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Air traffic
controller tools
Andrew Beadle, former air traffic controller and
current IFATCA representative, looks at how
automation and the FASTI programme assists
controllers as capacity and traffic increase

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL has always depended on tools for communication and surveillance, and improvements in these tools
usually result in improvements in safety
and capacity. However, change is a doubleedged sword. The introduction of radar, for
example, brought significant enhancements
but required a substantial amount of work
to make sure that the best way of using
the new technology was adopted, because
radar changed the way air traffic control was
implemented and altered the skill set and
training of controllers.
Think global, act local
Air traffic control is currently undergoing
radical change one that will have more
consequences than even the introduction
of radar. Communication will be carried out
digitally via data links, meaning that the
amount of information shared between
controllers and pilots (and the tools that
support them) is no longer limited to the
speed of human voice and interaction.
Surveillance, likewise, is going to undergo a significant shift, as management
by trajectory will involve the sharing of
information of future positions of aircraft,
not just current position. It will take time
for these developments to be implemented
but the concepts have been defined in the

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International Civil Aviation Organization


(ICAO) Global Air Traffic Management Operational Concept and further expanded in
work by Single European Sky ATM Research
(SESAR) in Europe, NextGen in the US as
well as other projects worldwide. How,
then, do we make sure that the tools provided to controllers are safe and effective,
and enable this transition?
Air traffic management (ATM) has to be
harmonised globally. It is, therefore, important for all ATM work to be seen in the context of global developments, specifically that
all work should be seen as assisting ICAO in
achieving this goal. Of course, there are local
issues to be addressed and action will still
be taken at the local and regional level. That
said, EUROCONTROLs latest programme to
assist the air traffic controller, First ATC Support Tools Implementation (FASTI), is consistent with the SESAR technology, which itself
is being developed from the ICAO Global
ATM Operational Concept. We can not
dismantle the current ATM system and start
again and so all developments have to be
an evolutionary change. FASTI recognises
this and even its name suggests that it is part
of an evolutionary development and indeed
just an initial step. Consequently, its Pioneer
Support activity is there to assist the early
implementers and make sure the lessons

learnt are collated, shared and become part


of that evolution.
Both humans and automation have
strengths and weaknesses and a safe and
efficient system will make sure that there is
an effective partnership that minimises the
weaknesses and maximises the strengths.
But, as far as the International Federation of
Air Traffic Controllers Association (IFATCA)
is concerned, the human shall at all times
remain the manager, not the servant, of
that automation. Humans will continue to
have an essential role in the future ATM
system, and so the role of automation is not
to replace the controller but to help him or
her. Fortunately, FASTI does not constrain
the controller, but rather seeks to enable
the controller to do the tasks that humans
are best suited to by supplying information that supports decisions. Significantly,
IFATCA distinguishes between automation
that supports a controllers decision-making
processes (a tool) and a safety net (which
is something that alerts a controller that
urgent action is required for safety). For example, the Short Term Conflict Alert can be
implemented as a tool or a safety net depending on the setting of parameters as to
whether the controller is given a lot of time
to consider a potential conflict or a warning
of imminent risk. The FASTI programme has

deliberately developed a set of controller


support tools and is not another safety net.
This does not mean that it does not contribute to safety. On the contrary, it means that it
contributes to safety in a manner other than
as a safety net.
A systems approach
The ATM system has many interdependencies and, therefore, is not appropriate to
develop tools and procedures in isolation.
Furthermore, it would be wrong to consider
FASTI as simply another attempt at a standalone Medium Term Conflict Detection
(MTCD) tool. FASTI has been designed as a
combined implementation of conflict detection (both for the planning and tactical
controllers), for monitoring trajectory conformance (MONA) and for System Support
Coordination (SYSCO). However, capacity
has traditionally been measured in terms of
numbers of aircraft, but this is not really the
best way to do it. What is critical to capacity
is the amount of work that has been done,
and this does not necessarily have a direct
relationship to the number of aircraft. For
example, if aircraft are de-conflicted to a
significant degree then the tactical controller can safely handle a greater number of
aircraft. FASTI assists this process with tools
for the planning controller.

We are transitioning to a performancebased ATM system, and it is significant


that FASTI has identified five of the 11
Key Performance Areas (safety, capacity,
cost-effectiveness, efficiency, environmental sustainability and harmonisation of
operational procedures) as being relevant
and has, therefore, defined appropriate
Key Performance Indicators. However,
traditional air traffic control surveillance is
about the current position of the aircraft.
So as the move is made to more strategic
forms of ATM, there is an increasing need
for a shared understanding of the future
positions of aircraft. In the past, in order to
predict future positions, controllers would
extrapolate the information available to
them. FASTI is taking the first steps in determining the future position of aircraft in
such a way that it can be shared with others
and so support collaborative decisionmaking or at least enable the controllers
to work together more efficiently.
When the FASTI programme reaches its
completion in 2012 it will undoubtedly have
provided a benchmark and solid base for the
continuing work required on the coordination and deployment of validated concepts
and tools for ATCOs. However, this is an
evolutionary process and new challenges
will demand new solutions.

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