Review of IFATCA Automation Policy

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Review of IFATCA Automation Policy

55TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Las Vegas, USA, 14-18 March 2016

WP No. 308

Review of IFATCA Automation Policy

Presented by PLC


The objective of this paper is to provide information about the current IFATCA automation policy and the need in the upcoming years to revise it according to the developments of technology and the studies conducted on the topic.


1.1  During the 54th IFATCA Annual Conference (Sofia 2015), PLC was tasked to review IFATCA policy on automation to determine if a revision was needed.

1.2  Since then the Federation has worked on that and, in partnership with different stakeholders, on various other items related to automation; the working papers presented during this Conference will give a complete overview on this activity.

1.3  As this paper will show, PLC realised during this study that the IFATCA policy on automation would need a revision in order to better answer the needs of its Member Associations. According to that, the initial intent was to propose an amended policy during this Conference. However, the quality of the other activities conducted by the Federation and the possibility to include their results on it, has led to postpone such a recommendation for next year.

1.4  This paper should be read in conjunction with the working paper on automation activities which will be presented at the Las Vegas Conference to complete the picture of the ongoing work (see paragraphs 2.2, 2.3, 2.4 and 2.5).


2.1 Since the last IFATCA Conference (Sofia 2015), IFATCA has worked on various items related to automation, both within the Federation and in cooperation with other partners. Some of these produced documents signed by prestigious organisations, while others focused more on the use of our Technical and Professional Manual (TPM) by the Member Associations (MA).

2.2 Guidance on the Development and Operation of Automated ATM Systems

2.2.1 One of these initiatives on aviation automation, organised by CAA UK and industry representatives started in February 2014. It analysed present and future implementation of advanced automated systems in aviation, highlighting the need for guidance material for industry and regulators. Following that a working group composed by CAA UK, IFATCA, GATCO, EUROCONTROL, NATS, University of Hertfordshire, SESAR Joint Undertaking and Heathrow airport was formed. In December 2015 a conference presented the work carried out by this interdisciplinary working group. The guidance document produced will be published in 2016 by CAA UK and is conceived to be used by ANSPs, airport operators and other entities involved in the oversight, manufactory, design or management of automated systems in ATM.

2.2.2 The guidance is a comprehensive document mainly based on a number of principles grouped in the following categories (called themes):

  • Scope
  • Human
  • Obligations
  • Integration
  • Resilience
  • Training
  • Transition
  • Emergence

2.3 Automation in the field of Air Traffic Management – a White Paper

2.3.1  Another initiative was related to a document developed by an informal working group composed by IFATCA, AIRBUS, ATCEUC and ECA with the aim of submitting recommendations to improve the ATM Research & Development. Paying particular attention to the Single European Sky goals SESAR, by providing a considered and informed position. Making optimum use of generic capabilities brought by Automation & Assistance to the operators.

2.3.2  These recommendations will be published in February 2016 and will include; lessons learned, design criteria, outlining challenges, hands-on requests and possible solutions.

2.4 ATM masterplan update, Edition 2015

2.4.1  The ATM Masterplan is the the technological roadmap for the modernisation process under the Single European Sky (SES). It is the federating document the policy makers and stakeholders agree upon to lead research and deployment concerning the technological pillar of SES. The 2015 edition was published and endorsed by the SESAR Joint Undertaking Administrative Board at the end of December 2015. It contains a Chapter (4.7.) dedicated to the Role of the Human. The Chapter has been sponsored by Professional Staff Organisations (ATCEUC, ECA, ETF, IFATCA and IFATSEA) and has passed the revision process unaltered.

2.4.2  The 2015 Edition can be downloaded at

2.5 RAeS HF conference

2.5.1 Under the title “Predicting fatal flaws in Aviation”, the UK Royal Aeronautical Society Human Factors group organised a 2 day seminar. Researchers and practitioners debated and exposed the future challenges of aviation when predicting failure of future systems. The Conference exposed the challenges of automation in a very prominent way.

2.6 IFATCA policy

2.6.1 The activity on the IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual identified several parts inherent to automated systems (namely stop-bars, flight information service, free flight concept, training, CPDLC-Controller Pilot Data Link Communications, incident/accident investigations, down linking of ACAS Resolution advisories, runway status lights, conflict detection tools, etc.) where often some statements are repeated, adapting elements such as training or legal responsibility (among others) to the various cases.

2.6.2  An optimum policy on automated systems, on the contrary, would gather all the elements from the single technologies, analysing them in a holistic manner, optimising the management of the issues.

2.6.3  Moreover IFATCA TPM, WC 8.2.5 “AUTOMATION / HUMAN FACTORS” describing the Federation approach to automation in general, states that IFATCA policy is:

Automation must improve and enhance the data exchange for controllers. Automated systems must be fail-safe and provide accurate and incorruptible data. These systems must be built with an integrity factor to review and crosscheck the information being received.

The Human Factors aspects of Automation must be fully considered when developing automated systems.

Automation must assist and support ATCOs in the execution of their duties.

The controller must remain the key element of the ATC system.

Total workload should not be increased without proof that the combined automated/human systems can operate safely at the levels of workload predicted, and to be able to satisfactorily manage normal and abnormal occurrences. Automated tools or systems that support the control function must enable the controller to retain complete control of the control task in such a way so as to enable the controller to support timely interventions when situations occur that are outside the normal compass of the system design, or when abnormal situations occur which require non-compliance or variation to normal procedures.

Automation should be designed to enhance controller job satisfaction.

The legal aspects of a controller’s responsibilities must be clearly identified when working with automated systems.

