Air Traffic Control Newsletter #150
Photo 65984399 © Stoyan Yotov -

Air Traffic Control Reform Newsletter

Air Traffic Control Newsletter #150

In this issue:

Blame for JFK Fiasco Includes Air Traffic Control

By now the whole world knows the story of the chaos that unfolded at New York’s Kennedy International in the wake of a severe winter storm the first weekend in January. The Port Authority—essentially the airport’s landlord—announced that the airport would shut down the morning of January 4th, as snow continued to pile up. But at 1 PM, it said the airport would re-open later that day (per the New York Times’ detailed account on January 8th). Another announcement at 6:20 PM said JFK would re-open that evening. Those two accounts led airlines in Europe and elsewhere to launch their delayed flights to New York, but after a 7:30 PM announcement that the airport would remain closed overnight, many of those flights turned around, and others had to divert. When the airport finally re-opened on Friday, diverted flights at other airports took off for JFK, as did flights in Europe. The result, as we all know, was that JFK was overloaded with aircraft on the tarmac, since most terminals had few or no gates available—and JFK does not use remote hard stands, as many airports in Europe do.

In the wake of this debacle, two investigations have been announced. The FAA says it is investigating the Port Authority, focusing on inadequate snow removal. The Port Authority itself has commissioned former DOT Secretary Ray LaHood to investigate coordination between international airlines and the terminals where they lease gates.

What’s missing from this picture? The air traffic control system. A highly relevant term—collaborative decision making (CDM)—has been completely absent from the post-mortems on JFK. Yet if there is a single huge failure that led to this fiasco, it is the failure of FAA to apply its existing CDM approach to pre-empt overloading JFK with planes it could not accommodate.

In an article in Airspace magazine (Quarter 4, 2013), the ATO’s Teri Bristol explained that the agency has been employing CDM to address this kind of situation since 1995. The FAA Command Center employs CDM “to ensure that all stakeholders have common situational awareness of weather and other potential constraints in the National Airspace System.” In the article, she describes a severe fog problem at SFO on Oct. 21, 2013, restricting the airport’s arrival rate to 31 per hour from the normal rate of 54. A collaborative plan was agreed to, under which some flights to SFO were kept on the ground until conditions improved. “The key point is that all stakeholders cooperated in the collaborative process prior to, and during the event to minimize delays and impact to airline schedules.” This kind of thing goes on all year long, whether it is blizzards in winter or huge arrays of thunderstorms in summer. The last line in Bristol’s article was, “This benefit extends across international boundaries, as well.”

Evidently, it did not apply to the closure of JFK the first weekend in January. Yet CDM has been embraced across international boundaries as early as 2012 in the Asia-Pacific region and is recognized in Eurocontrol’s 2008 Implementation Manual for airport CDM. As Air Traffic Management reported in 2009, “CDM is recognized as a vital component of future air traffic management across Europe.”

Some media reports put the blame for lack of coordination between international airlines and JFK on the organizational structure at the airport, with essentially separate management of each of the terminals, and the Port Authority really only in charge of the runways and taxiways. But that ignores the role that should have been played by the FAA Command Center, working with the airport and the airlines serving it (and in the case of Europe, with Eurocontrol). Collaborative decision making was created to prevent fiascos like JFK’s. The investigation we need should find out why CDM failed.

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FAA’s Pathetic ATC Overflight Fees

While the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization is the world’s last remaining air navigation service provider (ANSP) still funded by taxes, it does charge one category of airspace users for traversing its airspace: aircraft that fly through domestic or oceanic airspace without landing or taking off at any U.S. airport.

Congress first authorized FAA to charge for “overflights” in 1996, and in the early years there were legal challenges from foreign airlines and squabbles among congressional committees over whether the fees should be based on “cost” or “value.” The “cost” side won, so the current overflight fees depart from standard ICAO charging principles, based on aircraft weight and distance. Instead, FAA charges a flat rate based on distance, derived from its cost of providing ATC services. Since the cost of providing “procedural” control in oceanic airspace is less than providing control via radar surveillance over land, there are separate rates for each. Starting with FY 2015, those rates are $21.63 per 100 nm for oceanic and $56.86 per 100 nm for en-route (over land).

