View Full Version : A message to pilots flying into Heathrow and Gatwick

22nd Jan 2009, 12:19
We have recently implemented a new (automated) arrival computer at Swanwick.

As controllers, we are extremely unhappy with the inaccuracies of the information, and the number of times it changes.

We feel that not only does it unacceptably increase our workload and make us sound like idiots, it increases the workload on the flight deck, causes unnecessary worry over fuel planning, increases R/T and overall has impinged on flight safety.

This system has already caused aircraft to divert because of poor information.

We are fighting a battle at the moment regarding this system - one which has only been slightly acknowledged with a couple of new software patches... it is still far from ideal.

I urge any pilots who may feel that they are being given a degraded service or poor information to let your management know and ensure it is passed onto NATS.

I know report writing is a pain, but this is a serious issue. If you have genuine grievances, please report them.

This equipment was introduced without robust testing nor training - it may well be a benefit in the future, but we feel that it is unfair and ultimately unsafe for people to suffer in the present due to poor decisions regarding implementation.

Thank you.

22nd Jan 2009, 12:48
if the issue is as serious as you make it sound wouldn't a NOTAM be the most efficient way of alerting pilots asap? pprune does not seem to be THE source for correct information



22nd Jan 2009, 12:50
if the issue is as serious as you make it sound wouldn't a NOTAM be the most efficient way of alerting pilots asap?I somewhat suspect that 'anotherthing' is not Mgmt, and that it would take NATS Mgmt to issue a FAN - and in so doing, would require NATS Mgmt to acknowledge this system is "not working correctly"... ;)


22nd Jan 2009, 12:52
I think filing a NOTAM about an officially OK computer system might be a career-limiting maneouvre for the controller involved

22nd Jan 2009, 12:58
if the issue is as serious as you make it sound wouldn't a NOTAM be the most efficient way of alerting pilots asap? PPRuNe does not seem to be THE source for correct information

I totally agree. I can see the press having a field day with this one.:ugh:

22nd Jan 2009, 13:09
he doesn't need to do it himself anymore...
the purpose of the post was obviously to get it out in the open and the discussion going. I'd say objective achieved.

22nd Jan 2009, 13:15
Ok, I'll bite.

What does the system do and what kind of information is likely to be of poor quality?

fade to grey
22nd Jan 2009, 13:55
when i flew in this morning the controller was reluctant to come up with a figure on the total time of holding at 'kathy' and ockham (actually biggin eventually) as we were told they had new bit of kit which was unreliable....

Is this what you mean and what is it ?an eggtimer ?

22nd Jan 2009, 13:57
There is no need for the Press to 'have a field day'.

Overall safety is not compromised - however this system is making us detract a little from the main job.

The system has been bought, off the shelf, by NATS. It is already in use in Germany and HK.

What it is supposed to do is give an accurate delay time and arrival sequence for every aircraft inbound to target airfields (in this instance, EGKK and EGLL, to be rolled out across LTMA in due course). It is also supposed to be more automated, allowing the traffic manager more time managing and less time heads down working out figures.

The idea is that with more accurate times, we can help reduce time in the hold by reducing your speeds earlier, and therefore be more efficient and 'green'.

The issue we have with it at the moment is the system, which is a proven system elsewhere, has not been tweaked correctly to work here.

It is giving wildly inaccurate delay times and wildly inaccurate EATs. These times change on a regular basis and have been so extreme as to give some aircraft 4 or 5 wildly different EATs within a ten-minute time frame. The EAT it has given have been ridiculously high, then they go down, then they go back up again.

It has on several occasions, caused us to revert to the old EAT computer system and a totally manual operation for working out EATs, which is accurate.

Unfortunately, it means that us ATCOs are issuing several EATs to each aircraft - not because landing rate has changed or any other acceptable reason, but because the system is not functioning properly.

This causes increased workload in an already busy LTMA (even in the winter with an economic downturn) for both ATCOs and pilots. It has increased RT and increased uncertainty over diversion status.

The system can be switched on and off, and we can revert to the old operation - therefore NOTAMs are not applicable even if I was mgmt.

We as controllers have been logging and filling in safety reports, but there is a big divide between mgmt and operational staff. Mgmt see us a whingers over many issues (they sometimes have a point), and often dismiss complaints. They have already posted on our Intranet a thread congratulating the implementation team on a job well done - this was written the morning it went live. Despite many negative comments after using it, some mgmt have talked about slight teething problems etc.

They have taken on board a few of the issues, and a couple of software patches have been done. However as operational staff we are saying we are unhappy that the system was not fit for purpose (still is not totally), and that it is unreasonable to implement it and expect us and pilots to cover the inadequacies.

The reason I posted this thread is to let pilots know why the service and information they are getting is poor, and to urge them that if they feel their workload has been increased because of it, or if they think it has placed them in situations that they would not normally have been in, to report it.

