FAA tool offers bird's-eye view of staff

FAA's Robert Tobin says the agency is trying to make 'a cultural change' to automate scheduling across the nation's air traffic control system.

J. Adam Fenster

The Federal Aviation Administration is deploying software to track air traffic control personnel and provide a snapshot of what controllers do and when.

FAA plans by June to complete installation of the Air Traffic Organization Resource Tool as part of its Cru-X labor distribution system. The agency is installing the initial version at five facilities after successful tests at two small towers. Once it is operational at the five sites, FAA will release the next version, which will have more features.

FAA wants to pinpoint which terminals and towers will need air traffic controllers most urgently in the coming years, when workers are expected to begin to retire in large numbers. At the same time, the agency's Air Traffic Organization is also looking to cut costs.

FAA plans to address the two challenges with an integrated approach that ultimately will let agency executives compare staffing and scheduling across the nation's facilities, said Robert Tobin, acting manager of FAA's Technical Services Office.

Cru-X is a suite of software to support labor distribution reporting. The resource tool is part of one of the Cru-X components, called CruOps, which collects time and attendance data for operational staff members who may not have access to a PC to enter such information.

The resource tool is the agency's first step toward getting an enterprise view of air traffic controller staffing.

'It's going to help supervisors or controllers in charge of daily watch or switch management,' Tobin said. FAA centers will use the application to track administrative information such as time and attendance and worker distribution.

The agency has completed testing of the first version of the tool at air traffic control towers in New Orleans and Van Nuys, Calif. FAA will implement the next version at 30 facilities that use an older version of CruOps.

The resource tool, written in Microsoft Visual Basic 6, runs on Hewlett-Packard Corp. servers with RAID disk arrays and taps an Oracle9 Version 9.2 database.

Each server hourly replicates information stored at an FAA data center that houses information from all facility databases. A Web portal gives agency personnel access to real-time reports created from the data. Advanced Management Technology Inc. of Arlington, Va., built the systems for FAA.

The agency said the resource tool will standardize how controllers sign in and out for work. 'The expectation is that if you are working the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, before you plug in to start talking with planes, you'll go to a workstation and actually sign yourself in,' Tobin said. With Version 2, controllers will be able to sign out also.

Previously, controllers were simply considered signed in for the hours they were scheduled to work, but FAA wants a more accurate attendance accounting.

'Part of what we're trying here is a cultural change,' Tobin said, adding that FAA may make more changes to the software. 'We're not going to know exactly what we're getting until we see the data that we start to collect.'

Using the resource tool, a controller can drag and drop his or her name into a box to signify the activity being performed at the time, such as training or acting as a controller in charge. Controllers or a supervisor will move names around the duty board throughout the course of the day as they change activities.

Initially, the tool will give information only about how controllers spend their time. But FAA eventually wants to use the data to create a picture of what goes on in a facility. With that data, the agency can compare work patterns across air traffic terminals and towers to make labor and cost adjustments.

FAA also wants to develop a modeling tool that will automate options for scheduling staff more effectively and efficiently.

The agency's current 'scheduling tools are automated versions of what goes on in people's heads,' Tobin said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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