NATCA Works Toward Achieving Goal of Electronic Flight Strips
Friday, September 21, 2012

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the next in a series spotlighting each of the safety and technology programs in which NATCA is participating collaboratively with the FAA. To review each of the programs previously spotlighted, please click HERE.

PROGRAM NAME: Advanced Electronic Flight Strips.


Pete Slattery (Charlotte),

HISTORY OF AEFS DEVELOPMENT: NATCA began its efforts in having electronic fight strips available for our membership in 2004. Through NATCA’s membership in the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA), NATCA was able to receive demonstrations from several members that utilized Electronic Flight Data (EFD) systems.  

The FAA had not accepted EFD programs as a viable option in previous years due to their belief that the business case for EFD was weak. In 2007, Dennis Lamy, then NATCA’s terminal technology coordinator, worked to set up a demonstration of the electronic flight strip program designed by Frequentis. NATCA thought this program had a place in the NAS and reached out to the FAA. Once again, NATCA was told the business case was not sound for the system.

In 2009, NATCA became aware of a program being designed by the FAA under the white book addressing electronic flight strips at Chicago O’Hare (ORD). NATCA’s local at this facility was not involved with the development of this system and was not brought into the process when members attempted to provide their input. The agency tested the system called Advanced Electronic Flight Strips (AEFS) and it failed due to many of the reasons controllers at ORD had stated were already problems. NATCA was very fortunate to have these members at ORD provide an accurate history of this project with documentation of their perception of the equipment was. They provided the NATCA team with information that enabled the union to move forward with a minimal learning curve.

Through ATO-Terminal, the agency approached NATCA’s National Office to ask for assistance with this program. The FAA and NATCA ORD local consulted and a decision was made to conduct an independent test of the AEFS. Members from NATCA locals at Charlotte Douglas (CLT), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle (SEA) participated in the tests and felt this program had a future in the NAS. Many of the issues they felt needed to be addressed were the same ones controllers at ORD had brought up in previous years.  

NATCA’s national executive board (NEB) appointed Pete Slattery from CLT NATCA to serve as NATCA’s Article 48 Representative for AEFS. The agency and NATCA worked on getting a 60-day test at two facilities, Phoenix (PHX) and Raleigh-Durham (RDU). There were many issues to overcome as the testing dates approached. One was the age of the displays in use. This issue led to RDU not wanting to use the system after their 60-day test ended. Also, PHX experienced problems getting their system working properly due to automation issues at Albuquerque Center (ZAB) tha resulted from ERAM installation. The agency decided to provide new displays for PHX so the controllers there would not have the same issues with the displays as experienced by the RDU controllers.

WHY DOES NATCA SUPPORT THE USE OF ANY EFD PROGRAM? Many of our members have asked why NATCA supports the use of any EFD program. NATCA’s AEFS representative said to the PHX NATCA representative, “Electronic Flight Data (EFD) is the future.” But in many areas around the world, it is actually the present. Some form of EFD is already an integral part of safely and effectively managing flight data in control towers from Canada to Europe to Australia. Controllers are managing it in a way that is far superior to shuffling, stuffing, and shuttling little pieces of paper with limited information around a busy tower, cab or TRACON. It's no longer a “theory” or “concept,” it’s a reality. NATCA has seen EFD not just demonstrated, but in actual use. The FAA seeks this as reality too, and PHX is helping them get there. We don’t think we are asking too much. We just want the best equipment for the men and women who already manage more traffic than anywhere else in the world.

PHX is an example of the importance of this progran. The facility departs most of its traffic off runway 25R/7L. US Airways is on the north side of the airport. PHX Facility Representative Jerry Johnston said a human factor study showed the ground controllers on the north side of the tower spent almost 40 percent of their time “running” strips to the south local controllers. With an EFD program, this north ground controller can send the strip electronically and not leave the position or turn their back turned on the traffic.

NATCA continues to look at other systems. Slattery has been working very closely with Robert Utley (Washington Dulles and also NATCA’s Tower Flight Data Management Representative) since any EFD program will also have to work with TFDM. Slattery, Utley and Chris Stephenson (NATCA Safety and Technology Department) traveled to Canada to receive demonstrations on the NavCanada system that has been in operation since 1998. They have also visited the Raytheon offices in Marlboro, Mass., to view its system. In addition, Lockheed Martin has provided demonstrations to NATCA on its system. NATCA continues to work with these vendors to make sure NATCA members’ input is being included into these systems. As stated many times before, NATCA does not endorse vendors, we endorse technology, and the use of electronic flight strips is an initiative the Union supports.

Many members have contributed to NATCA’s work toward achieving our goal of electronic flight strips. From the initial push in 2004, NATCA is working to move the system forward. The work put forth by our brothers and sisters at ORD (even though the agency would not listen) and now with the RDU and PHX members has been invaluable.