My characterization of FAA’s overflight fee operation as “pathetic” is based on a report by the DOT Office of Inspector General released last month. (“FAA Needs to Enhance the Oversight and Management of Its Overflight Fee Program,” Report No. FI2018011, Dec. 11, 2017). The report’s three main findings are these:

  • “FAA invoices aircraft operators for millions of dollars in overflight fees but cannot ensure those fees are computed accurately.”
  • “FAA appropriately applied exception rules in most, but not all, cases.”
  • “FAA does not ensure that its overflight fee debt-collection efforts comply with Federal laws and regulations.”

Those may sound like nit-picks, but when you read the entire report, what emerges is a half-hearted, slipshod effort that makes you wonder why FAA even bothers.

FAA uses a contractor to identify the flights that should be charged overflight fees, based on flight data from FAA’s Traffic Flow Management System, provided to the contractor by FAA’s Office of Performance Analysis (OPA). The contractor manually reviews the maps for each flight to be sure it is eligible to be charged and, once a month, sends a file to FAA’s Enterprise Services Center. ESC reviews this with OPA and posts the charges to DOT’s accounting system, from which invoices are created and sent to customers. ESC tracks payments and reports past-due amounts to the US Treasury for collection.

That sounds cumbersome but workable. But OIG finds that what actually happens is a mess. First, FAA lacks policies and procedures to ensure that overflight-fee data are properly archived, validated, and kept up to date. OIG analysts found that the data files on which bills are based are un-auditable, and this “raises questions about the entire universe of $24.3 million in open invoices” listed in the accounting system at the time of the OIG review. Second, FAA lacks internal controls to oversee the contractor and the ESC employees who run the program. “Unidentified flights accumulate on the exclusion report,” they found, and unbilled flights led to a $2.8 million discrepancy between the billable amount reported by the contractor and what was actually billed by ESC. Third, FAA does not have comprehensive policies to ensure that legal exemptions from overflight fees are properly applied—to the point where “FAA is not in compliance with Federal laws and regulations pertaining to overflight fees.” In addition, its debt-collection efforts do not comply with federal laws and regulations.

What comes across clearly from this audit report is that the overflight fee program is not taken seriously by FAA management. It’s a neglected step-child that is poorly run. The most important take-away from this report is to ask and answer the question: Why? The clue is provided in a sentence in the report’s one-paragraph conclusion:

“FAA has invoiced and collected millions of dollars in overflight fees since 2001 and relies on that revenue to fund other programs.”

That’s not quite correct. The second part should read, “and DOT takes that revenue and uses it for a non-ATC program.” Specifically, 100% of the overflight fee revenue goes to pay for a large fraction of the Essential Air Services (EAS) program that subsidizes airline service to small airports. That converts the overflight fee from a user fee into a tax, pure and simple.

If the overflight fee was a true user charge, 100% of the revenues would be retained by FAA and used to support the budget of the Air Traffic Organization. While $100 million a year would be a small part of the ATO’s $12 billion budget, given FAA’s dire budget situation, any additional revenue source would deserve and get management attention.

Once the ATO is converted into a self-supporting ATC corporation, overflight fees would be one component of ICAO-type fees for service—terminal, en-route, and oceanic—just like the ATC fees in routine use by ANSPs worldwide. The politicization of FAA’s overflight fees is one more reason to make this much-needed transition.

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Remote/Virtual Towers Going Global

I guess you know an aviation phenomenon is real when Wired does a feature story about it for a non-aviation audience. Their November 2017 article, “The Future of Air Traffic Control is Twitch-style Live Streaming,” introduced their readers to the planned remote tower for London City Airport, on which I reported in a recent issue of this newsletter.

Since that last report, more remote or virtual tower projects have been unveiled, in the Asia/Pacific region as well as in Europe, where the trend began some years ago. Airways New Zealand, the world’s first corporatized ANSP, last month announced that it has contracted with Frequentis to develop a remote tower demonstration project at Auckland International Airport. Ten cameras (two of them infrared) have been installed on the airfield and will feed a 220-degree display screen feeding a ground-based control room. Assuming the trial is successful, Airways’ next step will likely be to create a remote tower center to serve one or more small airports, as a further trial.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore in November announced the award of a contract with NATS, the UK’s ANSP, to install a “smart digital tower” prototype at Changi Airport, one of the world’s major hubs. The project is a trial, to evaluate the suitability of such a tower for a large airport such as Changi. If the trial is successful, it could lead to replacing the traditional tower or retaining the digital tower as a contingency facility.

