Info, not integration, key to better air system
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Oct 29, 2000
When the Federal Aviation Administration delivers new technology for air
traffic controllers as part of its modernization program, the FAA must ensure
that controllers do not miss any critical information.
But panelists discussing automation last week at the convention of the Air
Traffic Control Association Inc. in Atlantic City, N.J., said that the rapid
turnover of technology means shifting from focusing on how a system works
to what information systems provide air traffic control users.
"Integration is dead," said Mike Harrison, program director of architecture
and system engineering at the FAA. If the agency is to get new tools to
air traffic controllers faster, better and cheaper, time and money cannot
be wasted on software and hardware integration, he said. The ability to
keep pace with the latest developments depends on creating information standards
and treating the National Airspace System as an information network.
Although commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software vendors try
to put value-added bells and whistles onto COTS packages, the air traffic
control market needs a purer approach that makes it easy to transfer information
from one tool to the next as the system is incrementally upgraded, Harrison
said. Inconsistent data encroaches on safety and efficiency, he said.
"It really doesn't make any difference whether I use this database or
that one, as long as the information is the same," he said. The nation's
air traffic control system — which comprises oceanic, en route, terminal
area and airport facilities that hand off air traffic to one another during
the phases of flight — is known as a system of systems, Harrison said. But
in reality, the information technology architecture and information flows
are a set of functions that have to be passed to multiple pieces of a giant
information system in a consistent way, he said.
As the air system is stretched, decisions about what capabilities to
implement must be based on what can realistically be accomplished with new
information, said William Voss, director of the FAA's Office of Air Traffic
Systems Development. For instance, data fusion should not be done unless
it can create efficiencies such as shortening the minimum distances between
airplanes, Voss said.
But the human factor must be considered when focusing on air traffic
control modernization, Harrison said. "We can't add more layers of information
unless more information reduces the workload," he said.
Controllers can help early in the process of designing new technologies
because they sit at a piece of new equipment and know if they are getting
the right information, said Randy Schwitz, executive vice president of the
National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a controllers union.
"What I need today to do my job is tools that give me the same functionality
without increasing my workload," Schwitz said.