Leadership

Air Traffic Control Center Recovers From Fire, But Broader Challenges Linger

In the wake of a disaster at an air traffic control facility, aviation pros worked together to ensure that planes still flew. The next challenge? Now they have to take that collaborative spirit and put it behind a series of bigger changes.

In the wake of a disaster at an air traffic control facility, aviation pros worked together to ensure that planes still flew. The next challenge? To take that collaborative spirit and put it behind a series of bigger changes.

Considering that the air traffic control field is recovering from one of its biggest disasters in years, perhaps now is the time to talk about the future.

A fire that took out a major air traffic control center near Chicago last month tangled the airways near the Windy City for days. The fire, which was believed to have been set in the course of a suicide attempt, rendered inoperable a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) facility in nearby Aurora, Illinois.

Flights continued even before the fire-damaged facility was back in action on Oct. 13, in large part due to the hard work of air traffic controllers who operated out of other regional locations.

“It is really nothing short of miraculous,” the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s Jim Larson told USA Today. “All of the facilities involved in this project have accomplished things they were never designed to do.”

The Chicago disaster and its aftermath emerged at a time when long-term aviation issues are coming to a head, including:

System upgrades: Last week, eight air carriers agreed to invest in upgrades to their planes as part of a broader air traffic control initiative called NextGen. The agreement, under which the carriers will replace traditional radio equipment with newer onboard computer-based devices, is a positive first step, but the broader success of the $18 billion NextGen initiative will depend on early adoption by other airlines, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Privatization: Airlines for America announced earlier this month that it would soon release a study assessing the validity of reforming the air traffic control system, ahead of an upcoming FAA reauthorization in Congress. “For FAA reauthorization to be transformative, everything has to be on the table, and that, of course, includes [air traffic control] reform and really getting NextGen up and running,” Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas Calio said in a speech reported by AIN Online.

In a recent speech to the Aero Club of Washington, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta noted that the kind of cooperation that prevented the situation near Chicago from turning into a long-term disaster will help the aviation industry as it transitions to newer technology.

“That same teamwork and collaboration that allowed us to get Chicago Center up and running in two weeks is a model for what we, as an industry, need to do more of,” Huerta said last week. “In fact, that same level of cooperation has taken place between the FAA and industry over the last year as we defined and focused our NextGen priorities. “

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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