I am not advocating anarchy, but mgmt may listen to you, the customers, more than it does to us 'whingeing ATCOs'.

There is no compromise on capacity - the safety concern we have is more to do with the fact that workloads are being increased for no good reason in an already busy environment at a busy stage of flight.

It's never a good idea to increase workloads if not necessary!! Also, we cannot fully trust the times we are giving - we are constantly asking the traffic manager if it is accurate yet hence the situation Fade to Grey talks about above (though early this morning was particularly busy at EGLL) - but it is making pilots and ATCOs jobs more difficult in an already complex bit of airspace. It has caused at least one aircraft to divert, and several others have been very near to it due to being given inaccurate times.

This system should be of benefit when it is fully working, however we as ATCOs do not think it should have been introduced in the state it is in - your feedback, as pilots, is important!!

22nd Jan 2009, 14:05
EATs have always been a problem, particular in a dynamic area like the LTMA.

When I retired in 2002 Terminal Control was using a fairly simple computer system which sampled incoming traffic and calculated an ETA for the holds and an EAT based upon the landing interval being achieved. This system was run by controllers and, after previous "guesstimate" systems, I thought it was pretty good. It could easily be manipulated to provide the best landing rate, taking account of vortex spacing, etc., and it worked pretty well.

Question: What happened to it and why was it abandoned in favour of the new system?

22nd Jan 2009, 14:08

The new system is more automated and may well benefit App controllers (still to see how it will help TMA area guys).

The problem is, it was brought in before it was ready for use - and it's not minor tweaks we are talking about.

This system does already work elsewhere, but we feel it was brought in too early, maybe to meet targets instead of doing it properly??

22nd Jan 2009, 14:14
Interestingly, we had our weekly flight deck blurb out today, saying what a great bit of kit this was and how it would speed up and simplify everything.

Good to see our management have got the big picture yet again.

22nd Jan 2009, 14:16
As a pilot I am flabbergasted that this sort of issue should arise.

There is no compromise on capacity or safety - but it is making pilots and ATCOs jobs more difficult in an already complex bit of airspace. It has caused at least one aircraft to divert, and several others have been very near to it due to being given inaccurate times.

Um, by definition if this makes "jobs more difficult in an already complex bit of airspace" it must have some effect on the level of safety. As a pilot I would want good information to be able to make critical decisions concerning holding times and whether to divert.

But what I find more disturbing are the comments about managment peddling the party line and not really listening to the workers on the shop floor. This smacks of "We know best" and should not be tolerated in this day and age. Ok yes even pilots have whinges too and we are not always right but where there is smoke there is fire as they say.

Surely this system should be taken out of service until it can be demonstrated that it is coming up with the correct answers? As a metaphor would you be happy being a passenger in an aircraft where the software was "about" right through lack of thorough testing and evaluation on non revenue flights?

22nd Jan 2009, 14:25
Firefly Bob

I would be more than happy to fly into the LTMA at the moment, however I do feel that this issue needs to be resolved, and pilot feedback (if genuine) will help accelerate this process.

As for diversions, you still have a time in the cockpit, when you know you have to go - obviously an accurate EAT would help your planning, your decision making and allow you to make it (the decision) earlier.

Del Prado
22nd Jan 2009, 14:45
I'd like to echo anotherthing's comments and urge any pilots who have a problem with delay info and EATs to file a report.

I would however question the statement we can revert back to the old system. The old 'EAT PC' has gone and the only back up we can revert to quickly is a pen and paper.

HD, one of the biggest problems with the new system is that it cannot be manipulated, once a sequence number is issued it cannot be changed.

In my humble opinion the new system should be withdrawn until it is fit for purpose, the operational ATCOs have received training and NATS should stop trumpeting great new systems until after they have been proven.

22nd Jan 2009, 14:47
As in previous post i find it strange that this does not comprimise on safety. Just the other day we heard a speedbird expect a 30min hold at BOV, then to be told it was 5 mins when he was passed over. I think we all thought the same, time to divert, more work load and yes, the commands tone of voice said it all. Explanation from the guy on the ground.....Oh its our new bit of kit. The trouble is who to belive, do we wait until we get to LHR for the real info.......

22nd Jan 2009, 14:56

just for clarification, the same piece of kit (with exactly the same info) is used by en-route controllers, LTMA area controllers. AND LHR Director.

Del Prado, I stand corrected, though at least the pen and paper times are accurate!!

Jenson Button
22nd Jan 2009, 16:48
Question to Anotherthing:

Do Nats Software Services still exist and do they not robustly test LTMA software either in house or in a R&D environment.

Were there not any APP controllers involved with the implementation of the software from the "customer" point of view from within NATS ? If so, surely they are amongst your peers and would have both highlighted the pros and cons ?

