NATCA FAA collaboration results in positive changes to national airspace system

In another example of using its contract as a guide to improving safety through collaboration, NATCA and the Federal Aviation Administration have resolved an important safety issue at the Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZOA) the facility responsible for airspace in all of Northern California, northwestern Nevada and southern Oregon, along with 18 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

The issue at hand was a vertical expansion of a Military Operation Area (MOA) used by the Navy. Called a Special Use Airspace (SUA), the MOA is located on a high traffic boundary between Oakland Center and Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZLA) in the central valley of California and offers many challenges to both the controllers working it and the pilots flying it.

Rather than utilizing a contractor, as was typically done in the past, the FAA chose a different approach and called upon the countless years of experience in its air traffic control and technical workforce at ZOA. Controllers and Technicians at ZOA developed simulation problems while using the En Route Air Traffic Modernization (ERAM) platform with problem sets derived from actual traffic days between the two air traffic control facilities.

By using data from ZLA in addition to ZOA, those involved were able to run scenarios that showed the impact of the current procedure on not just the two facilities but also the domino effect the current traffic flow patterns have on the entire National Airspace System. This method also allowed them to see how a particular change to the SUA would affect the system as well.

The next step involved controllers at both ZOA and ZLA running scenarios under the newly proposed patterns (developed in the previous step) while interacting with the other facility in a more realistic environment than used previously, under the oversight of a contractor as opposed to controllers at the facility. By using controllers, an extensive analysis of safety risk management and possible mitigation techniques was done allowing for a more thorough risk analysis, a factor many controllers found missing in previous airspace changes.

Finally, the data gleaned from the testing was analyzed by a Safety Risk Management panel comprised of representatives from NATCA, the FAA and the Navy to discuss the impacts and potential mitigation strategies to employ if the MOA change was implemented. A consensus was reached, with the process worked in significantly less time for far less money than seen under previous methods.

It is NATCAs hope that this process could become the new standard in the aviation industry.

Said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi: Both the FAA and NATCA have made leaps and bounds in the past year in the way in which we work together to bring about positive change in the National Airspace System. The work done at Oakland Center is a perfect example of how, by working together, both parties can make groundbreaking technological changes simply by collaborating. The success of this effort shows that when work is approached collaboratively the end result will always be of the utmost quality.
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