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Posts Tagged ‘NextGen’

There was a moment in a South Carolina debate where Donald Trump said: 9/11 was a security failure; Iraq and Afghanistan have both been disasters.  The whole room changed, because somebody had told a truth that had previously been unspeakable, in a mutual-tacit self-censorship among all the wannabees — who clearly understood that speaking this particular truth was not beneficial to their self-interest. Until Trump popped the balloon, the only thing they all agreed on was Not Speaking that Truth.

We’ve been handed a similar story in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: the bevy of toadies and hangers-on who were unwilling to say that the King’s new clothes were non-existent, until an innocent child blurted out the simple truth that everybody, every single one of them, was unwilling to express.

20160218-NextGen-ATC-Unspeakable-Truth

Why does everybody want to privatize ATC? It’s mostly because NextGen is a debacle, nobody’s willing to admit it, everybody’s invested in the salesmen’s promises, and they all need a fall-guy. Congress, Industry, Airlines, and FAA careerists all perpetuated the con-job, and they know they need a fall-guy, and it’s going to be: the FAA.

20160217-fall-guy

Multiple FAA administrations, in both Democratic and Republican administrations, had partaken of the NextGen hype and shoveled money at various projects without any sense of an integrated plan or project management; the future was here, computers could do anything, and (the recurring fantasy) they’d be able to automate air traffic controllers out of the system. If you asked NextGen, the air traffic controllers weren’t a feature, they were a bug.

I am no Luddite; the new technologies can do amazing things. In the Gulf of Mexico oil derricks, for air ambulance operations, there are game-changing benefits – but we were using them without the NextGen umbrella. There’s a few points that must be made:

  • The new technologies – GPS, flight directors, digital airplanes – can deliver their magic without the NextGen framework.
  • NextGen wizardry can do amazing things with a single airplane. It’s trickier with a lot of airplanes. NextGen does not accommodate non-standard operations (which is a euphemism for snowstorms, thunderstorms, and FUBAR-storms) and non-standard ops is where the ATC system makes it’s money.
  • NextGen was a self-licking ice cream cone that brought vendors, Congress, and FAA careerists into a self-reinforcing delusion of the next new thing. As long as nobody blurted out the truth, the living was easy and people went along to get along.
  • This is not the first time that Industry, Congress, and the FAA has done this. The Advanced Automation System, the most expensive software debacle in history, was the previous rendition of this same story. It’s like StarWars 4 and 7.
  • NextGen was cost-justified by promising to do away with the old systems and their maintenance budgets; 9-11 and other events have proven that we won’t do away with the legacy primary radars. The cost-justification was a thin tissue that’s been blown away, and now the public is paying for two systems.
  • NextGen will not increase airport capacity; runways do that.
  • NextGen is an open, non-encrypted, non-secure system. A nervous cheating husband put a GPS blocker on his car, fearing that his wife had hidden a GPS tracker; every time he drove by the Newark Airport on I95, the NextGen monitors rolled over and died. Think about that.
  • NextGen requires all the airplanes to be NextGen equipped. It’s not like some cars will be autonomous and some cars will have drivers – it’s like, OK everybody has to get an autonomous car. Your old car isn’t eligible.
  • NextGen changes the mantra from “first come, first served” to “best equipped, best served” which serves the entrenched and well-financed. It’s like: the public highway is now only for Lexus-drivers.

  The unspeakable but universal truth is: NextGen is a charade, foisted on the taxpayers by Vendor-hype, with promises made to Airlines that aren’t going to ever appear, used as graft between fund-raising Congresspeople and airlines, and tolerated by risk-averse careerists.  

Usually you could rely on Senate Democrats to thwart such a monumentally expensive land-grab. The wrinkle is: Senator Chuck Schumer, the heir apparent to the Democratic leadership in the Senate. Schumer is a down-state New Yorker, and he needed to deliver a reason for Upstaters to vote for him, so he promised increased airline service at upstate cities (Buffalo, Rochester, Schenectady, Albany).

