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NATCA Tells House Panel: "FAA Should Learn From RTCA and Collaborate with NATCA on NEXTGEN" - (10/28/2009)

CONTACT: Doug Church, 301-346-8245

WASHINGTON – Expressing NATCA’s strongest support to date for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Next Generation Air Transportation System, NATCA Director of Safety and Technology Dale Wright urged the FAA during Congressional testimony today to adopt the NextGen recommendations from the RTCA task force – an advisory group which NATCA pays to participate on – and also learn from RTCA’s collaborative approach to air traffic control modernization.

“The FAA would be well advised to learn a lesson from the RTCA, and collaborate with NATCA as it continues to develop its NextGen plans,” Wright testified, before the House Aviation Subcommittee. “Formal collaboration between the FAA and NATCA has been a critical component of successful modernization projects in the past, and we believe it will be equally vital to the successful development of NextGen.”

Continued Wright: “We applaud the efforts by FAA Administrator (Randy) Babbitt to foster a partnership between NATCA and the FAA. But despite clauses in our new contract that encourage collaboration, and the efforts of the administrator, the FAA’s willingness to reach out to or work with NATCA has been inconsistent, at best.” As an example, Wright cited the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system that is critical to the transformation from a radar-based system to satellite-based. The FAA has rejected NATCA’s request for a full briefing on the implementation of ADS-B and refuses to allow NATCA to work with the agency on this system.

Click Here to read Wright’s full written testimony, please click here:

Other highlights of Wright’s testimony:

-- The RTCA’s NextGen Task Force is truly a collaborative environment. RTCA members from all aspects of the aviation community were given an opportunity to share their perspectives and expertise. The RTCA recognized the value of NATCA’s knowledge of day-to-day air traffic control operation, the needs of the system, and the real-world implication of the proposals being considered. The collaborative nature of the task force helped the RTCA to develop recommendations that were thorough and well considered, and NATCA has a high level of confidence in the recommendations.

-- In general, the RTCA’s recommendations encourage improving and expanding the use of current technology. NATCA supports these initiatives which include deploying ASDE-X beyond the nation’s busiest airports, and expanding the use of precision runway monitoring and Converging Runway Display Aids. Each of these promotes improved situational awareness for both pilots and controllers, enabling the more efficient use of taxiways, runways, and airspace.  

-- The RTCA report dealt extensively with a best-equipped, best-served plan for incentivizing equipage. In order for any such plan to be workable, a controller must be able to determine at a glance the extent to which each aircraft is NextGen-equipped. This information is not currently displayed on radar scopes, and most terminal controllers do not have access to flight progress strips which do contain this information. In order for any best-equipped, best-served plan to be successful, this information must be displayed on each controller’s scope.

-- The FAA must not forget that it is ultimately the people and not the technology keeps the NAS operating safely and efficiently. This means that every new technology and procedure must be considered for its human factors implications and that the FAA must also insure that the human infrastructure is adequate to support current and future traffic levels and the changes that NextGen will bring.

-- The FAA must also ensure that any significant changes to technology or procedures be accompanied by comprehensive training for both controllers and pilots. NATCA is concerned by recent precedent set by the FAA with regard to training. Often, changes in operational procedures are implemented without any kind of meaningful controller training. Instead a binder is placed in the operational areas containing memos announcing the change. Controllers are instructed to read and initial these announcements, and by doing so the controller assumes responsibility for having learned the new rules. This is unacceptable.

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