Thursday, May 05, 2011

Where Did ERAM Go?

It’s quiet. Too quiet. There’s no way a program as large as ERAM -- a program with as many problems as ERAM -- can make so little noise unless all those involved want it that way.

As you may remember, the last time I visited the subject I thought the silence was due to the FAA Reauthorization Bill being in play. Maybe that was the right guess. I don’t know. It may still be a reason. I don’t know that for sure either. But if you’ll remember, one of the new facilities ERAM was being sent to was Houston Center (ZHU).

Houston computer glitch another blow to FAA

”A 90-minute computer glitch that halted and delayed air traffic across Central and Southeast Texas on Wednesday afternoon is the latest black eye for the Federal Aviation Administration...”

”The people who conduct the aircraft symphony above the clouds began seeing twin images around 4:40 p.m. when computers inside Houston's Air Route Traffic Control Center began showing actual flights along with identical entries.”

I know just enough about ERAM to be dangerous. I know that it uses a different radar tracking routine than the previous software. I know just enough about that to be suspicious about the above. It is well known that ERAM has “tracking issues”.

But here is what is really bothering me. You -- John Q. Public -- aren’t hearing any of this. It isn’t that the issue just isn’t on the front page -- it’s that the issue is being kept quiet. It isn’t hard to figure out. One month I’ve got dozens of people talking about ERAM and next month I’ve got nobody talking about it -- even though twice as many facilities are now supposed to have it.

And now, a word to many of my regular readers -- the insiders (if you will). This is not a plea for more information than you want to freely give. I’m not going to try and pry stuff out of you. I’m not a reporter. That’s not my job. I don’t make any money out of all this. So listen to me when I tell you this:

The lack of openness about ERAM (or any air traffic control safety issue) is a mistake. I don’t know the current logic being touted inside the FAA -- or NATCA -- but I still believe a controller’s best interest is protecting the Public’s interest. The young controllers might not be comfortable in making such a judgment. Rightfully so. But you older controllers shouldn’t be so reluctant. You are, after all, the experts. No one knows air traffic control better than you. No one else can know. Not managers, pilots or politicians. You’re the ones doing the job day in and day out. Protecting the Public is the duty of every civil servant.

There might be some odd circumstance where the Public’s interest is best served by silence. But I can’t imagine ERAM being one. Be very, very careful my friends. The FAA is not now, nor will it ever be, your friend -- or partner.

Don Brown
May 5, 2011


Bob said...

The trouble with ERAM from the start is there is no "lifeboat". With the "legacy" system if something went wrong with HOST, you had a completely different hardware/software combination to go to. Sure it looked different, and EDARC isn't something controllers want to use during a push, but it is almost guaranteed to work.

ERAM is a different animal. From what I have heard is there are two identical channels. If you have a problem with channel A, you can go to channel B. The trouble is that Software A= Software B, so if there is a problem with A, going to B is not getting you out of it.

And that in a nutshell is the problem with ERAM.

Ryan said...

Not entirely true Bob. They are the same software, but are operated without support of each other. That means one can fail and the backup will be like EDARC, except completely usable in a push.

As far as the ZHU thing goes, I guarantee it wasn't ERAM. They've only been testing it at night. However, ERAM is running 24/7 at ZSE and ZLC.