Friday, January 01, 2010

A New Beginning

Imagine you were a brand-new controller -- oh, say, 29 years ago -- and you read this:

AERA has the objectives of allowing users to fly direct, fuel efficient routes, increasing controller productivity, and reducing operational errors. The AERA 2 functional capabilities are also discussed. The final phase AERA 3 has the goal of automatically generating conflict free, fuel efficient clearances to pilots without controller intervention. “

Wow ! Shazam ! Just amazing what they can do with computers isn’t it ?

Would you like to see what the PR machine was cranking out back then ? Click here. Yes, it does sound a lot like what the Press is being fed now.

”Better access to weather services, terrain maps, and flight information services should mean pilots can maintain safe distances from one another with less assistance from air controllers. “

”With the implementation of ADS-B, FAA researchers expect to see a significant drop both in aircrafts' environmental footprint and fatal accidents. “

For all you new guys out there, that have never heard of AERA, you might want to open the FAA’s History Book on occasion and see what it says..

”Among the planned future enhancements to AAS was Automated En Route Air Traffic Control (AERA), which would automatically examine aircraft flight plans to detect and resolve potential conflicts.“

That was the Jul 26, 1985 entry and it was the last time “Automated En Route Air Traffic Control” (AERA) was ever mentioned.

The Advanced Automation System (AAS) was a different story however. It was mentioned. A lot. But not in the way you want things mentioned.

”Dec 13, 1993: FAA Administrator David Hinson ordered an extensive review of the Advanced Automation System (AAS), a multi-billion dollar program designed to help modernize the nation's air traffic control system. The contractor, IBM, was far behind schedule and had major cost overruns (see Nov 30, 1992). Hinson's recommended review included conferring with IBM to determine the impact the company's plan to sell its unit in charge of the AAS contract to Loral Corp., a sale subsequently concluded. On Mar 3, 1994, FAA announced initial actions as a result of the review that included a new AAS management team and suspension of the portion of the program designated the Area Control Computer Complex (ACCC). Subsequently, on Jun 3, 1994, FAA announced a major overhaul of the AAS program. The agency terminated ACCC. FAA also cancelled another AAS element, the Terminal Advanced Automation System (TAAS), stating that it would substitute a new procurement for modernization of terminal radar approach control facilities (see Sep 16, 1996). The agency reduced the number of towers planned to receive the Tower Control Computer Complex (TCCC). In addition, the agency planned to review the software for the Initial Sector Suite System (ISSS), a program to provide new workstations for en route controllers. On Sep 30, 1994, FAA announced that it would seek a proposal from Loral that would permit the company to move forward with this work under a new program, the Display System Replacement (DSR), which would replace ISSS. (See Apr 27, 1995.) “

And it wasn’t just in the FAA’s publications that AAS was mention. It became famous. Or, should I say, infamous ?

The Ugly History of Tool Development at the FAA

”One participant says, "It may have been the greatest failure in the history of organized work." “

”Here's how the General Accounting Office put it: "FAA did not recognize the technical complexity of the effort, realistically estimate the resources required, adequately oversee its contractors' activities, or effectively control system requirements."

The project was probably doomed on the drawing board by an unrealistically ambitious plan. "It was basically a Big Bang approach, gigantic programs that would revolutionize overnight how FAA did its work," says Pete Marish, a senior analyst at GAO.“

That probably sounds just a little too familiar. As some of you may have noticed, some of the things promised in AAS and AERA have come true. This will be true for NextGen also. But, take note, GPS wasn’t even mentioned in AAS. Other technologies will become available as the FAA tinkers with NextGen.

As always, the ATC system will continually evolve. There’s no new beginning. There’s just the way things are.

Don Brown
January 1, 2009 2010

1 comment:

Gary Nelson said...

First, I contest that 1985 was the last mention of AERA.

I was at MITRE, working on the AAS Benefit-Cost analysis, the first mod in 1985 then a revision in ca. 1988. I then worked on AERA 3 ca. 1991. AERA was pretty much part of AAS and lived and died with it.

Second: We operated with controller teams who vetted AERA requirements and prototypes. Even for AERA 3, that intended to automate the ATC level (below TFM) entirely, we got the controller team to appreciate the need to take humans out of the immediate loop of tactical separation (especially with TCAS) and promote them to a supervisory level. It makes even more sense now with ADS-B capability. I do realize (having spent final years at FAA, Terminal automation) that the human will have the immediate "flick" for a long time.

Third: Yes, very little of AERA remains. I believe that CRA (conflict resolution advisory) is the only app that can be traced to AERA and that is in (variously) use.

I am trying to get some technical-history people interested in documenting AERA history. If anyone would lend some oral history, let me know.

Gary Nelson