Strong Collaboration Keeps TAMR on Track
Thursday, June 28, 2012
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series in which we will examine each of the safety and technology projects in which NATCA is participating in a collaborative relationship with the FAA.
There are only eight months left before the FAA’s Terminal Automation Modernization and Replacement (TAMR) program implements the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) at its first facility, Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON (D10). But even with the days ticking down, the NATCA leads on the program are confident they will hit their deadline, and praise the collaboration efforts between the union and the agency.
Mitch Herrick, a controller at Miami (MIA) and NATCA’s lead on TAMR implementation, said there has been excellent communication between him and his agency counterpart as the two work to oversee the modernization of ATC systems across the American airspace. Herrick said he is confident that not only will TAMR come off smoothly, but that he has never worked so well with the FAA before.
Since FAA lead Jeff Yarnell came to the project in March 2011, Herrick said the two have formed a great working relationship. He said Yarnell reached out to him from the outset of his tenure, and that nothing goes forward with the project before the two have spoken with one another and have discussed how to proceed.
“I think the collaboration work here should be a model for future agency-union interactions,” Herrick said. “Jeff and I talk every day, and really it’s not uncommon for us to talk at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night about the technical aspects, program direction, personnel, communications, public relations or anything that comes up.”
The goal is for all of the agency’s facilities to have the Raytheon-developed STARS implemented at all terminal facilities within the next five years. However, D10 TRACON is introducing STARS on Feb. 28, 2013, a date that is firmly ingrained in the minds of everyone working on the program.
Doug Peterson, a controller at D10 who is leading the collaboration for implementing the first segment of the TAMR program, said they are right on track towards delivering the software on time. His biggest concerns are any possible software malfunctions that could slow the program down, and also the fact that Raytheon is still developing the program and likely won’t have it delivered for full testing until November.
Peterson said Raytheon is helping train himself and other subject matter experts at D10 and the other 10 facilities that will implement the first segment of STARS in 2013.
“Right now I don’t anticipate anything stopping us from our goal,” he said. “But here we are trying to train people on the program, and we don’t even have the software.”
Peterson added, however, that having such good agency collaboration has made things much easier.
“The folks at the FAA have trusted me, and trusted our NATCA membership to do the right thing, and they let us run with it for a while,” he said. “But no matter who is working with us at the agency, they are working in lock-step with us.”
NATCA’s development in the early implementation of STARS has been broken up into two different segments. The second segment, being overseen by Mark Griffin of Boise Tower, is also on track to be implemented on time, in the late summer of next year. He also praised the collaborative efforts of the FAA, both in Washington and locally.
“FAA management has been very collaborative on the program with our local management and national program management in including us in the progress,” Griffin said.
All three leads said the collaborative process has enabled them to find little software glitches possibly months ahead of when they wouldn’t otherwise have. While there has been some concern from NATCA’s safety and technology department about a possible funding cut that could slow down implementation, Herrick said that there is no doubt that the government realizes the importance of this program. And the Union has been supportive of the agency’s wishes, as well.
“NATCA has never preferred one system over the other in automation,” Herrick said. “The FAA chose to make STARS their single automation platform for terminal, and our goal as a Union has been to help make this program a success. When I was asked by President (Paul) Rinaldi to lead this program, he gave me one clear objective, ‘Get in there and find solutions. I want NATCA to be one of the reasons that this program is successful.’”
Herrick added, “When you have two sides working really well together, then you can get things done on time and on budget, and that really seems like where we’re headed.”