Thursday, October 08, 2009

More ERAM Escapades

If you keep up with aviation news on your own, you’ve probably noticed ERAM flunked its latest test at Salt Lake Center. For those just joining the story, you can search this blog for “ERAM” and read all you care to read about the subject. In short, ERAM is the next computer system for air traffic control. It’s the backbone, the brains of the system, the whole enchilada. You can’t overstate its importance and it has to work.

It doesn’t. Work that is. Here’s the best story I’ve found about it so far, from AVweb:

”She said although there was no official NATCA participation in the planning for the new system, air traffic controllers were involved in the process.“

That is probably the most important sentence you will read in the Press about the system. I know that idea will be hard to swallow for many people that aren’t controllers, but therein lies the point. No one will be more critical of this system than controllers. There is no set of controllers less susceptible to being pressured into approving the system than the members of NATCA. Not that someone won’t try mind you. That is, after all, the way of the world.

The manufacturer obviously wants the system to work and to get it finalized quickly. That’s where they make their money. The company’s project managers are obviously under the gun to make it work, as are the FAA’s managers. Then it gets a little more subtle. You’re left with the difference between union controllers and non-union controllers. The non-union ones -- as a generalization -- are interested in getting into management. The union ones -- in general -- are not. In other words, there is only one group out there that will have to live with this system on a daily basis 10 years down the road. That would be the controllers that intend to remain controllers. And the majority of them are union -- the very ones that have been cut out of the process.

It’s easy to say you want ERAM to work. That’s true of everyone in the process. But some groups want to ensure it works well more than other groups. “Payday” for most comes when ERAM is accepted. For controllers -- the ones committed to remaining air traffic controllers -- “payday” isn’t immediate. It’s stretched out over the years. Hopefully, years of service from a trouble-free and reliable system. And these are the very people -- the most committed and dependent on ERAM -- that have been cut out of the process.

It wasn’t by accident.

Don Brown
October 8, 2009

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