Armando Chapelli Jr., Founder, Chairman and CEO
With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, normal life has been thrown out of gear across the world. While almost every industry has been bearing the brunt of the pandemic in one way or another, aviation has been among the hardest hit. Passenger and cargo traffic dipped to an all-time low, with most flights grounded in the wake of travel restrictions. And now, with the pandemic showing signs of easing up a little and the world gingerly stepping out of lockdown in phases, the aviation sector is flexing its wings to enter a post-pandemic world. As the industry begins its recovery, it has to relook at improving the operational efficiency of airports and bring forth cost-effectiveness on all fronts. When normalcy returns, the skies can again be crisscrossed by 5,000 airplanes in an hour during peak air travel times, where it becomes all the more crucial to implement the right technologies, solutions, and services to improve efficiency while ‘safety’ remains paramount.
"Our 30-year safety record in operating towers of all sizes in the U.S. and abroad stands undisputable"
Achieving aviation safety can be a huge challenge without efficient management of air traffic control towers and well-trained controllers operating them. But not when The Washington Consulting Group (WCG) is in charge, offering more than a safe pair of hands. “Our obsession with safety is the bedrock enabling us to deliver consistent services of exemplar quality in air traffic control tower management and air traffic controller training. We have an unbroken safety record of 30 years in the U.S. and abroad,” says Armando Chapelli Jr., founder, chairman and CEO, WCG. “We aim to provide the highest level of safety and security in performing contract traffic control services for the U.S. government, the FAA, the DOD, as well as state governments.”
Empowerment to Aim Sky High
As an established global leader in worldwide air traffic system management and air traffic controller (ATC) training, WCG has been providing training since 1985, with its biggest client being the FAA. The company has conducted classroom simulation and on-the-job training that is compliant with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) TRAINAIR PLUS development guidelines in virtually every FAA air traffic control facility in the U.S. “At one point, we had close to 1200 people on the FAA contract at 195 facilities where we provided classroom and simulation training based on FAA requirements, in which many controllers were certified,” says Jeff Griffith, executive vice president of WCG. Currently, WCG trains ATCs in up to 77 FAA facilities in the Eastern Service Area, including Jacksonville, Florida, Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, and New York.
Griffith explains where the company steps on board with their training expertise.
When a newly trained air traffic controller from the FAA Academy joins an assigned facility for on-the-job training to become fully certified, they will have the high-level knowledge of how the air traffic system works and the basic air traffic control procedures. WCG trains them on the local operating procedures at the facilities to become adept in the operations area through classroom sessions and simulation at the centers. The En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) and approach control simulation, along with tower simulation of the actual airport with aircraft motion on the ground, is carried out at the training labs in the large approach controls. “The audits of our FAA training have always been excellent,” says Griffith. Chapelli adds with a touch of pride, “In 2008, our continued U.S. air traffic control system training with the FAA that was carried out for 25 years had helped lower the number of air traffic operational errors reported to the FAA, achieving record safety services to FAA.”
Safeguarding the Worldwide Air Traffic System
Beyond American borders, WCG’s expert team provides training and operational support on a global level. In China, they trained air traffic controllers on ICAO Aviation English. The WCG team helped develop specific procedures and trained them to implement and operate safely when they moved on to parallel operations. WCG also had a Navy contract in Djibouti, East Africa to provide training, operational support, and consulting services. Another successful training engagement Chapelli recalls the time when WCG went to Iraq on a DOD contract and operated the air traffic control center and tower in Baghdad, which helped the U.S. troops based in Iraq return home. The team also set up a training academy at the Baghdad International Airport and conducted classroom and simulation training for 60 trainees of the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority. In three and a half years, they were able to assume control of the tower in sovereign airspace.
“ Our obsession with safety is the bedrock enabling us to deliver consistent services of exemplar quality in air traffic control tower management and air traffic controller training”
WCG also redesigned the Baghdad flight information region such that the aircraft could fly on parallel routes rather than crossing. Furthermore, they implemented the required navigation performance 10 (RNP 10) procedure, which made the airspace more efficient and safer both from radar and a procedural point of view. “Meeting the requirements for a system modernization worldwide is important, and our clients can rest assured that we are capable of helping achieve that,” affirms Griffith.
Today, modernization has taken hold of the aviation sector in all aspects of communications, navigation, surveillance, and air traffic management. And the challenge that stems from the modernization from a global perspective is ensuring interoperability for the airlines to be able to fly worldwide without any restrictions because they’re not properly equipped. Against this backdrop, the WCG team is knowledgeable of the global operations concept of CNS/ATM, which is included in their services. WCG is helping clients in the U.S. integrate emerging technologies such as drones into the airspace system.
“We strive to stay abreast of advances in technologies globally and work hard to expand our company’s reach in rendering quality advice and services in support of integrating technologies and practices in the U.S. and overseas,” states Chapelli.
Modernization Gets a Boost
At present, WCG is successfully steering forward the FAA’s modernization program, where air to ground voice communications is moving to messaging with Data Comm—a digital, text-based controller-pilot communication system—an element of the next generation air transportation system.
On a subcontract with Harris Corporation (L3Harris), an international aerospace and defense technology company that has been awarded the ambitious project for a key FAA program, WCG worked with FAA in the implementation of highly reliable air-ground data communications services.
Traditionally, when pilots and controllers exchange information verbally, it can lead to confusion and errors due to language barriers. The Data Comm system allows air traffic controllers to send text messages to the flight deck, significantly reducing controller-to-pilot miscommunications, while ramping up safety.
However, it is a complex system to implement and operate. Post the testing of the Data Comm system at FAA tech center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, WCG trained air traffic controllers across 58 towers on implementing Data Comm Integrated Services with the flight deck.
Upholding Safety Excellence
At the crux of safeguarding the worldwide air traffic system is a work environment and culture that sets WCG a notch higher, proving time and again as the employer of choice. The company recently deployed a team to the Al Asad Airbase in Iraq under subcontract at short notice. This was possible because people love to work with WCG, which enables them to quickly put together a team and deploy them anywhere in the world.
Giving a glimpse into their future endeavors, Griffith touches upon their marketing efforts that are underway in Central and South America to train air traffic control staff to operate in new environments and achieve modernization. “We are open to working for our clients—FAA, DOD, and state department—and grow in the international market,” says Griffith. “We’re fully capable of operating control towers at any level at any place.” Currently, WCG supports activities involving commercial space launches and recoveries at the Kennedy Space Center Launch and Landing facility tower.
The company’s growth prospects are set to get a shot in the arm with the FAA soon to decide the service provider that will manage the federal contract towers program. Post the 1981 controllers strike, the FAA was forced to shut down a lot of small control towers and later, to keep the level of service going, began contracting services to these smaller towers. Presently, there are 253 of these smaller towers under the FAA contract. “We are already the right choice for that program,” affirms Chapelli. “Our 30-year safety record in operating towers of all sizes in the U.S. and abroad stands undisputable.”