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July 08, 2009

NextGen ATC / Next Gen Air Traffic Control

NextGen ATCI'd like to wrap up my series on NextGen and delays. I've enjoyed writing it, I hope you found some value in it. I'd like to summarize the key points and make a few closing comments. Then I'm going to get back to blogging about Google and the Tour de France.

Some comments and emails talked about my weaving other sources into my story - Joe Overton, Aristotle, Patrick Moynihan, Immanuel Kant, Eli Goldratt, Adam Smith, George Orwell, Garrett Hardin, etc. I'm not trying to impress people with Wikipedia links. Here's the thing: we have specialized operational knowledge. If we want to speak to the general public, if we want to be more persuasive than the paid mouthpieces of industry, then we need to tell our story in terms the public will understand and find credible. No TLA's. Why should they believe me? They shouldn't. Why should they believe Kant? Because he's a known quantity that's stood the test of time.

NextGen ATC

NextGen is not my enemy. I think it's pretty cool.

The people (over)selling NextGen as a replacement system are shills, and they are not my friend. When they misrepresent operational reality to the public, I think we should call BS on them.

NextGen will be great for helicopters, particularly Lifeguard missions and flying in the Gulf of Mexico. NextGen will be great on midnight shifts and in tactical opportunities. It will be a wonderful and very expensive supplement to the airspace system. NextGen will not provide a substitute for the current airway structure.

Cost Benefit Projection from testimony of James May, CEO Air Transport Association of America, a NextGen ATC supporter

NextGen and ATC Delays

NextGen will not reduce airport delays in any significant way. Runways are the constraint. Delays are caused by airlines and airports that intentionally overbook the airport, just like they overbook flights. Delays are not ATC delays, unless they're caused by a radar outage, etc. Delays are "airline schedule delays".

If you want to dramatically reduce delays, use the engineering performance standards for airports to compute hourly traffic capacity, choose a weather percentile at which delays will be acceptable, and enforce the airport capacity limits on the airline schedule. If an airport permits airlines to schedule flights in excess of airport capacity, take away their AIP money.

Personally, I like the idea of federal capacity calculations and locally regulated airports. Let the Port Authority decide which 95 planes per hour can land or takeoff. It is, in fact, their business.

Flow Control is a sham that stands between the unrestricted, unrealistic airline schedule and known airport capacity, and creates delays to avoid unsafe chaos. Airlines overbook the airport, flow control bumps the excess. We've been doing this for decades and delays remain exactly the same. We should stop repeating this non-effective behavior.

Here's all I know about Nextgen and Delays. Great technology. Expensive. Not a replacement. Won't fix delays. Runways are the constraint. Airlines and airports intentionally overbook airports. Gosh, that was easy. 152 characters, just over a Tweet. Why did I need a week to get there?

I would like to say this: There is a spectrum of opinion about ATC. At one end are people who know that the American ATC system is the finest in the world, that our controllers are brilliant gifted artists who make things work that wouldn't work if left to themselves, that controllers are key players in the safety chain, that ATC is valued-added and worth more than it costs, and that ATC is an inherently governmental function that cannot be performed by private industry.

At the other end of the spectrum are people who believe that an air traffic facility is just a glorified phone center filled with radiotelephone operators with unjustified self-esteem and delusions of grandeur. It's not a remarkable value-add; it's a cost center, providing a commodity task that any kid can do. Government is inappropriately in control of our air transport system, and the economy would be better off without the intrusion. Private industry can do it better, cheaper, faster. And then they often say: my company, Acme, can sell you systems that can make this happen.

NextGen is not my enemy. People who think air traffic controllers are overpaid phone center operators are my enemy.

Thanks for reading.


Daniel said...

FYI, your last link "here now" is broken.

Also, this series hase been AWESOME! I had no knowledge of any of this stuff and your posts have been both highly informative and fun to read.


You can delete this comment if you don't want to have the part about the broken link included.

BJ said...

I started in ATC in 1968. I have seen many changes, read many "authoritative opinions", and so called experts. Never have I read someone who is so right on target, and in a way that everyone can understand and relate to it. I sent a link to every singly congressional contact I could find, put it out to the NATCA audience and my extended family. I hope they all read. I hope you continue to blog the truth. Best wishes.
BJ Florence
Tucson TRACON, U90

Bob Everhart, Bedford, NH said...

I wish that more people understood that safety should not be for profit. You are my hero-whoever you are.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Unbiased and accurate.

Anonymous said...

I'm a French Air Traffic controller and Flow controller and have to do a presentation in IANS (Institute of Air Navigation Services) in Luxembourg about Flow Management.
I would like to use one picture of this article (the drawing with all the airplanes) for my presentation. Could you tell me who I have to ask to have the right to do so?
Thanks a lot.
Gael Regnault

Vannevar said...

Hello Gael,

The image came from a search on Google images, we treated it as a "fair use", we don't own it. Proceed as you see fit.

Gael Regnault said...

Thanks a lot!
I just want to use it to show what Flow Management is supposed to avoid (a big mess in the sky...), and that was the best picture I could find.
Gael Regnault

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