U.S. Customs and Border Protection is considering building a facility in Abu Dhabi. But U.S. airlines are concerned that would give an unfair advantage to foreign carriers such as Etihad Airways.
Should U.S. Customs and Border Protection be allowed to install a pre-clearance facility at Abu Dhabi International Airport?
No, says Airlines for America, the major lobbying group for U.S. carriers. And with a new campaign, the group is making its views very clear. The group says the facility would give an unfair advantage to foreign airlines.
Under the proposal, the government of the United Arab Emirates would reimburse customs for the cost of running the facility. It’s potentially worth it for the UAE because it would make flights to the United States considerably more convenient. As they do elswhere, including in Canada, Ireland and Aruba, customs would clear passengers in Abu Dhabi, rather than in the United States. (A full list of pre-clearance airports is available on wikipedia.)
But U.S. carriers generally don’t fly to Abu Dhabi, so they wouldn’t benefit. Instead, the new system would help Etihad Airways, which operates the bulk of international flights there.
Airlines for America doesn’t like that.
“The establishment of this facility in Abu Dhabi primarily benefits only a foreign emirate and its wholly owned national carrier, giving it a competitive advantage over U.S. airlines, their employees, and their customers who pay $1.5 billion in annual user fees,” Airlines for America wrote on its website.
It’s not always practical for air traffic controllers to learn on the job, especially at busy places like Los Angeles International Airport. So the Federal Aviation Administration has a bunch of remarkably realistic simulators for training.
This week, I visited the simulator near LAX with a group of high school students, many of whom want to be controllers. The kids were able to play air traffic controller for a few minutes, so they’re the rookies you see directing airplanes in the video above.
Here’s some of what I saw and learned in FAA’s simulator:
High resolution screens show a near perfect reproduction of Los Angeles International Airport from the vantage of the air traffic control tower. Here, you’re looking east, over Parking Garages 1 and 2. That’s Terminal 1 on the left. See the Southwest plane?
With one click, trainers can turn day into night. They can also add any weather they want, including, amazingly, snow. The students enjoying watching snowflakes fall over Los Angeles. Actually, so did I.
I’ve never been in a real control tower, but these work stations looked pretty accurate to me. I was told this as close to the real thing as you can get.
Above, an American Airlines plane sits at a Terminal 4 gate. Controllers direct real aircraft belonging to real airlines. The only discrepancy I noticed is that not all paint schemes are current. In the simulator, United aircraft had gray paint, a livery the airline has retired.
In an area separate from the controllers, two workers play the role of airline pilots. The man above listens to controller instructions and then acknowledges them using his headset – just as a pilot would do. With his mouse, he then moves the airplane accordingly on the giant screen. Occasionally, this person purposely disregards the controller’s instruction. This is because pilots don’t always perfectly follow instructions.
A final fun fact about air traffic control from James R. Robliotta, the site supervisor here and a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel. In the military, controllers always remind pilots to lower their landing gear before landing. That does not happen in commercial aviation, however. Pilots are on their own to make sure gear is down.
By Spring 2014, British Airways should have two daily A380 flights to Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of British Airways.
By next spring, British Airways should have two Airbus A380 flights between Los Angeles and London. Though it will usually have just one A380 flight, the airline is planning to add a second during the busy tourist season.