People factor critical, FAA says

To ease the modernization of the National Airspace System, the Federal Aviation

Administration needs money to research how people can better adjust to new

technology, agency officials said Wednesday.

Funding for research to address the human-computer interface and change

management issues associated with introducing new air traffic control technology

at FAA is necessary to improve and hasten modernization of the National

Airspace System, FAA officials said.

To be as modern as possible, the Federal Aviation Administration needs

money to research how people interact with computers, particularly with

new air traffic control technology, agency officials said.

The FAA has requested $25.1 million to study "human factors" and aviation

medicine as part of its $184 million research, engineering and development

request for fiscal 2001.

"Human factors represent our most significant challenge in the aviation

world," said Steven Zaidman, FAA's associate administrator for research

and acquisitions, during a hearing before the House Science Committee's

Technology Subcommittee.

Research on how people handle computers is necessary to smooth the transition

to new air traffic control systems, he said.

New systems that require controllers and pilots to adapt include Free

Flight, which gives pilots information to choose the most efficient flight

paths, and the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, which would

replace displays, software and computers at more than 170 terminal air traffic

control facilities.

Issues to be addressed include how new automated controller tools will

affect how controllers are hired and trained, said Alexis Stefani, assistant

inspector general for auditing at the Transportation Department, in testimony

submitted to the subcommittee. "In addition, research is needed on the impact

on pilots from new data link communications and cockpit display technologies,"

Stefani said.

STARS, for instance, ended up $460 million over budget, largely because

FAA didn't consider how to set up the technology to make it as easy as possible

for controllers to use, according to Stefani's testimony.

Other priorities FAA relayed to the subcommittee include:

* A new $5.5 million research and development investment to find tools

to detect and protect against infrastructure threats and cyberattacks.

* Continuing relationships with the Defense Department and NASA to develop

new technologies to reduce aircraft noise and to research aging aircraft

systems. Robert Doll, chairman of the FAA Research Engineering and Development

Advisory Committee, expressed concern in his testimony that NASA's investment

in aviation research will be phased out in the next few years. NASA is better

suited to conduct research than FAA, which is a regulatory and operational

agency, Doll said.

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