Crossing the Line

On 11/01/2014, in ATC world, by steve

One of the first decisions taken when we started Roger-Wilco was to identify our authors by first name only. This was done not to hide anything but to create a more family feeling for the whole thing. As in real families, in the Roger-Wilco family also there have been events to mourn and events to celebrate. The latest cause for celebration is the new job our regular contributor, lajos, has started in earlier this month. Regular readers will recognize his name as the one bringing us The Tower Chronicles, subjective but fascinating and revealing accounts from the life of Ferihegy Airport. Lajos has changed his air traffic controller hat for that of an incident investigator… crossing the line you might say.

lineMost pilots and air traffic controllers will spend their whole life doing what they had been trained for and they bear the brunt of the profession and are happy in what they are doing. Others will become restless and feel the urge to try something new and different… to cross the line into new territory and new challenges. Most of the time they stay near to their original profession, what is more, they might even continue to practice it if for no other reason than to keep their license valid, but crossing the line is not as simple as some, who have never done it, imagine. It is doable, but…

For both personal and professional reasons, I have been in such a “line crossing” situation several times and by way of celebrating lajos’ having taken the plunge, I would like to share some of my experience with you. Who knows, it may be of benefit to someone, somewhere.

Even if the new job is just one floor below the original, even if one has known the new colleagues for many years, the first few days in the new job feel weird and unreal. New tasks, new viewpoints, different customs and attitudes… it is like getting along with a new girlfriend. It is nice and exciting but full of surprises and unexpected turns. Settling into the new position is only part of the story… the real shock comes when one goes back to the original place to do a bit of air traffic control for old times’ sake. Friends and colleagues suddenly become remote and some may even be slightly hostile. Do they feel deserted? Do they think you are cheating on them? Whatever… get used to it. The familiar is familiar no more. It is an all new ball game!

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Will EUROCONTROL’s New DG Rebuild an Old Dream?

On 11/01/2013, in ATC world, by steve

Frank Brenner, EUROCONTROL’s new DG

Once upon a time, EUROCONTROL had been created to be the air navigation service provider for Europe. Operating a limited number of air traffic control centers, a research institute and a training facility, it would have been the key to an efficient set up not unlike what we find in the United States.

Unfortunately, before the concept could be fully implemented, European States decided that such a pan-European service was not to their liking and they went for a EUROCONTROL that ended up having responsibility for only a relatively small chunk of airspace (although it is one of the busiest) and all later attempts to go further in the original direction were repulsed. Just think of CEATS…

A few functions were allowed to be under the EUROCONTROL umbrella. The Integrated Initial Flight Plan Processing System and the Central Executive Unit (the flow management folks) escaped the State surgeons’ knife and went on to become real success stories. They were later joined by the European AIS Data Base and of course the Central Route Charges Office is also something Europe could no longer exist without.

But air traffic control remained hopelessly fragmented and the costs were much higher than those in the US while the whole operation was a good deal less efficient. A series of projects entailed, each with lofty ideas about repairing European ATM but they all failed due to the same elementary forces that had afflicted the EUROCONTROL dream… The inertia and parochial thinking of European States, who were mainly interested in maintaining the status quo. Change came only where it was really no longer possible to keep things as they were.

Seeing that Europe as a whole was unable to reform its ATM, the European Commission came with a new idea. Let’s divide Europe into 2-3 blocks of airspace cut out to reflect the main traffic patterns and then have States optimize their services inside these blocks. So the FAB (Functional Airspace Block) idea was born. Of course Europe being Europe, instead of 2 or 3 FABs, 9 (NINE!!!) were created reflecting political wishes rather than the needs of air traffic patterns.

Guess what was discovered next? That 5 or 6 European States have roughly the same difficulty in agreeing anything as 20 or 39 do. The whole idea of FABs is fragmentation on a different scale but with 9 of the animals working away practically independently, a recipe for failure was clearly on the table. 4 December 2012 was the date when the FABs should have been operational… The date came and went and the FABs were there in name only to the dismay of the European Commission and the airlines who gave voice to their disappointment in a letter with unusually hard words.

Now EUROCONTROL has a new director.

Frank Brenner, a former VP of the Performance Review Commission, seems to be the bearer of something new… Something that might, one day, restore things to where they should have been decades ago but were always torpedoed by the parochial thinkers.

