5

Staffing Implications of the Next Generation Air Transportation System

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is updating the National Airspace System (NAS) to the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). Changes in the NAS have been made since the early 2000s, and in 2003, President Bush and Congress initiated NextGen through the Vision 100—Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-176). The effort was originally intended to address the then-projected threefold increase in demand for air travel in the United States relative to 2001 levels, an increase that would strain the ability of today’s system to function effectively and efficiently.

The changes that NextGen will bring about will have consequences for the policies and procedures of air traffic control and likely for the job of the air traffic controller. NextGen will need to address the emergence of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), known as drones, as well as other new technologies and operational improvements. Congress has mandated FAA to integrate small UAS into the NAS by 2015, primarily for commercial purposes. The effect of integration on the NAS will be substantial. The broad category of UAS spans a range of aircraft. Large vehicles with performance and capabilities similar to those of current manned aircraft will be flying within controlled airspace, and new types of vehicles with substantially different flight profiles will be operating at altitudes, speeds, and routes not covered by current air traffic procedures and air traffic controller training. Similarly, FAA has established a national space transportation policy and directed the Air Traffic Organization and the Office of Commercial Space Transportation to collaborate in integrating increased commercial space operations into the NAS.1 Thus, NextGen may involve not only more operations but also the operation of new types of vehicles, which will change the nature of air traffic controllers’ tasks.

This chapter discusses the potential long-term impact of NextGen on controller staffing. It examines how NextGen is addressed in FAA’s latest controller workforce plan and considers controller selection and training requirements for NextGen. Staffing pressures associated with NextGen near- and midterm deployment are discussed, and the key role of controllers in NextGen development is highlighted. The chapter concludes with the committee’s findings and recommendations concerning the staffing implications of NextGen.

POTENTIAL LONG-TERM IMPACT OF NEXTGEN ON STAFFING

NextGen is intended to allow new types of operations and vehicles within the NAS. Implementation of the initial NextGen features has highlighted the potential for staffing issues. For example, optimized profile descent (OPD) allows aircraft to follow a fuel- and time-optimal profile through their descent and arrival into an airport and is intended to save fuel and flight time (Clarke et al. 2004) in comparison with the usual sequence of “step-down” instructions

____________

1 Statement of FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on the National Space Transportation Policy, November 21, 2013. See http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ast/news_announcements/media/NSTP_statement.pdf.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 73
5 Staffing Implications of the Next Generation Air Transportation System T he Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is updating the National Airspace System (NAS) to the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). Changes in the NAS have been made since the early 2000s, and in 2003, President Bush and Congress initiated NextGen through the Vision 100—Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-176). The effort was originally intended to address the then-projected threefold increase in demand for air travel in the United States relative to 2001 levels, an increase that would strain the ability of today’s system to function effectively and efficiently. The changes that NextGen will bring about will have consequences for the policies and procedures of air traffic control and likely for the job of the air traffic controller. NextGen will need to address the emergence of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), known as drones, as well as other new technologies and operational improvements. Congress has mandated FAA to integrate small UAS into the NAS by 2015, primarily for commercial purposes. The effect of integration on the NAS will be substantial. The broad category of UAS spans a range of aircraft. Large vehicles with performance and capabilities similar to those of current manned aircraft will be flying within controlled airspace, and new types of vehicles with substantially different flight profiles will be operating at altitudes, speeds, and routes not covered by current air traffic procedures and air traffic controller training. Similarly, FAA has established a national space transportation policy and directed the Air Traffic Organization and the Office of Commercial Space Transportation to collaborate in integrating increased commercial space operations into the NAS.1 Thus, NextGen may involve not only more operations but also the operation of new types of vehicles, which will change the nature of air traffic controllers’ tasks. This chapter discusses the potential long-term impact of NextGen on controller staffing. It examines how NextGen is addressed in FAA’s latest controller workforce plan and considers controller selection and training requirements for NextGen. Staffing pressures associated with NextGen near- and midterm deployment are discussed, and the key role of controllers in NextGen development is highlighted. The chapter concludes with the committee’s findings and recommendations concerning the staffing implications of NextGen. POTENTIAL LONG-TERM IMPACT OF NEXTGEN ON STAFFING NextGen is intended to allow new types of operations and vehicles within the NAS. Implementation of the initial NextGen features has highlighted the potential for staffing issues. For example, optimized profile descent (OPD) allows aircraft to follow a fuel- and time-optimal profile through their descent and arrival into an airport and is intended to save fuel and flight time (Clarke et al. 2004) in comparison with the usual sequence of “step-down” instructions 1 Statement of FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on the National Space Transportation Policy, November 21, 2013. See http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ast/news_announcements/media/NSTP_statement.pdf. 73