As part of its plan to expand air service to smaller cities in India, the Airports Authority of India is embarking on a remote tower program. The first remote tower center will be created at Ahmedabad to control flights at Surat airport, as a pilot program. A second pilot will test controlling several airports (Kadapa, Pudcherry, and Salem) from a single center at Chennai.

In Europe, more and more countries are moving to remote towers. As previously reported here, Frequentis is developing a German remote tower center at Leipzig to manage traffic at three airports: Dresden, Erfurt, and Saarbrücken. The Leipzig center passed site acceptance testing in October. Another Frequentis project is developing a remote tower capability to manage ramp traffic at Vienna Airport in Austria.

In Hungary, HungaroControl and Searidge are developing a remote tower system for Budapest Airport. In November they announced that the system had been certified for live operations without “shadow” operations from the traditional tower. During 2018 the newly certified remote tower will be used for contingency operations and live training, but HungaroControl’s goal is to operate it full-time as the tower for Budapest.

Sweden’s pioneering ANSP—LFV—has signed an agreement with airport operator Swedavia to provide service to four airports from a new remote tower center at Stockholm Arlanda Airport. The four smaller airports are Kiruna, Malmo, Osterund, and Umea. A similar project was announced earlier this month in Scotland. Highlands and Islands Airports, Ltd. (HIAL) announced a plan to develop a remote tower center modeled after the original one in Sweden, capable of serving the airports at Benbecula, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, and Wick John O’Groats. The concept was evaluated for HIAL by aviation consultant Helios and dubbed feasible.

France, too, is moving cautiously into remote towers, though with some resistance from air traffic controllers. French ANSP DSNA plans to install “digital towers” at the Bordeaux and Cannes airports, after judging this to be more cost-effective than adding a radar tower; the systems will be based on cameras and multilateration. For the Tarbes airport, whose operations are controlled by an approach control center in Pau, DSNA will add cameras to provide better information for the approach controllers at Pau. But in two other cases—Bergerac and Saint-Etienne—the need to replace obsolete physical towers led to studies that found a remote tower would have costs similar to a new physical tower. But controllers on the study committee were concerned about “possible eye fatigue generated by the displays,” so replacement traditional towers will be built there.

This brief overview further reinforces a point I’ve made in previous reports: that self-supporting ANSPs are far ahead of FAA in developing and implementing remote towers.

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When ATC Fees Replace Aviation Taxes

If and when the FAA Air Traffic Organization is converted to a self-supporting nonprofit ANSP similar to Nav Canada, what would its customers pay? That question was asked and partially answered by the Eno Center for Transportation in an Aviation Insight released on January 17, 2018.

The methodology was pretty straightforward. Eno selected 20 U.S. routes, half departing from medium hub airports and half from large hubs. To compare current US aviation excise taxes with typical weight-distance ATC charges, Eno selected four typical passenger aircraft, and obtained data on the maximum take-off weight and fuel burn of each. They also needed the distance in miles between each city pair, and for passenger numbers they used the listed passenger capacity of each aircraft multiplied by the average 2016 load factor of 84.6%. For each plane on each route, the study then computed the existing aviation taxes (ticket tax and segment fee plus airline fuel tax) for the status quo. Likewise, they used the Nav Canada weight-distance fee schedule to compute the charge if those rates were charged by a new US ANSP. All charges are reported in U.S. dollars.

The results were dramatic. In nearly every case, the charges using the Nav Canada fees were 45 to 55% less than the taxes charged today. And since only about two-thirds of the US aviation taxes support the Air Traffic Organization (the remainder pays for airport grants and FAA safety regulation), the study used two-thirds of the tax amount in each case. Overall, the average cost—over all city-pairs and aircraft types—was 50% less.