Over the last couple of weeks with Fog being a major issue at all LTMA airports are you not at risk of fitting the recent facts to some NATS fiction/rumour. There were plenty of diverts due to the Fog and the +30Knt x-winds; so there are some very sensible reasons for a high percentage of diverts. And consequently EATs which are reactive, have varied in their timings by a considerable margin.


22nd Jan 2009, 17:06

1. Not sure

2. It's not just for approach it is for LTMA area controllers and AC enroute controllers. As indicated by others in this thread and other threads, testing was limited and not thorough. I do not know of any ATCOs who were involved, none on my watch. this is an bought off-the-shelf system.

There has been no training for operationla ATCOs, and only a familiarisation for supervisors.

3. There has been little or no fog since the introduction of this system.

The fact is fog would not make a difference - an accurate EAT or delay time is an accurate EAT or delay time. Using the old system, there were no problems, though it was labour intensive. This system is supposed to be more automated but is actually causing much more work due to it going wrong.

EATs have been fluctuating by 30 or 40 minutes per aircraft with this system. As ATCOs, we know what to expect wrt to EATs in any weather - and this system is falling way outside the normal fluctuations you would expect.

A diversion due to weather or extended holding will always happen. However at least with the old system the times were accurate - there is a very real risk of aircraft now diverting because of totally inaccurate times produced on this system i.e. saying delay is 50 mins when in reality it is 20.

This is not an attempt to shoehorn facts to fit a whingeing ATCOs gripes. The system is not working anywhere near as well as it should.

I understand an outsider asking the questions you do, thats fair enough... however if you worked operationally for NATS, you would not be asking those questions.

22nd Jan 2009, 18:43
if, as you suggest, you have taken your concerns and complaints through all the internal safety reporting systems and got nowhere, file an MOR.
As you will know (but others may not), you can do so anonymously or openly, and it can filed directly with the CAA, not via local management.

Regardless of your personal opinion of CAA SRG, (and I'm not suggesting that you have one either way), it would be interesting to see their response.

22nd Jan 2009, 19:22
Out of interest, would this new equipment have originated in Canada?


22nd Jan 2009, 19:30
Nope, not this time! :}

22nd Jan 2009, 19:34
Throughout my time in Aviation, I considered & still do, that the standard of Air Traffic Controllers & the job they all do within UK airspace, to be the very best by far.
If any of these folk are unhappy at all with any of the tools of their trade, please continue to speak up. Possibly a Notam rather than Prune would be the better way to go, but whatever method is used to highlight any short commings within the ATC system, you can rest assured, you continue to have the total support & respect of all who use your services. Well done & many thanks.

22nd Jan 2009, 20:22
It may appear childish to suggest that if the new equipment gives an EAT it should be quoted to the arriving aircraft; if it then changes rapidly that should be conveyed too. Eventually aircraft will divert and commanders will complain; I would hope that would cause NATS management to investigate why the sequence of events occurred.

As ever, as long as aviation professionals attempt to deal with inadequate equipment/systems they actually create air safety issues rather than cure them.

Thank you AnotherThing for drawing this to our attention, I am personally very disappointed that NATS management are so one-eyed about this situation. Good effective safety-minded management must investigate complaints of users even if they think they are exaggerating as unless they do so they will never find out the truth. Come on NATS, we pilots expect better of you!

23rd Jan 2009, 04:57
System not yet in use at HK - just doing the training now - whole project delayed - my 2c worth is it will not work well in the HK environment until the airspace is further developed and even then we'll work around it - expect problems in HK airspace once it comes on line. The HK holds are too far away from touchdown to allow a system like this to do the intended job - tail will wag the dog.

23rd Jan 2009, 07:47
Many thanks for the heads up guys. I have always found London's EAT's first rate and have planned accordingly. Conversely, I have found German EAT's, when given, wildly conservative and have had to divert. I had assumed, quite unfairly, it was part of their national culture I am pleased to be relieved of that piece of bigotry and disappointed that London TMA has bought their software.

23rd Jan 2009, 08:34
I have to say from an AC point of view that the idea is good (knowing the landing sequence and being able to stream or start the stream to achieve this) but the kit is rubbish.

It doesn't pick up the aircraft far enough out for us to start the sequence it wants before we've already decided it. If it could see them far enough away we could get other ACC's to apply speed control thats more economical so holding is alot less.

The EAT's jump around so much i haven't even bothered uttering one. The EAT's AFAIK are based on the landing rate which is to say the number of aircraft that have landed in the last hour not the actual landing rate (not a problem at 2pm when the landing rate has been 38 for the last 3 hours but definatley a problem at 6am when its been 7, and the landing restrictions at EGLL have been lifted.