OCR for page 73
74 Federal Aviation Administration’s Approach for Determining Future Air Traffic Controller Staffing Needs from controllers. Committee members’ discussions with terminal radar approach control (TRACON) personnel in Atlanta, Georgia, indicated that OPD can shorten the “pushes” (periods of high-density arrivals) at their facility. However, multiple facilities must be coordinated before aircraft enter the TRACON’s boundaries, and those facilities have not been staffed or structured for such an operation. When neighboring en route centers are required to start aircraft down OPDs into the TRACON, controllers often need to give aircraft “vectors” away from their intended course, at the cost of extra fuel consumption and delay that negates the intended benefits of this NextGen operation. As this example illustrates, an understanding of the impact of NextGen on staffing requires the involvement of controllers at all affected facilities. Controller productivity in these operations can be helped or hindered by the new technologies. FAA is not applying a broad approach that examines controller staffing and productivity in its NextGen plans. In contrast, the human–systems integration (HSI) methodology developed for and used initially by the military and now used in a variety of domains applies such an approach. For example, military standards supporting system acquisition (U.S. Department of Defense 2011) define HSI as “the systems engineering process and program management effort that provides integrated and comprehensive analysis, design, and assessment of requirements, concepts, and resources for human engineering, manpower, personnel, training, system safety, health hazards, personnel survivability, and habitability. These domains are intimately and intricately interrelated and interdependent and must be among the primary drivers of effective, efficient, affordable, and safe system designs.” In general, the introduction of new technology can reduce, increase, or have no real impact on staffing requirements. Because any HSI problem involves trade-offs across a number of factors, predicting which of these outcomes will occur is inherently complex and cannot be done with any certainty. FAA does not appear to be following such a broad HSI approach; thus, the trade-offs between technology, procedures, and workforce for NextGen are not being considered explicitly. Developments as transformative as those targeted by NextGen require that such considerations be taken into account. However, FAA’s briefing to the committee indicated that no changes in controller skills and training have yet been identified in connection with NextGen and that assessments of the workforce are not integrated into NextGen plans.2 In addition, FAA’s response to a recent letter from the Research, Engineering, and Development Advisory Committee (REDAC) recommending attention to a broader set of human factors issues observed that “the strategic job analysis has shown there is no change expected in the responsibilities of controllers in the NextGen mid-term.”3 NEXTGEN CONSIDERATIONS AND THE CONTROLLER WORKFORCE PLAN FAA’s controller workforce plan (CWP) has not yet explicitly considered the ramifications of NextGen within its 10-year time horizon, perhaps because the NextGen plans themselves do not address controller staffing.4 As noted in the 2013 CWP, “the staffing projections in this workforce plan are based on the current concept of operation” (FAA 2013, 26). There is tacit acknowledgment that NextGen technologies might affect future staffing; the plan notes that the en route staffing models are being examined for the impact of national implementation of the En 2 Steve Bradford, presentation to the committee, January 10, 2013. 3 Letter from FAA Administrator Huerta to REDAC chair, John Hansman, February 28, 2014. 4 A recent report found that extensive schedule delays are likely to hinder NextGen implementation (GAO 2012).

