Press Release

NASA Computer Tool Smooths Flow of Air Traffic

By SpaceRef Editor
August 20, 2001
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Air traffic controllers will be able to make decisions about air traffic with greater accuracy thanks to a new NASA software tool.

Researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center, located in California’s Silicon Valley, recently monitored more than 1,000 take-offs, landings and overhead flights near Denver to test the en-route data exchange (EDX) tool. The tool allows for the “real-time” delivery of flight data to automated air traffic management software, giving controllers the ability to predict aircraft position and avoid potential conflicts.

“The ability to accurately predict aircraft trajectories more than 20 minutes in advance is crucial to the success of air traffic management,” according to Rich Coppenbarger, EDX technical lead. “EDX allows automation used for air traffic control decisions to be more accurate, thereby increasing fuel efficiency and system capacity, and reducing controller workload,” he added.

EDX delivers 32 types of data from the plane to air traffic controllers, who are using NASA’s Center-TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) Automation System, or CTAS. Some data, including aircraft speed, weight, flight plans and weather conditions, are processed immediately, and the rest are stored for later analysis.

“Field experience has shown that controllers must have confidence in the accuracy of underlying trajectory predictions in order to utilize our automation effectively. EDX provides that level of trust by providing a wealth of accurate and timely data,” said Coppenbarger.

With cooperation from United Airlines, 48 Boeing 777 aircraft received EDX software upgrades. The 777 was chosen because of its state-of-the-art avionics and advanced handing of ‘datalink’ information.

The six-month test of EDX was conducted at the Denver Air-Route Traffic Control Center with the assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Washington, D.C.; Honeywell, Morristown, NJ; and United Airlines, Chicago.

The next step is evaluation of the tool’s capabilities for future application to real-time flight plan development and modification. This capability can be viewed as an important step toward attaining Free Flight, which is a FAA program that will give pilots the freedom to choose their own flight paths in real time.

The tools within the CTAS suite are designed to help air traffic controllers manage the increasingly complex air traffic flows at large airports and en route. The tools in CTAS benefit air travelers by reducing delays while maintaining safety.

EDX is being developed under the Advanced Air Transportation Technologies (AATT) project, a part of NASA’s Aviation Systems Capacity Program led by Ames Research Center. Ames has been conducting air traffic control research and development since the mid-1980s.

SpaceRef staff editor.