Winter Edition, 2017
MAR 23, 2017
by Kerry Lynch
– January 26, 2018, 10:03 AM
A recent article in the Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) journal questions those who put the blame for airline delays and congestion on controllers, instead expressing the belief that it comes from the airlines’ unmanaged, highly variant “day of” aircraft flows. Published in the winter edition of the Journal of Air Traffic Control and authored by R. Michael Baiada of the ATH Group, the article, “NAS Congestion – Who’s to Blame,” postulates that the ATC system has little to do with air traffic congestion since it only plays with the hand dealt by airlines. ATC is responsible for aircraft separation, he said, and “controllers do a fantastic job” in this regard.
While Baiada said ATC is also responsible for the “orderly and expeditious flow of traffic,” airlines need to partner with ATC to identify the most efficient sequence. “Airlines need to get into the game, as only the operator can know the most efficient ‘day of’ solution for each aircraft, 24/7/365, which then must be coordinated with the ATC system, all in real-time,” he pointed out.
According to Baiada, most U.S. airlines support ATC privatization because they believe such a reorganization would lead to reduced delays. But he argues that any such improvements would be limited—“at best”—because ATC cannot solve delays.
“If we are only trying to reduce government inefficiency, privatization may have merit,” he said. “But if we are trying to reduce airline inefficiency, as is often stated, neither privatization nor NextGen will make a difference. Only airline operational excellence can do this.
Captain Baiada, whose LinkedIn resume indicates that he flew for USAF (’74-’79) United (’79-’14) was a AVP Ops Ransome (’79-84) and Director Avionics Bendix (’84-’85), is a proponent of Business Based Flow Management (BBFM) , a/k/a Attila™. This proprietary system finds its philosophical origins in
· principles articulated in The Toyota Way, Liker, 2004.
· an observation from Michael Boyd in the Mar./Apr. 2014 issue of Managing the Skies, Who Controls the Blue—”While FAA maybe driving the right train on the wrong track, the airlines are simply passengers when it comes to managing their multi-million-dollar capital assets.”
In the 5,000 word paper, the President at ATH Group, Inc. describes in general terms (it is a highly proprietary product) what BBFM will deliver:
The aircraft BBFM solution constantly monitors arrival flow hours before landing, calculates small time/speed adjustments, and then coordinates the airline’s business needs with ATC (see Figure 5). After ATC’s electronic, real-time coordination is complete, the BBFM optimization engine electronically sends the RTA to the aircraft as a suggested Mach or cornerpost time. The RTA process is a 30-year-old, rarely-used, onboard Fight Management Computer (FMC) function that allows the pilot to enter a time at a specific fix, like an arrival fix, and then the FMC automatically adjusts the throttles to achieve that RTA. BBFM simultaneously gives ATC a win, brings airlines into the real time “day of ” game, and provides near-term benefits from advanced technologies, which in turn improve the customer experience. … The goal of BBFM is to deliver an efficient, business driven, pre-coordinated aircraft flow to the airport. Below are a few examples. Consider two aircraft at the front of a tightly packed 30 aircraft arrival queue. By identifying and speeding up the first two aircraft by two minutes, the entire arrival queue moves forward. This, in turn, saves two minutes for every aircraft in the queue. This creates what Dr. Clark of Georgia Tech labeled the “draft effect,” thus dropping 60 minutes of flight time and delay from this one arrival queue alone (see Figure 8).
The Captain’s analysis of operational inefficiency finds its FAA authority from the ATC Handbook:
According to the ATC Controller’s Handbook (FAA Order JO 7110.65W, 2015), “The primary purpose of the ATC system is to prevent a collision between aircraft operating in the system and to provide a safe, orderly and expeditious flow of traffic, and to provide support for National Security and Homeland Defense.” Controllers do a fantastic job with the first part – “Prevent a collision between aircraft operating in the system.” – but less so with the second part – “Orderly and expeditious flow of traffic.” How can any flow of materials be “orderly and expeditious” when you have no idea what constitutes an expeditious flow and only work to sequence the flow in the last part of the process (last 200 NM)? Also, many believe that the “orderly and expeditious flow of traffic” is an ATC problem. But from my perspective, and as history has proved, there is no way that ATC, by itself, can provide an “orderly and expeditious flow of traffic.”
As Figure 8 graphically displays, the ATC system may have gaps in the enroute flow and BBFM will reduce/remove that inefficiency by moving the aircraft into an optimized queue. Using this example, the instructions to have Aircrafts 4,7 and 5 to pass and then to realign in proper order is an incredibly complex calculation.
With safety as the ATC preeminent, if not only, mission, the error tolerance is minuscule. Asking controllers or even the NextGen computer to make the optimized line changes would require multi-variate, dynamic calculations. Passing the slower traffic in the queue still requires separation lateral and/or horizontal plus assigning increased/reduced speeds. The en route environment is not static—turbulence, visibility, cross/tail/head winds, etc.—adds to the complexity of the instructions, requires a high level of precision and lessens the safety margin. Also, consider that these “optimization” maneuvers may involve multiple sectors.
Absolutely conceptually brilliant, but is it really operationally practical?
The optimization cannot be accomplished because airlines are highly competitive. Mr. Baiada uses the terms “airline” and “airlines” interchangeably; here for example:
When optimizing an expeditious and efficient “day of ” flow, only the airline, in coordination with ATC, can do the job efficiently. ATC should never make these business decisions.
Input from four-five carriers en route to a common destination will reflect their individual priorities. Yes, a gate for Air #1 may be congested, but Air #1 will not concede a for-the-greater-good delay because Air #1 passengers are predominantly connecting passengers. Any delay would not be in its best interest. Air #2’s flight crew may be tight on its legal time and a substantial delay might block their ability to fly the next segment. To truly optimize, BBFM would have to dictate which of the individual priorities should “win.” Need it be said that the airlines would not likely trust an ATC czar computer???
The BFMM implementation strategy may incur some of the headaches of the installation of NextGen procedures. The Baiada smoothing effect will require that the departing and arriving airports have this capability. En Route Centers will likely require full inclusion before the system will function well. Beyond that segment, the destination airport may feed flights to multiple other cities. Perhaps the methodology will work with something less than the national system, but the benefits may be proportional to the percentage of the NAS with BBFM.
If this proposed system is said to marginalize safety by 0.01%, the traveling public may not support appropriating tax dollars for it. If pass that threshold, a reasonable possibility, BBFM making decisions for individual airlines will meet strong opposition. Assuming arguendo that the super computer can fairly optimize the system, the last hurdle will be convincing the users that the cost of BBFM will deliver the promised benefits.
Optimization as defined by the Toyota example works because there is a single actor defining the priorities. In the past, when describing the basic ATC problem, an analogy of the State of Michigan taking control of the Ford, GM, Chrysler, etc. plants. In planning for the production of the next year’s automobile lines, each company would have to apply to the State for capacity over the 12 months. Consider the response of industry when the collective capacity was less than the competitors’ collective requests? How about the state decision that Company F would be given 2x the plant space than Company G. Woe be he that would pose that concept!!!
The BBFM design contemplates a utopia. The current airline environment could not come to any consensus as to priorities or as to a computer decision model. Rational behavior is in the airline industry is theoretically possible, but not often seen in the real world (Adam Smith ***).
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