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FAA To Experiment With AI For Air Traffic Control

Will First Be Implemented In Remote Tower Operations

Aero-News April 1 Special Edition

The FAA has announced that it will begin experimenting with Air Traffic Control that relies on Artificial Intelligence (AI) at airports served by remote towers.

The idea was proposed by a consortium made up of Midwest Air Traffic Control Services, Serco Management Services Inc., and Robinson Aviation (RVA), the companies that currently provide contract tower services. Under the proposal, computers would track aircraft and provide clearances without any human intervention.

A source with knowledge of the proposal not authorized to speak to the media said that the idea would make the system more efficient and cost effective. “AI has come a long way in the past several years, and we think it’s time to bring ATC fully into the 21st century,” the source said. “With AI, airplanes can be moved more efficiently, and separation can be reduced. As the computer learns how aircraft respond to its instructions, it can modify its algorithms and only get better at improving the flow of traffic.

“Improvements in voice recognition and machine communication make this an idea whose time has come. Think about how much more real your GPS or smartphone assistant sounds these days. Pilots will get clear, concise instructions, and safety will be improved,” the source said.

Pilots are naturally skeptical about the idea. “How many times have you asked Alexa to do something, and she’s done exactly the wrong thing,” said one pilot who requested anonymity. “This will be an unmitigated disaster.

The AI system will first be installed at airports served by remote towers where traffic volume is lowest, according to the FAA. That will also relieve some of the workload placed on controllers responsible for those operations.

NATCA blasted the idea as a job-killer. “We will do everything in our power to protect the jobs of our highly-trained air traffic controllers,” said NATCA president Paul Rinaldi. “There is no way that Siri can do the job that our people can do. We will fight this idea to our dying day,” he said.

FMI: www.faa.gov


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