The Real Reason for the ERAM Rush

The FAA is frantically trying to get its new ERAM computer system into use at its first two enroute test facilities (as well as a third, supplemental test facility).

They’re in the midst of an eight day test now with live traffic at Salt Lake Center (ZLC).

Regardless of what the FAA is telling the press, ERAM is behind schedule, and falling further behind every day.

Its own NextGen Commitments and FY09 Work Plan had ERAM running at 6 of the 20 centers in 2009, and at the remaining 14 in 2010.  Has anyone noticed the date on the calendar lately?

Part of the big rush to get ERAM into use in spite of its problems is because the FAA …

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Good Luck Brothers!

Tonight marks the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of ERAM at my facility, Minneapolis ARTCC (ZMP).  It’s the first test of ERAM on live traffic at ZMP, starting at around 11 PM local time.

I wish my air traffic control coworkers the best of luck during the test!

But not to worry, because I’m sure there will be lots of FAA managers earning overtime pay to “supervise” the affair.  We had extra managers on duty when Salt Lake City (ZLC) went IOC a while ago.

Most importantly, as the last line of this memorandum from the ZMP ERAM Lead says:

“Cake will be served!”

The FAA is famous for having cakes as a way of self-congratulations for a job well done.…

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Who Wants to be a Guinea Pig?

Anyone who’s been paying attention might wonder as an enroute center controller why I’ve been criticizing ERAM so much lately.

After all, ERAM is the next generation enroute center tool that one would assume is supposed to help air traffic controllers do their jobs better.

I made the following statement back in this entry:

Anything the FAA could offer to controllers to decrease their workload and provide them help in reducing the potential for mistakes would be welcome.

If indeed I believed ERAM was going to make my job easier, that might be true.

Although there is lots of underlying capability for future expansion, ERAM doesn’t really include any new tools for controllers.

We’re not guessing about what ERAM …

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Damn the Torpedoes/ERAMming Speed and DARC

Here’s another indication that the FAA knows that En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) isn’t ready for use on live air traffic.

Air traffic controllers at my facility are getting extra training on the Direct Access Radar Channel (DARC) system, which is the current backup system for the primary HOST computer that processes and displays the radar information for enroute controllers.

(Note:  Somewhere along the line DARC became EDARC for “Enhanced” DARC, then Enhanced Back-Up Surveillance, or EBUS,  but my radar display still says “DARC” when its running and has essentially the same functionality in all versions, so that’s what I’m going to call it.)

FAA orders require that all controllers get yearly refresher training on the DARC system, just to …

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Rolling the Dice with ERAM

The FAA contracted with Lockheed Martin to create a brand new computer system for enroute controllers called En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM).

ERAM is slated to replace the aging HOST computer systems that run the current enroute radar displays, and is part of the FAA’s grand NextGen scheme, an overhaul of the country’s air traffic control system; a large part of which hasn’t even yet been clearly defined.

However, in spite of the fact that the FAA insists the ERAM program is on time and on budget, there have actually been numerous delays and lots of problems.

My facility (Minneapolis Center, ZMP) was last scheduled to go Initial Operational Capability (IOC) sometime last November, but that date was pushed back …

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Motivation By Fear From the Tombstone Agency

We were just subjected to another mandatory FAA “training” video at work last Saturday.

A few weeks ago we watched a different video that made analogies between air traffic control and NASCAR racing.  It’s not the first time we’ve seen training videos comparing our job to auto racing.

What’s telling is that the FAA seems to think race cars driving at high speed on the edge of control for entertainment is similar to what air traffic controllers do.  Do they also believe then that crashes and collisions are an inevitable part of the air traffic business?  Do they really think air traffic is a thrill sport?!

Controllers routinely watch training videos that include air traffic errors with the idea …

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An Absurd Sense of Priorities

Three years ago the FAA managers decided it was high time to fix what they apparently saw as some of the “major” problems facing the organization.

Those problems included such weighty issues as how controllers dressed and whether or not they ate food in the control room.

FAA managers decided that air traffic controllers were no longer the responsible employees that had previously been tasked with and trusted to work autonomously keeping airplanes safely apart.  Instead they began treating controllers as irresponsible children who didn’t even have the good sense to know when they could put a bite of food into their mouths.

Overnight food in the control room became a major safety issue at my facility and was banned …

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Chasing NORDO Tails

I just had my monthly refresher training, which usually consists of computer lessons.

The latest refresher training included how to contact the Domestic Events Network (DEN), including the phone number and a recording of the format to be used in a call to the DEN.

To reiterate, the DEN involves an ongoing conference call that includes the FAA and military representatives, that is supposed to track and react to developing aviation situations/incidents, such as Northwest 188, that went out of contact with air traffic controllers (NORDO) for over an hour last October enroute to Minneapolis.

If needed the military can scramble jet fighters to intercept such flights.  (In the case of Northwest 188, exactly what the fighters would …

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A Problem With NORDOs

Since the incident with Northwest Flight 188 in October, the FAA has been on the hot seat for failing to recognize and take action in a timely manner on flights that lose radio contact with air traffic control (NORDO, an acronym for “no radio”).

In that incident, FAA managers had plenty of time to act but instead failed to follow procedures that would have notified the military of the flight’s NORDO status.

Considering the amount of time the flight went without being in contact with air traffic control, it was a highly suspicious situation.

According the FAA orders, flights that are out of contact with air traffic for more than five minutes are supposed to be considered …

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More FAA Statistical Manipulations

I hate to be continually blogging about my annoyances with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but my employer just keeps coming up with more stuff noteworthy of mention here, and it’s also my way of venting my frustration.

First, I will establish a little background for those not in the air traffic business so that my story will make more sense.

Air traffic control is highly compartmentalized.  That is, the system is built around the concept that a single controller is responsible for, and can freely control traffic only within his own clearly defined section of airspace.  Entering another controller’s section of airspace requires permission, as does performing some control action on an aircraft before it is within the confines …

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