Collaborative efforts between the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) has led to better solutions for the NextGen air traffic control system, according to NATCA President Paul Rinaldi, who credits the leadership of FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt with this new way of working together.
The current FAA leadership, Rinaldi said at a recent air traffic controller conference, is moving in the right direction and listening to the voice that NATCA asked for in NextGen development, testing and implementation.
“Administrator Babbitt knew when he took office that he had a front-line controller workforce that not only welcomed modernization but demanded it,” Rinaldi said. “He has now seen our commitment first hand. We want to be part of the solution. We want to be involved early in the pre-decisional stages of modernization. We want to lend our experience and expertise to NextGen. We want to be part of something we can be proud of and serve our country in a critical safety function that is so inherently governmental.”
Rinaldi credited the NATCA-FAA collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect just over one year ago, with being the impetus to the critical change in the labor-management relationship. “We needed a contract in order to stabilize the workforce, stem the high attrition of experienced controllers and begin to rebuild the trust and morale that is essential to believing and sharing in the FAA’s safety mission,” he said. “Our contract is the framework and foundation upon which a formal collaborative relationship can be built. We now have that. And one year into it, the results are quite positive.”
Among the early achievements in the collaborative relationship between NATCA and the FAA, he said, are:
- The launch of a formal collaborative process. There are currently 10 test sites underway around the country that are addressing facility-level technological, procedural, and airspace-related issues through a collaborative forum. The goal is to offer solutions aimed at improving safety and performance.
- Improvements in En Route Automation Modernization, or ERAM, which was plagued with glitches and serious safety risks before NATCA’s involvement. But now it is inching closer to safe and effective implementation at the large, regional en route centers.
- Progress in the efforts to redesign the complex airspace above the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia area that is critical to NextGen. NATCA and the FAA have a formal working agreement in place and are meeting regularly.
- On safety reporting systems, the results “have been nothing short of remarkable,” Rinaldi said. “The shift from a blame and punishment culture to a true safety culture has encouraged controllers to speak up and report more safety issues. Through ATSAP and Partnership for Safety, we are working closely with the agency.”
Added Rinaldi, “Those on the front lines of the National Air System are rising to the challenge and offering solutions to help implement NextGen safely and effectively. Our workforce gets younger every day through attrition of veteran employees, but they are energized and engaged. They are flexible, responsive to change and strive to make a difference with their participation through collaboration.”