In 2008, the FAA awarded the Air Traffic Control Optimum Training Solution (ATCOTS) contract to Raytheon Technical Services Company plus a team of nine subcontractors. ATCOTS was designed to “find a solution to the training needs of Air Traffic Controller candidates and existing Certified Professional Controllers…to shorten and reduce the cost of the certification process and evolve the training program to prepare for impending technology changes throughout the FAA.” [emphasis added]
In 2013, the US Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report, FAA Needs To Improve ATCOTS Contract Management To Achieve Its Air Traffic Controller Training Goals. The findings were summarized as follows:
Due to lack of clearly defined requirements, the ATCOTS program experienced 4 consecutive years of cost overruns, totaling about $89 million. FAA has also not been able to achieve key training goals to reduce training time and innovate training and has not measured its progress toward its goal to reduce training costs. In addition, FAA’s cost incentives were ineffective for controlling costs; and the performance measures FAA used for award fees were not tied to enhancing key contract goals.”
On December 10, 2015 the same OIG organization issued another report, entitled “FAA Has Not Sufficiently Addressed Key Weaknesses Related to Its ATCOTS Contract.” The contract has been renamed Controller Training Contract, but the OIG critique reiterates many of its 2010 analysis. They concluded that the new CTC terms are flawed. This more recent assessment added, or perhaps clarified/highlighted, these problems:
“Create a training plan that clearly defines all air traffic controller training requirements, including proficiency training and training for new systems. The plan should also specify the training requirements to be performed by FAA certified professional controllers and those to be performed by the contractor.”
“Develop a plan to assess internal resources and verify that controllers will be available to teach training at each facility.”
The term “new system” is not just the technology, but includes the human role within NextGen. The traditional ATCer has as a job description “controlling” traffic; due to the limitations of the radars, aircraft were assigned specific routes at predesignated altitudes, headings and speeds. The controller communicated those elements and before a pilot could change any of those elements, permission had to be given by the controller.
NextGen’s use of satellites will remove those limitations. Under Free Flight the pilots will be able select the elements of the proposed flight into the computer. The computer-pilot interface will provide for separation, weather advisories, conflict alerts, etc. The FAA’s role will be to manage, not control, the options.
The people who were controllers will have different jobs and probably different names. The skill sets will be very different and thus the job requirements which are used to HIRE the future people who occupy the new NextGen positions. It appears that a prior appropriations request asked to fund the sort of Job Task Analysis mentioned by this OIG report.
An industry expert, a Wall Street analyst and now the OIG have concurred that BEFORE the FAA starts to hire employees, who will be part of the transition to NextGen, the FAA should define who is best suited to manage the flow of aircraft under Free Flight.
Advancing technology without matching the human capabilities to work the NextGen system seems to be setting a path towards problems among the new workforce.