For most aviation safety professionals, you probably know what an Air Traffic Control Center is and maybe even know what the code ZBW means. If you located that facility in Nashua, NH, you qualify for the Aviation Cognoscenti Emblem patch. It is also possible that you might know that the FAA operates one of the world’s leading aviation safety research centers. If you scored its name, the William J. Hughes Technical Center, and knew that is Atlantic City, NJ’s largest AND most stable employer, you qualify for the patch, too.
The first story explains in very basic terms what a controller does. It is filled with the platitudes which surround the work of these skilled, highly trained professionals, like “[e]very hour around here,” says one Newark controller, “is 59 minutes of boredom and 1 of sheer terror.” The methods of maintaining separation, transitioning traffic between sectors and facilities, the geometry of each sector and the increasing automation are not mentioned.
Particularly as the Congress considers the transfer of ZBW (and all other ATO facilities) and some as-of-yet to be agreed upon portion of the controllers and of management, it would be advisable for each of us to encourage your PR department to encourage the newspapers/electronic media/bloggers to write articles which depict more accurately the actual work being done in ARTCCs, TRACONs and/or ATCTs. Point them to the technology change, NextGen, transitioning from ground based radar network to navigation relying on GPS to provide precise navigation.
No matter what your position may be on “privatization” or corporatization; the general public should have a better, more realistic understanding of what the ATO is and/or could be.
The second report really tells the tale of the Center’s impact on the local economy—$678 million in spending and staff salaries to the South Jersey economy; 2,732 direct employees; wages of the center are in excess of $229 million, and the total wages that this activity creates exceed $449 million. Those numbers will please the Chamber of Commerce, but again, the reporter’s perspective misses the long term contributions to aviation safety.
Harder to quantify, but the research work being performed there will likely result in massive benefits to aviation safety. NextGen and AT traffic design are primary beneficiaries of the Center’s work, but the array of research in all facets of aviation safety is indeed impressive:
1. National Airspace system (NAS) Laboratories where they are analyzing
- support the research, development, testing, and acquisition of products that are intended to ensure a seamless transition of safety and efficiency throughout the NAS modernization effort.
- configuration management, test bed maintenance and enhancement, laboratory scheduling, computer operations, documentation library services, and systems engineering.
- a variety of other technical and engineering services for laboratory customers in support of research and development system installations and proof-of-concept testing.
2. Aviation Research Division has as its agenda
- Fire Safety Branch
- Human Factors Branch
- Airport Technology R&D Branch
- S/W & Systems Branch
- Structures & Propulsion Branch
3. Enterprise Services Test and Evaluation Division—its focus is on Air Transportation Systems Evaluation, providing unbiased and independent, technically and operationally sound, aviation-related evaluations, analyses, data & services
- Separation Standards Analysis Branch
- System Communications and Information Branch
- Navigation System Performance Branch
- ATC Voice Communications Branch
- Network Communications Branch
- Navigation Sys Verif. & Monitoring Branch
- Aeronautical & Weather Services Verification Branch
4. Technical Strategies and Integration Division
- Strategic Planning and Operations Branch
- Verification and Validation Strategies and Practices Branch
- FAA Technical Partnerships and Information Exchange Branch
The work being done in Atlantic City is state-of-the-art. Its work on NextGen really adds considerable objectivity to that technologically complex endeavor and affords a laboratory environment to test concepts before they are implemented in the field. The scientists and engineers are advancing knowledge about a diverse array of safety issues—runway traction, lithium batteries, cargo bay fires, human factors and a long list of other projects trying to define answers to difficult issues. Tech Center stars, like Constantine P. (Gus) Sarkos, whose work on fire retardant materials and non-rechargeable lithium batteries’ flammability, are involved in the real business of preventative safety. Their hours of work and expertise are the reasons why passengers survive crashes and are not at risk due to the carriage of dangerous goods.
While not as visible as air traffic controllers, the aviation safety professionals make important contributions to the FAA’s and the industry’s missions.
Again, it would be good for aviation if each of us encourages the communication to the public of all ATO functions and of the work at the Tech Center.