Centralised services…

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SESAR Interview – A Roger-Wilco Exclusive

On 23/02/2012, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

For the second year now, as part of the preparations for ATC Global in Amsterdam, Roger-Wilco editor Steve Zerkowitz has been granted an exclusive interview with an officer of SESAR. This time he talked with the JU’s Michael Standar, Chief Strategies and International Relations about the achievements and challenges of the SESAR Program.

Last year everyone was waiting for the details of Release 1. How far have the aims been achieved? Are there any problems? What is the impact on SESAR as a whole?

When the first list of potential Release 1 validation exercises was developed, it was fairly long.… Together with the members, we scrutinized each project as to its true potential of being ready for industrialization. These iterations resulted in a final approved Release 1 set of exercises with content deemed ready for real world validation. Even though this being a bottom-up process I believe through this process we did reach the aims set out for Release 1.

Of course one must also remember that Release 1, important as it is, primarily focusing on mature areas to prove industrialization readiness and not the whole Program; as such Release 1 was certainly a success within its limits.

In this context the “story” of IP1 is worth being mentioned. There too a number of the original IP1 OIs needed more SESAR R&D. Some people might say that a lot of the IP1 content included solutions that had been developed earlier. This is correct, but they nevertheless lacked a true validation in a real life environment with the necessary analysis and with the relevant stakeholder involvement. Another thing we had to realize was the need to approach the new features on an iterative basis. This is the best way to progress towards maturity. Take Initial 4D for instance. We will have three iterations starting in 2011 and then continuing in 2012 and 2013. These fit well with the target dates of the Master Plan also.

Another element of the Program that is an important candidate for iterative development is the remote tower concept. An excellent idea and something that is eminently feasible but in order to have a deployable product, we will have to go through a number of iterations to reach full maturity.

We have also seen that there is no such thing as “one size fits all”. The iterations do allow us to define the best fits for different environments while staying fully within the original spiral of development. This is a very cost effective approach to the development of the elements of a complex system like ATM.

In the meantime, Release 2 is on the table. What is the chief content? How is Release 2 progressing?

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FAA Approves Use of ARINC’s HFDL Network for Air Traffic Control Data Link Communications

On 20/02/2012, in Just to let you know..., by steve

Following a recent trial, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has prepared the way for data link Air Traffic Control (ATC) communications over the global High Frequency Data Link (HFDL) network of ARINC Incorporated. The technology is known as FOH, an acronym for “FANS (Future Air Navigation System)1/A over HFDL.”

In a January 12 letter, the FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, Margaret Gilligan, stated, “The FAA accepts FOH as a viable means of Air Traffic Service (ATS) communications,” and agrees that FOH “will provide an effective means of Air Traffic Control (ATC) communications and position reporting.”

The FAA decision means aircraft already using HFDL for long distance operational communications will eventually be capable of using the ARINC service to communicate with controllers as well.

Ron Hawkins, ARINC Vice President of Commercial Aviation Solutions, welcomes the FAA decision. “By adopting FOH for Air Traffic Control, both pilots and controllers will be able to reduce their workloads on and off the aircraft—all the while increasing safety by automating activities previously done with voice,” he states.

FOH data link provides an inexpensive global alternative to satellite-based global communications, and it is expected to be most beneficial in controlled Oceanic airspace such as the North Atlantic and Pacific flight routes. With the addition of FOH, ARINC offers the world’s broadest portfolio of aeronautical communication services.

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In Place of Praise

On 12/01/2012, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

The end of 2011 is in fact the end of an epoch in the history of Hungarian air traffic control. I do not want to qualify this epoch, future generations might do that in the fullness of time. The fact remains, an important generation of controllers have retired. I call them the “beat-generation”. About 40 people have, willingly or reluctantly, chosen for retirement in 2011 mainly to avoid the consequences of the altered pension rules kicking in this year.

They were lucky in this also, like in so many things during the past 40 years. Our generation will miss out on any favorable terms of retirement, exactly because of the huge numbers in the “beat-generation” causing the strain on the State retirement fund to grow exponentially. This is why the age limit for retirement is being raised, a fact that affects our generation especially hard since the age limit is climbing in front of our very noses.