Opponents of ATC corporatization will complain that this is not a fair comparison, because the FAA is much bigger and more complex than Nav Canada. What that ignores is that international comparisons of ATC productivity show that Nav Canada is significantly more efficient than the ANSPs of other large, developed countries. Its current ATC charges reflect the increases in the company’s productivity over its first two decades of operation, during which its rates have gone down by about 45% in nominal terms. So if the FAA Air Traffic Organization were corporatized today, with its current cost structure and practices in place, its ATC user fees would have to be significantly higher than those charged today by Nav Canada. But over its first decade or two there is every reason to expect those fees to decrease, as the organization is reformed and made more efficient. The prospects for greater efficiency and productivity should be large, since there are well-known economies of scale in air traffic control, and the ATO is the world’s largest ANSP.

Some corporatization critics even cite the bogus practice of Air Canada (the largest Canadian airline), which lists a per-passenger “ATC charge” as an add-on to its fares, though since ATC fees are simply an operating cost for airlines (akin to fuel, crew costs, etc.) that makes no sense. Canadian air fares reflect airlines’ operating costs and annualized capital costs, and the one cost that is significantly higher in Canada is airport charges, which have nothing to do with Nav Canada. Canadian airport charges are high in part because their federal government charges annual lease payments for the nonprofit airport authorities’ use of the land on which the airports sit, and the airports use the Canadian version of passenger facility charges to recover those costs from passengers.

The Eno study results are valid in showing the potential of converting the ATO into a nonprofit corporation similar to Nav Canada. Whether that potential is realized over time will depend on the enabling legislation allowing the new ATC corporation to operate like a business, in the interests of its stakeholders.

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GPS Backup Mandated by New Law

Concern over the vulnerability of GPS extends far beyond aviation, since GPS has become an integral part of our modern economy, thanks to its precision timing, location, and navigation capabilities. A Nov. 27, 2017 Wall Street Journal op-ed summed it up nicely: “If GPS Failed, We’d Be More Than Lost.” As I’ve written here before, the FAA’s plan to retain extensive legacy VORs and DMEs, plus all primary and most secondary radar capacity, is inadequate—and of course leaves all other GPS users fully vulnerable.

There is some good news to report on this front. In December, the President signed the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, and Transportation to carry out a demonstration of a national GPS backup capability within 18 months. And the day before, Sens. Ted Cruz (R, TX) and Ed Markey (D, MA) introduced the National Timing Resilience and Security Act of 2017. If enacted into law, it would require the DOD, DHS, and the Coast Guard to develop a land-based, resilient, and reliable alternative to GPS satellites, to provide a backup for all current users of GPS timing signals. This is one of the few bipartisan measures we have seen in the current Congress.

Support for these actions is growing, thanks to continued reports of GPS spoofing and jamming. The North Korean government is a frequent GPS jammer, aimed at disrupting South Korean military activities. The past year has seen numerous reports of what appears to be Russian GPS spoofing in the Black Sea, in which ships’ GPS report false positions dozens of miles from where they actually are. And during Russia’s large-scale military exercises in northern Europe last year, Norwegian Public Radio (NRK) reported that Norway’s ANSP—Avinor—had to suspend using GPS approaches due to GPS signal failures. Aircraft from both SAS and Wideroe airlines had to do without GPS guidance during that week.

If a national GPS backup system is implemented, FAA would be able to reconsider its original NextGen vision of retiring most ground-based legacy navigation aids, and possibly also its aging secondary radars. That would save a boatload of money that could be used to help pay for large-scale consolidation of the system’s aging centers and TRACONs.

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The Mendacious Propaganda War Against ATC Reform

If you are trying to defeat a proposed change in public policy, the standard propaganda approach is to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt (F.U.D.) among a relevant group of stakeholders. AOPA, NBAA, and their other GA allies have done that, creating great F.U.D. among managers of small airports, small-city public officials, and thousands of private pilots. The result has been letters to members of Congress, letters to the editor, and op-eds like one by Gary Cyr, manager of the Greeley-Weld County Airport, published January 4th in the Greeley Tribune. After five paragraphs extolling the very real benefits of general aviation, Mr. Cyr characterizes the proposed nonprofit ATC corporation as “a system that caters to the biggest airlines, airports and communities,” that would be “dominated by private interests.”

