ATM Modernization, Commercial, Embedded Avionics

Traffic Tools

By By Robert W. Moorman | February 1, 2013
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The Thales TRAC 2000 radar, pictured here in Ymare, France, is designed for en-route control area, allowing reduced separation between aircraft, according to the company. Here is is co-mounted with the RSM 970S Monopulse Secondary Surveillance Radar, which provides controler support in severe air traffic conditions.

The development and deployment of air and ground-based air traffic management (ATM) systems continues well in advance of the plans to modernize the transportation systems in the United States and Europe.

While an integral part of FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) and Europe’s Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR), ATM systems are already providing benefits to airports and aircraft operators.

“It is a developing situation, with some of these ATM systems having been fielded, while others are under development,” said C. Zachary Hofer, aerospace and defense analyst for Forecast International. “We have seen an up tick in sales of new ATM systems.”

Avionics Magazine took a look at some of the ATM systems that are now or soon to be operational.

Saab Sensis: In 2011, Saab Sensis deployed Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X (ASDE-X), a situational awareness system, to 35 major U.S. airports. The company also is a prime contractor for the Runway Status Lights (RWSL) program. Saab Sensis won a $54 million follow-on contract to ASDE-X in January 2012 for the Airport Surface Surveillance Capability (ASSC) program, which requires the deployment of a similar system to nine additional airports, including Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (Alaska) and Kansas City International Airport (Missouri).

Each ASSC deployment incorporates Saab Sensis’ multilateration, safety logic conflict detection and alerting software, air traffic controller working positions and recording/playback functionality. ASSC will process the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) data along with other sensor sources for a single view of the airport runways and taxiways.

The foundation of a lot of Saab Sensis ATM technology, including the ASDE-X program, is multilateration sensors, which are small sensors distributed along the surface of the airport. The sensors are, in effect, radios that communicate with the aircraft transponders. So, as the aircraft taxies, each transponder communicates with the several multilateration sensors that triangulate a very accurate position of the aircraft to the control tower. The technology might be described as a ground-based Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), with alerts going to the controller. “We have shown the ability to provide those alerts to the cockpit as well,” said Ken Kaminski, senior vice president and general manager at Saab Sensis.

Additionally, RWSL provides visual collision alerts to the pilot while taxiing. Lights in the runway, controlled by the ASDE-X system, turn on or off to help control movement of aircraft and help prevent aircraft from moving onto an already-occupied runway or taxiway. That system is being deployed.

Syracuse, N.Y.-based Sensis, which was acquired by Saab in August 2011, began its business providing safety technology for ground operations, but has since evolved to also provide wide-area multilateration systems. 

A screen shot of Saab Sensis Aerobahn surface management system at Denver International Airport.

Aerobahn, Saab Sensis airport surface management system, builds on the same data that comes out of sensors from ASDE-X and multilateration systems. Initially, Aerobahn was deployed as an automated surface management and safety system, but the technology is also used for low-level coverage, precision runway monitoring on parallel approaches and as a landing aid on oil platforms.

As the technology matured, Saab Sensis realized Aerobahn is a “collaborative decision making tool” that could be used by air navigation service providers as well as airlines and airport authorities to share information about what is happening on the surface of the airport, Kaminski said.

Saab Sensis recently added several features to its Aerobahn system deployed at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). The enhancements to the United States’ first operational Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) environment include flight specific call for taxi times to further improve sequencing, thereby reducing fuel burn and environmental emissions. The Aerobahn platform will also add ATC Voice tracking across 20 discrete frequencies to enable users to hear ATC instructions while viewing surface operations.

In 2011, Saab Sensis won a follow-on contract from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to deploy a departure metering and sequencing tool at JFK, on top of the Aerobahn platform. In conjunction with FAA, the tool is used to determine the optimum sequence in which the aircraft should be released for departure.

Aerobahn is also now operational at LaGuardia Airport as well as at Denver International Airport. In December 2012, Phoenix selected Aerobahn for use at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The city’s airport operations will also use Aerobahn’s Dynamic Rules Alerting to manage the Department of Transportation’s Tarmac Delay Rule by providing alerts to operations staff in advance of aircraft reaching the three or four-hour limit.

Honyewell: Honeywell continues with the air trials of its SmartTraffic Procedures in Oceanic Airspace (ATSA-ITP) system outfitted on United Airlines 747s flying over the Pacific Ocean. The FAA-sponsored project started 3½ years ago and will result in validation of fuel savings that the system can provide. The trials are expected to conclude in summer 2013.

