‘Integrated airport’ tests future ATC technologies

 - July 5, 2007, 5:01 AM

A consortium of academia and industry participants has launched a four-year program to evaluate the air traffic management (ATM) processes required to handle the forecast doubling, and perhaps tripling, of air traffic by 2025. Called the Integrated Airport and initiated independent of the FAA, the program aims to create a proactive research and development environment while demonstrating the synergy among current and emerging ATM technologies and showing the feasibility of accelerating their implementation.

Conceived in 2005 by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, and Lockheed Martin Transport and Security Solutions, the program is a cooperative effort with Daytona Beach International Airport and the airport’s Volusia County owners. Project officials said their objective is to “create the only national test bed to integrate product solutions from different competing aerospace companies.” Additionally, they point out that it is “the only partnership with an aerospace university that will provide simulation-based research and development testing and analysis of the solutions provided.”

Ian Wilson, director of ERAU’s Center for Applied ATM Research and the project’s principal investigator, told AIN that while ongoing studies under the FAA’s NextGen and Eurocontrol’s Single European Sky ATM Research Program were essential, he believes a sufficient number of elements of the future ATM system have already been tested individually, and it is now time to put these available “building blocks” together for integrated evaluation.

Wilson stated that the project provides the foundation of an advanced, comprehensive ATM technology test facility that will incorporate a real-world flight environment for the integration and evaluation of new concepts as they are introduced, thereby providing early measures of benefits or identification of unforeseen issues. He said Daytona was ideally situated for this work, lying below less busy airspace between two heavily traveled air routes from southern Florida to the Northeast to the east and to the Midwest and West Coast to the west.

Since 2005, the project has expanded into a broader partnership, with corporate investment estimated to reach between $15 million and $20 million by next year.

While membership is not limited to private industry, no U.S. government body, such as the FAA’s Joint Planning and Development Office, which is currently developing a blueprint for the FAA’s future NextGen system, has yet requested membership. But Wilson does not see any conflict. “I expect that our ongoing evaluations will provide valuable data and insights to NextGen as both projects proceed,” he said, noting that the Daytona project is always open to evaluation by the FAA and other bodies.

The four-phase program will build progressively on the experience of the previous phases while adding new technologies as they become available. Phase one is dedicated to airport safety and security; phase two studies airport capacity and efficiency, and surface management. Next the program focuses on airport 4-D trajectory-based arrival and departure management, and integrated weather, followed by airport all-weather operations and integration of advanced automated systems.

Thinking beyond the Airport
Wilson stressed that the project does not view airports in isolation. “Airports are no longer simply starting and stopping ‘stove pipes,’” he stated, “but are integral elements in an aircraft’s total trajectory, including its ground movements between flights.” He pointed out that tests have shown that with today’s advanced flight management systems and controller ATM tools, coupled with the knowledge of individual aircraft runway stopping distances, exit procedures and taxiing times, ramp arrivals could be predicted within several seconds when the aircraft is 200 miles away. Consequently, the Daytona program will integrate ground safety, security and efficiency with real-time airspace management.

While some test scenarios–such as uninterrupted 4-D aircraft trajectories from startup to shutdown–might seem futuristic, Wilson’s experience with Eurocontrol’s program for harmonized ATM research and other advanced projects has convinced him that they are realistically achievable, and much sooner than commonly thought. “A remarkable amount of advanced ATM work has already been done here and in Europe,” he said, “but it simply hasn’t been adequately recognized.”

The demonstration program was formally launched at Daytona Beach in April, where consortium members presented their individual technologies and described their potential contribution to the future ATM system. Potential is the key word, since the program’s purpose is to evaluate current and emerging technologies, with the distinct possibility that today’s “cutting edge” systems might need significant modification to handle tomorrow’s demands. But the project partners see real benefit in the rigorous, independent analysis to which their current and proposed systems will be subjected, since it will provide them with valuable insights toward meeting the needs of the future ATM environment.

In parallel, experts in Embry-Riddle’s airport and airspace management faculty will collect and analyze the evaluation data and place it in a national airspace simulation model. This will allow pilots, air traffic controllers, dispatchers and others to become familiar with new concepts and technologies in a realistic environment.

The consortium intends to hold periodic progress demonstrations and briefings at Daytona Beach, with the next demonstration planned for September.