Mr. Cyr undoubtedly believes these things, but where did he get those notions? From a steady stream of mendacious propaganda put out by those who must know what they are saying is untrue—but who also know it is effective in creating F.U.D. among well-meaning citizens of rural America.

Meaning who, specifically? Well, there is Mark Baker, CEO of AOPA, who wrote the following in his editorial in the January 2018 issue of AOPA Pilot: “If handing over our ATC system to the airlines and special interests were to become law, there is no doubt that funding would be directed to the major hubs, leaving the lifeblood of aviation, the smaller GA airports, with the crumbs.” That is false in quite a few ways:

  • The major airlines would nominate only one member of the 13-member stakeholder board. Regional airlines would also nominate one, as would AOPA and NBAA and NATCA.
  • Airport funding would continue as it does now via the Airport Improvement Program, maintained by Congress and administered by the FAA. Small airports do very well under AIP.
  • The ATC corporation would undoubtedly sign up for space-based ADS-B service, which would bring precision navigation to rural and mountainous areas that are out of range of current ADS-B ground stations.
  • Contract towers would be continued, by law, and the ATC corporation would have the means and motivation to expand tower service to smaller airports using cost-effective remote towers.
  • And since general aviation would appoint the same number of board members as passenger airlines, does this mean that GA groups are also “special interests”?

Here’s a very misleading claim from Louis Dupart, Executive Director of the FAA Managers Association. In the November/December issue of their magazine Managing the Skies, he writes: “There is no independent, non-conflicted voice for safety on the board of directors of the proposed private air traffic corporation.”

  • First, the reform proposal would finally provide arm’s-length safety regulation of ATC service provision, removing FAA’s long-standing conflict of interest, and bringing the USA into compliance with long-standing ICAO policy.
  • Second, one would think every board member appointed by pilots’ and controllers’ unions, by AOPA and NBAA, and yes—by those who operate very expensive airliners—would have a strong ongoing interest in a very safe ATC system.

Then there are outright falsehoods about ATC corporations in other countries. Jack Pelton, the well-respected President of the Experimental Aircraft Association, wrote the following in the December 2017 issue of Professional Pilot: “Far from slashing spending as promised, ATC privatizations in Canada and the UK have actually increased costs in both countries.”

  • I don’t have figures for NATS, but that is the opposite of what has happened to costs since the start of Nav Canada, where large efficiency gains have permitted user fee rates to be 45% lower today in nominal terms than at the outset—and since Nav Canada has no other source of funding, its costs are also that much lower.

Pelton also makes another false statement in the same paragraph: “In fact [sic], ‘navigation fees’ and related levies are driving Canadian air travelers across the border to use US airports, according to a report from the Canadian Conference Board.”

  • In actual fact, since ATC charges have experienced a long decline over most of the past 20 years, the only factor the Conference Board cited was airport charges that have increased Canadian air fares and led to cross-border traffic increases at airports like Bellingham, WA and Niagara Falls, NY.

I had to laugh, also, when Pelton touts the great progress FAA is making on modernizing the system. The photo used to illustrate this shows the cab of the new Las Vegas tower with its racks of paper flight strips!

I’ll stop here, because that’s enough mendacity for one article. But there’s plenty more where that came from. I’m convinced that GA leaders are resorting to this tripe because they have no good arguments against a nonprofit, stakeholder-governed ATC corporation like Nav Canada. Their counterparts in Canada—COPA and CBAA—are happy with Nav Canada’s performance and have objected to falsehoods being spread like those cited above. But the old propagandists’ rule is that if lies work better than truth, use the lies.

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News Notes

Half-Way to Space-Based Global ADS-B Coverage. Aireon last month had its fourth successful launch of 10 satellites for its space-based ADS-B system, still on track to begin service late this year. The launch took place December 22nd on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The satellites are part of the new Iridium NEXT constellation, with a planned total complement of 81, of which 66 will be in full-time operation and the others as on-orbit spares. The first 30 Aireon payloads have already been providing about 6 billion position reports per month. The next launch is now scheduled for March 18th.

European ATC “Remains Fragmented,” per Auditors’ Report. A November report from the European Court of Auditors delivered a largely negative verdict, summarized by its title: “Single European Sky: A Changed Culture but Not a Single Sky.” Thirteen years after the initiative was launched, not a single high-altitude center has been shut down in the interest of cutting costs and making national boundaries irrelevant. And the report finds that one key tool toward the desired goal—functional airspace blocs (FABs) among adjacent ANSPs—have proved ineffective in reducing fragmentation. And performance metrics for reducing delays and costs have not been met.

