FAA chief data officer wants to pace development

The Federal Aviation Administration's top data officer wants to take a layered approach to how it develops U.S. air traffic control IT systems.

Shutterstock ID 601960952 By Andrey VP

According to the chief data officer at the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Airspace System should be thought of as a big building with interlocking and interrelated systems that from foundation to plumbing, that have different timelines for change.

Speaking at the Air Traffic Controllers Association convention in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 23, FAA CDO Natesh Manikoth said the NAS should adopt an IT development model that allows for rapid growth of some systems, but also provides stability for others, as some more modern buildings have allowed graceful expansions.

The pace-layered application strategy, which has been adopted by many enterprises, would allow the systems that make up the NAS to evolve safely and effectively, he said.

"It's a layered approach," said Manikoth, designed to give the complex active systems more resiliency. The plan, he said, would follow similar building maintenance and renovation strategies, paying attention to faster aging services and the slower aging infrastructure supporting them.

The NAS includes IT, personnel, equipment and other factors that allow aircraft to safely fly in the U.S. airspace. The FAA has been implementing a NextGen program to modernize technology within the NAS, instead of patching together minor upgrades to aging infrastructure.

The layers for NAS, according to Manikoth, would be critical infrastructure (which incorporates safety systems such as those that keep aircraft separated); mission-essential systems that need to communicate with one another; and mission-support systems.

Changes to underlying critical infrastructure shouldn't be made lightly, he said, as those changes could substantially affect and constrain how the system operates.

Cloud adoption will play a substantial role as the NAS and NextGen move forward, but it shouldn't be an ultimate goal.

"When we said 'cloud first,' we didn't say 'cloud only.' The best way to think about it is to take the technology which moves at the pace of the layer we're thinking about," he said.