Projects per year
Greater automation of air traffic control (ATC) could reduce aviation’s climate change impacts, but improvements predicted long ago have been slow to happen. This resistance to ATC modernisation is framed as an issue of lock-in, and the detailed case study described here enables an analysis of the factors involved in slowing change. Although the classic lock-in effects of ‘increasing returns’ and ‘network externalities’ are important, a major barrier to modernisation is due to the political and organisational challenges of coordinating change across a large, complex socio-technical system. However, lock-in effects are crucial with respect to the perceived increasing returns accrued from experience with manual ATC operations, and the difficulty of quantifying the risks of automation (particularly as regard the use of complex software) is a major barrier to further improvements. Overcoming this obstacle to further automation depends on finding ways to test and operate new ATC software and procedures without compromising safety.