Putting the controller in air traffic control

Air Traffic Control Association Inc.

After learning the lesson that systems will fail if they do not meet users'

needs, the Federal Aviation Administration is making it a priority to research

how people will use new air traffic technology.

FAA and industry officials speaking during the Air Traffic Control Association

Inc.'s conference this week in Atlantic City, N.J., stressed the need to

conduct human-factors research early in the design of new control systems

rather than as an afterthought.

Recent success in deploying new air traffic control systems is a result

of controllers' involvement in rapid prototyping efforts, said Randy Schwitz,

executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

"The reason we put out so much new equipment in the past three years is

because the controllers sat down with the stuff before it even went into

production," Schwitz said.

Kim Cardosi, manager of the human-factors program at the Transportation

Department's Volpe National Transportation Center, said the FAA does not

need to learn the same lesson repeatedly. By allowing the users to test

new hardware and software before it is produced, the FAA can make sure new

tools help the controllers do their jobs more safely and efficiently, she

said.

"We cannot eliminate human error by automating the person out of the system,"

she said. "Automation should serve the person, not require the person to

serve the system."

An award to software provider Gallium Software Inc. announced Oct. 24 at

the ATCA convention demonstrates the agency's commitment to human-factors

research.

The FAA awarded a follow-on contract to Gallium to use the company's InterMAPhics

software to evaluate the human/computer interface of the agency's new air

traffic control displays.

Gallium previously replicated the en-route Display System Replacement computer/human

interface using its InterMAPhics software toolkit at the FAA Civil Aeromedical

Institute in Oklahoma City. Under the follow-on contract, Gallium will provide

engineering services and a flight strip editor to expand the capabilities

of the FAA's Advanced ATC Research Simulator used by researchers for evaluating

en-route computer/human interfaces.

The human factors work will help FAA researchers assess the effects of different

air traffic control display formats on controller workload and performance.

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