OCR for page 73
Staffing Implications of the Next Generation Air Transportation System 75 Route Automation Modernization (ERAM). The inference is that FAA will react to any impacts after implementation. No similar mention is made of tower and TRACON facilities, which are experiencing their own modernization under the Terminal Automation Modernization Replacement project. In the committee’s judgment, the omission of NextGen demands on staffing from the current CWP and the plan to react to them as new technologies or operational capabilities are introduced are likely to have adverse effects on NextGen development and deployment. A reactive, as opposed to proactive, approach increases the risk that staffing concerns may arise as NextGen programs are deployed, leading to delay in the adoption of new technologies and capabilities. EFFECTIVE CONTROLLER TRAINING AND SELECTION FOR NEXTGEN OPERATIONS An appreciation of the aptitudes and abilities required of a controller to work effectively in the NextGen environment, as well as knowledge of the number of controllers, is needed. Experience indicates that the methods used by FAA have been effective in selecting controllers, especially new hires. For example, the Air Traffic Selection and Training battery has proved to be a valid predictor of training outcome for the incoming generation of air traffic controllers: persons with higher scores were more likely to certify at their first assigned field facility (Broach et al. 2013). However, the aptitudes needed in the midterm and in the long term are likely to change. Assessment of the relationship between aptitudes and success in qualifying as a certified professional controller (CPC) should continue throughout NextGen deployment. Research on selection could reduce failure rates as NextGen is deployed, especially at higher-traffic facilities, where the failure rate can be unacceptably high. These facilities typically rely on transfers from lower-level facilities to meet their staffing requirements, and the incoming transfers experience a high failure rate in qualifying for the more difficult operations. As discussed in Chapter 4, the failure rate at higher-traffic facilities is due in large part to certified professional controller in training (CPC-IT) candidates from lower-traffic facilities not succeeding in the more complex environment. Across the highest-level (Level 10+) TRACONs, the failure rate is 16 percent for transfers (CPC-ITs) and 26 percent for new hires (Byrne and Pierce 2014). Under NextGen, the transition to those facilities may be even more difficult as the CPC-IT attempts to master not only more complex traffic but also new technology.5 The committee anticipates that, in the absence of action to address this challenge, failure rates for transfers will continue to be problematic or will worsen with the introduction of new technologies. FAA has terminated air traffic controller selection research.6 The committee views this as unfortunate, given the potential value of such research in identifying (a) relevant skills that may be needed in the long term in the NextGen environment and (b) the skills that allow a controller to succeed at higher-level facilities. An improved understanding of these matters appears to be 5 FAA almost always introduces a new technology at facilities with fewer complexities before implementing it at busier or more complex facilities. ERAM, for example, was introduced first at Seattle, Washington, and next at Salt Lake City, Utah. Nonetheless, during the course of NextGen implementation across the NAS, a controller transferring to a higher-level facility may encounter unfamiliar technology, depending on which facility the controller is transferring from. 6 FAA presentation to Human Factors Subcommittee of REDAC, Washington, D.C., February 26, 2013.

