' to add 'an aerial' to the already existing aerial, which is not only redundant, but would foresee ably severely distort the tuned RF field from SuperAWOS' high gain antenna. FAA's proposed 'fix' simply makes no sense.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has provided Technical documentation and reply to proper authorities at FAA HQ

=> FAA HQ response is pending

 

2.6 "Spread Spectrum"

See above.

FAA Spectrum Policy has reviewed SuperAWOS use of the Part 15 link and found it acceptable (see link)

 

2.7 "Timeliness of Information"

PATC's design as it is today is as was approved by FAA HQ during the system's certification by FAA HQ.

FAA OKC obviously failed to understand that when they called for weather information by telephone, they were not directly calling the field equipment, but rather a remote server, which only provides information updated hourly; to minimize communications costs for airports.

This is a perfectly acceptable means to provide non-time or flight critical flight-planning type information. Nobody calling by telephone or web needs minute-to-minute information, especially when it is the small airport paying for the communications cost.

The Flight information provided by SuperAWOS (in the landing area over VHF) is REAL TIME; there can be no rational question of 'timeliness' with real-time information. Again, FAA OKC acted out of ignorance.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has provided Technical documentation and reply to FAA OKC

=> FAA OKC has failed to respond

 

2.8 "Verification of system constants"

PATC's design as it is today is as was approved by FAA HQ during the system's certification by FAA HQ.

FAA OKC apparently failed to understand that by simply turning a knob on SuperAWOS' front panel the system already speaks all of its system constants. PATC admits this is not well documented. Additional information is also readily available had anyone bothered to ask.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has provided Technical documentation and reply to FAA OKC

=> FAA OKC has failed to respond

 

2.9 "Software Versions"

As per SuperAWOS multiple FAA HQ certifications PATC knew and understood that SuperAWOS' certified features of Altimeter and Visibility could not change without FAA approval.

The certified features have never changed.

As per the certifications, except for altimeter and visibility, SuperAWOS advisory features were intentionally left advisory so they could continue to evolve (see link). For example, SuperAWOS detects and reports downed aircraft to the USAF. There is no technical standard for this, or how to do it, no one ever thought of it before, and no one else has the technical capabilities required. SuperAWOS just does it, in coordination with USAF rescue coordination. This advisory feature saves lives. PATC provides it for free as a public service.

The numbering sequence causing such concern by FAA OKC is only used by PATC to distinguish the evolution of advisory features, the FAA certified features and software have never changed had anyone bothered to ask.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

PATC has provided Technical documentation and reply to FAA OKC

=> FAA OKC has failed to respond

 

2.10 "Hardware Changes "

'VHF power amplifier added' - SuperAWOS VHF power amplifier was submitted to FAA spectrum office and approved by FAA's own Director of Spectrum Policy; a fact which FAA OKC may have been unaware.

The facts dispute FAA OKC's allegations

The letter of approval from FAA HQ Spectrum Engineering has been provided to FAA OKC

=> FAA OKC has failed to respond

'Mounting Brackets' - PATC confesses to having simplified the mounting brackets for its equipment, but considered that as these cannot and do not affect the performance of the certified features, PATC never considered this a material or significant change. PATC added a supplement to its manuals so installers could see how this works.

PATC has provided Technical documentation and reply to FAA OKC

=> FAA OKC has failed to respond

 

2.11 "Multiple User Documents"

PATC added an addendum to its its installation manual to reflect the simpler, improved mounting brackets. PATC was unaware peripheral mounting brackets would need FAA approval, as at best they are 'Type 2' changes, not affecting certified features, for which, at most, only notice is required.

FAA OKC also insists that 'only FAA approved information' be allowed on PATC's private website.

PATC was unaware the FAA had legal authority to restrict the content of private websites.

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I leave to the reader to determine for them self the intent of certain persons within FAA,
who appear determined to block a simpler, better, and lower-cost solution for small airports

David Wartofsky