Research Questions

How can process improvement methods and tools coming from other domains can be used in the context of tower control rooms?

Research Scope

The ZeFMaP project investigated if and how process improvement methods and tools coming from other domains can be used in the context of tower control rooms. The project proposed a four step productivity improvement process;

  • Step 1: Modelling the target process into a production workflow and dividing it into “production steps.”
  • Step 2: Optimizing the “human machine symbiosis” for each step (outside the scope of the project).
  • Step 3: Analyses of the decision points and decision content within each of the steps with the aim of optimisation for each decision for the overall process and the improvement of each production step through a feedback loop.
  • Step 4: Improvement of the target process through a feedback loop.

In the first iteration the process improvement approaches currently used in other industries were surveyed, and the potential use of those approaches within an ATM setting were discussed. The ZeFMaP process was then outlined and Step 1 (modelling the target process) was applied to the TWR control room process of Hamburg airport. An improved version of the TWR workflow was proposed and implemented in the electronic flight strips tool.

Research Results

The results indicate that workflow and performance visualization can be a useful aid to facilitate learning in TWR control rooms. For further optimisation the project proposed an integrated approach to departure management and surface routing in airports. ZEFMAP was looking at zero defect brute force event tree analysis (FMECA type), and they actually concluded that the approach was not successful, because the event tree was too big and the zero defect approach was unrealistic.The results showed that the integrated approach covers calculations and trade-offs probably outside of human capability when handling Hamburg airport in simulated scenarios. The decrease in average taxi time was between 33% and 36% while punctuality improved from 57% to 67%. Further developments would lead to a decision support tool covering both planning and real time support. This optimisation technology can also be developed to become a part of a learning tool for controllers that will provide a comparison with their decisions and the most optimal ones. Furthermore, the results show that active operational use of optimisation tools provides a number of direct economic savings together with greater flexibility, efficiency, overview and safety of the planning effort.

Future research includes investigating whether additional tools can be useful within the ZeFMaP process. An investigation into how other ATM processes can benefit from the ZeFMaP approach is also highly relevant.

  • A visualization tool for airport traffic that they found useful for training purposes
  • A DMAN algorithm that combined surface management

Future applications of the tool will be useful for analysis and improvement of the decision making process. It can also be used by the controllers for self-assessment of their performance at the end of a working day or for training of ATCO students, particularly in the sessions following training simulations. To increase the usefulness of the visualisation tool, future versions should provide additional functionality for listening to the communication between ATCOs, and between ATCOs and pilots.