Perspective is Key

Here’s JPDO’s NextGen ConOps summary from Chapter 2:

ANSP service delivery is performed through a combination of new procedures, technologies, and infrastructure, significantly increasing safety, security, and capacity of air traffic operations in the NAS. ANSPs will require different automation, procedures, and skill sets than those that are utilized in today’s ATC environment. The requirement for the service provider to retain local knowledge of the airspace (e.g., frequencies, airspace fixes, and handoff procedures) is minimized; therefore, the airspace can be treated like commonly configured airspace. This is particularly true at high altitudes. Commonly-configured airspace affords great flexibility in the airspace and corresponding traffic to which ANSP personnel can be assigned and in the frequency with which the assignments can dynamically change. It also enables the reclassification of ANSP personnel commensurate with the new types of operations. Direct addressable communication reduces the requirement for frequency management and knowledge. Currently in airspace where ANSP personnel provide tactical separation and all aircraft capabilities must be accommodated, the skill set of the ANSP personnel is similar to that of a radar controller.

New ways of staffing air traffic facilities take advantage of available resources and provide additional opportunities for career growth. Automated staffing tools help facility managers match staffing to traffic demand, so that management of NAS resources is dynamic and flexible enough to adjust to changes in the market as well as changes to daily and seasonal traffic flow. Ebbs and flows in traffic levels can be efficiently managed, unconstrained by facility boundaries, with the necessary communication, data, and surveillance capabilities. By decoupling geographic airspace and infrastructure constraints from aircraft operations, capacity managers have the flexibility to leverage resources across facilities to match staffing to traffic demand.

Co-locating operational domains (e.g., tower control and terminal airspace, approach control and en route airspace) of differing complexity levels into general service delivery points allows service providers to advance to higher grade levels without having to relocate. This has the dual benefit of providing employees better opportunities for career progression while dramatically decreasing operating, maintenance, infrastructure, and permanent-change-of-station costs.

All air traffic facilities benefit from scheduling and workforce management improvements. Staffed NextGen Towers (SNT) allow ANSP personnel to service multiple airfields from a single physical location. The ability to use SNTs enables airports to receive tower services that they normally do not receive, given the criteria of today and the costs of building a tower. In addition, Automated NextGen Towers (ANT) are an innovative, affordable way to provide new services where service delivery was not practical before. ANTs are beneficial for smaller, towered airports or SNT airports, as they continue providing existing services during off-hours at reduced staffing costs. A voice interface ensures that aircraft without data communication equipage can receive service.

Commonly configured airspace significantly reduces the time required to achieve various levels of ANSP personnel certification from months to weeks or days. Reduced training time is in part enabled by the elimination of inter-facility letters of agreement and the corresponding need to learn all local characteristics of the airspace. This in turn reduces training costs and fosters other benefits such as increased flexibility in scheduling, more rapid response to staffing needs, and reduced stress on training resources (e.g., on-the-job training instructors).

Various levels of fidelity in training simulators reduce training cost and time. The enhanced process and inherent simulation capabilities provide for more standardized instruction, unbiased assessment of performance, mitigation of weaknesses, and useful remedial and proficiency training. Performance measurement tools evaluate the efficiency and efficacy of training programs, processes, and paradigms on the development and enhancement of skills performance. They also measure job performance competencies and related knowledge, skills, and abilities that determine individual and team safety, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Some members of the NextGen workforce are hired into the new roles of ANSP personnel (e.g., CM, FCM, TM), while others are retrained from the classic roles of air traffic controller and traffic flow manager. Given NextGen’s reliance on automation, ANSP personnel are selected and trained to ensure that they can deliver the essential services when off-nominal or emergency conditions exist. This necessitates that a significant portion of the training focuses on dealing with emergencies and exceptional situations in addition to all other necessary skills to support NextGen. This in turn necessitates not only that systems have a very high level of reliability but also that failures are controlled in a gradual degradation, providing ample time to reduce traffic to the reduced capacity levels.

Selection criteria tailored to the type of ATM services provided (e.g., tower controller, traffic flow manager), innovative and flexible staffing techniques, and a revamped training program ensure that the ANSP workforce is best prepared to meet the demands and challenges of NextGen.

