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This Time…or All the Time? September 28, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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When giving or receiving instructions, it’s important to distinguish “rules” from special circumstances.  Engineering is loaded with rules-of-thumb, shortcuts, assumptions, and yes, a few guesses.  “Safety Factor” is just a fancy euphemism for “fudge factor”.  Throughout the design process, especially when training or mentoring younger engineers, it is critical to fully explain when a task is to be done all the time or whether it is being applied for this special case (and other special cases like it). (more…)

Engaging the Next Generation September 18, 2009

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Fifteen years. How much can we accomplish in such a short time? As I write this, I just read President Obama’s speech to schoolchildren. His words are likely to be clouded by the bickering that inevitably seems to take center stage these days. However, regardless of your politics, his thoughts reflect many professions’ struggles with how to motivate the next generation(s) and encourage study of subjects that don’t seem to hold quite the value they once did — especially math and science. Engineers are no strangers to this debate, and some have taken proactive steps to preserve the integrity of the profession while encouraging and attracting new entrants. (more…)

Not Just USA Today… September 17, 2009

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In the spirit of national media groupthink, the Today Show also aired a companion piece about general aviation airports being somehow a waste of taxpayer dollars.  The letter below is a response to both from Craig Fuller, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA):

USA Today and ‘Today’ show airport funding stories lack balance
A statement from AOPA President Craig Fuller

By AOPA President Craig Fuller

The September 17 article titled “Feds keep little-used airports in business” is a story completely devoid of journalistic balance that fails to acknowledge the millions of Americans who benefit from the nation’s 5,200 general aviation airports every day.

The article cites statistics on airport spending but gives only part of the story. It completely ignores the fact that Congress regularly allocates far more for air carrier airports than for general aviation airports. For instance, in 2007, general aviation airports receiving money got an average of $750,000 for improvements while commercial air carrier airports that received funding got an average of $5.5 million each—more than seven times the amount awarded to smaller fields!

The story talks about the woes of commercial travel but fails to note that the thousands of flights made each day from small general aviation airports nationwide are actually relieving those problems. In fact, if our country’s general aviation airports were to close, those flights would be forced to operate out of our already overcrowded air carrier airports, increasing delays, slowing traffic, and extending security lines.

General aviation pilots and passengers fly for exactly the same reasons as commercial travelers—to conduct business, visit family and friends, and take vacations. But private pilots and airplanes also fly thousands of hours in volunteer efforts including medical transport, humanitarian relief, and search and rescue operations.

Having convenient access to small airports in communities around the country is as vital to our national transportation system as having highway off-ramps in small towns. To suggest that smaller airports are not needed is just like suggesting that we should have a road system that connects only the country’s 150 largest cities. The truth is that small airports do bring business, jobs, and services—including disaster relief, package delivery, firefighting capability, law enforcement, and emergency medical transportation—to thousands of communities nationwide every day. And that’s good for America.

USA Today Botches the Front Page September 17, 2009

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The title of this post is my own, though the following story is taken from the Aircraft Owner’s and Pilots Association (AOPA) website.  It is reprinted here for the convenience of non-members who do not have access to the original source.

If you’ve already read the article, please note that the “big” airports (the hubs that serve the major airlines) are most similar to the old train routes of centuries’ past.  Would you favor pumping additional dollars into that system if it meant that your local city streets became crumbled beyond repair?  That is USA Today’s feeling.  Small, local airports “cater” to private aviation (per the article) the same way that your neighborhood streets “cater” to your personal automobiles.  Unfortunately, USA Today has badly distorted the facts about aviation in the United States and the benefits derived from it – even misrepresenting Rep. James Oberstar’s position on the issue.  Please read AOPA’s response below, and look for a follow up by the AOPA president.

USA Today slants coverage to favor airlines

By Chris Dancy

USA Today on Thursday published a slanted, one-sided front-page story designed to whip up negative sentiment against general aviation and to perpetuate public misconceptions about GA. NBC’s “Today” show did a companion story that also ran on the MSNBC cable news outlet which was equally as negative, although it was somewhat more balanced in its presentation.

