Leading Edge: Bob Lamond: Keeping the information flowing

 - October 4, 2007, 5:34 AM

Lamond credits his previous knowledge of the command center as “probably the most important” background in understanding the inner workings of the facility. “We wouldn’t have had anywhere near as successful an interaction with them if we had just knocked on the door on September 11 at 10 o’clock and said, ‘Excuse me, but can we live here for a while,’” he said. “Matter of fact, they probably would have said, ‘Thank you very much, but there’s the door.’ So I think it’s critical that we had built that relationship beforehand.”

In creating its presence at the command center earlier this year, NBAA had patterned it after that operated by the airlines under the Air Transport Association (ATA) banner. It was established to give NBAA subscribers real-time information about the National Airspace System to try and mitigate problems before they become bigger problems, and to provide information before it comes out in a notam.

Once he arrived at the center, Lamond said he “pretty much resided” there for the next two weeks, augmenting and supplementing two people who normally work there for NBAA.
“We realized this was something that was obviously extraordinary,” he said. “There were no pre-canned rules of engagement on this and everybody–including the FAA, DOT and the White House–was literally making this up as they went along.” NBAA decided that working closely with the command center was something it could do to help all of its members and some non-members as well.

“We probably took telephone calls from folks who had never heard of NBAA before,” Lamond said. “And we were going to help them because we thought we were doing a service to the nation.”

Armed with advanced information, NBAA was more prepared to answer the inevitable questions that followed the nationwide grounding of nearly everything with wings or rotors. Notams that eventually filtered out of the FAA were often open to interpretation at best, and indecipherable at worst. Even though NBAA was accorded the privilege of providing inputs to some of those notams before they came out–“a wonderful thing” in Lamond’s own words–they were still subjected to a lot of different interpretations by people who did not fully understand them.

“By being a part of the process that in some way shaped a lot of those notams,” he opined, “we were better prepared to answer the questions that came out as a result because we knew what the interpretation really was, as opposed to ripping the piece of paper off the printer and trying to read it while answering a question about it.”

According to Lamond, that advance knowledge also provided insight into much of what was coming, and being better prepared for it. “We were very conscious not to put anything out before it was official,” he said. “We were asked [by the FAA] to do that and we felt that we had an obligation to the FAA that when we did know of something coming down the road, that we kept that to ourselves.”

Part of the relationship that NBAA had built with the FAA before the September 11 terrorist attacks, he explained, was that if they didn’t trust NBAA to keep inside what it was told to keep inside “we were going to be on the outside quickly. So I think we did a good job of that.”

“The other big thing that we did was, quite frankly, rumor control,” he continued. “To this day rumors are still rampant, and in those first two weeks they were just out of control.” With NBAA headquarters either working or on call virtually 24 hr a day during that period, Lamond said, “We were able to say, ‘That’s not true, that’s nowhere near the truth, here’s the real truth,’ and we were able to stifle those rumors before they took up a head of steam.”

During the height of the airspace lockdown, it was not unusual to see NBAA Air Mail messages from Lamond with post-midnight time stamps. Working with him were two employees of Conwal, a Washington-based consulting firm with whom NBAA has partnered to work as general aviation desk specialists at the ATCSCC.

Asked by AIN about his life in the two weeks after the terrorists struck, Lamond replied, “You mean about the time my wife started asking for an ID card when I’d get home? It was a lot of long hours.”

Working for GA
When NBAA contracted with Conwal for the subscription service, the goal was to have it available for any NBAA member that wanted it. But the association acknowledged that there is a vast difference between the needs of a small King Air-operating manufacturing company and TAG Aviation, ExxonMobil or Executive Jet. “So the worth of that operation across the breadth of our membership database varies greatly,” said Lamond. “Our challenge was to design a service that you could tailor to your particular needs.”

NBAA currently has four members subscribing to the GA desk, and it hopes to entice flight-planning companies to join so that smaller flight departments will be able to take advantage of the service. Cost varies according to the size of the operation, and NBAA is seeking to expand its base.

The GA desk was created to give business aviation a voice in the FAA’s collaborative decision-making (CDM) process, which has pretty much replaced “first-come, first-served” in getting access to airspace. “The demand on the NAS, the congestion and complexity of the airspace were all such that I think the FAA had an obligation to manage the NAS differently from first-come, first-served,” explained Lamond. “And collaborative decision making was the answer to that.”

