Saturday, June 13, 2009

ERAM Tossed Out With the Trash



Friday is trash day in the news business (not that I’m an expert or anything.)

(Proof that I’m not an expert deleted)

It’s shorter to let The West Wing characters explain it.

Donna: Why do you do it on Friday?

Josh: Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.


A lot fewer people read blogs over the weekend also. My traffic drops by 40% over the typical weekend. However, I don’t think this story will be going away.

Yesterday, the entire Utah Congressional delegation asked the FAA to delay the implementation of ERAM. This is from a letter co-signed by Senators Hatch and Bennett

”It appears that many controllers still have serious concerns with the stability of the system ... Safety concerns demand that ERAM not be implemented until it meets and exceeds the standards of reliability and stability of the system it replaces. Therefore, we respectfully request that you further examine the implementation of the ERAM system and delay implementation until an acceptable level of reliability and stability is maintained and verified.”

As I’ve told my readers before, there is nothing in the ATC system that is more important than the job ERAM is supposed to do. ERAM is supposed to be the brain for the entire ATC system. If it doesn’t work, nothing works. There is no way it will be perfect when the FAA turns it on the first time. It’s that complicated. But is has to function.

There are a million details in this story. The most obvious is that ERAM is being tested at Salt Lake ARTCC -- hence the Utah congressional interest. It’s also being installed and tested at Seattle ARTCC. That is because one of ERAM’s most important functions is transferring information (radar tracks, flight plans, etc.) between facilities. The FAA has to test this transfer of data so the two Centers must share a common boundary.

The biggest detail of all is the workforce. The FAA is going to turn this thing on when their entire workforce has the lowest level of experience in decades. As I said, it won’t be perfect when they first turn it on -- it can’t be -- and they’re expecting a rookie workforce to deal with it. This is not good. But it is going to happen. Sooner or later. There is no other choice. The older controllers have seen computer meltdowns before. They have a chance of dealing with them. The rookies haven’t.

Don Brown
June 13, 2009

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