Schumer made a deal with JetBlue; he’d get JetBlue whatever they needed at JFK if they’d increase Upstate service. In fact, Chuck Schumer is on record for getting the FAA to pay for JetBlue’s NextGen upgrade expenses. Chuck Schumer is invested in the myth of NextGen. (more).

NextGen was a compilation of sales pitches. A lot of people profited from the blizzard of funding activity and now it’s falling apart. Rather than admit the fiasco, or even simply feign benign indifference, the rent-seekers and money-grubbers see their own debacle as a profit opportunity – hey, we’ve screwed this up, let’s privatize! Win-Win!

If they blame the status quo, they won’t have to face accountability for the waste and fraud they’ve perpetrated on the taxpayer. I understand that. I just don’t understand why NATCA leadership is supporting the charade and endorsing privatization.

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We endure long pauses between posts because we have discussed what we could speak of, and we have not seen much that is new. And so, a radio check and a ride report.

Airline Pilots are not effective FAA ExecutivesHiring airline people (Russ Chew, Hank Krakowski, Randy Bobbitt) to run an ANSP is like hiring hostesses to run a restaurant, or a photo developer to run a drug store; they have an informed view of some parts of it, but they suffer from deeply ingrained misconceptions about the high value, essential activities (kitchen, pharmacy, ATC). Unfortunately, The Public tends to over-estimate the expertise of airline pilots and believes they make excellent FAA executives. The results are predictable and consistent.

Russ broke the old system, left a dysfunctional kludge org-chart as his legacy, and went to JetBlue. Hank left for ambiguous reasons; it might have been the Midnights, or it might have been his signing off on ERAM as a successfully delivered system on 3/29/11. Randy is a short-sell, although in a truly Just Culture he wouldn’t have anything to fear.   (update 12/7: Mr. Babbitt DUI’d Sat, flew N2 as crew on Monday, and resigned Tuesday.)

In their place, they’ve put the Lawyer and the Next-Gen Bureaucrat in charge as placeholders. Congressional confirmation of any external replacements is unlikely.


faa nextgen atc implementation plan
Before they left, Russ, Hank, and Randy all swore to Congress that NextGen/ERAM is the key to the future, and that the current system and the “legacy people” are part of the problem. Hank accepted ERAM as a successful delivery (although FAA later attempted to suspend it, in a for-it-then-against-it fiasco that will end up in court).

nextgen benefits 2018 delay fuel co2

 

All the FAA/airline people, all the credible experts, promised The Public that all future problems – budget, labor, delays, noise, fuel, and possibly halitosis – would be resolved by NextGen.

Fortunes and futures are invested in making all the magic happen. NextGen/ERAM has promised everything to everybody, and now everybody is a stakeholder. Sure we can do that! It works in Alaska! It works in the Gulf! It works at 3am! Lockheed Martin is very happy in a situation where the government is responsible for any cost overruns in the continually creeping scope of NextGen.

The Lawyer and the NextGen Bureaucrat, two non-aviators, aren’t going to reverse the over-selling of NextGen by their jet-jockey predecessors. Airline CEOs correctly say that there is no cost/benefit justification for a NextGen equipage mandate, and they’re unwilling to pour money into the NextGen black hole. Congress is playing budget brinksmanship again. Nobody expects bold progress in a Presidential election year.

Politically, NextGen/ERAM is too big too fail. Operationally and financially they need to pull the plug, because they over-promised and didn’t build in any tolerance for initial design work.

ERAM is the dead elephant in the room, and it’s about to go the way of the Advanced Automation System (AAS) When ERAM (as originally described) fails, the broad promise of NextGen (as originally described) becomes untenable.

We’re decapitated, our budget runs out in a month, and the NextGen-ERAM debacle is looming large. How will the headless bureaucracy handle a doomed program that must succeed? The same way as always; make lemonade by updating the deliverables and timeline. Rebaselining deja vu.

A lot of the NextGen functionality – which is already being used in tactical, one-off applications – will continue to be locally implemented. But the burnt-ground, bottom up, holistic redesign of a completely new integrated system architecture is no longer possible.