A Controller shall not be held liable for incidents that may occur due to the use of inaccurate data if he is unable to check the integrity of the information received.

A Controller shall not be held liable for incidents in which a loss of separation occurs due to a resolution advisory issued by an automated system.

Guidelines and procedures shall be established in order to prevent incidents occurring from the use of false or misleading information provided to the controller.


2.6.4  This policy for the most part comes from studies IFATCA carried out from 1990 to 2001 and includes technological, social and legal elements, as well as aspects relating to human factors. However it does not describe what automated systems are, how they should be designed, used and upgraded, what the resulting issues to be managed are and what they should be based on.

2.6.5  Nowadays automated systems are highly integrated in aviation. They influence the overall safety and efficiency at various levels, producing direct affects as a result of their capabilities and the human interaction with them, but also side effects deriving from the interaction among the various elements of the aviation system. Their output are often inputs for others and vice versa, therefore, vulnerabilities may have exponential affects.

2.6.6  Scientific progress in the aviation domain is helping operators to reach more and more competitive performances because it increases both the intrinsic value of the technological components and the effects of human interaction with them. For example, the control surfaces of an aircraft have become more resistant and more efficient but, at the same time, modern fly-by- wire systems and related Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs) allow a better use of them combining accuracy and reliability.

2.6.7  The allocation of functions has changed over time. There is a tendency to change the control of duties from humans to machines; this process seems to be permanent and endless. In fact, autopilot systems perform tasks that were assigned to pilots in the past and, although this implies some issues, this will be unlikely to change. In time, the control of more and more functions will probably be reallocated from humans to machines.

2.6.8  According to Wickens et al (1998) this is the core of what should be defined as automation: ‘a device or system that accomplishes (partially or fully) a function that was previously carried out (partially or fully) by a human operator’.

2.6.9  However, there are several definitions of automation according to the domain analysed. The one presented here is considered to be one of the most suitable in aviation, because it emphasizes the change of control of functions and implies that what is considered to be automation in a certain moment will change over time and would probably not be considered as such in the future, depending on the evolution of technology and on human usage. Tasks reallocated to machines, after a period of time, will be seen simply as machines operations. For example, washing machines were invented in the 19th century and since then they have taken control of a function previously assigned to humans; however nowadays, in several countries, they are not considered automation anymore because what they do is no longer perceived as a human task.

2.6.10  Moreover, the same IFATCA manual, AAS 1.13 “DETERMINING OPERATIONS READINESS OF AUTOMATED ATM SYSTEMS” states that:

Operational controllers shall be involved in the design, development and implementation of new ATM systems. Their role shall include:

  • Establishing user requirements.
  • Defining operational training requirements prior to implementation.
  • Participating in the risk assessment process.
  • Validating the system.
  • Providing feedback in the further development of the system.

The design, development and implementation team of a new ATM system/equipment/tool shall include, as a minimum:

  • System developers – typically software and hardware engineers;
  • Project managers;
  • End-users – i.e. the operational controllers, supervisors and ATSEPs (Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel);
  • Legal experts;
  • Human factors specialists;
  • Safety specialists.


2.6.11 This paragraph (AAS 1.13) was amended during the last conference in Sofia and contains useful material for IFATCA Member Associations, however, it is the opinion of PLC that its title should be changed to “DETERMINING OPERATIONS READINESS OF NEW ATM SYSTEMS” to better represent the policy statements reported above; in fact, this refers to any new ATM system, not only the automated ones.

2.6.12 The issue has been addressed to the EVP Professional for an editorial amendment of the IFATCA TPM, AAS 1.13.

2.7 Semantics

2.7.1 The term “automation” as used in IFATCA policy is generally used to consider a single tool. However, aviation is a very complex system composed by a huge amount of various entities acting as individuals for different scopes. With different resources and technology, but all fully interconnected. In this respect, the technological element should be deeply analysed to identify the effects the various tools produce as singles and as a whole, to maximise the benefits and mitigate the issues. The importance of considering “automated systems” instead of simply “automation”, according to PLC, should be highlighted in our policy.


3.1 During 2015 IFATCA has worked extensively on automation related topics producing quality documents in collaboration with various important partners from ANSPs, regulators, manufacturers, airport operators, universities and others.

3.2 The results of the analysis conducted show that there is a need to further study issues and benefits produced by the deployment of automated systems to better understand and manage their impact on aviation.

3.3 PLC is of the opinion that the current IFATCA automation policy should be revised, taking into consideration the latest researches and techniques related to the management of automated systems, in order to better serve the needs of its Member Associations.

3.4 Therefore, in consideration of the fact that the study needed would include both human factors and technical aspects of automated systems, among the others, PLC and TOC should be tasked together to continue working on the topic in order to recommend a new automation policy.


4.1 It is recommended that this working paper be accepted as information material.


Flight to the Future: Human Factors in Air Traffic Control – Christopher D. Wickens, Anne S. Mavor, and James P. McGee, 1998;

The Future of Air Traffic Control: Human Operators and Automation – Christopher D. Wickens, Anne S. Mavor, Raja Parasuraman, and James P. McGee, 1998;

Automation and Safety Forum 02, 03 June 2015 Brussels: Findings and Conclusions – EUROCONTROL, ERA, FSF, 2015;

Safety and automation, Hindsight 20, EUROCONTROL, 2014;

Automation as alien: challenges for human factors – T.B.Sheridan, 2014;

IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual, 2015.

Last Update: October 1, 2020  

January 24, 2020   771   Jean-Francois Lepage    2016    

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