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Will Air Traffic Controllers Of The Future Be Silicone Based?

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posted on Jan, 11 2006 @ 06:02 PM
I’ve been reading up on Air Traffic Control lately, as I’m considering heading down that route after university. Apart from the stress levels being quite high, which I’m not too worried about, the main concern I have is of controllers being replaced, to some extent, by computer systems.

BAE systems are behind a technology announced a few years ago which it claims will achieve this; it is expected to be at the full testing stage around 2008. There’s a good article concentrating on it in the telegraph which makes some interesting predictions, one of which is shown below.

By 2020, they envisage that air traffic controllers will have been entirely replaced by the system.

With all of this the future of human ATC doesn’t look that great, however the main employer of ATCs in the UK –NATS, or the National Air Traffic Service- reply that

Q. Will the new systems diminish the role of the ATCO?

A. The use of new systems will increase the capacity of the airspace in the United Kingdom. The skills required by the Controllers remains the same.

So they say that the new technology will not replace the ATC, but aid them in their duties as the skies become more crowded. This is a reasonable claim to make, given that many people feel safer knowing there is skilled and experienced controller guiding their plane, not simply a pc (even if it was the most reliable and intelligent pc on earth, many technophobes and people with flying phobias etc. would still imagine their desktop telling the plane where to go, before windows throws an ‘illegal operation’ error, then rebooting).

I’d like to believe NATS, as their explanation is comforting, however they are currently on a big recruiting push as they’re very short on ATCs, so they’re hardly going to say “come work for us for a few years, and then be replaced by systems which will be far more cost effective in the long run and eliminate human error.”

So what do you think will come of this technology? Will it present itself then be limited in its capabilities to keep the experienced human touch, or will it flourish and take control? To use a horrible pun…

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