ATC Data Management Software Case Study
Headquarters (HQ) Air Force (AF) is the lead command for Air Traffic Control (ATC) standards, training, and procedures. HQAF creates and publishes ATC operational and organizational policy that supplements the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Joint Order (JO) 7110.65 and 7110.3. Additionally, HQAF provides training guidance, documentation, oversite, and data collection. To date, USAF ATC facilities use paper training records to document training from apprentice to facility supervisor. The USAF ATC community does not have IT infostructure to collect training, proficiency, traffic count, or flight data. The USAF ATC Data Management Software (ATCDMS) will solve this problem via a cloud-based data collection IT environment that will allow the USAF ATC enterprise to divest in paper documents and transition to digital storage allowing data-based analytic decision making.
In 1997 HQAF developed a computer-based data management system called the Air Traffic Control (ATC) Flight (ATCF) Web. The ATCF Web was used at the unit level to centralize access to a growing library of electronic Air Force Instructions, Computer Based Training media (CBTs), and other administrative data like the Master Task and Training Reference (MTTR). In the beginning, the ATCF Web was an HTML-based system that hosted folders and files on a locally developed system that was “installed” via an HQAF-provided CD. As the ATCF Web became more robust and user-friendly, HQAF acquired its own server to host the ATCF Web. This enabled centralized management of the ATCF Web with updates being immediately distributed to ATC management across the Air Force while also giving the ATC management the ability to sustain local documents and structures unique to their units. However, the advent of stricter cybersecurity measures ultimately reduced the ATCF Web to a Community of Practice structure that eventually became untenable circa 2011. Paper records were still being used to document 304 training task items and weekly training evaluations throughout the average 15-month training cycle.
In the interim, HQAF has provided information to the field via e-mail messages and a Microsoft SharePoint site. Additionally, HQAF has developed and/or sustained stand-alone desktop executables like the Air Traffic Activities Report System (ATARS) application and the Pro-Time application. These applications and the SharePoint site give ATC users electronic access to information and ease-of-use interfaces to gather and manage some ATC-centric data. However, there is a growing gap between what is available in the industry and its use by other ATC service providers in the National Airspace System (NAS) and outside of it. This gap leaves USAF ATC behind the power curve in leveraging technology to gather and manage the data of an enterprise that has simultaneously suffered manpower drawdowns with increasing workload.
Units have filled this gap with home-grown applications derived from Microsoft Office products like Excel and Access and some have even fielded limited server-based applications like the Facility ATC Administrative Tool (FATCAT). FATCAT has enabled the ATC unit at Base X AFB to leverage technology to automate the collection, analysis, and management of facility operations and training data thereby reducing facility management’s overall workload.
Base X AFB ATC had been utilizing antiquated processes for training documentation and managing the training program. Many trainees were not progressing satisfactorily and they often exceeded their timelines for completing training. Nearly 40 percent of trainees were failing to complete upgrade training (washing out), and the volume of trainees had simply exceeded individual units’ ability to effectively manage the training program.
Using non-automated products exacerbated low trainer and supervisor experience levels. This resulted in ineffective documentation and poor management oversight of the training processes. Upgrade and qualification training for over 50 controllers was negatively impacted. Ineffective documentation and inability to manage hundreds of paper-training records led to upgrade/certification training times extending well beyond the Air Force’s standard 15-month timeline, it reduced the number of certified controllers to staff the facility and fill deployments, overloaded all the members of the training team and ultimately overloaded everyone assigned to the facility.
Useful methods were needed immediately to help effectively track and manage the training times needed for each controller, ensure daily or weekly evaluations were completed on time, identify negative training trends promptly, and provide timely corrective action for controllers experiencing difficulty in training.
The Local Solution – FATCAT
A few controllers at Base X developed FATCAT, a base-hosted website designed to collect and process ATC data and then present it as usable information to other FATCAT users. FATCAT may have been the first electronic system in Air Force ATC to ever provide centrally-hosted training records complete with Training Evaluations (with digital signatures), PCGs, Tests, and Pro-Time. After experimenting with several other electronic records management solutions in 2005, Base X began using FATCAT in early 2006.
The number of trainees at Base X completing upgrade training in 2005 and 2006 nearly doubled the 2004 total. The number of certifications earned jumped from 29 in 2006 to over 170 in 2007 despite training capabilities being at an all-time low due to deployments. Additionally, the number of trainees failing to complete training each year went from 40 percent in 2004, to less than 10 percent in 2007, and finally to an unprecedented zero percent in 2008. Zero percent!
The IT Enterprise Solution – ATCDMS
ATCDMS is broader in scope than ATC facility management and broader in focus than application suites like FATCAT. ATCDMS is more in line with Next Generation (NextGen) initiatives. The FAA has a similar, albeit more operational effort underway as part of their NextGen efforts called System Wide Information Management (SWIM). According to FAA media, “SWIM will allow airline operations, air traffic managers and controllers…and other stakeholders to share information in near real-time.” (FAA, 2020). Initiatives such as this fall directly in line with the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) Agile and Incremental Software Development. The OSD believes that software is, “…the modern-day swordsmith; critical to future battlefield dominance.” (Brady, 2015).