Pragmatically, they’re probably going to reduce rightsize ERAM’s scope. They’ll export some ERAM functions that do work into the Host emulators we’re relying on today, and rename the tweaked emulators NextHost or Nöst maybe. They’ll declare Success With Honor with NextGen-Lite 1.0 Say it together: Safety was never compromised.

As for the rest of the baggage, they’ll reposition all of the dodgy promises as future upgrades (NextGen 2.0, 3.0, NG4.0) scheduled for subsequent administrations while the visionaries scramble away from the wreckage with a boatload of billable hours. The Flight Plan will be revised and end up looking like the JetBlue flight schedule on a snowy day.

That’s not all bad. The new mishmash will be retro-compatible where NextGen/ERAM wasn’t. Pilots can still use Mode C and Mode S transponders, ILSs, and VORs. There may be ADS-B-Out requirements at OEP airports, but investments will only be mandated where that’s operationally justified.

There will be a terrible budgetary aftermath. In order to cost-justify NextGen, they’ve cooked the books on all the future budget plans. The current plans are based on invalid assumptions — they won’t need as many controllers, VOR’s and ILS’s; they won’t need as many terminal facilities or field technicians, etc. There’s a huge disconnect between their downstream budget plans, their political agenda, and their operational commitments, and budgets matter. Hello, More With Less 5.0.

There will be a political scandal, which is not good for the future of a profession that works for politicians and taxpayers. The ERAM debacle will need a fall guy, and it’s going to be ATSAWKI – the air traffic system as we know it.

In retrospect, the downfall of the various NextGen rentiers is that they allowed their piece of the pie to depend on an ERAM project that has been previously proven (AAS) to be beyond the capabilities of our design process. The overall failure is due to our hubris in supporting a revolutionary rather than an evolutionary process.

None of this is intended as “the sky is falling”, but rather as an opportunity to paraphrase this wisdom: “The Profession’s best interest is in protecting The Public’s best interest”.


faa nextgen all things to all people : santa one
Click Here
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You couldn’t make this up.

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What’s a story? A story is a narrative that informs, entertains, teaches or persuades. A story doesn’t have to be factual, but it needs to be believable, and there is a world of mischief in the gap. The two biggest factors in an audience’s acceptance of a story are (1) the willing suspension of disbelief, driven by the skill and trust of the story-teller, and (2) the credibility of the authorities cited.

Let’s analyze a story in the Wall Street Journal by Andy Pasztor, called “A New Era of Self-Control“.

Mr. Pasztor is an honorable reporter who generally gets his story right, which is to say that his narratives are usually aligned with truth. We have no beef with Mr. Pasztor.

Stories generally begin by establishing context (Once Upon A Time, In A Galaxy Far Far Away) and by immediately identifying villains, heroes, and their conflict. Look for those components in the story we’re about to analyze.

The audience is inclined to suspend disbelief because the WSJ is a well-respected newspaper, Mr. Pasztor is a legitimate non-partisan reporter, and the authorities quoted in the story are highly placed officials. For the purpose of this exercise, please hang on to your disbelief for a few extra moments.

We have edited for length, and we have color-coded positive and negative phrases to see if the story has discernible bias. Please read the original to keep us honest, and expect a short quiz.

A New Era of Self-Control

In the futurecontext, pilots will be able to plot routes on their own, thanks to new technology
Snoozing controllersvillain, geriatric radarsvillain and incessant radio transmissionsvillain no longer will be part of the U.S. air-traffic control system, if government and industry advocateshero of change have their way.

Calling it “a pivotal time in the history of aviation,” FAA chiefauthority Randy Babbitt said in a recent speech that such an overhaul “will move us from radar to satellites, from radio to data communications and from traditional airways to streamlined routes.”

Computer Controllers
How can still-untested technology, dubbed the Next Generation Air Transportation system, guarantee such huge gains? [Because] the FAA seeks nothing less than to turn the traditional relationship between pilots and controllers on its head. Human interactions—with all of their vulnerability and flexibility—would be replaced by the unfailing predictability of computer-controlled digital communications.

