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CAN HUMAN POSITION AS A CONTROLLER IN AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL BE

REPLACED FULLY BY AUTOMATION?

A research paper submitted to


Indonesian Transportation English Olympic (ITEO)
Transportation Studies Research Paper Competition - Undergraduate

Written by:
1. Rinita Fitria Momiko Permana NIT. 31418020
Email: rinitaftr10@yahoo.com
2. Rifqi Raza Bunahri NIT. 23418022
Email: rifqiraza@gmail.com
3. Reyhan Irza Perdana NIT. 34318092
Email: reyhanirzaperdana@gmail.com

Supervised by:
1. Deni Sapta Nugraha, M.Pd NIDN.
2. Yudhie Indra Gunawan, M.Pd NIDN.

SEKOLAH TINGGI PENERBANGAN INDONESIA


CURUG, TANGERANG – 2019
ABSTRACT
This paper was written to find out the answer of the main problem of the topic by
reviewing some literatures and interviewing a professional air traffic controller who also has
knowledge in automation. This paper will discuss started from the general information of
automation, reasons why it should be applied, its application in air traffic control, the possible
impacts of automation in the future, to the human performance as the controller supported by
some theories and facts. Those points will lead to a result that answers the problem of this
paper.
Keyword—Air traffic control, controller, human, technology, automation.
INTRODUCTION
Air traffic control is a ground-based services that is responsible for directing aircraft
both on the ground and in the airspace. The man behind the desk is known as air traffic
controller. The controller is a person who keeps and guides the aircraft’s safety so that the
aircraft can safely arrived, on the right track, and doesn’t deviate from airways (Martono,
2011). The air traffic controller aims to prevent collisions between aircraft, expedite and
maintain an orderly flow of air traffic, as written in Five Objectives of Air Traffic Services.
They also in charge of providing advice and information for the aircraft, and notify appropriate
organization if the aircraft they control is in need of search and rescue aid.
A controller performs their duty in the tower, the highest building at the airport. The
tower’s height itself depends on the runway length of the aerodrome (Adrian, 2017). There are
three units working inside this tower. First, the aerodrome control tower (TWR), this unit is
responsible for landings, movements on the ground, and take-offs. Second is approach control
unit (APP) that responsible for aircraft bound for an airport from the point at which the area
control centre hands over the flight. In the other words, according to Sukajaya (2010), APP
unit controls the aircraft that comes or departs from an aerodrome. The third one is area control
centre (ACC) that responsible for en-route flights through an area. How ATC simply works is
when departing aircraft are passed from the aerodrome control tower to approach control office
and then to the ACC for the en-route sectors.
Air traffic controller works at a very high risk job. They must be focused and thorough
during the duty (Budiman et al., 2013). Controllers’ duty hour is usually divided into shifts, so
they will not be too burdened and stressed out controlling so many flights alone. There are
some rules regarding the controllers’ work hour. According to Susanti (2013), the maximum
work hour is seven and a half hours per day, and thirty two (32) hours per week. After the two
(2) long hours on duty, the controllers must take a rest for at least 45 minutes. The supervisors
on duty should aware of their workers’ performance, if the controllers look tired they have to
be given chance for a rest. The controllers should work in a very well condition, in order to
have best performance on giving instructions, information, and advices to the aircraft
controlled so the safe and efficient flight might be conducted.
This part of aviation, air traffic control, was invented by Archie League, who may be
considered as pioneer of ATC, in St Louis around 1920. Back then when flights under visual
flight rules were increasing, people during those days were contemplating on how to help the
pilots on guiding the aircraft to land safely considering the runway, weather, and other
conditions around. Radios were known but not all planes were so equipped with radio, making
the radio devices were not really reliable. So, Archie League would take a chair, sit close to the
runway, and observe the situation around with his gear playing the role as the wind observer.
When an aircraft would arrive without radio, he would set a flag signals to warn the pilots,
giving signs about the landing clearence. His gear and position would change according to the
weather and wind direction of the runway condition. This situation went until around 1930.
Years later, Larry Jewell was photographed in 1933 looking out the window while
holding a microphone using the light signals with ALDIS lamp replacing the flag that was used
by Archie. In 1935, in Newark, the first Flight Monitoring Center equipped with a radio
transmitter/receiver was established and located below the tower in the middle of the
aerodrome. In the same year, Ear Ward, an airmail pilot who was working for American
Airlines at Chicago, together with his assistant, Glen Gilbert, created the idea of the first
Control Center with the design of Traffic Separation Rules, the basic rules of control technique
in air traffic control.
As years went by, the air traffic control and its tools were born and developed. During
1937 and so on, more and more technical applications were introduced as standard ATC