Oh and i know of one ATCO that was involved but he is office based (keeps a validation though) "apparantley" he has been telling them this stuff but they don't seem to be listening. Its been pushed through to meet some deadline that it wasn't fit for. :mad:

23rd Jan 2009, 09:07
I think we might see some interesting things happening if EATs slip drastically during holding. If a fair number of aircraft have committed to LHR and then get another 20mins out of the blue, then there are going to be more than a few PAN calls due to fuel state, possibly turning into MAYDAY's later. A few occurrences of that should focus the attention of the CAA/NATS... :ooh:

Del Prado
23rd Jan 2009, 12:05
It may appear childish to suggest that if the new equipment gives an EAT it should be quoted to the arriving aircraft; if it then changes rapidly that should be conveyed too.

Manrow, I've seen it change three times before the first EAT has been read back. Trying to pass the updated EATs puts the R/T loading through the roof.

There are reports going in from ATCOs all the time but if you pilots are dissatisfied with the delay information then I'd urge you to file a report.
NATS will listen to it's customers long before it's own operational staff.

23rd Jan 2009, 18:24
How is going today? I heard that there was a change overnight to sort out the problems that were being talked about on here yesterday.
Have they been fixed?

23rd Jan 2009, 22:53
am i now listening to high tech luddites ?
google or ask elders re "luddites"
apolgies to those who can spell proper

can people at least take one step back and evaluate?

all those who did not assist in inputing opinions about what was required,
take two steps back

"it" the new thing needs always to arrive

the current "we" if surprised by this ,we am "lazy or remiss"

or just ******* up

fill in blanks

24th Jan 2009, 11:02

We are not Luddites, the system has been introduced before it is ready. Other countries, who bought into the system before us, are still developing it... it was rushed in, plain and simple.

As ATCOs working in some of the most complex and congested airspace around, we would welcome any electronic aids, as long as they make our job easier, not more difficult!

This is not a case of Luddism (yes, it is a word), we just want to continue to provide aircrew with one of the best ATC services in the world. We cannot do that with second rate equipment.

24th Jan 2009, 13:02
Unfortunately it now appears equipment and procedures are introduced without fully checking the impact on the operation. Should a controller voice a concern we are just "moaning" or "adverse to change" procedures or kit is then withdrawn suspended or fixed, problem is by then all faith in that system is gone. Recently one of the tech types commented on the fact that the screens had been turned away from the radar so we couldn't see them and assumed it was because we don't like the kit and it was a type of protest, unfortunately they didn't realise that the info had been so far out and confusing we had no choice because it was a huge distraction.
When it works correctly it may well be a fantastic tool but right now it just makes us look like one. Good luck with rebuilding the trust in the system.
I so hope lessons will be learned for the future with the fabled electronic flight strips PRNAV etc etc etc etc etc...........??

Sir George Cayley
24th Jan 2009, 14:57
Luddite-ism, shirley? :confused:

Nowt wrong wee 4 hand looms any road:ok: Bliddy Arkwright:mad:

Seriously though, if the ATSD team were part of the approvals process including the 4 part safety case etc., will they be able to look at the issue objectively? I hope so - I just don't know.

Sir George Cayley

24th Jan 2009, 15:48
<<Unfortunately it now appears equipment and procedures are introduced without fully checking the impact on the operation.>>

I think we were saying the same thing in the early 70s! Was, is and ever shall be...

24th Jan 2009, 16:58
I asked yesterday if the problems had been fixed by the changes overnight. I assume as no one has said anything new that they have worked - or have they?:)

25th Jan 2009, 11:13
The system is still not working well and is not trusted by the ATC staff.

27th Jan 2009, 10:30
We are still regularly being told by our supervisors to ignore AMAN as it is incorrect.
I know the engineers have been working on it, but does not seem to be fixing the problem at the moment.

Mick Stability
27th Jan 2009, 19:17
Ohhhh joy.

Isn't it just great that this coincides with a new 'grass cutting' initiative from Nigel's management to interview, and ultimately disciopline, pilots who take more than their flight plan fuel? A system called CIRRUS which aptly describes the wispy reserves envisaged on arrival at Lambingdon and Bockham.

God save us from computers, and the nerds that believe them.:ugh:

Jet Phaeroh
27th Jan 2009, 21:11
Thnx for the heads up. Have been noticing the issue in the last 2 months.

Ex Cargo Clown
28th Jan 2009, 00:18
Isn't it just great that this coincides with a new 'grass cutting' initiative from Nigel's management to interview, and ultimately disciopline, pilots who take more than their flight plan fuel? A system called CIRRUS which aptly describes the wispy reserves envisaged on arrival at Lambingdon and Bockham.

CIRRUS isn't new.

It's been there for years.

And yes you are correct, it's not the most accurate system out there........