European Airlines Reach Out to ANSPs. Frustrated by the shortcomings of the Single European Sky project, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has launched cooperative efforts with the ANSPs of France and Poland, to work jointly on airspace modernization. IATA’s larger plan will form working groups composed of airlines, airports, and ANSPs to streamline and modernize Europe’s airspace and ATC procedures. IATA chairman Willie Walsh says “The SES has been on the starting blocks for 17 years, and the time for talk is over; now is the time for action.” The European Commission is supportive of IATA’s involvement, since its own efforts appear to have been stymied by what Aviation Week has called “foot-dragging by some member states, reluctant to give up any sovereignty”—e.g., by agreeing to selective closing of redundant control centers.

Congressman Calls for Saving Cockpit Voice Recordings. In all three recent incidents of airliners approaching the incorrect runway at SFO, the cockpit voice recorders were not removed for analysis, and hence that information was recorded over on the aircraft’s next flight. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D, CA) has called for a change in policy that would archive the pilot-controller conversations from such incidents. He introduced an amendment to the pending House FAA reauthorization bill to that effect. The National Transportation Safety Board has declared this unnecessary, but former NTSB chairman Jim Hall disagrees, calling such conversations a source of important safety information.

NATS and Nav Canada Increase North Atlantic Tracks. Thanks to improved ATC technology, the ANSPs of Canada and the UK have been moving high-altitude flight tracks across the North Atlantic closer together, safely. This increases the number of tracks at the altitudes with the best tailwinds heading east and the least headwinds heading west. Starting in 2015, Phase 1 reduced the spacing of three adjacent tracks to 25 nautical miles, adding an additional track. Last year, Phase 2 has reduced the spacing of three more tracks to 25 nm. To use these revamped tracks, aircraft must be equipped with RNP 4, ADS-C, and controller-pilot data link communications. Once Aireon’s space-based ADS-B is operational, the plan is to reduce the spacing of these tracks to 15 nm. With more planes able to fly on the best tracks, the result will be shorter flight duration, with less fuel burn and CO2 emissions.

Dan Elwell Named Acting Administrator of FAA. Congratulations to Dan Elwell, formerly Associate Administrator, on his appointment as Acting Administrator, following the retirement earlier this month of Michael Huerta, who’d completed his five-year term. Elwell is a former Air Force and airline pilot, who served in the FAA when Marion Blakey was Administrator. He subsequently held senior positions at the Aerospace Industries Association and Airlines for America.

Michael Huerta Hired by Macquarie Capital. Just-retired FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has joined global infrastructure investment firm Macquarie Capital as Senior Advisor. The January 17th news release from Macquarie said that Huerta will support the firm’s efforts and provide insight to build on existing initiatives and seek new opportunities in U.S. transportation infrastructure. Macquarie has invested in major airports, seaports, and toll roads worldwide. In November, Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets was ranked as the world’s number one such investor by Infrastructure Investor, having raised over $36.5 billion to invest in infrastructure during the past five years.

Civil/Military ATC a Reality in the Netherlands. The long-planned unification of Dutch civil and military air traffic control became reality at the start of 2018. The Dutch ANSP—LVNL—and the Netherlands Air Force Command (CLSK) are now jointly operating the country’s ATC center at Schiphol-Oost. A single air traffic management system now handles all air traffic in Dutch airspace up to 7500 meters (24,600 ft.). Above that altitude, military ATC has been integrated with Eurocontrol’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Center (MUAC), since April 2017. The cooperation preserves a large defense training area but also allows that airspace to be used for civil aviation when the military is not using it.

Space-Based ADS-B for Much of Africa. Aireon announced on January 9th that it has signed a data services agreement with ASECNA, the ANSP serving 17 African countries, to provide space-based ADS-B services once the system begins commercial operation in late 2018. Much of the 16.1 million sq. km. of airspace covered by ASECNA lacks ground-based surveillance, so ADS-B will mean a very large increase in surveillance and air safety.