equipment. The ATC tools evolved from paper (flight progress strips), electronic displays
(radar), data handling (computer assistance), and automation (computer implementation). Also
after the World War II, radio beacons and radar were introduced and growing in air traffic
control on a global scale due to the increase in air traffic. The evolution of radar, starting from
the very basic Non Directional Beacon (NDB), VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR), to the
more precision navigational aid such as the Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) and Primary
Surveillance Radar (PSR), is the example of a leap forward in technology.
With the rapid technological revolution, automation is now widely-used in aviation. For
example, autopilot has been used to help pilot directing the aircraft for a long haul flight.
Automation is a technology that develops and evolves along with the development of the era
in which this technology reduces human involvement and human intervention (Groover, 2014).
Since automation is possible to reduce human involvement, there must be a potential where air
traffic controller might be fully replaced by automation. But in air traffic control, there are
human factors that makes human role is still important, especially in deciding the final decision
because most of technology applied in this industry are still a human-centered technology.
METHODS
Reasearch Design—Before we know the research design, it’s better to know what the
meaning of research is briefly defined. As stated by Ary et.al (1985: 21) “Research may be
defined as the application of the scientific approach to the study of a problem”. Problem is
something which has to be solved.
In this study, the researcher uses descriptive research. Ary et.al (1985: 322) explained
“Descriptive research method is used to obtain information about existing conditions and have
been widely used in educational research. The aim of descriptive research is to describe “what
exist” with respect to variables or conditions in a situation”. In descriptive research, the
information is obtained by in-depth interview with the participant.
Subject of the Study—Subject in a study are required to get the needed information.
Lodico et.al (2006: 266) revealed “Depending on the types of questions asked, the researcher
will want to select the subjects so that they will be able to provide the key information essential
for the study”. It means that in qualitative research, the researchers select their subject based
on the subjects’ knowledge which is capable to answer the question.
In this research, the researcher chooses the subjects by applying selection. For selecting
the proper subjects, the researcher has observed the subjects’ by finding out their academic
background and experiences. From the observation, the subject is Mr. Yudha Abimanyu.
The considerations that make the subject chosen are:
1. He works in Jakarta Air Traffic Service Center (JATSC) as Air Traffic
Controller
2. He is Lecturer in Sekolah Tinggi Penerbangan Indonesia and teach about
Automation in air traffic control.
The second subjects are documents from trusted sources. Documents that we use as
subjects are books, scientific journals, e-books, and websites with clear sources. So that the
data obtained for this study can be justified and valid.
Data and Data Source—The aim of the research is to get data. The data in this research
will be in the form of descriptive qualitative data and use qualitative data procedure for the data
analysis. Data in this research will be obtained from conducting interview with the Participant
which is supported by document to get validity in the data.
In taking data, the researcher needs sources to get the available data. Data source is the
subject of the research from where the data can be obtained. Data sources are the important
thing in conducting research. Thus, data source is the substance where the researcher will get
information that is required. Ary et.al (1985: 332) argued that in qualitative research, there are
two sources that can be used to get the data. Those are:
1. Primary source
Sugiyono (2008: 225) stated that primary source is source which can give valuable
information directly. In other word, the primary source is to give prominent data relate to
problems of the research. For the primary source, the researcher uses the result of interview.
In qualitative research, the result of interview can be used as the strongest source to get the
information.
2. Secondary source
Secondary source is additional source to get the data. Given (2008: 803) argued
“Secondary data source is preexisting source that have been collected for a different
purpose or by someone other than the researcher”. In other word, secondary source has
function to collecting data for different purpose when conducting research. Here, the
secondary source which is used is document.
Data Collecting Technique—Data is information that has been collected by conducting
research. In qualitative research, collecting the data mostly is done in depth interview and
documentation. In this research, the researcher uses depth interview and documentation.
1. Interview
Interview is activity that involves interviewer and interviewee where the
interviewer will give some questions to be answered by interviewee. Ary et.al (1985: 342)
stated “In an interview, data are collected through face-to-face or telephone interaction
between the interviewer and the respondent”. Thus, in this case, the researcher are
collecting data with doing interaction or communication directly and indirectly (via chat on
social media).
The researcher uses one-on-one interview and chat by social media to get the data.
