Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ITYS #503 (A BIG one)



Just to make sure you’re paying attention... I was reading the NATCA BBS today and ran across this:

”NORDO:  The department discussed NORDO procedures and actions being taken by the agency several times with Ken Myers (ATO-E) this week. As the department was discussing this issue with him, a Mandatory Briefing Item (MBI) was sent to the enroute facilities by the agency directing them to review their NORDO procedures. Mr. Myers mentioned the agency was looking for some type of automation tool for controllers to use to indicate whether an aircraft is on their frequency. This information was sent to the Center FacReps and the input back was pretty clear that Mr. Myers’ options were not supported by the reps. “

(emphasis added)

For the record, it is January 19, 2010 and the FAA is still searching for a solution to a problem that I pointed out way before March 13, 2007 .

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URET - A Dissenting View

Communication

The very first problem I heard of concerning URET was that controllers would forget to switch airplanes to the next controller after a handoff was completed. Imagine my surprise that this is still a problem. Actually, it is a much bigger problem than is commonly stated. With URET, controllers don’t even know if they are talking to an airplane to start with.

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For over three years (way over) the FAA has been searching for an “automation tool” to give controllers the most basic of air traffic control information: Are you talking to the airplane ?

Let me render an opinion: This is beyond pathetic. This represents professional incompetence at the highest levels of the FAA.

At the risk of losing some of the less dedicated, let me quote some parts of a MITRE paper from 2004.

Analysis for Enabling Benefits at User Request
Evaluation Tool (URET) Field Sites (a .pdf file)

September 2004

Marilyn Walker


”3.2.7 Standardization of Usage

Experience with standardizing the use of URET varies. Examples of areas of
standardization of URET usage include the establishment of procedures for use of the Free Text area, the establishment of symbols for entry into the Free Text area, the specification for use of the check box; e.g., for noting when the aircraft is on frequency, and specification of the set-up of URET displays. “


(emphasis added)

”URET provides the capability for controllers to enter special notations that they formerly entered on strips in a free text area associated with each item on the Aircraft List. But the use of the Aircraft List for notations has been inconsistent. There are multiple reasons:

• Procedures for use of the free text area were not mandated with URET (for more details see [Walker, 2003]).

• Controllers who are not very comfortable with automation find it more difficult to enter the text in URET. They have to find the entry and click on the small square and then type.

Inconsistent and limited use of the free text area by controllers results in some controllers not making useful notations that would be helpful for recordkeeping, places an added communication burden on operational personnel to ensure that the relieving controller understands the notation, and can increase intra-sector verbal coordination [see Walker, 2003].“


In other words -- if you can read a technical paper -- the FAA was told way back in 2004, by the very people they paid to design URET, that URET didn’t work well in some key areas and the lack of standardization only made matters worse. And before anybody jumps to the wrong conclusion, controllers don’t use the “Free Text” area of URET because it’s a piece of junk. ”Controllers who are not very comfortable with automation find it more difficult to enter the text in URET. They have to find the entry and click on the small square and then type. “ I was one of those “not very comfortable with automation“ guys. You know, one of the few controllers hauling a laptop to work everyday and surfing the internet to find obscure reports written by obscure, not-for-profit government corporations back in 2004. Those kind of “not comfortable with automation” guys.

For those that need convincing that it’s important for a controller to know who he talking to -- or not...check the headlines from two months ago.

For over six years the FAA has been unable to automate and standardize two pencil marks. A forward “slash” (/) on a Flight Progress Strip to show you’re talking to the airplane...

...and a back “slash” (\) in the same spot (forming an “X”) when you switch the plane to the next frequency.

Don Brown
January 19, 2010

(Personal note: Thanks for the encouragement, Tim.)

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