Controllers on the ground [have] always served as the ultimate safety net.

Under a fully deployed NextGen system, all of that would change. With GPS and other satellites providing the backbone of the proposed system, aircraft would use onboard equipment to transmit their own positions and maintain safe distances from others.

In tailoring their own routes, pilots would rely on cockpit displays to space aircraft closer together during most phases of flight than is currently allowed, regardless of weather. Transportation Secretaryauthority Ray LaHood sees the change as akin to “switching from 1950s-era computer systems to Internet-based networks.”

The projected efficiency and safety improvements also entail important environmental gains. Some of the in-flight traffic changes the FAA envisions are already being deployed and producing benefits.

Another possibility: Phasing out the seemingly endless radio exchanges by pilots, who currently must repeat all instructions back to controllers to ensure they understood them correctly. Instead of a stream of staccato, back-to-back transmissions, digital data links will send instructions and flight plans directly to printers in the cockpit.

The nation’s controllers, in the news lately for dozing off on duty in a spate of incidents, are likely to face sharp cutbacksconflict as a result. Eventually, those left will be relegated primarily to monitoring planes rather than routinely issuing instructions to cockpit crews.destiny

Minor Quibbles

  • the only activity that succeeds by allowing people to drive impromptu routes and ensure their own spacing is called “bumper cars”. There is no precedence, anywhere in the world, for these claims.
  • NextGen promises to increase capacity by reducing separation in some situations, but the constraining factor is runway capacity – which NextGen does not address.
  • The story presents datalinks as an upgrade from radios. Datalinks are radios, they’re just not voice channels. At one time “wireless” referred to Marconi’s invention.
  • Pasztor posed an excellent question, but permitted a soft non-sequitur that wasn’t really an answer.

    How can still-untested technology… guarantee such huge gains? [Because] the FAA seeks nothing less than to turn the traditional relationship between pilots and controllers on its head

Follow-Up Quiz

How does the article describe air traffic controllers?
Snoozing
Vulnerable humans
The Ultimate Safety Net
Dozing off on duty
Facing sharp cutbacks
Doomed to a diminished future of monitoring rather than controlling planes
All of the above

Who is advocating NextGen and the changed role of controllers?
      Ray LaHood and Randy Babbitt     

What authorities in this story support industry’s NextGen claims?
Industry Officials
Controllers from around the nation
Ray LaHood and Randy Babbitt

What kind of story is this?
A news story reporting an objective, observable event.
An objective story reporting justified truths
A story of claims backed by evidence
A subjective tale of a possible future involving great fortunes.

Why would this good reporter take industry claims at face value?
   Because public experts  –  LaHood, Babbitt – vouch for them    

Why would Lahood and Babbitt do that?
   Because NextGen was a  (Bush)  Flight Plan Goal before they arrived.    

What conclusion(s) can you draw from this story?

  • Leadership is in the tank for NextGen, and they’re selling a reduced ATC role to the public as a good thing.
  • So much for a Just Culture.
  • We are building a database of controller foibles for people committed to reducing the role of controllers.

If we were king, what would the reporter do next?
If we were king, we would ask Mr. Pasztor to return to the essential question:

How can still-untested technology, dubbed the Next Generation Air Transportation system, guarantee such huge gains?

It’s an excellent question. The answer is: It can’t.   NextGen doesn’t scale. There is no example or evidence to support the success of NextGen’s promised benefits at the scale of the domestic US aviation system.

 


 

Salesmen, Shills and Quislings

There are several types of salesmen.

  • There are plain and simple salesmen who overtly try to induce people to exchange money for the product.
  • There are barkers who use crowd psychology to sell the product to individual people
  • There are touts who promote a product without disclosing that they are being paid to do so.
  • There are claques, undeclared cheerleaders placed among the people
  • There are shills, covert salesmen who appear as reliable, independent experts to the unsuspecting people.
  • There are quislings, insiders who perversely sell their people to the product

Extra Credit Fill in the blanks:

                      Robert Poole                                  is a tout.