ATCDMS will be an HQAF managed server or server space capable of hosting an HQAF developed or procured family of cloud-based applications designed to automate the collection, analysis, and management of AO information and data to increase the agility and efficiency of training and operations across the AO enterprise. AODMS will align HQAF with Air Force Mission Directive 27 by establishing a NextGen system of user-friendly applications that will enable global access to and management of AO information.
ATCDMS will transform USAF ATC facility and personnel data management into a consolidated, integrated, agile, information-centric system by establishing standardized and user-friendly applications in a cloud-based infrastructure required for NextGen. ATCDMS provides the USAF ATC enterprise a cloud-based suite of applications necessary to create ATC operational and managerial agility, globally share information, enable safety and operational trend data analysis, and reduce manpower costs. The proposed two-phased approach is as follows:
Phase I (1 to 5 years):
- DISA approved Cloud One services to host AODMS website: approximately 5 GB of application server storage space and approximately 100 TB of data storage space.
- User-based permissions hierarchy and infrastructure.
- A user portal similar to the Air Force Personnel Center’s myPers portal where ATC users sign in to access ATC applications and information with permission-based roles and responsibilities.
- An application that enables AO unit leadership to input, track, and manage all aspects of training.
- Combines data from Career Field Education and Training Plans (CFETPs) and Master Training Task Reference (MTTR) to auto-generate Position Certification Guides (PCGs).
- Dynamically acquires data from PCGs to create secure examination (online testing) protocols.
- Display digital AF Form 623 coordination status (Current paper-training records form).
- Provide role-based user-specific dashboards/widgets (chief controller, airfield manager, flight commander, MAJCOM functional, etc.).
- Widgets and dashboards summarize tasks requiring leadership attention (evaluations that need to be signed, simulator usage issues, checklist completion status, etc.)
- Leverage third-party statistical analysis software, such as IBM’s COGNOS, to analyze safety data (HATRs, ASAP reports), compliance data (IGEMS, MICT), training data, etc. to enable a robust dashboard enabling powerful analysis of trend data.
- Host computer-based training (CBT) such as USAF Airfield Driving and ATC CBTs.
- Enable technical school portal for both students and cadre, feeding trends and analysis while automating technical training information distribution and management for the AO enterprise.
- Interface with USAF electronic training record systems while also providing ATC an electronic training record or AM, ATC, and ATCALS all migrate to AODMS electronic training records.
Phase II (5-10 years):
- Host training airspace de-confliction applications that feed off real-time flight plan data and are linked to current Enterprise Information Display Systems (EIDS).
- Host wing-level applications such as fleet management and sortie tracking applications that will also feed trends and analysis data.
- Military low-level Instrument Flight Rules route de-confliction capabilities.
- Real-time asset location situational awareness.
There can be many environmental challenges when implementing new data management IT system into an organization that has previously only used traditional paper record keeping. According to Washington University in St. Louis, IT change management in the ITIL IT governance framework is the “process responsible for controlling the lifecycle of all changes with minimum disruption to IT services.”(2021). For this change to occur, the organization needs an executive board who has the authority to make the decision, an advisory board who can provide direction, and engaged working groups who are empowered to relay ideas and best practices up the strategic chain (GAO, 2004). Attention to the end-user is a key aspect of the ITIL 4 IT governance framework; all members from strategic leadership to tactical users need buy-in and a clear understanding of what advantages the IT system has to the organization. The ATC career field manager along with HQ HQAF needs to champion ATCDMS to the Major Commands and the individual units. The members might be resistant to change but this can be overcome through the communication of why the system is advantageous for HQ HQAF and the individual users, response to feedback from users, an iterative small step change process, and clear communication of ATCDMS vision (Jones & Recardo, 2013).
The economic challenge of implementing the ATCDMS system will be relatively small in terms of DoD defense project spending; however, illustrating the advantages of data analytics and decision-making could potentially save the DoD millions of dollars in lost training.
Technological challenges in the IT space of the USAF have been reduced over the past two years by the deployment of the USAF Cloud One environment. Cloud One acts as a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) that offers application self-management and Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) approved services via Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. Cloud One allows the ATCDMS group to focus on user application and database instead of managing the hosting infrastructure (USAF, 2021).
Brady, S. (2015). Agile and Incremental Software Development in the Defense Acquisition System. Presentation, 18th Annual NDIA Systems Engineering Conference Springfield, VA.
FAA. (2020). The Benefits of SWIM. Retrieved 7 November 2021, from https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/technology/swim/overview/benefits/
GAO. (March 2004). GAO Executive Guide. Information Technology Investment Management—A Framework for Assessing and Improving Process Maturity. GAO-04-394G.
Jones, D., & Recardo, R. (2013). Leading and implementing business change management. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
USAF Cloud One. (2021). Cloud One Platform Overview. Retrieved 7 November, from: https://cloudone.af.mil/#/#platformoverview