ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial

A Strong Pulse in ATM

By David Jensen | April 1, 2004
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Air traffic management (ATM) may not be the fastest growing industry, but activities at ATC Maastricht 2004, Europe's premier ATM exhibition and conference, indicate that it is on a sound footing and poised for expansion. An annual event that usually has generated few news items, ATC Maastricht this year delivered numerous announcements of new technologies, agreements and contracts. Interestingly, cockpit electronics penetrated this otherwise ground-infrastructure exposition, both as a conference topic and as items for display in the exhibition hall. This higher profile parallels the evolving transition of certain air-operations decision making from air traffic control (ATC) to the flight crew.

Close to 3,500 attendees walked the ATC Maastricht show floor to view a record number of exhibitors. They gathered Feb. 10-12 at the convention center in the small Dutch city that also is home for Eurocontrol's upper area control center. Attendance at ATC Maastricht 2004 exceeded last year's numbers by 24 percent, according to CMP Information Ltd., the event's sponsor. There was a 77 percent increase in airport personnel attending the event and a 29 percent increase in airline-official attendance. Some 140 companies from 72 countries exhibited at ATC Maastricht. Twenty-three companies and several countries-including Iceland, Brazil and India-were represented for the first time.

Matching this upbeat report of the conference and exhibition was the mood among attendees, as shown in a survey conducted during the event by UK-based Helios Technology. Ninety percent of the respondents suggested that the aviation industry has at least partially recovered, and 25 percent said their businesses are experiencing growth. Less than 10 percent believed the aviation industry remains in a slump.

The Helios Technology survey revealed some frustration among ATC Maastricht attendees, however. Two-thirds of the respondents doubted the European Single Sky initiative will be completed by 2010 as planned. And more than half (57 percent) said the establishment of a global air traffic control system will either take more than 30 years to achieve or will not be established at all.

Since avionics "must be increasingly synchronized with ATM developments," according to Helios International officials, the survey included an inquiry about the barriers to implementing advanced cockpit systems. Expecting cost to be the No. 1 factor, they were surprised to discover that "lack of consensus" was the foremost reason given by survey participants (see chart, right). Some respondents elaborated, saying the lack of consensus hampers standardization and diminishes industry commitment to a particular solution for more efficient air travel.

When asked what factor would deliver greater ATM efficiency, most indicated communications systems that share data among the aircraft, airports and ATM networks. But a large number also said "greater integration of avionics and ground system processes" would provide the most efficiency. From this, one might expect a greater avionics presence at ATC Maastricht 2005 and, perhaps, at the event's U.S. counterpart, the annual Air Traffic Control Association exhibition and conference, to be held this October in Atlantic City, N.J.

Participation in the survey was voluntary, and Helios International officials are quick to say that it is not scientific. Nevertheless, the results seemed consistent with the mood on the busy ATC Maastricht show floor.

Russians are Coming

New Information Technologies in Aviation (NITA), based in St. Petersburg, demonstrated at the event that Russia continues to be a technologically advanced country. NITA touted a range of products, from its Alpha ATM system with radar and multitrack processing, to its Ural S-band solid state approach radar with digital signal processing and built-in tracking, to an automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) cockpit display of traffic information.

The latter product is a liquid crystal display (LCD) with touch-screen control and the ability to store, update and edit aeronautical information. Pilots can call up four modes on the "smart" display: en-route navigation, showing aircraft attitude, position and course; chart navigation, showing aircraft position relative to terrain and supporting raster and vector mapping graphics; 3D visualization, supporting a form of synthetic vision; and landing mode, displaying the aircraft position on the course/glidescope scale and showing the positions of other transponder-equipped aircraft in the landing area.

NITA officials also were on hand to discuss their company's air-to-air/air-to-ground voice communication switch, recording and replay systems, ATC simulators, and flight plan processing system with conflict alert.

NITA wasn't alone in showing new technology. The Austrian firm, Frequentis GmbH, for example, used the ATC Maastricht show to solicit opinions from air traffic controllers of its high-tech, tower controller chair/workstation. It is patterned ergonomically after the control chairs used by ship's captains and the operators of giant cranes, among other large, complex products. The seat's occupant-probably the control tower manager-would not scoot up to a console but rather would have all console screens available on either side of the chair, allowing an unobstructed view straight ahead.

The chair presented at the show incorporates Frequentis' Tap Tools products. On the chair's right arm are the company's smartStrips electronic flight strip screen and its VCS 3020 voice communications switch. Both are touch-screen displays. On the left arm is the Aerodrome Data Display, which presents meteorological data, navaid status, runway information and wind speeds. The left arm has space available for a fourth display. The demonstrator model has a Pentium IV processor.