       The  contractors occupying   our jobs          are claques.

            Russ  Chew  and  Marion   Blakey            are shills.

             Ray  LaHood  and  Randy  Babbitt                are quislings.

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San Francisco, 1931 There is a great fortune at stake. Predators and parasites sense a treasure to be had, so they circle and prepare to strike when the time is right. Any public inquiry would ruin the deal. There are authorities who might become involved, but they are unaware or inactive at the moment.

Things are about to come to a head. Not everyone will find the ending they hoped for; people will be disappointed. When a big deal goes wrong the focus moves from fixing the problem to fixing the blame. When the sharks switch to damage control mode, they seek a “fall guy” to take the rap.

The plan is that the fall guy goes down and the sharks move on to seek other fortunes and paydays, unencumbered by any accountability for their actions. It’s never good to be the fall guy.

In The Maltese Falcon (1931), Dwight Frye portrays Wilmer Cook, a thug who doesn’t quite comprehend the forces around him. As the situation deteriorates, the sharks cast about for a fall guy, and Wilmer Cook is selected.

A major deal that goes wrong needs a fall guy. Sometimes it’s the actual villian. Sometimes it’s a low-level player set up to protect others. When there’s fortunes involved, and things go south, expect a fall guy to be found.


Look at the Advanced Automation System (AAS) debacle. IBM was the AAS fall guy. The other sharks moved away and transitioned into LORAL, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. Today’s ERAM project is just another round at the AAS pinata.


NextGen is another Maltese Falcon. There are expectations and politics. People project their desires onto NextGen’s ambiguity, and hitch their wagons to NextGen. Powerful companies have invested in this. Airlines were told it will save them a fortune. The big sharks have agreed that there’s enough to go around, and the little sharks are looking for the pieces that fall to them.

If there are problems, who’s going to be the NextGen fall guy?

Here’s a few quotes from an August 2010 article, American Flight Uses a Firm’s Satellite-Based Landing System, by Christine Negroni

“But airline officials say progress has been too slow. American, Southwest, Alaska Airlines and others have trained their pilots to fly R.N.P. procedures, and about 80 percent of United States airliners have the equipment to do so, the F.A.A. says. Still, the approaches are in use at only a small fraction of American airports. Their use abroad varies from country to country.

“Four years ago, Naverus, which has been setting up satellite-based systems for airlines and airports worldwide, offered to create an R.N.P. approach at Bradley Airport and give it to the F.A.A. for use by any airline that wanted it. ….

“We would talk to people at the top of the F.A.A., and they were completely 100 percent on board with what we need to do,” (Naverus executive Steve) Fulton said. “But they had to communicate that to a complex bureaucracy so everyone had the same vision.”

Naverus was founded by Steve Fulton, a pilot at Alaska Airlines in 1994 who helped create the first R.N.P. routes. His startup was bought out by GE Aviation. Although they’ve got a low profile, General Electric is a big shark. Did you know GE is in the ATC business?

Naverus is the first and currently only organization recognized as an RNP Approval Consultant. “This announcement is an excellent example of how FAA and the private sector can work together to accelerate the environmental and economic benefits NextGen will bring,” said Marion Blakey, President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. “We have high expectations this can lead to real, near-term improvements for airlines, passengers and the FAA alike,” she said.

Christine Negroni (CN), the author of that article, keeps the transcript of her interview with Steve Fulton (SF) online. She opens with a softball,

CN: I wondered if the real navigational challenge wasn’t airspace as much as dealing with a bureaucracy like the FAA. which has such a huge people intensive, technology- intensive…
SF: Right, recognizing that our challenges aren’t so much technical they’re more on the human, management of change process through human organizations…..

SF: The FAA, if you talk to people at the top of the FAA they are completely 100% onboard with all of the things we know we need to do. … They have the challenge of communicating that down through a very complex bureaucracy so everybody at all the levels and all the work groups have the same understanding of the technology and the same vision and kind of where we’re going and so it’s a bigger challenge than a simpler country with less infrastructure.