OCR for page 73
76 Federal Aviation Administration’s Approach for Determining Future Air Traffic Controller Staffing Needs critical in planning and executing cost-effective staffing plans that minimize the wasted resources associated with selecting controllers who fail to qualify. STAFFING PRESSURES WITH NEXTGEN NEAR- AND MIDTERM DEPLOYMENT Air traffic control facilities will experience strains on their staffing practices as NextGen systems and new procedures are deployed, and proactive measures will be required to ensure a smooth implementation. Even without NextGen, some facilities, particularly those with staffing levels under the targets set in the CWP (see Chapter 4), are wrestling with staffing issues. Many are higher-level facilities with a high degree of uncertainty and long lead times in increasing their staffing because of their reliance on controller transfers (see the preceding section). Limited coordination between FAA’s NextGen architectural plans, the plans for individual NextGen projects, and operational decision making aggravates staffing pressures at facilities when multiple NextGen programs seek to implement new systems and operational procedures within the same time window. For example, the Houston, Texas, en route center has been asked to field several NextGen programs concurrently (Automatic Dependent Surveillance- Broadcast, Required Navigation Performance, ERAM, and Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex).7 In contrast, the implementation of OPD at the Atlanta TRACON (described earlier) produced no NextGen-related staffing problem at the TRACON itself and reportedly “made time on boards easier,” although it apparently increased workloads in neighboring en route facilities. The variation in impact across facilities is not surprising given the lack of strategic planning and coordination among NextGen programs and across facilities within a program. CONTROLLER PARTICIPATION IN THE NEXTGEN DEVELOPMENT PROCESS In the committee’s judgment, continued controller involvement in the development and deployment of NextGen technologies and procedures offers benefits. It has already helped establish realistic expectations and facilitated cost-effective implementation (see GAO 2005, 27). It increases the probability of the existing workforce accepting the proposed changes and reduces the need for extensive retraining and new personnel selection criteria. Other air navigation service providers make explicit staffing commitments in support of new training and technology deployment. Airservices Australia notes the following:8 When it comes to estimating the demand on the ATC [air traffic control] skill set for non-operational projects it is primarily calculated by the project managers. The project managers will identify the tasks to be performed and as such identify the specific ATC skill set required to perform those tasks. This requirement (number and type of resource) is then passed onto the workforce strategy department for inclusion into the broader ATC resource plan. Once it is entered into the plan, the need to satisfy the requirement through the 7 Andrew LeBovidge, committee member, personal communication to NextGen subgroup of the committee, February 28, 2013. 8 Personal communication, Rodd Sciortino, Airservices Australia, September 2, 2013.

OCR for page 73
Staffing Implications of the Next Generation Air Transportation System 77 allocation of ATC resource is tracked and monitored in the same fashion as [the allocation of] operational staff [is tracked and monitored] against an operational core/mature requirement. This then drives any additional recruitment activities or cross-training/conversion course requirements to backfill the ATC on project secondment (i.e., a temporary transfer to another job or post within the same organization). In contrast, FAA’s CWP does not formally include short-term or temporary assignments of controllers to NextGen programs to ensure the involvement of controllers in program teams during development and testing. As noted earlier, some facilities (e.g., the Houston en route center) have reported insufficient staffing during the implementation of new technology and procedures. No single office within FAA was able to supply information on the number of controllers working on NextGen-related technologies, so the committee turned to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association for an estimate. Close to 550 controllers are involved in the development and deployment of new technologies as part of NextGen and related initiatives,9 but their efforts are not part of the CWP or factored into staffing level estimates. The demands on staffing at facilities during the implementation of NextGen might be mitigated by staffing levels that allow for the formation of a cadre of controllers and support personnel within each NextGen program. The cadre could plan an implementation process that works with a facility’s staffing level and coordinate with the facility with regard to the phases of implementation. It could then move among facilities as needed to supplement their staff and facilitate training during implementation of each NextGen program. The cadres could provide training that is consistent across facilities and a phased implementation designed to prevent problems with controller workload and staffing, and they could help ensure that the need for local operational knowledge is recognized. The cadre concept was used in the late 1980s during the rehost project, which replaced the hardware of the controller workstations in the en route centers. FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Finding 5-1. If NextGen is to meet its goal of transforming the operation of the NAS, significant changes in controllers’ tasks are to be expected, particularly in the longer term (beyond a 10-year time horizon). In the near and midterm (within a 10-year time horizon), staffing plans do not explicitly support the controller involvement necessary for the successful development, evaluation, and implementation of NextGen products. Recommendation 5-1. FAA should accelerate ongoing research into NextGen developments that are likely to affect controller staffing to (a) help predict their impact on controller staffing, (b) identify where staffing concerns may pose technical risks to NextGen developments, and (c) determine where NextGen may support controller productivity. Recommendation 5-2. FAA should refine the CWP in a manner that raises the visibility and addresses the controller staffing implications of NextGen development and implementation. The plan should first address near- and midterm concerns. Since NextGen is to be implemented 9 Personal communication, Andrew LeBovidge, committee member, November 5, 2013.

