NATCA Safety Development Leaders Speak in Atlantic City
Thursday, June 07, 2012
At the Air Traffic Control Association’s technical symposium last month in Atlantic City, two NATCA members heavily involved in terminal automation modernization replacement efforts spoke on the future of NextGen and the union’s role in shaping it.
Attendees heard from both Mitch Herrick, a Miami controller and the NATCA lead for TAMR development, and Mel Davis, who works in San Diego and serves as the national representative for NextGen development. Herrick’s panel discussed “automation convergence,” discussing how NATCA can collaborate with both private industry and the FAA in developing the NextGen system.
Herrick said he envisions that one system could ideally handle the functions of both TAMR and En-Route Control. He said that the task of merging the two together is “monumental,” but there is a hope some framework could be in place by 2025 or so. He added that combining the two would allow both to flourish.
“With ever-growing automation technology/capability the two varying options of ATC could utilize the same automation platform,” he said. “A common platform would require widely adaptable capability that will result in the ability for TAMR and ERAM to maintain their individuality, which is necessary for the unique challenges each face.”
Herrick admitted that this concept is “pretty ambitious,” but added that, with further projected air traffic growth over the next decade, technical advancements like this need to become reality at some point in the near future.
Davis discussed the operational aspects of NextGen, which he said don’t really concern controllers that much. That said, he added that the key for NextGen is that the collaborative team makes sure they’re buying the right products.
He compared NextGen to an Apple computer by saying that that people use the fancy machines every day, but would have no idea how to put one together if all the parts were laid out separately on a table. Davis said his role will be to make sure that the parts are right, so then their team can go about figuring out how to assemble them.
“What we want to know is, ‘are we buying the right software, so to speak?’” Davis said. “What NATCA is deeply involved in is being a realistic customer of this technology to be sure that we can keep doing our jobs as well with it as we are now, only cheaper and faster.”
Davis echoed Herrick’s point about the importance of public-private collaboration, adding that the government, unions, and technology corporations all stand to gain greatly from NextGen’s potential, and necessary, success.
“We all need this to work, and we all need to make sure that it does,” Davis said of NextGen. “Some things we do now, we shouldn’t do, but we need new stuff to take its place and keep the good stuff right in the middle. Now we just need to go about the process of identifying what those things are, so that, like Apple, we can make the best possible product we can.”