CN: Is Naverus’ goal to take over and become the airspace infrastructure provider like Lockheed does for flight services?
SF: Our goal, and this is what we’re communicating to the FAA and to the community right now is to offer our services to the FAA and we expect we will work alongside existing FAA resources. … The message that we’re communicating today is we’re ready; we’re here to bring commercial private enterprise resources into the work because we understand it’s going to be quite massive.

SF: Look at it from an airline perspective, their understanding that there’s going to be significant investment in airborne equipment to be able to participate in this upgraded air space and as they make those investments they want to make sure there’s a return on what they’ve invested.

What’s happens if there is no significant ROI? NextGen advocates have told the airlines, “If you buy this, you will profit”. What happens if there is no fabulous Maltese Falcon?

What did Marion Blakey say? We have high expectations this can lead to real, near-term improvements

Who is Steve Foster nominating for the fall guy? To paraphrase, It’s not technical, it’s a people problem. Headquarters gets this. It’s the field and the bureaucracy that’s holding us back. Naverus is ready to go!

The fall guy they’re nominating are the change resistant, unionized, overpaid, government LastGen field operations people. Hello, Wilmer Cook.

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Long Term Implications

In all things, there’s a short-term game and a long-term game. You can win a victory in the short-term game –  and while you’re savoring that win you can lose the long-term game.

You can’t be successful without engaging on both timeframes. If your concern is a long-term construct, like “the future of the ATC profession”, then it’s essential that you work both long- and short-term.

When do you rest, when do you relent, when are you done, when is it finished?  Let me respond with another question: When does Lockheed Martin rest, when does Boeing ATC relent, and when are they finished?

If your opponent is corporate industry, they don’t stop, they don’t rest, they’re not done- as long as there’s long-term money to be made.

On the most basic level, if there’s two sides in a long-term contest, the side that stops fighting first, that takes it easy first, will lose. At an intermediate level, the side that makes the most big mistakes will lose.  On a higher level, the side that shifts between short- and long-term, moving to lower-profile, long-term strategic efforts when the short-term situation is adverse  to their cause, will eventually win when the atmosphere becomes friendlier to their victory.

Put another way: Team Obama gave us a few short-term wins. Meanwhile, industry is developing technology and running mini-projects (just research, nothing here, move along) paid for by the government that will allow them to step up when Team Obama is distracted or gone. The contracts that pay industry to develop their long-term objectives, even during Obama’s administration, are buried in the Bush Flight Plan.

Let me belabor the point just a bit: the contest isn’t settled. In fact, the government continues to pay industry to develop virtual towers and Nextgen towers. Those towers won’t involve government controllers.

Read yesterday’s report, Searidge to work with MIT on control tower alternative. A couple of key phrases:

  • won’t require the construction of traditional air traffic control towers.
  • vice-president of air traffic management products (it’s ATM products not ATC services that’s the buzzword. What’s the difference? You.)
  • provide air traffic services without the requirement for controllers to have to look out a window to see aircraft coming in.

Are we resting or active? Is industry? What happens when we have a Republican administration?

And how is it that they’re running a project to change the nature of terminal ATC at a NATCA facility’s airport? Just research, nothing here, move along.

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In the last ten years, the controller’s best friends have been (1) each other and (2) Jane Garvey. During the Clinton administration she led us to collaboration, contracts, and partnership. During the Obama Transition she advised the incoming administration on aviation issues, policy, and people.

During the “path to mediation” resolution of the White Book, Jane Garvey led the administrator’s team in resolving a rancorous dispute left by the previous administration. She was never in anybody’s pocket; she made her own calls, and she was always decent, fair, and practical.

Metron Aviation, Jane GarveyAero-News Network today brought the news that Jane Garvey has joined the Board of Directors of Metron Aviation, and is the first woman on their board. (Read the press release.)

Metron’s website includes a link to an article from “Air Traffic Management”  featuring  Jack Kies, who is now Metron’s President. Stick around long enough and you get to see people twice.