The “beat-generation” was lucky also in arriving at the airport at just the right time. With low traffic, they did not take long to learn the tricks of the trade. I have heard from them many times that they became air traffic controllers more or less by accident, they were working at the airport where they heard that aircraft could not only be flown but also controlled… Of course as time passed by, they grew with the traffic. They had another ace up their sleeves. In those decades, controllers were still a team, they knew how to stand together and protect their interests. This was the case when we came home from the ATC course in Riga after almost three years. They knew that our knowledge was superior to theirs (not only because of Riga) and they responded by simply closing ranks. At the courses held on home base they were present as instructors and they did their best to make us hate this business and to discourage us from trying to be more clever than they were.

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Collaborative Departure Queue Management (CDQM) – What is this?

On 26/12/2011, in Buzzwords explained, by steve

Although the concept of Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) originated in the US, Europe did leapfrog ahead with its initiative called Airport CDM (A-CDM). A-CDM has been implemented at a number of European airports with varying degrees of success and it seems that the momentum of implementation has slowed somewhat. On the other hand, most everybody agrees that A-CDM, if done properly, does bring the benefits predicted by the early cost-benefit analyses.

While A-CDM has several elements, practically all the benefits arise from the shared information and resulting better decisions while the chief conceptual basis of A-CDM is embodied in the milestones approach. The milestones are in fact defined events and corresponding statuses that must be achieved at defined times as the flight is going through the turnaround process. The turnaround process is then managed proactively by all the parties involved who share the same view and understanding of the process and the consequences of not meeting a given milestone. In fact, the purpose of A-CDM is to make the operation more predictable which reduces unnecessary queuing at the runway.

Of course things did not stand still in the US either. While the basic principles of the A-CDM concept have been adopted it was necessary to steer developments in a direction that took account of the fundamental differences between Europe and the US environment. These concern mainly the more active role aircraft operators play in assigning and controlling airport resources like gates and ramp areas as well as the availability of the FAA Command Center which, unlike the CFMU in Europe, has real authority to dynamically manage the National Airspace System.

The FAA has developed a Surface CDM Concept of Operations which provides the overall framework for CDM implementation in the airport context, much like the A-CDM Concept of Operations does in Europe. Collaborative Departure Queue Management (CDQM) is one element of the Surface CDM Concept, which has actually been tested in the US (in Memphis among others).

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My Fifth Mistake as an Air Traffic Controller

On 23/11/2011, in ATC world, by jim

Yes, here I am again. You’d think by now I would stop this self-flagellation, but this is not for me. I record these incidents so you may see the mistake and avoid the same or similar in your life. I noted in my last missile that pride was a key ingredient in most of my mistakes. So it was and is.

Altimetry, a simple system; Know the pressure of the atmosphere and you can accurately judge distance above the surface. But we humans have made it a bit more difficult than stated. We have different methods of measurement. Some measure in inches others measure in centimeters. Compounding this is the insistence of some to measure height above sea level and others above the ground level. In the parlance of the time QNH and QFE.

Because of these anomalies the controller at Rhein-Main in 1957 had to have available the QNH and QFE in both Inches of mercury and Millibars of mercury. This means four numbers. The field elevation at Frankfurt International Airport was 272 feet Mean Sea Level. Therefore a QNH reading of 29.92 inches becomes a QFE of 272 feet less, or 29.65 and the concomitant millibar numbers, 1012.3 and —–.
Each hour when the weather observer recorded the observation on a Dimiphone recording, the QNH and QFE would be given in both inches and millibars. Those numbers would then be written on a backlit Plexiglas placard and posted so everyone in the control room could see the placard.

For those who are interested, the QNH and QFE three letter groups are from the days of Morse code transmission of information. They are from the list of “Q” signals. QDM is the magnetic course to a station, QSY is, “Change your radio frequency to xxxx“. There is a long list of these abbreviations. Many were still used as shorthand phraseology in radiotelephony in the 50’s and 60’s, especially in the international aviation system.

With all that as preface, this is the incident as it happened:

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Island hopping with Travel Service

On 18/11/2011, in The lighter side, by heading370

Summer months are of crucial importance for all airlines but they are even more so for those in the charter business. Airliner World was happy to accept the invitation of one of those charter companies, Travel Service Hungary – an affiliate of its owner Travel Service A.S. – to check how their operations are conducted from their Budapest base.

