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Testimony of Mike Nadon
Airline Dispatchers Federation
National Civil Aviation Review Commission
On behalf of the membership of the Airline Dispatchers Federation I would like to express my thanks to the commission for allowing us to present some of our views today. I am Mike Nadon, the president of the Airline Dispatchers Federation, the ADF.
Since our inception we have seen many changes within the FAA. The most dramatic and positive is the new FAA focus on collaboration with the aviation community to improve the safety and efficiency of the system. The ADF has been active in creating and promoting Collaborative Decision Making with the Air Traffic Management specialists in the FAA. When we began this process dispatchers saw the Air Traffic Community as just another force to be overcome in order to operate their flights as safely and efficiently as possible, just as they viewed thunderstorms, blizzards, and volcanic ash. There was almost an adversarial relationship and dispatchers delighted in "gaming" the system to get some incremental advantage for their flight or airline.
Once the CDM effort began and FAA traffic specialists and users began talking and discussing and defining roles and responsibilities the relationship began to change. Today the CDM air traffic work that has been done and is being put in place as I speak is the result of users and the FAA working together to solve our MUTUAL problems. The CDM effort is a success because it had the support of people in FAA and industry management who were willing to think outside the box, and who put line air traffic specialists and line dispatchers together to solve the problem with the support of academia. Too often in the past airlines, FAA and others approached the problem from their narrow viewpoint and did not involve the line pilots, controllers, dispatchers, and others who have to work the system every day. As this commission looks at the various projects and priorities placed before them I hope you will insure that they use the lessons of the CDM experience and include the expertise and insight of all the line people who will have to make that plan or project work.
CDM has the potential to save the airlines and other air space users billions of dollars over the next 10 years in reduced delays and their associated costs. Since most ADF members depend for their livelihood on the success of their respective airlines we have supported whatever it takes to achieve these savings. But the other benefit of CDM is the opportunity through collaborative data exchange to improve the safety of the system. Commercial air carriers still suffer accidents and hull loss due to low level wind shear, icy runways, thunderstorms and other aviation hazards. The CDM AOCNET provides the ability to move information necessary for safe operations from those who currently have it to those who need it in a more reliable and rapid manner. Many items of information that are needed by someone in the system to insure safety are known someplace but not currently communicated.
A simple example is Local NOTAMS. Currently local NOTAMS are not disseminated on the weather circuits or through the US NOTAM office. Local NOTAMS are currently tribal knowledge only known in the area of the airport or facility. The Air Carrier Inspectors manual discusses this problem and gives the example of a Part 121 Domestic flight whose dispatch to an airport was predicated on the use of an ILS that was inoperative. Neither the dispatcher nor captain knew it was out of service because only a local NOTAM was issued. The CDM group is working with airport operators, airlines, FAA, and others to solve this problem and others to insure that critical safety information is available to all who need it in a timely manner.
On the subject of safety information the ADF is concerned about the state of the weather reporting infrastructure in this country. Aviation weather services that provide accurate and timely reports and forecasts are crucial to air carrier safety. We recommend the commission look at the GAO report on the ASOS system. Air carrier dispatchers, pilots, and air traffic controllers have all expressed serious concerns about ASOS as an aviation weather system. Rather than use my limited time to discuss all these problems let me give you one example. Recently two ATR aircraft from two separate airlines were dispatched to Central Wisconsin airport where the weather was reported by ASOS to be above approach minimums. Upon arrival both flights shot approaches to minimums and had to go around. The airport was in reality below landing minimums. Luckily both flights had alternates and diverted causing only passenger inconvenience. I ask you to consider what the outcome would have been if Central Wisconsin Airport had been their alternate and they had diverted there after holding at some other destination. Foreign carriers in Macedonia and the People's Republic of China have had fatal crashes when flights diverted to alternates which were below landing minimums. In those cases the inadequate weather reporting infrastructure was a contributing factor. After reviewing the GAO report you will hopefully understand the fear of the ADF membership that ASOS inadequacies may yield a similar tragic result. The ADF believes that the FAA and NWS must fund weather reporting and forecasting services that insure the safety of our flights, even if it means requiring weather observers at all commercial airports.
The ADF is not a labor or management organization. We believe that the FAA needs the resources to oversee and inspect air carriers and individual airmen when necessary. The recent increase in the FAA inspection force was a great help but more needs to be done. As you are all aware licensed mechanics serve as Maintenance inspectors, and licensed transport pilots serve as operations inspectors. The FAA has wisely also recently added experienced cabin attendants to oversee cabin safety. The FAA has no experienced dispatchers serving in the inspection force. Currently the FAA has appointed Regional Dispatch Resources to help oversee the operational control function at air carriers and oversee licensed dispatchers. The ADF works with these RDR's whenever we can be of assistance. These FAA inspectors who perform this function still have their regular FAA inspector duties as well as this added responsibility. The same rationale that requires experienced pilots to oversee flight operations, and experienced mechanics to oversee maintenance must be applied to the airline operational control function. Even two or three experienced dispatchers serving as dispatch inspectors within the FAA will go a long way to improving the oversight of the licensed dispatchers in this country. Canada has already appointed a Principal Dispatch Inspector for Transport Canada to oversee their dispatchers who is an experienced Canadian dispatcher. With the number of commuter and regional airlines that have recently been required to meet Part 121 Domestic and Flag requirements the need for more dispatch expertise within the FAA is critical. FAA oversight of dispatch should not rest on the efforts of already overworked flight operations inspectors.
As ADF members have worked on CDM and many other projects to improve the system our concern has grown that too often separate groups within the government are working on and funding parallel projects with little or no knowledge of each others efforts. We hope that this commission can review the projects that are currently funded to insure that we do not waste limited resources and manpower duplicating the efforts of others.
The ADF recommends to this commission that they support the current CDM program that the FAA, the airlines, and others users have created. The benefits of Free Flight are many and CDM offers many near term benefits of Free Flight. The benefits of improved ground delay programs with reduced delays will begin before the end of the year. The benefits of the concept of Collaborative Decision Making are already taking place during Severe Weather when the ATCSCC and airlines work together to operate around severe thunderstorms. Further safety benefits can be realized in the near term with the first safety related data exchange of pilot reports of severe turbulence, icing, and low level wind shear possible before the end of the year. Funding of the FAA side of this data exchange network is crucial to improving the safety of the system. Improved inspection and oversight of airline dispatchers is required and can only be accomplished with experienced dispatchers serving within the FAA. Finally the ADF membership asks that you insure funding for reliable and accurate weather observations and forecasts.
In closing I would like to leave you with the words of a wise old dispatcher. There are only two things you can do with an airplane once it's in the air; keep going where you are going or go somewhere else. The trick is to avoid situations that make going somewhere else the more attractive option. The only way to do this is communication and information. Timely and accurate information is better than stale and inaccurate information. Information that isn't communicated to those who need it serves no purpose. As this commission does it's work you might ask yourself about each project and presentation; will this improve communication or information. If it does it will keep us going where we want to go. If not, we may end up someplace else.