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XPONENTIAL Innovation Preview -- www.allthingsunmanned.com

Thu, Apr 01, 2004

FAA Tests New Automated ATC System

Experiment Meets With Mixed Results

The FAA says a competition that officials had hoped would end forever issues of ATC fatigue, pay and benefits, has ended with results less than what they hoped for.

"The idea here was to further automate the ATC system," said FAA Administrator Marion Blakey. "Robots could stay in the tower 24/7. They don't demand raises, they don't take breaks and they don't whine about insurance benefits. This is a promising concept."

But turning that concept into reality has proven much more difficult than first anticipated. While the FAA won't release transcripts of conversations between the automated controllers, ANN spoke to several of the pilots involved in the experiment.

"I was asking for approach vectors," said one B-36 pilot, "and all the controller could say was 'Klaatu, Barrada, Nikto!' I mean, I went all through my charts and didn't see any of those intersections!"

A Beech Baron crew departing Oshkosh said, "We heard our proximity warning go off just as we penetrated the clouds. At the same time, this wierd voice came on the radio and said, 'Warning, Will Robinson! Danger!' We couldn't get anything else out of him."

Even at this early stage, it appears other controllers are willing to try incorporating the automated systems into their ranks. But again, they seem to be meeting with little success.

"Our organizer clandestinely approached the automated system at O'Hare," said one NATCA source. "He mentioned the dues structure and that damned robot disintegrated him!"

"One aspect of the situation turned out exceptionally well," said Blakey. "That Robbie model makes GREAT microwave popcorn!"

FMI: www.faa.gov

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