The tower controller chair remains in the development stage. Frequentis has even sponsored a contest to come up with the best name for the product.

Frequentis also introduced a collaborative decision-making tool, called CDM@airports. With its database of flight information, the system would deliver the data necessary for individuals-such as dispatchers, controllers, baggage handlers, passenger holding and ramp personnel-to accomplish their tasks, yet withhold information that, say, an airline would consider privileged for competitive reasons.

By optimizing shared information through CDM@airports, Frequentis officials reason, aircraft can be turned around for service quicker and more efficiently. Klaus Hitzenberger, Frequentis' program manager, likens the concept behind the system to "a Formula One car's pit stop." CDM@airports is designed to eliminate delays, which, among 100 aircraft, could cost as much at 100 million euros annually, says Hitzenberger. CDM@airports customers could be the airline, airport authority or air traffic services provider. However, Hitzenberger suggests that the database, which may be deemed sensitive by some stakeholders, might best be managed by an outside, neutral provider.

Hitzenberger says CDM@airports could "allow strategic planning days, even weeks in advance," as well tactical planning in preparation for an aircraft's arrival.

For turnarounds at pit-stop speed, he adds, ramp agents and other ground personnel could access data using handheld devices, through the airport's local communications network, to keep them in the loop in case of last-minute changes in a flight's status.

Frequentis also announced the availability of a new architecture for its VCS 3020 communications switch. The VCS 3020X has been developed to accommodate up to 6,000 voice channels.

Meanwhile, Qinetiq announced at ATC Maastricht its Tarsier runway debris surveillance system, designed to prevent accidents such as the July 2000 Concorde crash at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport. Tarsier is a surface movement radar that operates at 94 GHz and is integrated with real-time digital signal processing. It can track aircraft, as well. But its primary safety benefit is the ability to detect foreign object debris (FOD) on the runway that is as small as a bolt or nut. Tarsier provides 360-degree coverage out to a range of 1.25 miles (2-km). Long runways would require two systems, according to Tim Floyd, Qinetiq's business development manager, sensors and electronics.

The company plans to deliver two Tarsier systems to Charles de Gaulle and one for a UK airport. An early version of Tarsier has been in operation at Nottingham-East Midlands Airport in the UK.

New Displays

Barco also introduced products. One is a controller display that represents an evolutionary advancement to the company's 28-inch diagonal ISIS LCD. Called Isona, the new 2K-by-2K screen appears like an ISIS display to the controller but, unlike ISIS, is integrated with the display server. Barco officials believe Isona is a logical advancement over ISIS, which has a separate display server, as well as a separate processor for controller working position (CWP) applications. The Isona display allows a display station to be integrated into a network, hundreds of meters away from the applications computer.

Barco also announced its ARINC 653-compliant cockpit display with modular open system architecture. Employing Green Hills Software's Integrity-178B real-time operating system with partitioning, the LCD, called MOSArt, allows the integration of various applications using the same hardware resources. It is produced in four sizes; the largest is 12 by 9 inches. It also can be part of a control and data management system (CDMS). Barco claims to have three customers for MOSArt, which is scheduled for initial delivery in June.

The Dutch company, NedGrapics BV, announced at ATC Maastricht its new smartGlobe Web Data Manager (WDM), which provides static data-navigational aids, airports, airways, procedures, etc.-and aeronautical charts from any location, using a standard Web browser . The WDM is an extension of smartGlobe, which has been available on a client-server basis since 1995. It boasts such customers as Eurocontrol, for the European Aeronautical Information Services Database program, and European Aeronautical Group, a Stockholm-based airline flight-support organization created by SAS Airline.

Finally, AMS (ASI)-a subsidiary of AMS, which is jointly owned by the UK's BAE Systems and Italy's Finmeccanica-spotlighted a system that remotely controls and monitors all navigational aids: VOR, DME and ILS, as well the U.S. Air Force's FRN-43, 44, 45 and 46 VOR, VORTAC, DME and TACAN. AMS (ASI) developed the 2238 Remote Control and Status Unit (RCSU) to meet the requirements of the Air Force Material Command's ILS enhancement program. The 2238 RCSU interfaces with AMS navaids and, through digital signal processing (DSP), with legacy, tone-based navaids built by other manufacturers. The system includes a cab-mounted touch-screen display with a color, graphical layout of the airport. It is designed to facilitate remote adjustments, maintenance and flight inspections by a small, centrally located staff.

