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Make NextGen New Again: Air Traffic Controllers Must Be Invited to Collaborate on a Fix for FAA's Faulty NextGen System - (11/17/2008)

CONTACTS:  Oakland Center Facility Representative Scott Conde, 510-673-0237

MAKE NEXTGEN NEW AGAIN:  AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS MUST BE INVITED TO COLLABORATE ON A FIX FOR FAA’S FAULTY NEXTGEN SYSTEM

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Air traffic controllers are hopeful of having a greater voice and input in how the air traffic control system is modernized in the Obama Administration.  First on the list of improvements to make is to renovate a flawed key technological component of the FAA’s NextGen system – the ATOP system. 

Standing for Advanced Technologies for Oceanic Procedures, this computer system predicts where aircraft will be at any given moment while flying over the ocean where there is no radar coverage.  The system is supposed to allow controllers to know when to safely give altitude and route changes, however there are major flaws in how the reports are conveyed. 

Said NATCA President Patrick Forrey:  “We look forward to working with the new administration in repairing the crumbling aviation infrastructure.  But we cannot lose sight of the NowGen as we work towards modernizing the future aviation system and the promise of NextGen.  ATOP is one example of technology that holds potential for NextGen, but consistently has failed the controllers and the flying public and has been ignored by the FAA.  The system must be reworked in order to avoid a dangerous precedent being set for the further implementation of the system.”

The reports given are essentially a computer-driven long distance phone call from the aircraft (through a service provider) to the ATOP computer.  Because the airlines are charged for each message transmitted they were allowed to negotiate the frequency required to make these reports.  Compromising safety for money, these reports can be as far as 27 minutes apart and during that period of time the computer is guessing what the actual position of the aircraft is.  In many cases controllers give aircraft clearances that the computer has said are safe and are then told seconds later that they are not – leaving the controller scrambling to re-establish a safe amount of separation between aircraft.

When the system fails it is the controller who is punished for the fact that aircraft came too close to one another.  Though entirely dependant on the ATOP system to separate aircraft controllers are penalized, with the potential to lose their jobs, for a defunct system.  When the system loses separation between two aircraft the FAA states that the system worked as it was designed to and the blame falls to the controllers.

“To punish controllers for simply reacting to prevent a potential disaster caused by a faulty system is ludicrous and insulting to the men and women who work day in and day out to uphold the safety of the system,” said Forrey.  “The FAA's current plan for NextGen is severely flawed.  Without controller collaboration in the development and implementation of new technologies, equipment and procedures, NextGen is a pipe dream.”


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