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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Main Frame

You may remember that I mentioned that one of my first assignments when Dixon hired me at Florida Express was to travel to all of our our stations, at the end of the spokes of our hub and spoke system, and teach the gate agents how to do the weight and balance and performance calculations.  This was quite a challenge, because they did not really understand what I was talking about and did not have much interest.

It didn't take long for the company to come up with a much better plan.  There were PCs at each gate counter with software to do all the calculations and print out the paper work to give to the crews.  All the agents had to do was enter a few numbers, such as airplane tail number, fuel on board and passenger count.  This was a great system and worked for us for several years.

When Braniff took over, the Florida Express pilot management group explained how well our system worked and recommended the entire airline use it, but NOOOOO!  They had a wonderful main frame computer they had been using for centuries ( I think they called it the Abacus II) and we were all going to use it, because it was wonderful and they were Braniff and we were just a bunch of Branflakes and what the hell did we know.

The way their system worked was, that when the main entry door was closed and we were ready to depart, we would call the station operations frequency and then they would call back with "the numbers" we needed to go fly away in our jets after they had been properly crunched.  Wonderful.

The problems began at a hub, because there were so many planes and only one operations frequency.  There was too much congestion at a very busy time.  The poor person responsible for doing all the work on this in ops could only talk to one plane at a time and they were all clamoring to be the first to call for "the numbers".  Aviation VHF radios may only have one person talking at a time.  If more than one try to transmit, there is nothing but garbled noise on the frequency, then everyone says, "blocked" or "stepped on" or something like that.  Fun.  

The ops peoples started telling the crews to block out from the gates and then wait for "the numbers".  In order to do that, we had to call ground control (air traffic control in charge of plane movement on the ground between gates and runways), ask for a clearance to push back and then complete the pushback and engine start.  Essentially, they were rolling the shit downhill to the ground controller.  We had planes parked all over the place, waiting for "the numbers".  

You may recall that I told another story in which I pointed out that most controllers are not dummies.  After about a week of this goat rope, the controllers started asking if we had "the numbers" when we called for push back clearance and the planes began to wait on the gates.  The incoming, next bank was then cluttering up the ramp and taxiways, instead of the out going planes, but it was giving everyone late departures and the airlines hate that.

Despite this, the Braniff brain trust never did fix the system.  We Branflakes were not impressed, especially since this was playing into our methods of encouraging the company to bargain with the union in good faith.  With the main frame and the BAC 1-11, we were causing major pain.

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