The overall system consists of a Honeywell Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) linked with a Goodrich electronic flight bag (EFB). The EFB runs a SmartTraffic software package developed by Honeywell. SmartTraffic technology is the foundation for Honeywell’s ADS-B enabled Hybrid Surveillance and Airborne Traffic Situational Awareness (ATSAW) functions. Developed in partnership with Airbus, the ATSAW system provides a more intuitive display of surrounding aircraft, while allowing pilots to better plan for oceanic flight level changes to reduce fuel burn.

The combined technologies are meant to overcome the fundamental problem of antiquated in-flight procedures for aircraft separation over water. Airlines flying over the ocean today still have to maintain a 50 nautical miles plus separation from other en trail aircraft. Present FAA rules do not allow aircraft to climb to higher altitude to achieve better fuel economy if another aircraft is within that separation range. The SmartTraffic-based technology greatly reduces that separation range (15-20 nautical miles), which would help allow the aircraft to get to higher altitudes sooner and burn less fuel.

Based on estimates derived from the early tests, aircraft equipped with this SmartTraffic-based system could save around $200,000 or more per year, per aircraft in fuel costs, said Bob Witwer, vice president of Advanced Technology at Honeywell.

In other ATM related developments, Honeywell is enhancing its synthetic vision system to show pilots a 3-D representation of the aircraft, taxiways and other ground traffic. Honeywell’s 3-D taxiway software displays traffic as if the pilot is looking down from outside and above the aircraft, in what Honeywell describes as an “ecsocentric view.”

Witwer used another form of transportation to illustrate: “It’s the kind of view you would have if you ever para-sailed,” he said. “You’re up on a tether and behind the boat. That’s the view we provide to the pilot.”

Along with the 3-D display are magenta colored lines to show where the aircraft is supposed to go, along with taxiway markers to provide better situational awareness.

Honeywell has yet to name this software enhancement to its synthetic vision system. For now, Honeywell is calling it a 3-D Taxi Display. Simulated and actual tests on the new software are continuing in Redmond, Wash., Phoenix, and Morristown, N.J.

Honeywell and other companies continue to work on the four-dimensional (4-D) optimized and upgraded air traffic management ATM technology, which will allow aircraft to fly more accurate and efficient routes without the need for controllers to provide vectoring instructions. The 4-D system also is being developed to provide predictability for flight arrivals and departures. The system will be part of NextGen and SESAR modernization efforts.

In February 2012, Airbus conducted the first flight of the system outfitted on an Airbus A320, flying from Toulouse, to Copenhagen and Stockholm. Flight management systems (FMS) of Thales and Honeywell were used as part of the Initial-4D trajectory management system. In-flight, the aircraft’s FMS, the air traffic management system and the arrival flights sequencing system communicated via datalink and agreed on a specific Controlled Time Over (CTO) point in the descent phase. The aircraft arrived “within one second of the CTO, demonstrating the accuracy of the predicted flight trajectory,” according to officials. More flight trials and simulations are planned for 2013.

Thales: Thales is becoming a significant player in ATM systems. In 2012, Thales was selected to supply and install all the navigational aids for a new commercial airport on St. Helena Island, a British protectorate in the South Atlantic Ocean.

In September, Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS), the German air navigation service provider, approved its final site acceptance for the Precision Approach Monitoring System for Frankfurt (PAM-FRA). Thales Air Systems and Electron Devices GmbH builds the Wide Area Multilateration (WAM) system, which has been tested thoroughly and will now be integrated within the ATM environment. The Thales WAM, PAM-FRA is the first operational WAM system in Germany. The system is expected to become operational by April 2013.

Thales provides several ATM products for the civil aerospace market under the TopSky brand name. TopSky-Tower is the new ATM tower product for surface management, incorporating tower automation technology while TopSky-ATC is an automated ATM system featuring the latest in air traffic control and Human Machine Interface (HMI) solutions. TopSky-ATFM is Thales’ new Collaborative Air Traffic Flow Management product. TopSky-Simulation is the new ATC Simulation tool, featuring innovative HMI and controller tools, and TopSky-AIM is the new AIXm5-based Aeronautical Information Management tool. All these products support the SESAR and NextGen developments, according to Thales, and complies with ICAO’s Aviation System Block Upgrades.

“For us to stay ahead of the game, we try and anticipate the ATM needs of our customers,” said Lionnel Wonnerberger, director of Strategy and Business Development-Air Systems, Thales Australia.

