FAA controller training now includes NextGen


    ALPA Member
    FAA Academy in Oklahoma City is training air traffic controllers on new technology
    Satellite-based NextGen will replace radar systems at U.S. airports. Students at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City are training on both systems.
    BY SUSAN SIMPSON Oklahoman 0 Published: September 12, 2010
    NextGen is now for the thousands of air traffic controllers who train at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City.
    Student trainee Carlos Mendoza listens to a critique by instructor Thor Cpornell, left, at a position inside the Air Traffic Controller simulator at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
    Sep 7NextGen represents an evolution from a ground-based system of air...
    FAA Academy in Oklahoma City is training air traffic controllers on new technology
    What are the benefits?
    The FAA says NextGen will have many benefits:
    →Safety: Pilots will know precisely where their aircraft is in relation to other aircraft throughout all phases of flight.
    →Capacity: Aircraft will be able to fly closer together on more direct routes, allowing more flights and fewer delays. The system also will allow for new types of aircraft such as unmanned systems and commercial space transportation.
    →Environment: More direct routes will cut down on carbon emissions, fuel consumption and noise. Aircraft can stay at cruise longer and then descend at near-idle power.
    Students at the Federal Aviation Academy are learning both decades-old radar technology and new GPS systems that will be phased in over the next decade at airports across the country.
    Transitioning to the system will cost the government more than $15 billion.
    "It's our future,” said Lindy Ritz, administrator of the Mike Monroney Center. "You will see the safest aviation system in the world. It will increase safety, efficiency and also decrease the environmental footprint.”
    Pilots will have more control of their navigation, she said. Differential GPS can pinpoint a plane's location to within one meter, while radar has an error rate of up to one-eighth of a mile or 1,000 feet altitude.
    That means aircraft will be able to fly closer together on more direct routes, allowing more flights and fewer delays, said Tony Darnell, manager of en route automation for the FAA Academy's technical operations training division. The country's air transportation system is expected to carry one billion passengers a year by 2015.
    "The only way to increase capacity is to get more accurate positioning,” Darnell said.
    Still, both radar and satellite systems will be in use indefinitely, said Brian Harmelink, branch manager for air traffic training for the FAA Academy.
    "We'll have redundancy in the system so if one fails the other will be there,” he said.
    That means air traffic control students are learning both systems simultaneously, and controllers already on the job are learning new programs in the field.
    "As new concepts come in, we incorporate those into our training,” Harmelink said. "It's a continual evolution of the system to make sure we have the latest technology.”
    Air traffic control recruits must not be older than 31. That's because they'll qualify for retirement at age 50.
    But the youth of recruits also benefits the FAA because most young adults have grown up with computers and GPS and can adapt well to new technology.
    Orlando Murrell, 26, is completing his last weeks of training at the academy. The Chicago native will work at a Washington, D.C., airport.
    "The training can be tough, but the thing that helps me the most is just being eager to learn,” Murrell said.
    The former banker said he was looking to build a career with a stable employer.
    But will human skills still be needed in the FAA's data-driven future as decision making shifts from the ground to the cockpit?
    "You'll probably see a leveling out (of work force) but their role is changing and you will not see an immediate decrease in controllers based on the deployment of NextGen technology,” Ritz said.
    The FAA Academy also trains electronic technicians, engineers and aviation safety engineers.
    About 20,000 students train here annually and some stay for several months in hotels or short-term housing