OCR for page 73
78 Federal Aviation Administration’s Approach for Determining Future Air Traffic Controller Staffing Needs incrementally, each facility will deploy various NextGen technologies and updated procedures over the next several years. Staffing pressures due to the new systems and procedures will recur rather than being a one-time issue, and they need to be addressed proactively. The staffing plan should explore new or revised models and tools that can examine how staffing levels will be influenced by alterations in controller tasks, time on task, and workload, especially with longer- term, broader-reaching changes in operations. Recommendation 5-3. FAA should enhance its NextGen implementation plans by (a) defining when and where development and testing activities are to take place and (b) coordinating efforts to avoid simultaneous deployment of new technologies at a particular facility. Recommendation 5-4. The CWP should explicitly incorporate the need for involvement of controllers in the development, testing, and implementation of NextGen products and procedures. Cadres of controllers might be established to support the development and testing of specific NextGen programs; as each program is ready to be deployed, the cadres would move from facility to facility to support training and contribute their knowledge about the most effective, least disruptive implementation process. Finding 5-2. The changes in controllers’ duties and tasks accompanying the implementation of NextGen are likely to change the aptitudes needed for an individual to qualify as a CPC. A better understanding of the evolving relationship between controller aptitudes and qualification is needed to avoid the costs associated with high failure rates in training and in transferring from lower- to higher-level facilities. Recommendation 5-5. FAA should continue to support research into how NextGen may change the tasks of the air traffic controller to identify improvements in training and selection criteria for controllers. The research should consider not only the training and selection of new controllers but also the transfer of controllers from lower- to higher-level facilities. REFERENCES Abbreviations FAA Federal Aviation Administration GAO Government Accountability Office Broach, D., C. L. Byrne, C. A. Manning, L. Pierce, D. McCauley, and M. K. Bleckley. 2013. The Validity of the Air Traffic Selection and Training (AT-SAT) Test Battery in Operational Use. Report DOT/FAA/AM-13/3. Office of Aerospace Medicine, March. Byrne, C. L., and L. G. Pierce. 2014. Preliminary Data Analysis of the Operational Assessment Program (OAP). Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, Federal Aviation Administration, Oklahoma City, Okla., Jan. Clarke, J.-P. B., N. T. Ho, L. Ren, J. A. Brown, K. R. Elmer, K. Zou, C. Hunting, D. L. McGregor, B. N. Shivashankara, K.-O. Tong, A. W. Warren, and J. K. Wat. 2004. Continuous Descent Approach: Design and Flight Test for Louisville International Airport. Journal of Aircraft, Vol. 41, No. 5, pp. 1054–1066. FAA. 2013. A Plan for the Future: 10-Year Strategy for the Air Traffic Control Workforce, 2013–2022. http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/controller_staffing/media/CWP_2013.pdf.

OCR for page 73
Staffing Implications of the Next Generation Air Transportation System 79 GAO. 2005. Air Traffic Control: Characteristics and Performance of Selected International Air Navigation Service Providers and Lessons Learned from Their Commercialization. Report GAO-05- 769. July. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05769.pdf. GAO. 2012. Air Traffic Control Modernization: Management Challenges Associated with Program Costs and Schedules Could Hinder NextGen Implementation. Report GAO 12-223. Feb. http://www.gao.gov/assets/590/588627.pdf. U.S. Department of Defense. 2011. Department of Defense Standard Practice: Human Engineering Requirements for Military Systems, Equipment, and Facilities. MIL-STD-46855A. May 24.