Bert Ruitenberg International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations (IFATCA)
The similarities between Air Traffic Control (ATC) Operations and Aircrew working with electronic flight-deck presentations may seem remote, but there are signs that aircrew operating in such an environment are identifying problems associated with automated controls and data. Aircrews are becoming passive monitors rather than active fliers and there have been numerous reports of pilots trying to 'fix' the computer, rather than fly the airplane. Is this the way ahead for the Air Traffic Controller (ATCO)? Will ATCOs become so reliant on automated systems that active participation is reduced to a monitoring status? And will the ATCO be expected to pick up the pieces, and take over, if the computer cannot provide the appropriate solution to the problem?
There are already areas where ATC is being automated in some way or another. In most cases data exchange is being enhanced by computerized Databases and electronic data displays. The introduction of color radar, for instance, allows for a greater measure of enhancement than monochrome. The computerization of Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) is seen as an essential element to efficiently deal with the various flow control rates and increases in traffic demand. However, in the case of the Shanwick Oceanic ATC Centre computer there is a radical move towards a computerized 'control' function, with computer assigned Oceanic clearances being issued. This system has not proved to be fail-safe, nor is it seen as being able to deal with all clearance requests. If it was not for the fact that an ATCO is still needed to provide a clearance that the computer cannot cope with, then it would be quite possible that this system could operate without any ATCO involvement, at all. Air Traffic Control Assistants would input clearance requests and die computer would provide the answer. ATCOs would no longer be necessarily required.
Mode S transponders are already being seen as solution to resolving many ATC problem and difficulties, around the world. Not only to supply the ATCO with seemingly limitless amounts of data, but also to provide a Conflict Alert and Resolution system for aircraft so equipped.
IFATCA policy exists on Airborne Collision Avoidance Systems (ACAS): "IFATCArecognizes that the development of airborne collision avoidance systems should be encouraged. However, it must be accepted that the primary means of collision avoidance within a controlled airspace environment must continue to be the Air Traffic Control System which should be totally independent of airborne emergency devices such as ACAS, Autonomous airborne devices should not be a consideration in the provision of adequate Air Traffic Services".
IFATCA also draws attention to the compatibility between a controller's responsibility for providing positive separation and with the controller's ability to discharge them.
The International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA) also highlights the inherent requirements of a data-link system such as Mode S. The integrity of information should be assured by system design, together with automatic warning in the event of malfunction. The system should be capable of growth and also be standardized. Data link should not supersede the use of voice where this is the optimum. medium. and voice communication should remain available as a back-up. ( IFALPA Annex 10 (COM) Polstat ( April 1987)).
Electronic data screens may replace Flight Progress Strips, but when the TV-monitor fails all the data is immediately lost. The need for a fail-safe system, or immediate access to duplicated standby equipment, is paramount. Human Factor research has already identified that automation does not always reduce ATCO