A key enabler for moving ATM technology forward is the deployment of ADS-B, which is a major pillar of NextGen. “Once you have a lot of aircraft equipped with ADS-B, and providing data, then that data can be used for an array of airborne and ground-based ATM applications,” said Mike Watson, Thales’ authority on air traffic management. 

ITT Exelis’ OpsVue v1.8 system shows four active diversions (highlighted in blue) among more than 8,600 actively tracked aircraft in the National Airspace System.

ITT Exelis: ITT Exelis, which is the contractor behind the ground infrastructure of FAA’S ADS-B program, and Metron Aviation, a subsidiary of Airbus Americas, are collaborating to develop a product that will provide airports with a comprehensive view of air and ground operations. The partnership will incorporate the flexible flight data visualizations of ITT Exelis Symphony OpsVue with Metro Harmony for Airlines flow management and Collaborative Decision Making capabilities to track aircraft and vehicle movement.

Symphony OpsVue is a Web-hosted application that visualizes all flights in the National Airspace System and operational monitoring and alerting for diversion management and irregular operations. The technology provides up-to-date aircraft surveillance data.

Metron Aviation: In September, Airservices Australia commenced operations with Metron Harmony Air Traffic Flow Management ATFM system. Metron Harmony will allow Airservices Australia to implement traffic management initiatives to align air traffic demand with available capacity.

Initial operating results from Airservices have demonstrated a dramatic performance improvement already. As a direct result of Harmony, aircraft airborne holding into Sydney has been reduced by about 33 percent, producing fuel savings of $6.5 million in the first two months of operations in Sydney alone, according to Metron. Average flight times have been reduced by five minutes per flight on the Melbourne-Sydney run, equating to over 40,000 tons of CO2 per year.

ERA: ERA, supplier of safety, surveillance and flight tracking equipment, is a case in point. Belgocontrol, the Belgiuan air navigation service provider, recently selected the Czech Republic-based ERA to supply 110 vehicle-mounted SQUID transmitters for surface vehicle tracking at Brussels Airport.

The SQUID self-contained vehicle-tracking unit broadcasts the exact position of ground vehicles continuously. By using permanently mounted or portable squitter beacon transmitters, SQUID reduces the risk of vehicle collusions, particularly during low visibility conditions. SQUID is operational at some of the larger international airports, including London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Amsterdam Schiphol and Moscow Domodedovo.

ERA manufactures low-cost ADS-B and WAM surveillance systems, and is involved indirectly with SESAR through Eurocontrol and EUROCAE, said Tim Quilter, director of corporate strategy.

Deployments of ERA products include Namibia, where a countrywide WAM system was installed; Azorez, combined WAM/ADS-B system; New Zealand, terminal approach system in Queenstown, extended due to the success of the initial deployment; and Fiji, ATM system, ADS-B surveillance with WAM to deal with non-equipped aircraft.

Raytheon: Raytheon Air Traffic Management manufacturers and services a full line of ATM systems for civil and military applications that are operational in over 50 countries. One new product worth noting is its AutoTrac family of open architecture ATM systems with fully integrated surveillance and flight data processing systems, including AutoTrac III, Raytheon’s next generation ATM system.

Boeing: Boeing’s “Wind Update” service provides flight crews with real-time wind, temperature and weather information. Virgin America is the launch customer.

Additionally, Boeing’s ATM division is working with NAV Canada, the air navigation service provider, on implementing “tailored arrivals” for its busiest airports. The system will provide efficiencies in managing inbound traffic, particularly. Implementation of this software at Canadian airports is expected around 2013.

In addition, Boeing is looking at “mortar between the bricks” information management solutions for NextGen, said Neil Planzer, vice president of Boeing ATM. The effort is part of the Systems Engineering 2020 (SE2020) program, a portfolio of contracts is worth around $6.4 billion over 10 years.

Boeing is also involved on finding other uses for new technology developed for NextGen and SESAR. Example of this cross over potential of technology: GPS was developed initially as a targeting system. Now, GPS systems are commonplace in aircraft and automobiles as a navigation aid.

“NextGen and SESAR should never have been thought of as a ‘big bang’ transformation piece, but as an implementation of parts and pieces,” said Planzer. “This is why there are a lot of problems with implementing NextGen and SESAR.”

The logistics of equipping thousands of aircraft and ground stations with the necessary and hardware and software make it challenging. “This is no longer a technology issue,” he said. “This is now an issue of operations and implementation. We should have thought through how this was going to happen years ago.”

Boeing is one of three prime contractors working with FAA to develop solutions for NextGen implementation, as part of a 10-year agreement worth up to $1.7 billion.

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