“The story is completely devoid of journalistic balance and fails to acknowledge the millions of Americans who benefit from the nation’s 5,200 general aviation airports every day,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller.

AOPA’s media relations staff learned of the story a week before it was published and had a lengthy conversation with the USA Today reporter, but was not included in the article.

The USA Today article focuses on spending at GA airports but provides absolutely no perspective. The article does not mention how much Airport Improvement Program (AIP) money is spent at air carrier airports, or that in a typical year, Congress allocates $3 for air carrier airport improvements to every $1 to be spent at GA airports.

The USA Today article and its companion Today Show piece both entice the audience to equate airline ticket tax income with airport expenditures. Neither story makes any effort to tell the audience that GA operators contribute to the same trust fund through fuel taxes that are five times higher than the airlines’, or that the fund also pays for the air traffic control system, of which the airlines are the primary beneficiary.

So what are the facts?

Let’s look at 2007, a fairly typical year for AIP funding.

The FAA distributed $3.34 billion in AIP funds to 2,610 airports.

341 primary airports—airports with more than 100,000 passenger boardings each year—received $2.1 billion in AIP funds. That’s an average of $6.17 million per airport.

48 commercial service airports—airports with between 2,500 and 100,000 passenger boardings—received $93 million, or an average of $1.94 million per airport.

139 GA reliever airports received $214 million, or an average of $1.54 million

982 GA airports received $617 million, or an average of $628,000.

Combined, the 389 airline airports divvied up $2,199,335,046, averaging $5.5 million per airport. The 1,121 GA airports shared $831,717,227, averaging $741,942.

An addition, $310 million was distributed through state block grant programs.

Local realities differ from national “perspective”

On the same day that the two stories ran nationally, a number of local news outlets did their own versions of the story and came to radically different conclusions.

Officials defend role of small airports: Facilities open more areas to business world,” reported Nashville’s The Tenneseean newspaper.

Local airports say fed funds put to good use,” said the Greenville News of Greenville, S.C.

And, “Business taking off,” stated The Record of Stockton, Calif., simply.

Two years ago, when the Associated Press ran a similarly negative article on federal dollars going to GA airports, the same thing happened: local follow-up stories showed that the money was well spent and benefitted the communities.

“Having convenient access to small airports in communities around the country is as vital to our national transportation system as having highway off-ramps in small towns,” concluded Fuller. “To suggest that smaller airports are not needed is just like suggesting that we should have a road system that connects only the country’s 150 largest cities.

“The truth is that small airports do bring business, jobs, and services—including disaster relief, package delivery, firefighting capability, law enforcement, and emergency medical transportation—to thousands of communities nationwide every day. And that’s good for America.”

Your Own Cooking September 6, 2009

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Interesting times are afoot in the land development industry, providing several opportunities for exploring alternatives to the traditional client-consultant relationship. Firms may be facing big receivables as clients struggle to pay the more pressing bills, leaving engineers holding the bag. The situation may even reach a point at which the owner of an important project offers the firm an “opportunity” to accept a stake in the property and substitute equity for cash. This arrangement can clearly benefit the owner, since there may be much less cash paid out and the ownership risk is spread out just a bit more. But, what about for the engineer? Is this a losing proposition or a legitimate business arrangement? (more…)

Who Put You In Charge September 3, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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From my “Manage a Camel” guest post in the UK:

A project manager’s job is never performed in a vacuum.  Not only is he or she responsible for the project team, the customer, and the various support staff, but the PM has also been specifically selected by someone to perform the job in the first place.  Especially if you are being chosen for a larger responsibility or an unusual project, it is fair to ask, “what makes me qualified to do this job?”  MORE…

Industry Roundtable September 2, 2009

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A few months ago, I had a great opportunity to attend the CE News Summit and Expo in Los Angeles.  One of the sessions was a roundtable of land development professionals who commiserated about the challenges discussed the opportunities in this rapidly changing industry.

You can read a transcript of a few of the Q&A exchanges here.  I look forward to more of this kind of interactive discussion among a variety of professionals as we navigate the new economy.