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Richardson, Hansen Represent NATCA at ATCA Tech Symposium

Laying the Groundwork to Enable Future Technology

Oakland Center (ZOA) member Amanda Richardson represented NATCA on the Sept. 14 Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) Tech Symposium panel entitled, “Laying the Groundwork to Enable Future Technology.” Richardson and the panelists discussed ways to leverage successful NextGen implementations.

Richardson, an Article 114 rep working with the Enterprise Information Display System (E-IDS), has been on the front lines of NextGen technology. “It seems to be a common theme with lessons learned, but the best benefit is early user involvement,” she said. “Controllers and engineers speak two different languages, but want the same thing. The sooner you have the end user in the room, the better off the program tends to be.”

With game-changing technologies and advanced information systems supporting unmanned and autonomous aircraft on the horizon, the panelists discussed how to maintain aviation’s excellent safety record while opening the skies to the vehicles and operations that once existed only in sci-fi novels. However, due to the pandemic, there are current challenges from the aviation safety specialist standpoint. 

“There has been no training,” Richardson said. “We are losing controllers in the workforce due to retirements and not replacing them because of the current pandemic, so staffing continues to be an issue. Training has restarted, but it will take some time to get back to where we were pre-COVID. Due to limited resources and social distancing requirements, our work on many programs is on hold or greatly reduced. Getting these programs back up to speed to stay on schedule and within budget, without sacrificing functionality, will be a challenge.”

Development and evaluation of artificial intelligence capabilities and machine learning for command and control and collision avoidance systems are paramount to enabling future capabilities. To achieve this, Richardson reinforced that communication is key. “The main takeaway is that every program has its lessons learned, but what are we doing with that information? It helps to share this info, so that everyone’s on the same page.”

Safety in an Ever-Evolving Aerospace System

National Safety Committee Chairman Steve Hansen represented NATCA on the Sept. 17 ATCA Tech Symposium panel entitled, “Safety in an Ever-Evolving Aerospace System.” The panel explored challenges to ensuring the safe operations of emerging vehicles as well as ideas on how to integrate them with the other traffic in the National Airspace System (NAS).

Hansen said early engagement is key to making sure everyone is involved, especially when adopting new technology. “Having an effective change management strategy will be critical to being successful in the NAS,” he said. “There’s nothing that beats collaboration. Working on these programs together helps those involved to learn and not repeat past mistakes.”

Hansen also discussed recommendations for introducing new technology into the NAS. He added that looking at past programs that have been successful can and should be repeated to apply to new entrants in the aviation system. “Using the right data and having the right people talk about the data is an important piece,” he said. “You can’t underestimate the power of data, whether it’s used for good or bad, or used incorrectly. We have to know what it means and what it says so we can use it properly as we start integrating new entrants into the NAS.”

Finally, Hansen was asked if collaboration was taking place within the NAS. “We can use the example of NATCA and the ATO (Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Organization). We would not be where we are today in this COVID situation without collaboration,” he said. “We wouldn’t be where we are if we didn’t have the relationship with the ATO that we had last year during the shutdown. We have made strides through the most difficult times, and have shown how effective collaboration is.

“We are working with the FAA and industry trying to advance the safety of the system. Yes, collaboration works, and I think it works really well.”