GA is a latecomer to the CDM process, according to Lamond. The FAA and the airlines have been doing CDM for almost 10 years, he said, and really effectively for the past five years. They have developed a suite of software tools and procedures that are usable only if you are part of the CDM club.”

As ground-delay programs, compression programs and en-route delay programs– which the FAA uses to allocate slots or meter the flow rate of aircraft–are initiated, they are done with the known tail numbers, most of which belong to the airlines. “We as a general aviation community suffer from benign neglect,” Lamond said. “It’s not malicious forethought. But we, by virtue of not being CDM participants, cannot participate in that process and cannot receive any of the benefits the airlines are reaping.” NBAA is now working with the FAA to allow its members who are signed up for the service to add their tail numbers into the mix.

Even so, there are other benefits already available by NBAA’s presence at the command center, he told AIN. NetJets, which is a subscriber, has its own meteorology department and participates in the Collaborative Convective Forecast Product (CCFP), created by the National Weather Service Aviation Weather Center (AWC) in Kansas City, Mo., airline meteorologists and the FAA. It provides extended weather outlooks of up to six hours, is updated every two hours and helps flight planners route airplanes around thunderstorms.

“The CCFP is born every day during the convective forecast season via a private Internet chat room that is hosted by the [AWC],” said Lamond. “The participants are the airline meteorological departments. Well guess what. Now our members–including NetJets–participate in the development of the CCFP. They don’t just get the piece of paper [with the weather picture], they now are helping to build that picture.”

By being a subscriber, he said, NetJets has been given access to the Internet chat room and it reaps benefits from that because it has been able to shape what that product looks like as it relates to its particular schedule.

Subscribers are also allowed to participate in the strategic planning teleconference that goes on every two hours. “So they are now privy to the thought process going on in the minds of the FAA,” Lamond said, “and can actually ask questions if they want to, although quite frankly they don’t need to because they can call the GA desk.”

He said the name “GA desk” was chosen instead of the “NBAA desk” because the association wanted to send a message to the entire community that it was really trying to represent the collective general aviation side. “Our folks are proactively looking at our subscribers’ schedules to see and anticipate where there may be problems, and try to either give them information ahead of time or even work individual problems with the folks on the floor to the centers,” he said.

Even following the September 11 terrorist attacks, when Part 91 was severely restricted, Lamond said NBAA was able to arrange for a GA flight to get Billy Graham from Florida to the Washington area for the memorial service at the National Cathedral.

“We got a telephone call from EJA saying, ‘Hey, we have Billy Graham and he needs to get to D.C.,’” Lamond recalled. “We were able to work that from the command center to have an exception made to allow EJA to fly Part 91 to get him up here. Now, we only got him to Manassas [Regional Airport], but that was a heck of a lot closer than where he was in Florida. So those are the kinds of things that we were able to do post-September 11.”

Lamond, who was a charter member of Spring/Summer 2000, said NBAA has been welcomed at the ATCSCC “with open arms” by both the FAA and the airlines. “I won’t say the airlines have done it because they’re altruistic by any stretch of the imagination,” he asserted. “But the airlines have come to realize over the past few years that the FAA has a better chance of efficiently managing the NAS if they have as complete a picture as possible of the intent of the people using the NAS. And they understood we were a small but blank picture to the FAA.

“We are developing a parallel system with the FAA that’s going to be Internet-based so that at the beginning of every day our flight departments don’t have to fax their schedule to us up at the command center,” said Lamond. “They will actually have a simple Internet capability to input their own schedules, and it will all be done electronically instead of the current manual way.”

He admitted that NBAA had no NAS visibility to the FAA, and still doesn’t until the association gets these products automated to show what business aviation is doing in positive controlled airspace and high-volume airports. “So ATA realized that the FAA was going to continue to have to protect–if you would–slots for this unknown GA traffic that may be overestimated one day and underestimated another day, and which has an effect on airline operations,” Lamond said.

Noting that “for all intents and purposes the airlines own this collaborative decision- making process,” he suggested that they understood–for good business reasons–the importance of NBAA being on board. “Now they would start yelling at me and calling me nasty names if I said we were not going to participate any more,” Lamond said.