The Czech company was founded in 1997 and became one of the fastest growing Central European charter operators. In 2008 the company transported 2.8 million passengers using a fleet of 18 aircraft. The company has 2 Boeing B737-500, 12 B737-800 (of which OK-TVJ and OK-TVK were delivered brand new), 2 Airbus A320 and two B737-800 on wet lease. They have been present in Hungary since 2001 and operate about 32 medium and long haul flights a week from Hungary while employing 21 full time pilots at that base.

On a beautiful Sunday morning in July at Budapest-Ferihegy (ICAO:LHBP, IATA: BUD) Terminal 2B I met one of the airline’s young captains Peter Buliczka and his crew getting ready for an interesting trip. The flight’s first stop will be at Heraklion, Nikos Kazantzakis airport (ICAO: LGIR, IATA: HER) Crete then we will fly on to Rhodes (Rodos) Diagoras (ICAO: LGRP IATA: RHO) before heading back to Budapest. Some time ago the airline would have operated two separate flights to these two destinations, but because of the falling demand this summer travel agencies struggled to fill these flights every week.

Captain Buliczka introduced me to the entire crew: the captain will be assisted by First Officer Attila Lanc in the cockpit, while in the cabin the usual crew of four will be supplemented by two young trainee flight assistant colleagues under the supervision of Purser Zoltan Koltai.

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Check out the Aero Glossary

On 14/11/2011, in Just to let you know..., by steve

It is probably the sign of the times but we are being inundated by abbreviations. Just watch your son or daughter write an SMS and you will see how they have caught on to the old secret familiar also in aviation: use abbreviations to express what you want to say and you can say much more in the same space of time… or the SMS as it were.

The old Q-code system is a good example of how abbreviations can be used to communicate effectively when the bandwidth is limited and it is important not to be ambiguous. That aviation still has this propensity to invent new abbreviations is probably due to a family trait that goes back to before even the Q-codes were introduced.

But it is not only abbreviations that make life difficult. Technology is progressing so fast that it is well nigh impossible to keep up. New terms keep coming at us and it is an achievement in itself if we can familiarize ourselves at least with all the new things popping up in our specialist area.

But help is at hand. Check out the free Aero Glossary here. This wonderful repository contains 12000 abbreviations, more than 2000 aircraft codes, more than 8000 airline codes and much much more, with their coverage increasing by the hour. A really nice touch is that you can access the free glossary not only from your PC but also your mobile devices as there are versions for Apple, Android and Windows Phone.

All this is brought to you by Compass Innovative Solutions Ltd. who will be also happy to receive your contributions to the glossary.

Before you ask, let me answer the obvious question. With Wikipedia around, why do we need the Aero Glossary? Wiki is great but I like the focused way Aero Glossary works. It also brings you, in an easy to navigate way, things that do not fit well with Wiki’s format. Just think of country or airline codes or ATC call-signs and you will see what I mean.

This is a very nice initiative and I will be using it all the time.

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TITAN – The best game in town

On 14/11/2011, in TITAN, by steve

No, this is not something new for your Wii or other gaming platform… sorry.

True, experts participating in the TITAN project gathered in Budapest’s Airport Hotel for a gaming exercise but this was serious business. The project has reached an important phase in its development: it was time to validate the services and information defined as the basis of the TITAN concept of operations.

As you will recall, TITAN is about optimizing the aircraft turnaround process by making it more predictable. This is achieved by creating a picture of the turnaround that shows much more detail than was previously the case. TITAN uses a service oriented architecture and some elements of the SWIM concept have also been incorporated. All information is shared and users access information via subscriptions and in accordance with the access rights defined as one of the characteristics of the various data elements.

Gaming is more or less what its title suggests: you get some folks together, assign them various roles that correspond to the roles in the real life environment you are trying to validate and they “play” out their role as pre-written scenarios evolve. In the case of TITAN, the whole affair started with the selected participants being asked to subscribe to the information they thought would be required to perform their roles. So, the persons acting as ground handler, airport operator, airline and ATC had to stop and think what exactly they would need to facilitate the turnaround, knowing of course that asking for too much information is both expensive and can lead to information overload.

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