'Measurable' Progress Shown by ATO...

 - September 14, 2006, 4:42 AM

In his first appearance before the Washington Aero Club in nearly three years, FAA Air Traffic Organization (ATO) COO Russ Chew told the group that a recent redesign of Florida airspace by the ATO has reduced delays at key south Florida airports by 50 percent.

“A little over a year ago–in spring 2005–the demand in the airspace corridor between New York and Southern Florida hit a critical point,” he recalled. “Demand exceeded capacity, causing exponential increases in delays.”

Within eight months, the ATO created new separate routes based on destination, reduced the need for longer routings and almost eliminated maneuvering to sequence traffic.

“If you know airspace redesign–all the way from concept to published procedures–you also know that eight months is an incredible achievement,” Chew told the group. “By establishing an overarching program lead with requisite authority, we were able to produce a multi-domain, multi-facility, multi-region outcome.”

One of the reasons this was successful, he explained, was the binding of ATO’s lines of business together as one, as opposed to separate, competing fiefdoms. “One of the reasons we were able to respond so quickly is that we had greater clarity about our collective goals–goals that crossed our ATO lines of business,” he said.

Restructuring for Efficiency

In the past few years, according to Chew, Congress has commended the ATO for bringing the vast majority of its ATC modernization programs in on time and within budget. Lawmakers cited the fact that last year, 92 percent of 31 major acquisition programs met schedule goals and 97 percent met budget goals.

The ATO also reduced the growth rate of its operating budget, which Chew described as out of control at almost 7 percent per year and climbing. In FY05, the ATO reduced its labor cost per flight–even as employees earned performance-based increases. Meanwhile, the organization has reduced the growth of non-salary spending by more than 3 percent.

“And we have positioned ourselves to maintain control of our future costs by restructuring,” the former American Airlines pilot said. “Last year, we executed the largest outsourcing in the federal government (our flight service stations), and are in the process of consolidating our administrative and support people from the nine FAA regions into three ATO service areas.”

The organization further streamlined itself by eliminating five layers of management and putting major acquisition programs into the operating lines of business. “As it turned out, this was a key factor in being able to deliver domestic RVSM on time,” said Chew.

“This, in conjunction with an all-new finance group, has allowed us to avoid spending millions in capital dollars by restructuring and, in some cases, terminating some of the more than 60 major programs we have reviewed so far. This has allowed us to free up some capital so we have more to invest in other needs, such as the next-generation [air transportation] system.”

In addition, Chew said that ATO is now expecting its capital investments to help reduce its operating costs in the future and ensure that its services are affordable for system users. “Moreover, by helping our customers save money, we support their growth–which then creates more funding for ATO to invest in future services,” he added.

A good example of this is the new advanced technologies and oceanic procedures (ATOP) system, which creates radar-like technology for oceanic controllers. ATOP not only creates more fuel-efficient services for users, but also can increase capacity in a way that improves ATO’s productivity.

Chew conceded that reinventing ATO will not be easy. “History is replete with examples of failed attempts at corporate reinvention in the private sector,” he said. “And the external challenges are many: dealing with unpredictable convective weather, business continuity planning, a rapidly aging infrastructure, a still-fragile airline industry, emerging air taxis and other VLJs, and unmanned aerial systems–just to name a few.”