Auto-spacing ATC tool tried by NASA

 - May 7, 2008, 5:08 AM

A new computer system developed by NASA to automatically calculate the speed and distances between aircraft was scheduled for tests during overnight hours at Chicago O’Hare International Airport last month.

Called advanced terminal area approach spacing (ATAAS), it uses GPS and ADS-B to give pilots their own location, the identity of traffic in front of them, a history of where the lead aircraft has been and the best position of their airplane for a precisely spaced landing.

A NASA Boeing 757 flying laboratory is outfitted with the equipment to support the approach-spacing concept. It records data to validate the ATAAS system with the help of a Rockwell Sabreliner and a Piper Chieftain, owned by Chicago-based Aviation Navigation Satellite Program Inc.

The three airplanes were to fly a number of approaches at night into O’Hare to show that the software can offer more precision than is currently available because of approach-speed variability, radar inaccuracies and flight technical errors. Enhanced precision would potentially give airports a more consistent traffic flow and the ability to better adhere to schedules, NASA said.

Agency researchers developed and analyzed the ataas computer software in an air- traffic operations lab at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Then they tested it in one of NASA Langley’s 757 simulators. The flights at ORD were to be the first real-world demonstrations.

NASA researchers say the approach spacing tool is one concept that could help terminal area congestion in the short term until airports can expand to meet future demand.