View Full Version : BBC - Air traffic centre 'still battling problems'

Pax Vobiscum
19th Dec 2002, 07:26
See BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2589247.stm) on continuing problems at Swanwick.

There was an interview with a "senior ATCO with nearly 40 years experience" (and Richard Everett of NATS) on Radio4's Today (http://www.bbc.co.uk/cgi-bin//radio4/today/listen/audiosearch.pl?ProgID=1040299307) prog this morning. Issues raised include:

Radios cutting out

Screens too dim to read properly

Downplaying of health and safety issues

The article also contains comments from Computer Weekly, I look forward to reading the next issue ...

[edited for sound link which is now available]

19th Dec 2002, 07:43
Wonder where they managed to find an ATCO with 40 years experience 'cause you cannot legally hold a licence until 18 and must retire at 55?

As for the rest I have to say (as an expert on the ATC side here at Swanwick) thats its one persons subjective viewpoint.

Pax Vobiscum
19th Dec 2002, 07:48
Apologies, 2lo4zero, I edited the comment slightly - the article refers to nearly 40 years experience.

19th Dec 2002, 08:50
Point of clarification,before an important subject loses it's way,the retirement age in NATS is 60,operational ATCO's with 29 years membership of the Pension scheme AND a minimum of 20 years service with validations( with some other qualifying restrictions),can retire at 59 without loss of abatement,a reduced abatement of pension based on the'standard' is available until age 54,in addition ATCO's subject to management agreement can continue employment until 65.We do NOT have to retire at 55,though many wish!!!

19th Dec 2002, 08:56
2lo4zero said:
...as an expert on the ATC side here at Swanwick

but not a controller ?

Rgds BEX

19th Dec 2002, 09:59
2lo4zero.... I retired a few weeks ago aged 58 years and 3 months. I was a fully operational Heathrow radar controller up to about 5 minutes before I left the building! The "usual" retirement age is 60 although I believe there are guys over 60 still working as ATCOs, although I do not know if they are operational - maybe in office jobs, etc

19th Dec 2002, 10:09
OK, I was wrong about retirement age for controllers, thanks to all who wrote and pointed that out and I do apologise :o

No Bex I'm not an ATCO but I do see all the observations that come out of the Ops room (although I cannot comment about headaches) and foreground/background doesn't show up as a common problem but he does state that it is only his opinion. The recent radio fault is being investigated by the engineers.

19th Dec 2002, 10:10
According to David Gunson there is nothing new about radios, and even radars, cutting out. It's usually caused by the tea lady treading on the 13 amp plug.:D

19th Dec 2002, 10:20
"All the aeroplanes are still there...but of course they're much closer together now." :D :D

2 six 4
19th Dec 2002, 10:39
It does not help when the most senior managers say to the Commons Select committee that we will have solved our staffing problem by next year - we anticipate only being 12 controllers short. Of course what he didn't say was that all those ATCOs posted in have be trained and to obtain validations on the sectors.

Looks like we will continue to close airspace for years. North Sea was closed agian last night overnight with the Ocean traffic mainly from the north. Lots of long re-routes. Not long before some airline takes a Ryanair approach and tries to sue NATS for this type of action.

19th Dec 2002, 10:49
The recent radio fault is being investigated by the engineers.

presumably as are...

1)The low screen refresh rates that cause headaches / migraines

2)The lighting / reflections

3)Poor ergonomic deisgn of all the workstations

4)curious "micro-climate" of the ops room (some places hot, some cold)

5) EAT list that is next to useless

6) No departure CCTV

7) SIS search facility that is difficult to use

the list goes on and on and on.....

Swanwick has not been a glowing success. Anybody that says so is deluding themselves and the public. It has been a qualified success, in that the building is open and the system is relatively stable.

There are still a lot of faults that NEED to be sorted. Most of these could have been avoided if the operational staff at what was LATCC were allowed a bigger say in what we needed. We weren't, and hence the long list of faults that need to be put right now.

Rgds BEX

19th Dec 2002, 11:02
Been through all these points months ago, but:
1, 2, 3, & 4 are under the remit of the DERG. 5 No doubt you have your reasons but when that was investigated months ago it seemed to be all smoke, no substance (remember that what pleases one may irk others). 6 Senior management decision before Swanwick went operational. 7 Not heard that one before, although I too find it irksome that it only searches for exactly what you want!

19th Dec 2002, 12:21
What exactly is an ATC expert ?

19th Dec 2002, 12:23
So it's all okay then.

Except that it isn't, is it?

DERG have yet to have ALL their proposals implemented. Compliance with HSE is a requirement, not an option.

The EAT "problem" that you so easily dismiss is the subject recent CA1261 action. (that you will have seen of course, being an "expert")

Senior management are responsible for the god awful MESS NATS (and Swanwick in particular) finds itself in. Deletion of the Dep CCTV was a big mistake. Curious that we don't see anyone taking responsibilty for this cock up. They just continue to bleat that everything is fine. Except it is not.

I am well aware that the non-operational people at Swanwick are very proud of their building and its equipment. Unfortunately those that actually have to use it have a somewhat lower opinion of it's brilliance.

Rgds BEX

19th Dec 2002, 12:49
Well the real ATC experts are the boys and girls at the coal face who move the traffic.
But in this context an ATC expert is a person who is expert on the systems, the processes and methods of delivery that the ATCO's need. Radar, Flight Data, Maps, software changes etc. etc. etc. If you like they are a part of the tail of the operational dog. In other terms the ATCO's are the user's of a highly complex engineering system which requires constant maintenance, tweaking and updating and ATC experts are a part of the group that likes to tweak things ;) .

You and I have never been in dispute about Swanwick but we do disagree about how to get things done.

