NBAA Convention News

NextGen ATC test program takes shape at Embry-Riddle

 - October 1, 2008, 7:10 AM

In Daytona Beach, just 60 miles northeast of the Orange County Convention Center here in Orlando, the NextGen testbed facility at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is playing an important role in advancing air traffic control modernization. It’s a place where the politics of who will pay for ATC modernization can be placed to the side while researchers figure out how to make the various components of NextGen work together.

The NextGen testbed at Embry-Riddle began life a little over two years ago as the integrated airport project. It was initially funded by contributions from industry partners, a list that includes Lockheed Martin, Transtech Airport Solutions, Ensco and Mosaic ATM, among others. At that time, the plan was to develop technologies that could be added as a transitional upgrades until the FAA could implement NextGen.

However, a recent FAA grant changed the direction of the project, meaning that NextGen researchers at Embry-Riddle had to align their goals with the FAA’s vision.
While the industry consortium still stands, the FAA is calling the shots on what needs to be done and when.

ATC Demonstration

At present, NextGen testbed facility staff are gearing up for a demonstration next month that will advance en route automation modernization (ERAM) and traffic management advisor (TMA) capabilities. ERAM, a replacement for the FAA’s Host computer, is expected to be installed at all 20 U.S. en route centers by 2010. TMA, a software tool that helps controllers sequence en route aircraft, is deployed at all 20 centers and 33 of the 35 busiest airports.

According to Embry-Riddle director for federal research programs Wade Lester, the upcoming demonstration involves overlaying near-term forecast weather “polygons” on ERAM and current Nexrad weather on TMA to assist controllers in routing aircraft around weather more efficiently.

The NextGen test team is also working on integrating ERAM and TMA to allow seamless operation between the two systems, in addition to integration with Eurocontrol’s air traffic management system to ensure international flights inbound to the U.S. show up on the new ATC system.

Meanwhile, another component of Next- Gen is being tested at the university’s Center of Excellence for General Aviation Research (CGAR) division. Under CGAR, Embry-Riddle in June joined a collaboration to start a five-year, phased implementation of ADS-B and other NextGen technologies in the real world. Other partners include the FAA, the Florida DOT and air-taxi DayJet. (At press time, NBAA Convention News was unable to determine how the recent shutdown of DayJet would affect this agreement.)

Embry-Riddle was a natural choice because Florida was selected as the first state to have complete ADS-B coverage and the university’s entire fleet is ADS-B equipped. ITT–the ADS-B ground station contractor–two weeks ago announced that ADS-B in southern Florida achieved initial operational capability (IOC) from the FAA. The entire state is expected to go IOC by year-end.

The government-industry partnership is tasked with developing procedures that can be used for the accelerated deployment of NextGen technologies in the U.S., integrating real-time surveillance and performance data and setting the stage for automated flight planning and disruption recovery.

The first phase of the project (2008 to 2010) will focus on deploying RNP technology for performance-based navigation, allowing aircraft operators to fly more precise flight paths at optimum altitudes to reduce fuel burn and noise, and ADS-B. The second two-year phase will implement system-wide information management for enhanced weather awareness and management, while the final phase (2011 to 2013) will deploy performance-based communications for flight planning and flight-plan management.

Full ADS-B deployed throughout the U.S. is scheduled for 2013. According to ITT, the ADS-B ground infrastructure system will enable very accurate aircraft position data to be presented to air traffic controllers and will provide dramatically enhanced aircraft situational awareness.