Ignoring the Rules

With the arrival of summer and convective weather air traffic controllers have to separate aircraft in the chaos resulting from aircraft deviating around weather.

Normally aircraft are all on filed routes, so controllers know exactly where they’re going.  They keep the airplanes apart based on those routings.

Once aircraft start turning off course to avoid cells of weather, the controllers’ task of keeping all the airplanes apart becomes much more complex.  When aircraft are deviating for weather controllers no longer know exactly where the aircraft are going.  Pilot requests to deviate and for turbulence reports also increase the controllers’ workload dramatically.

A sector that can handle a certain number of aircraft safely and efficiently under normal conditions can only handle …

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ERAM Under the Radar

It’s been a while since my last entry, mostly because all has been pretty quiet on the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) front, at least at my facility (Minneapolis ARTCC or ZMP), and I’ve been otherwise occupied with other summer projects.

As you may know the FAA stopped testing the ERAM software on live traffic in late March, due to the many serious problems they were experiencing with it.  I don’t believe it has been used on live traffic since.

Sometime in April some of the centers began testing version 2 of the ERAM software, which also involved some firmware updates to hardware.  We’ve gone to our backup computer system (EBUS/DARC) several times on the overnight/midshift since then to accomplish …

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ERAM Problems No Longer a Secret

In spite of the FAA’s attempts to keep their ongoing problems with their En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) program under wraps, there are those that have taken notice.

The Department of Transportation Inspector General (DOT IG), Calvin L. Scovel III, testifed before the House Subcommittee on Aviation on April 21st, 2010, about the status of the FAA’s entire NextGen project, including ERAM, stating that (my emphasis):

The $2.1 billion ERAM program will replace the existing hardware and software at facilities that manage high-altitude traffic.  ERAM,  however,  is experiencing software-related problems at FAA’s key initial operating site in Salt Lake City.  These problems include radar processor failures, problems in handing off traffic between controllers, and critical flight information being paired to

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We Apologize for the Delay (in ERAM)…

For the time being, the FAA’s En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) usage on live traffic is on hold pending what the FAA is calling a “review” of the program.

Early in the week of March 22, the FAA finally gave in to pressure to stop running the faulty versions of the ERAM software on live air traffic.

We were also being told that allegedly they were going to take the time to allow the program contractor (Lockheed Martin) to make software changes that would fix all the major ERAM bugs before running it again on live air traffic.

But early in April, it appeared that the FAA was considering having Salt Lake Center (ZLC) run the latest ERAM software version …

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About Time, or Better Late Than Never

The FAA is finally taking a break from its thoughtless, irresponsible and reckless pursuit of testing its next generation enroute air traffic control display software on the flying public.

Within the last few days, apparently the FAA has decided to stop running the new software on live traffic and make an “assessment” of the program, although certainly not by its own accord.

Since last year, the FAA has been routinely running its En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM software), still under development, on live traffic, with many known critical bugs at three key sites, including including Salt Lake Center (ZLC), Seattle Center (ZSE), and Minneapolis Center (ZMP).

In spite of the fact that the FAA and the program contractor, Lockheed Martin, …

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I’ve Been ERAMmed

In the event people are visiting to see more updates on En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM), I’ll try and make this short.

ERAM, the replacement computer/display system for enroute center controllers, is still experiencing problems and the FAA continues to use it on live air traffic.  In other words, not much has changed.

The most critical ERAM bugs that I’m aware of (outside of outright display failures/lockups – big red “X”s) involve data block/tracking issues, some of which haven’t been corrected even though they’ve been known of for some time.  The absolute worst tracking bug is when a data block drops off a target and the accompanying flight plan is simultaneously deleted.  Other critical tracking bugs involve data blocks tracking …

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Complacency: Laziness, or Learned?

After a recent incident gained media attention, there were accusations that the FAA and its air traffic controllers had grown complacent in regards to safety.

The latest incident involved a veteran controller at New York’s JFK airport, who had his children relay some air traffic clearances on the radio frequency.

The JFK incident was the third in a string of recent air traffic control related incidents that made the headlines, including last summer’s mid-air collision near Teterboro airport in New Jersey of two VFR aircraft, as well as the incident last fall where Northwest 188 lost contact with air traffic control and eventually overflew its destination.

Always ready to put on the proper face to the media, the top …

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More Signficant ERAM Problems

Salt Lake Center (ZLC) reverted back to the HOST computer system last night due to major problems after starting an ERAM run last week that was supposed to be permanent.

I’m sure the FAA and the contractor Lockheed Martin will write it off as just another “glitch” (i.e. part of the development cycle), but it’s another glaring demonstration of how unreliable the ERAM software still is, even though the FAA continues to test it on live traffic, expecting air traffic controllers to simply work around its many problems and keep aircraft safely separated nonetheless.

ZLC started running ERAM on what was supposed to be a permanent basis on the morning of Wednesday, February 17.

They had previously completed an an …

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Dodging Responsibility for ERAM

FAA management doesn’t really like to make decisions.  That’s primarily because they know if they make decisions they can potentially be held accountable for those decisions.

So they’ve decided that the safest tact is to avoid making decisions whenever possible.

If those same managers started as air traffic controllers, part of the reason many of them quit working airplanes and took management positions so quickly after completing training is that because many didn’t like making lots of real time decisions as controllers they knew they would be held accountable for later.  (That and most of them weren’t very good at making decisions as air traffic controllers.)

As an example, a few years ago I vividly remember witnessing a conversation a …

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ERAM Mitigation Schemes

There are a lot of center/enroute air traffic controllers that are interested in what’s happening with ERAM, including those at facilities that have already run ERAM on live traffic.

They’ve heard some vague stories of problems with the system, but very little details.

Salt Lake Center (ZLC) ran an eight day test that ended last week, and when it concluded we heard…nothing…

My facility, Minneapolis Center (ZMP) leapfrogged Seattle Center (ZSE) as an ERAM key site, becoming an “alternate key site” for a variety of reasons.  One of the reasons was because of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada which starts February 12, 2010 and is going to impact ZSE’s traffic.

In the off chance you’re still buying the …

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