Posts Tagged ‘predictions’

ATC predictions from 25 years ago; Pilotless planes and empty control rooms

Friday, September 13th, 2013

There was a conference at the U.S. Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Mass., 25 years ago attended by representatives from Japan, Europe, the USSR (it was 1988, three years before the USSR dissolved) and the United States. They made predictions of what the future held. Let’s see how they did.

Tatiana Anodina of the USSR predicted a fully automatic system in which controllers would act as supervisors. We don’t seem to be moving that way. She also said the future system would be heavily dependent on satellites. Absolutely correct.

MIT professor Robert Simpson said the U.S. could lose its dominance of aviation manufacturing, and its monopoly on commercial air services, to Asian countries. That one remains an interesting prediction.

William Rouse of Search Technology said a computer he named CAL could instantly revamp the entire air traffic flow based on a flood of travelers, such as a sporting event in one city. He also said politicians delayed on their flight could address a banquet crowd from their seats (creating a new hell for fellow travelers). Fortunately those predictions failed, but a speaker late to a speech could combine Skype with onboard wi-fi. (Don’t tell them.)

Fred Singer of the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed unmanned supersonic freighters carrying 20-ton payloads at Mach 2 and 3 over the ocean. Command destruct capability, a switch that would blow up errant unmanned aircraft, might be necessary so the flights would be mostly over water. Cargo shippers probably wouldn’t like the odds, but unmanned aircraft are here, growing, and they aren’t over water.

Paul Muto of NEC Corp. of Japan said aircraft with satellite navigation would be cleared onto minimum time tracks, while aircraft using conventional navigation tools would still use airways. Ground-based navigation aids would be retained only as long as users want to pay for them. Sounds like he was on the right “track,” making the part about “paying for them” a little scary. But we have AOPA.  He also said, “We will not forsake our controllers. Both pilots and controllers will have their jobs.” Good call–so far.

A final thought: What if an unmanned aircraft that has been programmed to go one direction finds itself in conflict with an unmanned control room that wants it to alter course? Would there be a cyber argument leading to overheated circuits?