NATS Award for Time-Based Separation Project. International Airport Review has given its 2017 ATC/ATM Award to NATS for its project on time-based separation for aircraft en-route to London Heathrow Airport. As reported last year in this newsletter, the project replaced traditional distance-based separation between approaching flights with time-based separation, during periods of headwinds. Since implementing time-based separation in 2015, headwind delays have been cut by 62%, airborne holding has been reduced by 115,000 minutes, and there are 30% fewer spacing-related go-arounds.

FAA Will Block Erroneous ADS-B Signals. In the rush to install ADS-B in general aviation aircraft before the January 1, 2020 deadline, a number of errors are being made. FAA has found many ADS-B boxes on aircraft are sending out erroneous signals. In December, the agency announced that it is implementing a filter that recognizes such signals and prevents them from being transmitted from the ground station to ATC facilities. Those planes will also not receive traffic information services (TIS-B). FAA plans to notify aircraft owners about their plane’s designation, and explain what corrective actions they need to take.

Correction re Contract Towers. In a previous newsletter I referred to FAA’s post-2013 moratorium on approving new contract towers. Spencer Dickerson of the Contract Tower Association tells me that the FY 2017 appropriations bill that Congress passed last April rescinded that moratorium and told FAA to begin considering airports that had submitted their applications by January 1, 2016. I’m told FAA airport staff are working on the benefit/cost analyses—but it’s not clear that the agency has money in its budget for additional contract towers.

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Quotable Quotes

“Corporatization is an idea more than 30 years old. Airservices Australia was corporatized in 1988, the present organization coming into effect in 1995 when the Australian Civil Aviation Authority was split into Airservices for [ATC] service provision and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority for the regulatory role. Airways New Zealand was corporatized in 1987, but really only took on a commercial role in the later 1990s, when a major shift in the business model forced a focus on cost reduction rather than an increase in fees. Others that have travelled down the corporate path to varying distances include DFS in Germany, Nav Canada, and NATS in the UK. NATS is the only ANSP with a degree of privatization. In all cases, however, the ANSP is effectively contracted to manage the national airspace on the government’s behalf, so the government continues to exercise its sovereignty responsibilities.”
—“A Long History,” sidebar in “Getting Down to Business (Corporatization),” Airspace, Quarter 3, 2017

“Such a model would be very positive for NextGen. It would provide the funding stability to adequately support long-term modernization, preventive maintenance, and ongoing modernization of our physical infrastructure. ATC reform is needed to remove the threat of delays to NextGen modernization programs and not jeopardize their success. We cannot allow the current stop-and-go funding uncertainty to undermine NextGen. For example, both ERAM and Metroplex experienced significant delays in 2013 as work was stopped on these key NextGen programs for several months. Originally, the waterfall schedules for ERAM and Metroplex were designed to complement each other, so that installation of one did not conflict with or negatively affect installation of the other. However, because of the multi-month delay, the ERAM team was forced to shuffle its waterfall schedule, creating numerous unnecessary conflicts with Metroplex schedules, which in turn further delayed both programs.”
—Paul Rinaldi, “US Insight Survey 2017,” Air Traffic Management, Issue 3, 2017

“The ‘build it and they will come’ approach [by FAA] is not working. Rulemaking is the government technique to ensure uniform equipage and investments. However, this approach is considered the nuclear option, and is usually met with resistance from those who will be affected. These approaches work in an ad hoc way, and are typically inefficient. Having the operators in the board of directors, guiding the decisions and investment with transparency and accountability, seems to provide a new level of sustained improvement based on synchronized investments.”
—Vincent Capezzuto, Aireon, “US Insight Survey 2017,” Air Traffic Management, Issue 3, 2017

“The real problem [for general aviation] is the current state of air traffic control. The status quo, with its inconsistent funding and risk of government shutdowns, is what threatens general aviation access, particularly in rural areas. Under the ATC reform proposal, the non-profit, with its consistent revenue stream and improved management, would be able to move rapidly to deploy remote and virtual control towers to improve access by reducing the cost of providing air traffic control services at rural, low-volume airports.”
—Marc Scribner, “Air Traffic Control Might Finally Move into the 21st Century,” Washington Examiner, Oct. 18, 2017

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