I don’t know what Jane Garvey’s joining the Board of Directors of an ATC NextGen Vendor means.  In a way it’s sad to see someone of her quality joining the Beltway Bandits. If they can attract Jane Garvey, perhaps their success is inevitable.

God bless Jane Garvey, and we truly wish her all the best.

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Nextgen TowerThe government is funding industry work to develop Staffed Virtual Towers (SVT). They’re paying to develop our replacement. The old school, on site, legacy towers with windows will be referred to as OTW facilities (out the windows).

The virtual facilities will replace the 90-something split OTW Towers that were contracted out to Midwest ATC, RVA, Serco and the like. When virtual towers are introduced, operation of the virtual towers will move from the Mom-and-Pops (Midwest, RVA, Serco) to the Big Leagues (Raytheon, Boeing ATC, LockMart).

Staffed NextGen Tower

The plan is not to move a Virtual Tower into each airport. The plan is to install the sensor systems at each airport, and remote the airport workstation to some other location. The Virtual Towers will be located in a very few large, complex facilities that look a lot like the three LockMart FSS hubs. That’s the way Big Industry likes it.

In the virtual tower Hub, there’ll be a Virtual Tower workstation for each airport. When traffic is low or staffing is tight, LockMart managers will combine the facilities up, maybe with one controller watching several airports. They’ll also have the option at non-OEP airports to throw a switch and run the midnight shift on Automated Virtual Tower (AVT).

Almost all the communications in a Virtual Tower will be over datalink, although there will be a voice channel for minimally equipped aircraft. The AVT will have a voice synthesizer to interact with, if necessary.

All the technology to do this exists today, and it is being battlefield tested in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The same Industry that is going to run the Virtual Towers has changed the military to the point that stateside drone pilots are operating aircraft in Afghanistan, and combat commanders are seeing the whole battlespace on laptop computer screens.

This technology isn’t pie-in-the-sky anymore, it’s being used by young people in real-world situations. This is the military-industrial complex looking for spin-off applications.

Politically, they’re not going to say that they’re using sensor systems to monitor airports, because that might shake privacy advocates. What they are going to say is that these benefits flow directly from NextGen implementation.

The phrase, “Staffed Virtual Tower” has just recently started morphing into “Staffed NextGen Tower”. Here’s a link for proposals to study  “STAFFED NEXTGEN TOWER (SNT) SYSTEM ENGINEERING & CONCEPT EVALUATION”.

You might find it interesting to do a Google search on “Staffed NextGen Towers (SNT)“.

Maybe we don’t care about virtual towers, if the implementation goes as I’ve suggested – because we’ll have already lost the work to contractors, anyway. Maybe I just hate to see a skilled task dumbed down. But virtual towers, aka NextGen Towers, are coming. Here’s a timeline from this official US Government powerpoint, slide 9:

Nextgen Tower Timeline

Technological change is never neutral, it’s always influenced by the agenda of those who wield the change. All the changes they want to implement in the next five years will be wrapped in two labels: Next-Gen and Carbon Footprint. They don’t really care about either, but it’s a very effective marketing tool. In five years, they’ll shift to new marketing terms.

In fact, I’d like to predict a new term: I think Next-Gen and Green will merge into Next-Gren. You heard it here first.

Again, this is just my opinion. I think we’re going to loose one-third of government Terminal controller jobs because they’re going to split all but the busiest terminals, contract out those towers, consolidate the Approach Controls, and replace the contract OTW towers with Staffed Virtual Towers (SVT) and Automated Virtual Towers (AVT). Those terms are being replaced with Staffed NextGen Towers (SNT) and Automated NextGen Towers (ANT).

With the loss of those towers, we lose power and influence, and our Competitors gain business and credibility. Each of those towers was a place where we had a member of Congress who cared about his District, twenty constituents who could influence them, and a newspaper that would cover the story.

Our profession will lose the human touch. On the midnight shifts, or when the opening daylight controller calls sick, the Automated NextGen Tower will be on duty, all by itself. That’s the death knell of a once vibrant profession. It won’t stop there.

Next Article: Debrief Redux

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