Wow, that’s quite a vision!  Don’t think it can happen?  Colocation?  Realignment of facilities?  Staffed NextGen Towers? Automated Virtual Towers?  Think again, because that’s where Industry (and the Agency) is putting their money.  Aspen slow in the summer, Aspen tower controller gets reassigned to work Mansfield, Ohio because someone, somewhere decided the airspace is similar enough (I have no idea what either facility’s airspace looks like; it’s just an example) and Mansfield can work Aspen in the winter.  Don’t worry about that pesky mountain thing, air density thing, MVA thing or …..

Go back and re-read JPDO’s summary again, but this time substitute Flight Service, Lockheed Martin, legacy sites, etc.  Sound familiar?

I remember years ago when I worked at one of the busier facilities and there was testing going on for a very early version of Runway Status Warning Lights or some such thing.  An engineer asked me what my cutoff was for crossing an inbound aircraft with an aircraft on final.  Told him that it depended on a number of factors – who’s on final, what type aircraft, speed, position – who’s waiting to cross, what type aircraft, moving or having to break inertia from a dead stop – do I know the pilot or carrier – winds, runway and taxiway conditions, etc.?   XYZ carrier needs lots of room, ABC moves on a dime, etc.  Engineer replies, “I can’t program that!”  I responded, “I know that.”

But you know what?  That engineer can program, “cross runway, hold short of runway”, then do it again for when the aircraft gets to the second runway.  He can also program detailed taxi instructions, because common sense, creativity and local knowledge are not required under NextGen.  TIPH at the smaller airports is mostly gone…making it much easier for those Automated Virtual Towers to go in.

All these rules aren’t to dumb it down to the lowest common human denominator – it’s to dumb it down to computer programming level and has the added benefit of forcing our new hires into a very simple, linear way of thinking.  Too bad no one on Industry’s side of the equation truly understands the danger of linear thinking in ATC.  It also trains the (general aviation and bizjet) pilots to expect fewer services now so they won’t notice it nearly as much when they pull controllers away from their home airports.

From JPDO’s Chapter 2 summary again:  “Given NextGen’s reliance on automation, ANSP personnel are selected and trained to ensure that they can deliver the essential services when off-nominal or emergency conditions exist.” It just goes to show that human factors in ATC is not really being considered or they’d have a clue that mental/physical/verbal engagement in the ATC process, rather than monitoring is what is needed so when it does hit the fan, we’re already dodging the feces – not getting hit with it, trying to see through it, coming up with a plan and being distracted by the smell.

I love this line:   This in turn necessitates not only that systems have a very high level of reliability but also that failures are controlled in a gradual degradation, providing ample time to reduce traffic to the reduced capacity levels.

Yeah, right!

Next time the Agency sends down a rule that seems like it’s more work for us with little or no benefit to the user, see if it fits the perspective of Industry’s version of NextGen.  I’m still watching…and waiting…and wondering…

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5 Responses to Perspective is Key

  1. nutts says:

    speaking of human factors, not one minute was spent when it was decided to replace strips with URET, a tool that was never never designes to replace strips but most of the enroute types didnt care and thought the pretty new box with the pretty colors was better than sliced bread, best move i made was to leave enroute for a terminal after that one. thats ok after 8 years they still cant decide on how to log an aircraft on freq. remember ZDC and the nordo Northwest.this progect will be more of the same.

  2. nutts says:

    sorry i ment Denver Center not Washington center

  3. towerr says:

    Someone explain to me what happens to the jet on 5-mile final at Aspen, where the surrounding terrain is 13,000 MSL, when he loses RAIM and has to go missed. But there’s no controller there to advise the pilot of mountains nearby, because the controller working the plane is in Salina, Kansas and has never stood in ASE’s bowl. The controller only knows that there are mountains nearby, so advises the pilot to maintain heading 157, climb to 16,000. Because odds are, that plane is going into a mountain. Because, of course, the LOC BC for the missed will have been decommissioned by then. Keeping that thing running on the side of a mountain surely doesn’t fit with nextgen. The satellites will fix that.

    For that matter, someone explain to me why local knowledge isn’t necessary in the terminal environment. Or how you can have homogeneous, standardized airspace around NY, O’Hare, LAX, DFW, etc.

  4. Pingback: The Human Connection | Martinlady's View Through the Looking Glass

  5. Pingback: Perspective is (Always) Key | Martinlady's View Through the Looking Glass

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