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The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter. As of April 2020 Uplink ALPA is a 6-monthly publication.

Automation will assist, not replace, the ATC – IFATCA President and CEO says

International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers (IFATCA) President and Chief Executive Patrik Peters.

In his address at the recent NZALPA Conference, International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations (IFATCA) President and Chief Executive Officer Patrik Peters outlined the current state of global air traffic control, particularly around the theme of airspace liberalisation.

Peters said the direction the industry was taking around airspace was based on performance and trajectory management, including Performance Based Navigation (PBN) and performance based airspace. Essentially the emphasis was on airspace sectors that change dynamically with traffic volume, weather or military operations, and four-dimensional trajectory management.

Meanwhile, increased competition in Europe was a disrupting issue with Peters calling for harmonisation across states within the European Union. This, he believes can only work when all stakeholders are on a level playing field.

Another issue he advised caution on was thinking automation would soon be prevalent within the industry, replacing the ATC role. In Peters’ view, whilst automation will be able to assist, it will not replace people. That is, it will be automated but not autonomous.

The continued need for ATCs is backed by international projections. He cited International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) estimates that more than 40,000 new Air Traffic Controllers will be required in the near future.

In addition, there were already a number of failed technology projects that have forced controllers to pick up the slack, and with increasing traffic levels, this was leading to burn out of current ATCs. 

Peters said the flexibility that a human controller provides was invaluable.   

“We can’t go to fully automated systems – it will not work,” he said.

It’s a controllers’ experience that allows them to be flexible. Instead, Peters sees the growth of automation as an assistance tool however he could not see the point in having shiny new systems and no one sitting behind them.

This was even more crucial given that cyber security was identified as a real threat to the introduction of new remote technologies, particularly satellite-based surveillance and remote towers.

The growth in need for experienced ATCs also underpins the size of IFATCA. As the peak international body, the IFATCA now represents over 50,000 ATC members and almost 130 ATC professional associations and unions.

Now more than ever, Peters said, it was important for ATCs to be “consulted, heard and followed” when it came to development, changes and the challenges of daily work.

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