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CFS Spotlight: NATCA Safety and Technology Department

I extend a warm welcome to all attendees of NATCA’s 2018 Communicating For Safety (CFS) Conference.

Past CFS attendees may notice a change in this year’s program. In our effort to continue to make CFS the world’s preeminent and most informative aviation safety conference, and as we began preparations for this year’s event, we made a conscious decision to place on the agenda many important topics that have not always been discussed at our past events.

While topics covered in past CFS conferences like pilot-controller communications and in-flight and onboard weather continue to be extremely important subjects, 2018 brings us to the dawn of some very big changes within the National Airspace System (NAS). With ever-changing and rapidly growing technologies, comes new demands that will forever change the NAS as we know it today.

For instance, let’s take the ever-burgeoning commercial space industry, which continues to grow at an amazingly fast pace. The nation’s 11th spaceport was recently licensed in Colorado, yet many in the business will tell you the rate of actual launches is well below expectations. There were 29 space launches within the United States in 2017, and another 60 worldwide. This year’s expected number of worldwide launches is 161, and demand is expected to continue to increase.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) will be another major factor when discussing changes to the NAS. As of last January, there were over 1 million drones registered to fly in the United States and that number is expected to grow to as high as 7 million in the next two years. These new NAS entrants will use UAS for everything from agriculture, insurance, energy, railways, and disaster assessment, to media and entertainment, law enforcement, public safety, and more.

These new demands on the NAS must be integrated into our current aviation system, which means they must fly in conjunction with those who fly in the NAS now. This includes commercial airlines, general aviation, a robust helicopter industry, military and more.

We must also factor in the implementation of new technologies, including new air traffic control decision support tools. With these new technologies comes the demand and expectation that access to the NAS is as efficient and predictable as possible.

You will also hear this week about Initial Trajectory Based Operations, or iTBO. This is the concept of using Time Based Flow Management (TBFM) and Performance Based Procedures (PBN). According to the FAA, “Trajectory Based Operations is a NextGen concept which calls for Air Traffic Control (ATC) services to transition to trajectory based operations. The transition to TBO has remained a constant cornerstone of NextGen. It will leverage improvements in navigation accuracy, communications, surveillance, and automation to decrease the uncertainty of an aircraft’s path in four dimensions – lateral (latitude and longitude), vertical (altitude), and time – which will result in significant improvements in strategic planning. Better strategic planning will decrease the need for tactical intervention.”
These major issues are just a portion of ongoing changes to the NAS that will impact not only our workforce, but industry and the flying public. Whether it be en route Data Comm, Enterprise Information Display System (E-IDS), Terminal Flight Data Management (TFDM), or any of an additional 100-plus ongoing programs and projects, we will see major changes for which we all must be prepared.

NATCA has actively communicated – and firmly believes – a collaboratively-developed road map is necessary to guide implementation of new technologies and increased demands for access to our existing airspace system.

The NAS is an extremely robust and flexible system that is home to the safest, most diverse, and efficient, yet complicated airspace in the world. NATCA is committed to safeguarding the NAS.

Through our continued commitment to collaborate for the betterment of the NAS, NATCA and our workforce must remain vigilant as these major changes take place. We must continue to be the most trusted organization within the aviation industry, to be honest and forthright in what is best for the NAS and for aviation worldwide.

In closing, I would like to thank each and every one of you for what you do every day to keep the U.S. NAS the world-renowned crown jewel of aviation.

Jim Ullmann
Director, NATCA Safety & Technology Dept.


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