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Gellert, aviation expert, bases worldwide company in Sequim
When Sequim retiree Dan Gellert was interviewed by the Gazette three years ago on his trio of innovative concepts to improve aviation safety and security, he was pushing for using dogs specially trained in sniffing out explosives, his alternate airport runway configuration and a different method of wilderness firefighting with airplanes. Two out of three isn’t bad.
Still vigorous and visionary, the former airline pilot, air traffic controller, aviation security expert and recipient of the FAA’s highest recognition, the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, for his 50-plus years of an accident and violation free career, continues to promote his ideas to government authorities, from senators to President Obama to the Federal Aviation Administration and head of the Transportation Security Administration. And by inches, Gellert is seeing some progress in having his ideas accepted.
For a decade he’d mulled over the idea of training and deploying dogs in airports across the nation specifically to use their keen sense of smell to detect all kinds of explosives, including plastic types. In 2011, the first bomb sniffing dogs finally arrived at some large airports around the country, long after their drug or agricultural product detecting comrades were introduced.
“It takes probably two years to get an established dog because the trainer has to evaluate continuously,” Gellert said. “It’s fascinating, it’s amazing and it’s the only solution now that works. A dog clears everything in the security line, an extremely important event.”
Gellert explained that when people smell stew, it’s just stew, but when dogs smell stew, because of their superior sense of smell, they smell the individual ingredients and can discern all odors, no matter how minute, emanating from and around airport passengers. He is hopeful that more and more dogs will be trained to find all types of explosives well before any passenger intent on doing harm gets through TSA checkpoints.
Up and down safer
Gellert’s company, Aerospace Safety and Security, Inc., has received positive attention overseas on a safer and money-saving revamping of airport runways. His patented plan is one of three runway designs being considered for implementation by the British Airport Commission.
According to Gellert’s patent abstract, “Split-Runway Design patents greatly increase runway takeoff and landing sequence capacities, through the landing and taking-off airliners using the same runway with SRD. Arriving aircraft land on the designated landing strip portion of the runway, while departing aircraft take off from the designated takeoff strip portion of the runway … Existing runways may be readily converted into two designated portions for arriving and departing aircraft, thereby significantly increasing the number of aircraft arrival and departure sequences, reducing the likelihood of aircraft runway incursions, eliminating dangerous intersection takeoffs and conserving jet fuel.”
Gellert expects to find out next summer if his plans are approved. He said in addition to satellite GPS navigation, pilots would have visual contact with planes in front of, behind and alongside them, which isn’t always the case now. Some of the costs of implementation would be extending existing runways from 8,000 feet or 12,000 feet to 15,000 feet, he said.
U.S. airport runways are configured differently, but most have incoming planes and outgoing planes on side by side runways, landing and taking off in rapid succession from opposite directions. It’s also common to have planes taxiing across active runways to line up for takeoff. Usually long after the fact, the FAA will announce an incursion or near miss between incoming and outgoing planes.
“With our system, landing and taxiing planes are moving away from arriving aircraft, so it’s a lot safer,” Gellert said.
“My idea started in the 1950s and 1960s in bush flights in Alaska. I came up with a number of procedures and they worked and saved fuel and time by shorter taxiing. It’s in the interest of airlines to cut the time they’re on the tarmac. The benefit is that an airport could double the number of takeoffs and landings. It could be a real money saver and money maker.”
However, Gellert hasn’t been able to convince the FAA director, “with no pilot or air traffic experience” he noted, to take a look at his plan, even though his company is willing to pay for a demonstration.
“Our plan is to take it to Europe and Singapore and work with Airbus (Boeing’s manufacturing competitor),” Gellert said. “I would like to work with Boeing but so far we’ve not been able to strike up a deal with the FAA but I’m still trying.”
Douse, don’t delay
For his third proposition, Gellert wants to change the mindset and the methods of the powers that be in state and national fire services in fighting wilderness fires. He maintains dropping water and/or flame retardants between firefighters and flames once fires have exploded into raging infernos is reactive when it should be proactive. His concept is to attack the fire directly in its early stages, putting it out well before it scorches miles of land — to drench and quench in the first “Golden Hour.”
“The problem with fires having fuel is they kind of explode. What I’ve been suggesting to fire service officials is to buy large airline aircraft and convert them into firefighting airplanes that can stay up in the air longer, fly low and carry a heavy load, like we did in Vietnam with Agent Orange,” Gellert explained.
“These wide body refitted jetliners can drop 12,000-24,000 gallons on a fire compared to a mere 800 gallons by helicopter. We need heavy lift, heavy hit — timely intervention in the first hour of an identified fire. These aircraft can cover the nation, dump a heavy load and stay on station (in the area) for extended periods,” Gellert said.
“This way we can put out a fire at its inception by dousing the fire itself. National Guard pilots could get to a fire in less than an hour, a critical time frame. Once it’s growing, there are too many flames and too much smoke, so planes then can’t fly low enough, and then the fire starts covering a bigger and bigger area.”
Gellert said another advantage of striking proactively is that the scene is preserved for investigators to determine the fire’s cause — lightning, human carelessness or arson. He noted that individual wilderness firefighters favor his proactive concept but it’s bogged down in the inertia of bureaucracy. But Gellert is not discouraged.
“I keep on prodding and I think it will come to this (proactive method). I can’t imagine another option.”
For Gellert’s background, see www.aerospacesafetyandsecurity.com.
Reach Patricia Morrison Coate at firstname.lastname@example.org.