The new ATC technology is coming. The history of people who resist technological change supported by industry is a history of failure. The decision has already been made to fund and implement NextGen. It’s going to happen. The systems already exist, they’re just not installed yet.
We don’t have to be passive victims. We can influence how this happens.
The operational benefit from Virtual Towers is the way the sensor system supports low-visibility operations. There’s no reason the technology isn’t installed in our existing towers. It’s just easier for Industry to cost-justify the new investment by saying it’s going to reduce the need for skilled employees.
NextGen navigation is coming. They’re selling it as a complete replacement for the existing radar-based system because they can easily cost-justify it that way. There’s no reason the technology isn’t installed within the current system.
The concept of radar is going to go away, and it’s going to be replaced by “sensors”. Our position information will be driven by multiple sources, including radar, ADS-B, wide-area multilateration and GPS coordinates over datalink.
The concept of VHF radio-based communication is going to go away, and it will be replaced by datalink. That’s OK.
The controller workforce is a value-added asset. That means we’re worth more than we cost, right now, today. We don’t do a very good job of advertising that to our taxpayers and politicians. Every day, taken as a group, controllers make decisions that save more money than the payroll costs. We need to announce that, repeatedly.
There’s a lot of good news that we’re not presenting to the public. In general, flight assists aren’t documented, and they’re certainly not announced to the public. Some may say, “that’s our job, that’s what we do everyday”. In response, I say we need to tell our story or we’re going to lose.
The locally-resident Terminal controller workforce, living in the areas they’re responsible for, have a tremendous amount of local knowledge that remote workers would never attain. We need to announce that, repeatedly. When the reporter writes about a controller’s flight assist it would be wonderful if the article included, “The controller also said that there’s no way she could have accomplished this life-saving operation if she’d been in one of the proposed remote virtual towers“.
When industry runs a test that might end up announcing “controllers prefer working in the virtual tower” (see previous links), we need to make sure that NATCA controllers are participating in those tests. LockMart, Boeing ATC, Volpe, and MITRE all depend on the good will of our employer. We can make sure that NATCA controllers are used to validate these systems.
We’ve got to embrace the new technology while making sure that the ATC system returns the best possible results for the American flying public – and that means using technology to augment, rather than replace, skilled controllers familiar with the local area.
We need to study the Flight Plan. We need to find out what systems and proposals are out there. We need to have a role in their development. We should help vendors sell systems that improve the operation while respecting the human contribution.
Our manner of thinking needs to get bigger, in that we need to start thinking about our Competitors. LockMart, Boeing, Raytheon, Midwest, RVA, Serco – they are not our friends. They are our competitors. They intend to make their fortunes by robbing this profession.
Everytime we see a contractor in a process, we need to look at them as a foot soldier for our Competition. We need to take back the staff functions, restore our own capabilities, and keep our competitors from placing contractors into controller jobs.
And let me say this hard thing: the contractor controllers at Midwest, RVA, or Serco facilities are not my allies. Retired controllers in contractor jobs are not my allies. They’re the foot soldiers of the Corporations who want to take my job.
We need to do more than focus on our relationship with the Administration and Congress. We need to look outside into the marketplace, where our competitive threats are. We need to spend money on this. It’s going to take an effort a lot like the PAC fund.
As much as the CTI initiative is pumping sunshine into college kids so they can join the profession, nobody is looking out for the long-range future of the profession. When I look around, only NATCA can possibly do that.
Here are the questions we need to present to the public:
Our competitors are out there in front of us. They’ve been working on this for a few years while we’ve been internally focused. If we want to see the profession continue into the future, we need to engage the contest. We’re behind.