The Highlander
19th Dec 2002, 12:52
From my perspective despite all the Problems both staffing levels,or to be more accurate validation levels and the aforementioned equipment problems the Controllers have done a sterling job this year. I just hope that this coming summer season with I think with planned retirements etc the Controllers will still be able to cope as admirably with one or two less controllers.

Keep up the good work Chaps and of course Chapesses

19th Dec 2002, 12:58
I really must echo The Highlanders sentiment. The operational staff have had tremendous turbulence this year.

Moving onto a new system.

Many moving house.

Uncertainty over the companies future (post PPP).

A lot of trouble over pay.

I could go on, but I just want to finish by saying that it is the people who make the system work and who deal with all the workarounds to move the traffic. I salute them, every one :D

19th Dec 2002, 15:26
Full wording from the Computer Weekly article:

Nats bypasses Swanwick to reduce air traffic delays

Aircraft put under the control of other centres as Swanwick struggles to cope, despite new 337m systems

National Air Traffic Services (Nats) is asking some aircraft to avoid the 623m Swanwick air traffic centre by flying at lower levels to come under the control of the ageing West Drayton centre near Heathrow.

The Swanwick New En Route Centre near Fareham, Hampshire, went live in January at a cost of 623m - more than half of which was for new computer systems - so that it could take over from the West Drayton area control centre and bring an immediate 40% increase in capacity.

But a shortage of controllers at Swanwick has caused record delays for airlines this year, despite traffic levels being down after the 11 September terror attacks.

To help to overcome the shortage, which is expected to last through this Christmas and into next summer's busy period, Nats is transferring "area control" of some flights over 20,000 feet, that would normally be handled by Swanwick, to lower altitudes where they can be handled by "terminal control" at West Drayton.

But a leaked internal Nats notice alludes to a possible safety risk if aircraft are "height-capped" because too many faster jets could be transferred into a lower airspace normally occupied by slower-moving business and propeller aircraft.

"The impact of height-capping jet flights at [20,000 feet] or below can dramatically affect the complexity of a sector," warns the notice.

The height-capping reduces flight delays because terminal control at West Drayton is able to handle some of Swanwick's traffic. But it raises doubts about whether Nats can justify the 337m cost of Swanwick's systems when some of the new centre's work is being systematically transferred to West Drayton and other control centres.

An extension to earlier trial height-capping procedures by Nats is described in an internal Temporary Operating Instruction dated 23 November.

"These height-capping procedures are intended to move specific demand from the upper to lower airspace as a result of excess demand," says the notice.

It adds that managers "are to consider" height-capping flights in certain circumstances where delays of 20 minutes or more are expected.

As some airlines are "likely" in advance to lodge flight plans that specifically avoid Swanwick, the notice warns that height capping may have to be regulated, or delays could be shifted from Swanwick to other air traffic control sites.

Height-capping will incur a fuel penalty because jets use more fuel in the denser air of lower altitudes, and it could also have adverse environmental effects because jet engines are more efficient at higher altitudes.

Nats said this week that height-capping was an old technique that was applied routinely before Swanwick went live.

Staff, however, say that height-capping was used at West Drayton only in specific, tactical circumstances but is now being applied much more widely to exclude as much air traffic as possible from Swanwick.

A Nats spokesman insisted that height-capping was not solely in response to a shortage of controllers. "The [height-capping] service has proved to be beneficial to airlines not only in avoiding air traffic control delays but in assisting them to maintain schedules that have been disrupted for other reasons such as operational delays, poor weather, etc".

Nats added that pilots are height-capped more than in the summer. Its staff point out that air traffic is currently at generally lower levels than the summer.

Pilots' voice messages get cut off
A leaked internal Nats notice dated 12 December says that some pilots are having their voice messages to controllers cut off after two seconds, which is regarded as a possible safety-critical issue. "To date investigations have not been able to replicate the fault or locate its precise cause. The issue has a high priority and further investigation is being carried out to locate the source of the problem," says the notice.

A Nats spokesman would not comment on claims that pilots may continue talking without realising at first that they have been cut off.

The problem of "truncated transmissions" had happened on only a "handful of occasions in 1.5 million flights handled this year. Safety had not been compromised", said the spokesman.

19th Dec 2002, 15:41
A Nats bod says capping is beneficial to airlines.

What a prick!!!

Firstly the way that capping is done is bollocks with the wrong aircraft being held down a lot of the time.

Secondly aircraft that could easily be taken at a higher level are left low because certain people cant be arsed working them.

Third all that has happened is the problem has been moved down several thousand feet causing some major problems.

The union are yet again showing their lack of balls by not making the most of these problems and openly criticising management and the government for getting us into this bloody mess.

19th Dec 2002, 16:05
jocko0102, whilst I can appreciate your anger and frustration, I would appreciate it if you could try and write without reference to male genetalia and other orifices 'below the belt' at least once per sentence.

Fixation or not, I won't ask again that everyone remain reasonably 'polite'. :rolleyes:

19th Dec 2002, 16:12
A solution to this problem is being urgently sought. Additional software from the manufacturer to pin down exactly where the fault lies has been identified as the best way forward to investigate and a 'fix' will be developed from the findings.
Certainly not something that the support staff at Swanwick considerable non-safety critical.

19th Dec 2002, 20:12
Sorry for my ignorance, but what exactly is "Departure CCTV"?

20th Dec 2002, 08:21
Departure CCTV
A display that shows a list pending, imminent, and actual departures from the major London Airports.

It also shows what SID they are on, the squawk and the actual airborne time.

A very useful, and critical tool, for PLANNING on all the TMA sectors and those LAAC sectors that abut the LTMA.

Without it controllers at LACC have very little warning of the traffic mix and density of what is about to arrive on their sector. Transit time from the airports to the AREA sectors is VERY short you see.

Rgds BEX