Washington Report: FAA Accepts En Route System

 - November 6, 2007, 3:10 AM

Lockheed Martin delivered the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) equipment to the FAA on budget and ahead of schedule last month, meeting a major milestone in the agency’s Flight Plan for modernizing the National Airspace System (NAS).

The en route ATC computer system is considered the heart, brain and backbone of the NAS, according to the FAA, and it will replace the software for the Host Computer System and its backup. It processes flight radar data, provides communications support and generates display data to air traffic controllers.

Designed to support NextGen ATC initiatives, ERAM will enable the FAA to increase capacity and improve efficiency in a way it cannot with the current system, which is not easily expanded or upgraded.

In the future, the system will integrate with satellite-based surveillance and data communication technologies to provide the efficiency and safety gains needed to accommodate the projected growth in air traffic.

With the new system, controllers will be able to share and coordinate information seamlessly between centers, making the use of three-mile separation–instead of five mile–more practical in the en route area. It also improves flight plan processing and automates handoffs when airplanes divert due to bad weather, increasing flexibility and efficiency during weather and congestion.

ERAM will be operationally tested at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J. It will be deployed first at Salt Lake City next year, and will be added to all 20 Air Route Traffic Control Centers and the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City by the end of next year.

Using ERAM, controllers at 20 air route traffic control centers will be able to track 1,900 aircraft simultaneously instead of the current 1,100. The new technology expands coverage beyond facility boundaries, enabling controllers to handle additional traffic more efficiently. To enable that expanded coverage, ERAM is designed to support 64 radars instead of the current 24.

The system supports the evolution of the NAS with state-of-the-art technology that improves information security and streamlines air traffic flow at the international borders. ATC towers; tracons; the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Herndon, Va.; AFSSs; and other organizations such as the Defense Department and the bureau of Customs and Border Protection all connect to and use the information the en route system manages.

Among the new features of ERAM are an enhanced backup surveillance system that provides safety alerts and weather information not available on the current Host Computer System; the en route information display system provides real-time electronic aeronautical information and enables more efficient data management; a backup system precludes the need to restrict operations in the event of a primary failure; increased flexible routing around congestion, weather and restrictions and automatic flight coordination increase efficiency and capacity; a greater number and variety of surveillance sources improves surveillance; an open-system architecture enables the integration of future capabilities.

Government acceptance of ERAM involved about 900 people at Lockheed Martin and at the FAA working in three states and in 11 labs, who ran 90 separate FAA-witnessed tests covering 3,931 requirements. The FAA accepted the system after it exceeded the required pass rate of 90 percent with a score of 92.9 percent.

“This software is a huge step toward the next generation air traffic control,” said Bobby Sturgell, the FAA’s acting administrator. “ERAM is designed to handle performance-based navigation and the most sophisticated aircraft that have just come off the line. It provides better tools for controllers and that is part of what the NextGen system is all about.”

Performance-based navigation includes area navigation (Rnav) and required navigation performance (RNP) specifications. It provides a basis for the design and implementation of automated flight paths as well as for airspace design and obstacle clearance.