WREN was an exploratory research project undertaken by members of the STRIDE team with NATS, the leading provider of air traffic control services within the UK.  NATS is conducting research to determine how to leverage decision-making tools and other kinds of automated systems that will allow ground-based air traffic control (ATC) operations to continue to safely manage increasing workloads during high traffic periods.

To complement these investigations, the WREN project applied a resilience engineering lens to understand how air traffic control operations can remain resilient when future tools and systems are equipped with increased levels of automation.

Current ATC operations support the controllers in making the decisions, meaning the human, ATCO, ultimately decides how to react to unexpected changes in the live operations.  Resilience is maintained through collaboration and interaction among controllers and pilots and with the support of the tools and systems. Future automated tools would need to take account of the way resilience is achieved in ATC operations through human interventions and ensure this is not lost; either by building in ATCO support for equivalent actions or by explicitly acknowledging that these interventions are no longer necessary as a result of potential future automated tools.

In a series of sessions held with internal stakeholders at NATS, researchers from the OU used qualitative methods and existing case studies to generate an understanding of current ATC practice and to trialmethods for conducting a resilience engineering analysis in the ATC domain. To evaluate how findings from this analysis could be applied to the design of future automated tools, the project analysed specific automation use cases within sessions held between members of the NATS R&D and the OU research teams.

Through these engagements, the WREN project demonstrated the feasibility of applying resilience engineering principles to design activities, shared techniques for performing qualitative data collection and analysis, and queried assumptions within the target use cases.

Key outcomes included:

  • A set of four pre-requisites for applying a resilience engineering approach to ATC operations.
  • A process for identifying and linking evidence of resilient performance in everyday activities to automation decisions.
  • A set of recommendations for using and refining an existing catalogue of resilient performance episodes in ATC to reflect automation goals within NATS.
Collaboration with NATS

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