Monday, February 18, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- February 18

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Feb 18, 1970: FAA's first IBM 9020 computer and its associated software program became operational at the Los Angeles ARTCC (see Jun 30, 1967). The new computer system was at the heart of the new semiautomated airway air traffic control system--NAS En Route Stage A. This equipment reduced controller workload by automatically handling incoming flight information messages, performing necessary calculations, and distributing flight data strips, as needed, to controller positions. The agency planned to install similar equipment at all of the centers, and with the new automated nationwide system each center would have the capability to collect and distribute information about each aircraft's course and altitude to all the sector controllers along its flight path. The new computers also had the ability to record and distribute any changes registered in aircraft flight plans en route. (See Dec 30, 1968, and Feb 13, 1973.) “

This piece of history should sound familiar to you. It was just last week (Feb 13) that I touched on it. This system is the heart and soul of the air traffic control system. It’s the brains -- the guts -- the big enchilada. Pay attention to the date -- 1970 -- 38 years ago.

If the FAA were a business office, without this system you’d be back to typewriters and carbon paper. Secretaries would still be writing memos in shorthand and then typing them out. The boss wouldn’t know how to type.

At the time, this was the most complex computer program out there (at least the ones we know about.) The FAA tried to modernize it once before under a program called the Advanced Automation System. It was a failure of monumental proportions. The gist of it is that controllers still -- 38 years later -- operate with the core of this program on a daily basis: Flight Data Processing. It’s buried under layers of new computers, monitors and updated software languages but the core program is still there.

The current effort to rewrite the program is called ERAM -- En Route Automation Modernization. If you don’t have time to keep up will all the going-ons in the FAA but you would still like to get a feel for how things are going -- this is the program to watch. And this is the first thing to watch for.

ERAM Delivery

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is on budget and ahead of schedule with a system that will increase capacity by enabling air traffic controllers to track more aircraft at high altitudes. Lockheed Martin, contractor for the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) equipment, delivered the system to the FAA six months ahead of schedule – meeting a major milestone in the FAA’s Flight Plan. “

After 38 years, a 2.5 billion dollar fiasco called AAS that was supposed to do the same thing and a dozen different facelifts -- ERAM is “on time.”

For a slightly different version of the truth, take a look at this from the Air Line Pilot’s Association -- better known as (ALPA)

”ERAM involves huge risks because of its size and complexity. The FAA has spent more than $930 million on ERAM so far; the total tab could push $2 billion. One reason is that ERAM must be completed, tested, and deployed by 2010-the year when the vendor who supports the current ARTCC system will cease to do so. Delaying ERAM deployment could be very costly.

Despite the high cost of ERAM, the initial system will add no new capabilities to enroute ATC. Enhancements such as automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), which involves aircraft automatically transmitting GPS position to ATC and other aircraft, and controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC), will not be added until the first ERAM upgrade-now scheduled for 2012. “

(Emphasis added)

Don Brown
February 18, 2008

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