one-on-one interview is data collection process in which the researcher asks questions and
records answers from only one participant in the study at a time. To collecting data of
interview, the researcher makes some procedures. Those are (1) preparing the concept of
questions that want to be asked to subject and (2) the researcher transcripts the result of
interview. The same procedures for collecting data by chatting on social media.
The researcher prepares six questions related to this study that want to be asked to
subject:
a. Is it possible if the equipment that help air traffic controller on its
operation to be replaced by a full automated system (automation)?
b. How far has automation technology been applied in the air traffic control
system?
c. Is there any human factor that cannot be replaced by automation?
d. What are the advantages of automation application in air traffic control?
e. Is there any lack of human factor as a controller that makes human’s role
must/can be replaced by automation?
f. Is there any possible impacts in the future if automation fully applied in
the air traffic control system?
2. Documentation
A valuable source of information in qualitative research can be documentation.
Sugiyono (2008: 240) stated that documentation can be written and picture by someone
that can be used to obtain information. In conducting documentation method, the researcher
can provide magazines, books, documents, etc. The function of documentation method is
to make credible the result of interview.
Technique of Data Verification—In qualitative research, data can be categorized good
data if the data are valid. The researcher uses methodological triangulation to get validity of
data. Methodological triangulation refers to researcher uses more than one method in the
research. Cohen (20 00: 113) explained “Methodological triangulation is using the same
method on different occasions or different methods on the same object of study”. Thus,
methodological triangulation is making different method to get validity of data. Besides, the
researcher collects the data by using interview guide which is supported by documentation
which can give evidence if the participants are people that is proper to be used as subject of
research.
Data Analysis—After collecting the data, the researcher analyzes the data. Wiersma
(1991: 85) stated “Data analysis in qualitative research is a process of categorization,
description, and synthesis. Data reduction is necessary for the description and interpretation of
the phenomenon under study”. In short, data analysis is systematically process to analyze data
which have been collected.
To analyze the data, the researcher uses descriptive qualitative to analyze data.
According to Sugiyono (2008: 245), there are three activities to analyze data in descriptive
qualitative research. Those activities are data reduction, data display, and conclusion
drawing/verification. Based on those statements, the researcher divides the activity in analyzing
data into three activities, they are data reduction, data display, and conclusion drawing.
In short, the steps in analyzing the data are: (1) The researcher collects the data through
interview and documentation. Then, the researcher selects, identify, and focuses on the data by
referring to formulation of the research problem. (2) After selecting the data, the researcher
displays those data into good sentences. (3) After displaying data, the conclusion is drawn.
RESULTS
Human position as the controller can be replaced fully by automation if the automated
system that is designed based on machine-centered technology found, a technology where the
machine has full responsibility in deciding the final judgement and human only acts as the
operator. Making there is a possibility of human replacement with a machine, but it is quite
impossible to completely remove the human’s role. Because the air traffic control automation
now are still in the form of equipment that depends on human, a human-centered technology.
This technology put the human as the final decision maker, while the machine acts as the
equipment that helps human to make better and precise decision. The air traffic control
automation technology was made to help human by increasing the efficiency in controlling and
decreasing the human’s workload. This technology was not meant to entirely remove human
as the main role here. Since a machine or an automated system is set to one condition. It does
not consider any other factors happen around in real situation. This is where human’s intuition
and awareness needed in making decision as the controller that aims safety of the flight
operation, just in case any abnormal situation happens.
DISCUSSION
On its operation, air traffic control combines human role with the application of high-
advanced technology. The technology, in this case, is automation since automation is currently
being developed in air traffic control, the FAA and NASA project called Unmanned Traffic
Management (UTM) for the example. According to The Future of Air Traffic Control,
automation is defined as a device or a system that accomplishes (partially or fully) a function
that was previously carried out (partially or fully) by a human operator. In other words,
automation is an invention that might replace the human position as the operator. As mentioned
before, there are partially and fully automated system. The word partial or full refers to the
human involvement in deciding and controlling within its operation. The human involvement
in automation can be described in levels of automation.

Scale of Levels of Automation of Decision and Control Action from low to high level.

1. The computer offers no assistance: the human must take all decisions and
actions.
2. The computer offers a complete set of decision/action alternatives, or
3. narrows the selection down to a few, or
4. suggests one alternative, and
5. executes that suggestion if the human approves, or
6. allows the human a restricted time to veto before automatic execution, or
7. executes automatically, then necessarily informs the human, and
8. informs the human only if asked, or
9. informs the human only if it, the computer, decides to
10. The computer decides everything and acts autonomously, ignoring the
human.

Automation has been used for years in air traffic control. How flight progress strip has
evolved from the form of paper filled by the controller to the electric flight progress strip where
the information on the paper is automatically written and printed out by the computer is
example of application of automation in air traffic control. Another example of the application
of automation is the arrival and departure management system, a system that gives sequence
based on computer calculation of its aircraft’s time estimate. The technologies mentioned
before still needs human in operating and deciding the best final decision considering the
environment around. This shows we are now on the medium level where the automated system
exists only as an equipment that could help human’s work easier by increasing their work
efficiency and also decreasing the workload.

There are two reasons why automation should be used. First, the needs for improving
safety and efficiency are increasing. IATA forecasts global passenger demand to rise in 6% in
2019, along with this prediction, it can be predicted that there would also be a rise on the world
air traffic. The application of automation could help the efficiency of the controller in
controlling the amount of aircrafts controlled in the airspace. The efficiency in controlling also
decrease the human’s workload, making the human as the controller feel less fatigue and less
stressful so that they could maintain their best performance in promoting the safety of the flight
operation. The second reason is to utilize the existence of advanced technology. Advanced
navigational aids provide more accurate, precise, reliable, and up-to-date data about the
aircraft. This usually followed by advances in display technology which enhance the depiction
of aircraft on ATC monitor displays helping the controller to recognize the actual position of
the aircraft controlled, and by advances in automated system for giving suggestion for the
controller in problem-solving, future predictions, and decision making.
The implementation of automation in air traffic control, of course, have benefits of it,
but that doesn’t make automation have no negative impacts. Automation is synonymous with
job elimination and worker displacement with a machine. This could be a threat to human
because they might be losing their job in the future and ended up jobless. The second possible
impact is the controller’s skill degradation. Given a technology that is smart and high-
advanced, could make the controller too reliable on the technology and started to lose its skill
in controlling aircraft. Last, since automation is actually a creation created by human that
makes the system possible to have failure on its operations as automation failure has happened
for several times in aviation, the accident of Air France Flight 447 is one of the example. The
Air France Flight 447 is an accident caused by the automation (autopilot) failures. The accident
investigation revealed that the pitot probes filled with ice crystals and ceased to provide
airspeed information. As the result, the autopilot disengaged along with a mode change in the
fly-by-wire system that provided aerodynamic stall protection. With this experience, the human
(pilot) is required to use the ability to recognize the problem and deciding the best decision in
an emergency situation.

Full automation has not been applied in the air traffic control, since a full machine-
centered technology, a technology where machine has the whole responsibility on its operation,
has not been found yet. For now, partial automation is still commonly used in this industry.
Full or partial automation is about the dominancy of human or a system on its operation. Bibby
and colleagues highlight that humans will always play a role in the automation process.
Bainbridge also identifies the irony in the concept of automation that the greater the complexity
of the system, the greater role of the human operator, especially in terms of the critically to
safety. Meaning that is quite impossible to fully remove the human role in operating automation
system.

The use of SHELL model by Hawkins, supports the role of human in automation
system. This model illustrates the elements and interactions of each elements where the human
being—liveware positioned as the central of the elements.
The central human being—liveware have four kind of interactions:

 liveware-hardware: humans and machines including equipment.


 liveware-software: human and materials, such as documents, procedures, etc.
 liveware-environment: humans and the environment, including factors internal
and external to the workplace.
 liveware-liveware: humans and other humans, including colleagues.

The diagram shows that the liveware (human role) is irreplaceable. Because each
interactions need the role of human itself. Other interactions such as hardware-software,
software-environment, and hardware-environment relationship could not happen with no
liveware (human) existence.

What makes human irreplaceable by machines that they have the senses to reason and
detect something when facing something uncertain and solving the problem so that they find
their own concepts. Second, high flexibility cannot be obtained from a computer and is only
obtained from humans. Third, using their intuition humans are able to overcome a failure that
is not imagined by airplanes and flight system designers. Fourth, the capabilities possessed by
humans continue to increase because they always learn from experience and every mistake they
overcome so that they are able to respond adaptively to new situations. Fifth, if the system can
only do a task that has been designed and structured, this is where the role of humans is
effectively useful. And the last, the advancement of technology (in the future), its application
is increasingly required to be designed specifically around human beings who must command
them, automation in flight system will be a very effective tool if centered on humans (human-
centered).
From all points that mentioned above, it is believed that human’s role are still important
and effective in air traffic control system. Nothing can change human positition along with the
development of technology. Technology is growing rapidly in connection with the automated
system that will be relied on by humans. No matter how sophisticated technology is, human
position cannot be completely replaced. Why? Because humans are the center or core of various
types of elements of human factors. These elements are related to each other. However, the
main element is central liveware (Human) or what can be interpreted as the main figure in
matching other elements.

CONCLUSION
For now, full automated system still cannot replace human position as the controller.
Because human’s instinct such as intuition, awareness, and sense are still needed in solving the
problem in real situation in controlling real aircrafts and managing with any possibilities of
abnormal situation. But that doesn’t turn down any high-advanced technological development
project that is currently being researched, studied, and developed such as the Unmanned Traffic
Management by FAA and NASA as the example. Because we cannot deny the fact that experts
can find and develop any unpredictable new-advanced technology in the future.
ATTACHMENT
The interview with Mr. Yudha Abimanyu was done on Wednesday, 17th of July, 2019
around 11:30 A.M. in the Aviation Safety Training Division building of Indonesia Civil
Aviation Institute.
1. Is it possible if the equipment that help air traffic controller on its operation to be
replaced by a full automated system (automation)?
Answer: It is possible, but human still have a big role in decision-making as a controller.
Even though, the automated system aims to help the human’s work to be easier and
more efficient. The automated system is a set according to a specified conditions. Those
provisions cannot be changed. For example, in the factory, machines are set to insert 5
liters of water into each bottle, and other bottles will be filled with the exact similar
amount of water. But this kind of system cannot be applied in air traffic control.
Because in air traffic control, the final decision should be suitable and concern the
condition around.
2. How far has automation technology been applied in the air traffic control system?
Answer: Arrival and departure management system is one of the example of the
automation application in aviation industry 4.0. This system adjust the sequence of
arriving and departing flights based on its automated computer calculation of the
flight’s estimates. But in the end, the judgement is given to the human as the controller
in case any abnormal situation that system isn’t set to happens.
3. Is there any human factor that cannot be replaced by automation?
Answer: The human factor that cannot be replaced by a machine like automation is the
human’s decision-making. For example, in the system, the aircraft B is number two in
ground sequence following the aircraft A. But in real life, for some logical reasons, it
is impossible for the aircraft A be followed by the aircraft B. This is when the human
is needed in deciding the final decision. Another example is when the aircraft is
calculated to land in 90 seconds by the system, but in fact they don’t land at the exact
90 seconds, it could be longer because of the size and type of the aircraft. Automated
system is set to one condition. Automated system doesn’t consider another factors that
happens around in real situation. This is where human’s intuition also play a big role
here making the machine cannot replace the human position as a controller completely.
4. What are the advantages of automation application in air traffic control?
Answer: Automation can help humans, reduce, and cover up human-errors. The
example of using automated system is calculation in air traffic control. Controlling
while considering and giving a separation between one or two aircraft without air traffic
control automation might be easy. But with this technology, one controller is possible
to control up to twenty five aircraft alone.
5. Is there any lack of human factor as a controller that makes human’s role must/can be
replaced by automation?
Answer: Actually, we don’t lack of any human power, because automation was
basically made to increase the human’s work efficiency not to fully replace the human
position.
6. Is there any possible impacts in the future if automation fully applied in the air traffic
control system?
Answer: Controller will rely on automated system so that the controller only accept
what the system has instructed and suggested making the controlling ability of a
controller decrease.
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Undertaking this scientific paper has been a valuable experience for us and it would not
have been possible to do without the support and guidance that we received from many people.
We would like to first say a very big thank you to our mentors Mrs. Triyani, Mr. Enos,
Mr. Yudhi and Mr. Denny for all the support and encouragement they gave us. They spent very
much time for instructing us how to write a paper, how to search literature, and how to collect
data. Without their guidance and constant feedback this scientific paper would not have been
achievable.
Special thanks are given to our subject of this study Mr. Yudha Abimanyu for giving
us knowledge, answering our interview questions, and providing useful suggestions about this
paper based on his experiences as an expert in ATC and automation.
We would also like to thank all members of the ITEO team from Sekolah Tinggi
Penerbangan Indonesia. We are all friends from different department of STPI. We often discuss
and share our knowledge to improve the qualities of our paper during training time.
Our thanks also go out to the ITEO committee from STTD Bekasi who held this
scientific paper competition for the first time. It’s very great opportunity to develop young
generation especially in the development of journals in Indonesia.
Finally we thank my God, our good Father, for letting us through all the difficulties.
We have experienced Your guidance day by day. You are the one who let us finish our paper.
We will keep on trusting You for our future. Thank you, Lord.