New Contracts and Agreements

In addition to new technologies, new contracts and partnerships were announced at ATC Maastricht. Boeing ATM, Europe's Air Traffic Alliance, Airservices Australia and Qantas Airways signed a key agreement to collaborate on a program that will demonstrate new approach procedures. It will have Australia's ATC sending arrival clearance instructions to approaching aircraft via data link for input into the aircraft's flight management system (FMS). Eliminating the need for multiple voice communications, the new procedure would reduce the workload of controllers, who would have to do little more than monitor the aircraft's descent. Scheduled Qantas flights will operate under electronic instruction, starting at about 140 miles from the airport, until landing.

The new procedure would establish "tailored arrivals" that allow aircraft to make "a steady descent-as opposed to a step-down descent-along the most efficient path," according to a Boeing ATM official. Signers of the agreement also believe the new procedure will reduce noise and conserve fuel, as there would be less throttle movement in the descending aircraft.

Data will be collected from about 100 test flights over a six-month period, using Qantas A330s and B747s. Australia was considered ideal for this demonstration program, since its ATC centers are equipped with modern, integrated ATM systems and have Future Air Navigation System (FANS 1/A) and controller pilot data link communications (CPDLC) capabilities. Boeing ATM also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Qinetiq to explore joint development of technologies in areas such as aviation security, air traffic management, acoustics, lighting and cabin interiors.

Lockheed Martin has signed an agreement with Metron Aviation Inc. to jointly market a suite of collaborative decision- making tools. Lockheed will offer its Flight and Weather Information and Decision Support (FltWinds) system and its System Performance Evaluation and Analysis Reporting (SPEAR) tool along with Metron's Airport Flow Tool suite of products. Metron Aviation is located in Herndon, Va.

New contracts were announced at ATC Maastricht, as well. Thales ATM, for example, reported three new awards for ATC equipment. ÓIn a $70-million contract,Nigeria ordered a country-wide ATM system that includes equipment for two area ATC centers, in Lagos and Kano, and four approach ATC centers, in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. Thales ATM also will supply nine monopulse secondary surveillance radars (MSSRs) for approach at Nigeria's main airports.

In a turnkey contract, the Dominican Republic ordered from Thales a radar station equipped with an S-band approach primary radar co-mounted with a MSSR with Mode-S capability. The contract also calls for an ATC center located at Punta Cana.

And Lithuania contracted the European company to equip the Vilnius ATC center with Thales' Eurocat ATM system. Part of a multiphase upgrade program, the Vilnius installation will consist of three workstations for area control, one for approach, and one for tower control.

Other new contracts include the following:

  • Brazil's air traffic services provider signed an agreement that has SITA upgrading its data link system with a VHF data link Mode 2 (VDL-2) service at Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo airports. SITA also was selected by Luthansa and FedEx Express to provide Aeronautical Telecommunication Network (ATN) VDL-2 services in Western Europe to enable CPDLC. The two carriers plan to equip 35 Airbus A320 and A310 aircraft with CPDLC/ATN avionics from Rockwell Collins and Honeywell in preparation for participation in Eurocontrol's Link 2000+ CPDLC program.

  • Uruguay purchased an Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) from Sacramento, Calif.-based All Weather Inc., for installation at the Sta. Bernardina airport in Durazno.

  • The UK's National Air Traffic Services (NATS) selected Gallium Software Inc. to provide its InterMAPhics display software for the new oceanic area control center in Prestwick, Scotland. Nav Canada is developing the center, known as the Shanwick Automated Air Traffic System, or SAATS.

  • Adacel's ATM division secured a contract extension worth $16 million to continue providing software support for Lockheed Martin's ATM contracts, including the FAA's Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures (ATOP) program. In a comparable contract extension, Adacel will support Portugal's Oceanic Flight Data Processing and Visualization System, used in the North Atlantic.

  • Belgocontrol ordered Schmid Telecom AG's ICS 200/60 voice communication system for the new control tower at Brussels National Airport.

  • Netherlands-based HITT nv received a letter of intent for an advanced surface movement guidance and control system (A-SMGCS) to be installed at Copenhagen Airport in Denmark.

  • And Drake Electronics Ltd., in partnership with Aeronav, Montreal, received its first order from Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo ordered tower voice switches with touch screens and Drake's wireless FreeSpeak operator position, a belt-pack unit that allows the operator to control communications away from a workstation through a cellular network. Aeronav will install the equipment in the Kinshasa tower, area control center (ACC) and flight information center, and the Lubumbashi tower. Drake also has orders for voice communications systems from Vietnam and People's Republic of China for installation in the Ho Chi Minh City ATC center and the Sanya ACC on Hainan island, respectively. Perhaps the ATM industry is not as slow-paced as one would think.

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