People Factor Critical, FAA Says

WASHINGTON (03/02/2000) - To ease the modernization of the National Airspace System, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration needs money to research how people can better adjust to new technology, agency officials said Wednesday.

Funding for research to address the human-computer interface and change management issues associated with introducing new air traffic control technology at FAA is necessary to improve and hasten modernization of the National Airspace System, FAA officials said.

To be as modern as possible, the Federal Aviation Administration needs money to research how people interact with computers, particularly with new air traffic control technology, agency officials said.

The FAA has requested $25.1 million to study "human factors" and aviation medicine as part of its $184 million research, engineering and development request for fiscal 2001.

"Human factors represent our most significant challenge in the aviation world," said Steven Zaidman, FAA's associate administrator for research and acquisitions, during a hearing before the House Science Committee's Technology Subcommittee.

Research on how people handle computers is necessary to smooth the transition to new air traffic control systems, he said.

New systems that require controllers and pilots to adapt include Free Flight, which gives pilots information to choose the most efficient flight paths, and the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, which would replace displays, software and computers at more than 170 terminal air traffic control facilities.

Issues to be addressed include how new automated controller tools will affect how controllers are hired and trained, said Alexis Stefani, assistant inspector general for auditing at the Transportation Department, in testimony submitted to the subcommittee. "In addition, research is needed on the impact on pilots from new data link communications and cockpit display technologies," Stefani said.

STARS, for instance, ended up $460 million over budget, largely because FAA didn't consider how to set up the technology to make it as easy as possible for controllers to use, according to Stefani's testimony.

Other priorities FAA relayed to the subcommittee include:

* A new $5.5 million research and development investment to find tools to detect and protect against infrastructure threats and cyberattacks.

* Continuing relationships with the Defense Department and NASA to develop new technologies to reduce aircraft noise and to research aging aircraft systems.

Robert Doll, chairman of the FAA Research Engineering and Development Advisory Committee, expressed concern in his testimony that NASA's investment in aviation research will be phased out in the next few years. NASA is better suited to conduct research than FAA, which is a regulatory and operational agency, Doll said.

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