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Challenges of modern technology in ATC facilities

  • Author: Dave Rivers - Director Air Traffic Control (ATC)

 

With technology continuously evolving, ATC facilities are always in search to adopt new trends that help with task performance to keep up with the demand for faster and better service. Here, we look at some trends and the challenges faced by those trends in Air Traffic Control facilities.

Trends

One important trend is the use of more digital displays in ATC facilities. In old ATC towers, operators relied on physical sightlines, radio, and one or two screens to communicate with airlines and pilots. Today’s modern technology means more information is readily available to operators at an increasing rate on larger displays. As a result, ATC systems can display more information and controllers have more data to monitor and share.

Challenges

ATC towers face various challenges with the adoption of modern technology. ATC towers were not previously designed to incorporate a large number of displays. Now, the greater need for monitors with pertinent information has made the physical workspaces smaller, and almost unusable.

Multiple displays are presenting significant space constraints and workspace challenges for Air Traffic Controllers because facilities were not designed with this technology in mind.  As a result, the space issue is often not addressed until many other physical restraints are already in place, thus limiting possible solutions.

Additionally, when multiple systems are displayed on a single display, the display must be large enough to permit readability for operational ATC positions.  Controllers must be able to quickly view, find information which is then shared with aircraft as required.

Another problem in many facilities is the ATC system itself.

Often times, the system only allows information to be displayed on one screen for each data field, creating the problem of multiple screens in a limited amount of space. “Merging” of systems into one display is possible; however adoption has been slow in these facilities even when the technology is available.

Merging is very expensive, and many facilities need to secure funding in order to incorporate it. When this merger does happen, the display needs to be large enough to accommodate copious amounts of information. Here again, the issue of limited space again comes back around. Generally, older ATC facilities are not designed to have large displays integrated into the operational environment. This creates multiple challenges:

  •        Other equipment and displays may be blocked/obstructed
  •        There may not be enough physical space for all large displays and all other equipment and displays to be used effectively
  •        Taking space from the operator for technology creates a Human Factors conundrum
  •        As technology continues to advance and digitalization spreads, this trend is likely to continue

Solutions

In order to address these challenges, each control center will need an all-encompassing operational facility design. This will mean looking at the design from a higher level and taking various considerations into account. Everything including equipment, large displays, space constraints, sightlines, ergonomics, operator fatigue, emergency planning, and more will need to be covered during facility planning and renovations.

Overcoming these obstacles will mean each ATC facility has its own unique requirements assessed and its issues resolved. As more and more technology drives modernization of ATC operational environments, towers will need to adapt to continue to raise the industry to new technological heights.