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Mode Aviation
Reference No. AR201300089
Date reported 18 November 2013
Concern title Move by ATC to new tower at Melbourne
Concern summary

The concern related to the training and preparation of surface movement controllers at Melbourne Airport for the move to new technology in the new control tower. The controllers will be using Integrated Tower Automation Suite (INTAS) and do not feel that they have received sufficient training before going live.

Industry / Operation affected Aviation: Airspace management
Concern subject type Aviation: Air Traffic Control

Reporter's concern

The reporter expressed a number of safety concerns in regards to operations at Melbourne Tower and the proposed move to the new Air Traffic Control Tower.

The reporter advised that the workload experienced by Surface Movement Controllers is acknowledged as regularly being excessive. A working group which has been established to examine ways of reducing this workload has not as yet made any progress in this regard.

The reporter is concerned that their experience on the mimic shift using the Integrated Tower Automation Suite (INTAS) system shows that the workload is set to increase (substantially initially and as experience is increased this will reduce but still to higher levels than previously experienced). The reporter advised that experienced controllers are struggling to use the mimic system and this is before they are exposed to live traffic.

Airservices have not invested in a simulator for the new system and so the first exposure that Melbourne Tower controllers will receive to operating in the new INTAS environment with traffic will be in a live environment. Controllers are worried that they will be overloaded and the steps announced by Airservices will not be enough to alleviate this condition.

Airservices has announced that during the transition:

  • Land and Hold Short Operations (LAHSO) will be suspended but other crossing runway operations will still be in operation - these greatly increase SMC and ADC workloads.
  • The arrival rate will be reduced to that used for 'instrument A' approaches - this will only reduce workload by between 10-15% in arrival traffic.
  • 'Start clearances' will be used, but these clearances only apply to a small number of aircraft as most aircraft use 'pushback clearances' which are already managed by SMC.

The reporter suggests that the transition needs to be handled much slower - such as single runway operations (Runway 16 or 34) and a substantially reduced arrival rate - possibly 30% - until all ATC's have a chance to familiarize themselves fully with the new environment.

The reporter has also advised that the New Tower has recorded hot and cold coordination lines between all stations but there are no procedures associated with this new equipment which informs staff how internal coordination such be done and which line should be used.

The reporter also advised that the training which has occurred in the use of INTAS has been disjointed and unstructured. Staff have not been given exposure to the system during high traffic periods until late in the mimic process and often too many controllers have been rostered on which has not allowed the controllers to actually use the system for any length of time as they have had to share the time. Airservices have recorded the time individually for each controller even though they have not had access to the system.

The reporter has stated that while they are comfortable with their situational awareness during times of low level traffic, as soon as the traffic levels increase their situational awareness will quickly degrade. While they expect to improve, working initially in a high workload environment is likely to overload the controllers very quickly.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

Airservices Australia (Airservices) appreciates the opportunity to respond to the reporter's safety concerns regarding operations at Melbourne Tower and the proposed move to the new air traffic control tower which includes the implementation of INTAS technology.

Airservices has previously advised in its response to REPCON AR201300081 (dated 24 October 2013) of the traffic management strategies that are being employed during the transition of operations to the new Melbourne control tower to assist in the management of controller workload.

The traffic management strategies, which provide a framework for the introduction of INTAS, have been validated and continue to be employed to ensure staff gradually increase their proficiency and capability. Airservices clarifies that runway mode restrictions only exist with respect to the application of LAHSO and it is not considered that prohibiting runway crossings assist staff in gaining proficiency with INTAS or its associated surface movement surveillance system.

Prior to the commencement of operations, a human factors analysis on the operation of INTAS in Melbourne was undertaken. This involved comparisons of ATC operating practices used in the old and the new control towers with respect to heads-down time and task completion time. Subsequently, a Melbourne INTAS user's risk workshop was held which involved operational staff from Melbourne Tower, the INTAS User Authority and safety specialists. During the workshop no new hazards were identified. In addition, previously identified hazards relating to human factors considerations were re-assessed to ensure that concerns relating to high Surface Movement Control (SMC) workload were adequately captured.

The workshop concluded that all available risk controls were in place to ensure that the risks were being managed to a level that was as low as reasonably practicable.

Airservices disagrees with the reporter's claim that the training has been disjointed and unstructured. The Melbourne INTAS training and mimic process (described in detail in Airservices response to REPCON AR201300081) has been developed through a critical review of the effectiveness of Airservices previous INTAS transitions at Broome, Rockhampton and Adelaide. Specifically, mimic activities for Melbourne have been extended and strengthened to better emulate the operational environment and enable staff to gain confidence and proficiency in the use of INTAS within a managed operational framework. With regards to the reporter's concern about hot and cold coordination lines between ATC stations; Airservices clarifies that Chapter 6-30 of the Manual of Air Traffic Services (MATS) details the requirements for ATS coordination. Specifically, Chapter 6-30-220 states that intercoms or liaison channels are to be used for ATS coordination. Whilst there is no specific training or direction concerning their use, coordination via hot or cold lines is considered to be standard ATC practice (i.e. part of normal ATC operations) and not limited to INTAS locations.

To date Airservices has not experienced any significant operational issues working from the new Melbourne Tower. Nonetheless, Airservices will continue to monitor and manage the progress of the transition within the framework described in our Safety Case.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

I refer to your email of 22 November 2013 and 3 December 2013 requesting further information in respect of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau REPCON AR201300081 and AR201300089 about concerns regarding the proposed transition of operations from the old Melbourne Control Tower to the new Air Traffic Control tower.

Since the reporter's comments in October 2013, Airservices have rolled out the full mimic program of at least 8 shifts per controller and have issued AIC 124/13 regarding 'Implementation of interim ground delay program for Melbourne' that will be one of the mechanisms for limiting the amount of traffic at Melbourne during the first 2 weeks after cutover. Airservices have issued a number of ATC local instructions and Group Circulars, including TLI 13/0266 'Old Melbourne Tower-Cutover and Ghost Procedures'; TLI 13/0268 'New Melbourne Tower-Traffic Management Procedures'; TLI 12/0269 'INTAS Operations-Cab Procedures'; Group Circular 13/0438 'Melbourne Tower INTAS Commissioning'; and Group Circular 13/0457 'Support for the commencement of services from the new Melbourne Tower'.

CASA has reviewed Airservices' supporting Safety Case and associated documents and is of the opinion that the transition risks, including ensuring ATC competencies and ATC support arrangements, are being managed in accordance with Airservices' Safety Management System. CASA is aware that the Melbourne Surface Movement Control (SMC) position is a complex and high workload area. CASA has recommended that Airservices conduct a review of the SMC position post INTAS transition. CASA will be monitoring the results of this review.

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Last update 24 March 2014