ZDV Conducts Successful ERAM Test as Conventioneers Head Home
Thursday, April 05, 2012

As the more than 1,000 NATCA members who attended the 2012 Biennial Convention headed home last Saturday from Denver International Airport, a notable, symbolic and highly positive achievement was taking place just a short distance away at Denver Center in Longmont, Colo.

ZDV was in the midst of conducting a 24-hour live ops run on its En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system. It was its first full day controlling traffic exclusively on the system and ZDV Facility Representative Lyle Burrington said it was a success:

“I think it was neat that Denver Center was running ERAM on the same day everyone flew home,” Burrington said. “It went well. We wrote some tickets (to identify issues) but a lot of it will be fixed in a couple of weeks. There were no surprises. The controllers seemed to like the functionality. We’re going to get improvements in the next build in a couple of issues. That will fix most of the issues we are having.”

Along with ZDV are five other facilities currently conducting limited live operations -- ZLA, ZOA, ZMP, ZAB and ZAU. All are working to achieve continuous operations on ERAM this year. Meanwhile, ZSE and ZLC have been running ERAM for over a year.

Burrington said the entire ZDV NATCA ERAM team, led by Geoff Lynch, deserves credit for the great job they have done. Before last week, they had been testing different builds of the system and running on the mid shift with little traffic. Now, the focus turns to a series of more ops runs. The next one, a 48-hour run, will be on Apr. 14-15.

“We felt pretty confident before the test,” Burrington said. “But you don’t know what you don’t know. We do these runs to find issues. But we were confident there wasn’t going to be issues that required a fallback to Host. We were prepared to fall back. Contingency plans were in place. But we were not holding our breath. We felt pretty safe in doing what we did.”

The test came in the wake of a NATCA Convention that stressed both the proud and glorious 25-year history of the union, along with charting a path forward in a new era of collaboration with the FAA that is bringing NATCA into the decision-making process as a partner with a crucial stake in the outcome of modernization efforts.

In her speech to the convention body on March 29, Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert reviewed a wide array of projects and workgroups that NATCA is involved with and seeing great progress and success. She specifically discussed ERAM, which proved to be a nice foreshadowing of the successful ZDV test two days later.

“We have always known that our members are the subject matter experts on issues involving safety and their workplaces,” Gilbert said. “Safety is what drives us and guides us. All we have ever wanted as a true safety organization is the opportunity to have pre-decisional involvement and show our worth as a key stakeholder in the National Airspace System. We have always believed that our dedication to safety makes us an ideal partner in developing NextGen projects and other projects, procedures and initiatives in the modernization of our system.”

Gilbert said ERAM represents one of the most remarkable turnarounds on a safety and tech project that she’s seen. “It’s because of NATCA being involved and making sure this is something that is safe and that it works,” she said. “ERAM is a cannot-fail project. It must succeed. Without NATCA’s involvement three years ago, it was headed in a very dangerous and failing direction. But the agency changed course and brought NATCA into the project. We have made tremendous progress with a large group of very dedicated subject matter experts who have given so much of their time and energy to the project.”

Burrington said the impact of NATCA’s positive involvement in ERAM, and the overall atmosphere of collaboration on modernization efforts cannot be overstated.

“It’s outstanding,” he said. “Before, there was no process. Now there is a clear process for documenting the issues. From a facility perspective, it’s a night and day difference from before. We wouldn’t be anywhere close to success if we hadn’t gotten involved.”