employees conduct airborne inspection of electronic signals from ground-based NAVAIDs [navigational aids] to support aircraft departure, en route, and arrival procedures. This group evaluates flight procedures for accuracy, human factors fly-ability, and obstacle clearance. Without this “check,” the NAS would not be as safe as it is today.
Technical Operations manages their operations by measuring performance of the NAS based on what Systems or services are available for air traffic control operations (Adjusted Operational Availability). However, this metric directly impacts FAA’s airport capability metric (Average Daily Airport capacity) as noted above, as well as our safety reduction goals (Commercial and General Aviation Fatal Accident Rates). Technical Operations ensures that terminal and en route controllers have all critical parts of the NAS infrastructure available for the safety and efficient delivery of air traffic services. (Department of Transportation, 2012:23)
The Technical Operations service unit of the FAA includes more than 9,000 employees, two-thirds of whom are ATSS personnel.1 In fiscal year 2012, Technical Operations had a budget of $1.7 billion. Thus, Technical Operations includes approximately 19 percent of the total FAA employees and less than 12 percent of the $15.9 billion total FAA budget (DOT, 2012).
There are five types types of facilities in Technical Operations: (1) Air Route Traffic Control Centers, also known as En Route centers, which track aircraft once they travel beyond the terminal airspace and reach cruising altitude and include Service Operations Centers that coordinate work and monitor equipment; (2) Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities, which control air traffic as aircraft ascend from and descend to airports and generally cover a radius of about 40 miles around the primary airport, which also include a Service Operations Center; (3) Core Airports (or Operational Evolution Partnership airports), the nation’s busiest airports; (4) the General National Airspace System, comprising the facilities located outside the larger locations, including rural airports and equipment not based at any airport; and (5) Operations Control Centers, the facilities that coordinate work and monitor equipment for a Service Area (Eastern, Central, Western) in the United States (Grant Thornton, 2011).2
One general position description covers all ATSS employees in Job Series 2101 in the Technical Operations unit of FAA’s Air Traffic Organization:
Airway Transportation Systems Specialists (ATSS) install and maintain electronic equipment and lighting aids associated with facilities and services required for aviation navigation to ensure a reliable, safe, and smooth flow of air traffic. This involves work with radar, communications, computers, navigational aids, airport lighting aids, and electrical/mechanical support for facilities on and off airports within the network of the National Airspace System. It includes periodic maintenance (inspection and analysis of equipment with associated adjustments), corrective maintenance, troubleshooting, repair and replacement of malfunctioning equipment, and certification. ATSS may be required to maintain entire facilities, including electronic equipment, electrical power distribution, emergency backup power, power conditioning systems, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Many ATSS work out of offices located at or near airports and on service equipment located on airports, in air traffic control towers, automated flight service stations, air route traffic control centers, in open fields, or even on remote mountain tops.3
ATSS personnel maintain equipment and services of the NAS in the three Service Areas (Eastern, Central, and Western) throughout the United States, Guam, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico. All ATSS positions are covered by a collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Aviation Safety Special-
1Rich McCormick, director, Labor Analysis, FAA, presentation on Labor Analysis to the Committee on Staffing Needs of Systems Specialists in Aviation, October 19, 2012.
3ATSS posting found at https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/313337100 [May 2013].