NATCA, FAA Host High Level ICAO Delegation
Friday, July 20, 2012
NATCA’s International Team was spotlighted in an Insider story last week (Read it HERE). Part of the story focused on NATCA’s involvement in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Former NATCA Executive Vice President Dr. Ruth Stilwell (Miami Center) serves as the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) Observer to the ICAO Air Navigation Commission (ANC). This is the body that addresses all air traffic issues at the ICAO level and makes determinations that affect all Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP). In her role on the Commission, Dr. Stilwell has been able to join the Commissioners on their annual study trip.
Recently, the Commission visited the Miami area. Dr. Stilwell provided this report of what turned out to be a very successful event:
Each year, the ICAO Air Navigation Commission visits a region of the world to get a first-hand view of the aviation systems operating in different countries. In 2010, the Commission visited the Asia Pacific Region; in 2011 they visited Europe. For 2012, the Commission went to South America. However, as the team was traveling from ICAO’s headquarters in Montreal, they were able to add in a short stop in Miami, the gateway to the Americas, thanks to the support of NATCA and the FAA.
The Air Navigation Commission covers all aspects of aviation in its development of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices and air traffic control is a critical part of the equation. It is important for the Commission to get the kind of first-hand, in-depth, perspective that can't fully be delivered in a meeting room in Montreal.
On July 2, thanks to the dedication, planning and work of NATCActivists Shane Ahern and Doug Faucher from Palm Beach Tower and TRACON (PBI), the Commission got a bird's-eye view of the unique challenges facing corporate international aviation. The need for globally harmonized rules and procedures is particularly apparent for operators who may visit a city once or twice, as compared to an airline that will spend months preparing for, and negotiating, a new route or destination.
The commission spent the day visiting Jet Aviation, one of the major fixed base operators (FBOs) servicing international operators, followed by Flight Safety International which offered demonstrations of their simulators and pilot training facility. PBI Airport officials gave a briefing on expansion plans and their recently installed Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS). EMAS was a particularly interesting issue for the commissioners as they are currently debating ICAO language for runway end arresting systems. The PBI facility manager gave a concise presentation on PBI air traffic issues and the NATCA controllers hosted a coffee break in the new tower, which is not yet operational.
On July 3, the Commission spent the day at Miami Center (ZMA) where the presentations sparked tremendous interest and questions from the commissioners. Miami Center did an outstanding job of presenting a rich picture of aviation and air traffic control in the area which set the stage for the South American stops. The topics showcased the FAA capacity and skill in many of the key areas on the ICAO agenda, including civil-military cooperation, contingency planning, flexible use of airspace, airspace redesign and, of course, our dynamic traffic management initiatives for congested airspace. In addition, Tech-Ops provided an excellent tour of the physical plant to give a birds-eye view of what it takes to keep an operation of this size going 24/7 without interruption.
While the sheer density of traffic worked by the FAA is always impressive, it was the magnitude of the programs and coordination that made the strongest impression. Too often, there is a misconception that the USA, as a continental provider, does not also face the same challenges of interoperability and international airspace as other high density providers. The ZMA presentations highlighted the challenges along our international borders, showing that this one facility interfaces with five foreign countries in addition to our FAA borders, and that not only do we understand the challenges, we have considerable expertise in overcoming them.
In addition the local presenters, Michelle Merkle and Mel Davis (Southern California TRACON) from the NextGen program made a presentation on workforce collaboration that showed the tangible benefits of involving operational controllers early in the development process. Too often, the view in Montreal comes from press reports of program difficulties. Providing this more complete view was invaluable. Finally, Jeff Richards (Chicago Center) presented on the FAA work on controller Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS). While progress is being made in the U.S., the issue has been delayed at ICAO. There is a keen interest by many on the Commission and in the industry for ICAO to continue its FRMS work to include controllers. The FAA/NATCA findings and presentations offered support to the effort.
The only downside of the visit is that each topic could have consumed a full day. In two days, it is not possible to show a full view of the U.S. aviation system. Hopefully this visit will serve to generate more interest and perhaps a future study trip will be a North American visit. The interest was very high and unfortunately, there was not enough time to accommodate all of the questions. It was an extremely dynamic session and will leave a lasting impression.
Before leaving Miami, the Commission was hosted at the HistoryMiami museum’s 100 years of Aviation in Miami exhibit, and treated to dinner by the Miami International Airport before boarding an overnight flight to Santiago, Chile.
As the Commission traveled south to visit Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, the FAA remained ever present. In many of the technical issues, the answer included "we work closely with the FAA on that" or "the FAA has a lot of expertise in that area and we rely on them.” Those visits served to reinforce what they had seen in the Miami visits. There is a great deal that can be gleaned from a first-hand visit that doesn't come through in a presentation and this visit delivered on all fronts.