Monday, December 31, 2012

Performance Based Navigation through Psychoeconomic Lens: Part III - weighing the costs

Performance Based Navigation (PBN) relies on waypoints. This means that the Atco will rely less on bearings from navigational aids to effect separation minima and more on specific coordinates. As such, air spaces can be structured to expediently manage air traffic and reduce the delays that result from the process of ATC.  But the implementation of PBN inevitably carries hidden costs. What are these hidden costs? And how can ATC units avoid having potential white elephants? 
We have already seen that there are socioeconomic costs to the Atco. There is the negative feedback effect. A unit of airspace with too many waypoints can become cluttered with aircraft blips which, will distract the Atco or raise her levels of inattention, thus decreasing her situational awareness. 
An anomaly of visual perception 

The issues of detractors such as fatigue and other negative aspects of wellbeing are also crucial. Separation minima derived from PBN such as Required Navigation Performance (RNP)  methodologies demand a higher level of concentration which raises situational awareness.  A low level of workplace wellbeing will impact negatively upon safety performance. 
In addition to detractors such as fatigue, the level of attention or concentration required for situational awareness are both affected by the prefrontal cortex of the brain. To demonstrate the role of these cognitive processes, I invite you to take a closer look at the picture on the left.
Then there are organizational costs. The R&D or research and development required to globalize methodologies of PBN is not the only cost-inducing part of the process. Local transaction costs are incurred to make individual units PBN-ready. 
This includes airspace innovation and revision of localised operational procedures for departure, arrival and en-route. This also includes attendance at ICAO meetings and workshops, the training of the trainers and the acquisition of complementary processing systems.  Every step of the process must be thoroughly adhered to. There can be no shortcuts. 
What are the localised transaction costs of  PBN ?
In 1994, a tunnel collapsed at London Heathrow airport that provided an express train service to London Paddington station. The managers as well as the construction service were heavily fined for their failure to overlook the risk to the safety of employees and members of the travelling public.* Investigations found that the managers were trying to cut costs and save time.** Similar managerial tactics were responsible for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill in early 2010.*** The domain of Air Traffic Control is not invincible to failed managerial tactics.
Thus the decision by an ATC unit to jump onto the PBN bandwagon should not be adhoc or biased by administrative ambition. For other projects, progressive organizations consult relevant agencies so as to make wise economic decisions and to avoid the white elephant trap. In the final part of this series we will look at how Managers can avoid having white elephants in ATC units.

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