ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial

SWIM: NextGen’s IT Infrastructure

By Emily Feliz | September 1, 2009
Send Feedback

System Wide Information Management (SWIM), the IT component of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), is laying the technological infrastructure for the future airspace.

Using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) systems, SWIM aims to streamline and unify various data-sharing programs, including those providing surveillance, weather and flight data, into a more user-friendly environment. The objective is to create one network where all data in the National Airspace System (NAS) can be placed. FAA will authenticate and validate who is eligible to receive which information.

In the end, systems will talk to each other, allowing airlines, airport authorities, air-traffic controllers and other users of the NAS to obtain operational information using one interface. Users subscribing to one SWIM-compliant service will not have to recode their receiving application for another service.

"Basically, we have a lot of legacy systems in the NAS that have been developed using various technologies, and it’s very time consuming to get them to talk to each other because they are all so different," explained Ahmad Usmani, FAA’s SWIM program manager. "We’re trying to work with our legacy programs to get them to create reusable services they can use to make information available to other FAA systems. The thinking is that when a new airline or a new agency wants information out of one of our systems, they won’t have to create a brand new interface for that new recipient; that new recipient will just subscribe to a service that will be published by that legacy program and it will just be a lot faster and easier for that new recipient to get that information."

Usmani said the system will have to be flexible to accommodate new technologies and procedures, such as aircraft trajectory planning and management, that underpin NextGen.

"For us to do NextGen, for things like trajectory-based operations, we’re going to need to be a lot more agile in the way we share information, not only with each other but also with external users of the NAS," he said. "SWIM is really just the mechanism to make sure we can do all that information and data exchange in a timely manner... to achieve some of the improvements that we want to get out of NextGen."

SWIM is being rolled out in three segments. Segment 1, which began this year and is forecasted to continue until 2015, focuses on shoring up internal FAA data programs so they can be publishers and subscribers of data, said James Eck, FAA director of Air Traffic Control Communications Services.

Segment 1 includes seven SWIM Implementation Programs — or SIPs — providing nine capabilities. The SIPs are En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM), Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS), Aeronautical Information Management (AIM), Terminal, Corridor Integrated Weather System (CIWS), Integrated Terminal Weather System (ITWS) and Weather Message Switching Center Replacement (WMSCR).

Segment 1 "is almost an internal-to-FAA publish and subscribe environment that we are setting up," Eck said. "Without doing much of anything else, we can then turn around and make that available to external airspace users, other government users, in essence, other users of the NAS to support their business needs."

FAA currently is running prototypes of Segment 1 capabilities. Last October, cargo carrier UPS became the first airline to receive digital weather information from FAA under the SWIM concept. UPS is receiving the data via the ITWS Prototype Service for four weather products — Microburst TRACON Map, Gust Front TRACON Map, Terminal Weather Text and Configured Alerts. The carrier receives the SWIM-enabled weather products by connecting to the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure external gateway at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J., in a secure data transaction. FAA was working to make a CWIS prototype available this summer, Usmani said.

In Segment 2, which begins in 2012, FAA will expand the number of systems involved and the number of services it offers. "We’ll look at how that infrastructure is organized and we’ll probably add new security features to the whole capability as well," Eck said. In Segment 3, scheduled to start in 2014 or 2015, the data-sharing capability will be extended to the aircraft, he said.

Segments 2 and 3 SIPs had not been identified. Eck said FAA was awaiting the release of the RTCA NextGen Mid-Term Implementation Task Force report Aug. 31 to hear from industry which areas SWIM should tackle in those segments.

"A product that speaks from the community with clarity will be met by the program teams with joy," Eck told the July 23 plenary meeting of the NextGen Task Force, held at FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C. "I can assure you (the report) will be referenced, it will be used throughout this agency."

At this writing, two contracts had been awarded for SWIM systems. A third contract for registry/repository software that will serve to register all SWIM-compliant services, is expected to be awarded next spring, FAA said.

  • In February, Raytheon was awarded a contract from the Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center to develop the Terminal Data Distribution System (TDDS), which will automate flight information, facilitate the exchange of data between disparate systems and integrate multiple data sources. TDDS will be the first-of-its-kind terminal system applied in the SWIM program, Raytheon said.

  • In August 2008, Progress Software, formerly IONA Technologies, of Waltham, Mass., was awarded a contract to provide commercially available software that will be used to register all Segment 1 SIPs.

In addition, three task orders had been awarded under the Segment 1 SIPS, according to FAA.

  • Lockheed Martin was awarded a task order for the development of Release 2 of ERAM that will include the initial piece of Segment 1 of SWIM. Additional task orders will be awarded for the remaining pieces of SWIM Segment 1, FAA said.

  • CSC, Falls Church, Va., was awarded a task order for development of software Release 5 of the Traffic Flow Management System to include the initial piece of SWIM Segment 1. Additional task orders will be awarded for the remaining pieces of SWIM Segment 1.

  • Baldwin, Hackett and Meeks, Inc., an enterprise software, Web site development, technology consulting and systems integration company based in Omaha, Neb., was awarded a task order for the development of SWIM capabilities in the Weather Message Switching Center Replacement (WMSCR).

In parallel with NextGen in the United States, the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) program also relies on the SWIM concept. Eurocontrol estimates SWIM can help reduce taxi times, resulting in annual savings of €3.6 million for a large airport, and total annual savings to European airlines estimated at 145,000 tons of fuel, or €120 million.

SESAR has moved from the definition to the development phase, which is expected to last until 2014. The development phase is being managed by the SESAR Joint Undertaking (JU), an organization founded by Eurocontrol and the European Commission that includes Air Navigation Service Providers, airports, aircraft and avionics manufacturers and ground equipment suppliers as partners.

The development phase comprises 16 work packages and 250 projects to be carried out between 2009 and 2016.

At a SESAR briefing June 18 at the Paris Air Show, Thales executives described their vision of the future European airspace and SWIM. Thales is co-leading three work packages in the SESAR development phase — SWIM, air-traffic control and communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS).

"The management of the airspace will be more dynamic and more optimized," said Bertrand de L’Epinois, Thales SESAR program director. "That will happen through collaborative decision making, which will be allowed by a key enabler of SESAR, the interconnections of all the various systems and equipment in a single system or network through what we call SWIM. [This is] a network-centric approach for ATM."

With reporting by Bill Carey, in Paris.

Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox