FAA recently began initial deployment of a new time-based air traffic metering tool at all 20 en route air traffic control centers across the United States, the Time-Based Flow Management (TBFM) system, which is designed to improve the flow of aircraft within congested airspace.
(An air traffic controller working with radar. Photo, courtesy of NATCA.)
TBFM, which will replace the Traffic Management Advisor (TMA) system, uses time-based scheduling to give controllers better predictability on airspace use, helping to optimize the traffic stream of aircraft into capacity-constrained areas. The system was produced by Lockheed Martin, as part of a 10-year $202 million contract awarded in 2010.
The agency predicts the new tool will yield a 2 percent reduction in airborne delays for metered flights when airports are at greater than 70 percent capacity, and a 5 percent reduction in ground delays for metered flights that are subjected to Miles-In-Trail restrictions during periods of high volume at destination airports.
"TBFM also relaxes some rigidness in the arrival slot calculations that was resulting in unused slots. This technology will also start to share arrival data with the Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS) which will help increase the accuracy of its trajectory predictions," said Paul Takemoto, a spokesperson for FAA.
Additionally, through 2022 with the TBFM system, airlines are projected to save $88 million in airline direct operating costs (ADOC), $76 million in passenger value of time (PVT) savings and $85 million in cost avoidance savings to the agency itself.
The system's Integrated Departure/Arrival Capability (IDAC) component automates the coordination and management of aircraft departures over shared and congested segments of airspace.
During the en route phase, TBFM adds additional metering points further out from arrival airports, allowing controllers to provide earlier integration of arriving flights.
"Adjustable settings within the TBFM platform allow Traffic Management Coordinators (TMCs) to dynamically set parameters that consider airport/runway configurations, aircraft engine type, aircraft weight class, separation matrices, airport arrival rate and more refined mile-in-trail settings if necessary," said Steve Lee, the National Air Traffic Controller Association's (NATCA) article 48 representative for TBFM.
Lee, who is also a controller at the Boston en route center, said TBFM has not "fundamentally changed the operational functionality that resided in TMA," but that it was more of a hardware replacement for equipment that had reached the end of its lifecycle.
One major change that Lee did note though, was the air traffic control computers' software operating system conversion from Solaris to Linux, a change that will allow for next generation functional enhancements of the system.
As more controllers are trained and more deployment occurs beyond en route centers, TBFM will interface with NextGen's System Wide Information Management (SWIM) component, though it is too soon to say precisely how that integration will occur, according to Lee.
Future deployment of TBFM is planned for air traffic control towers located at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Baltimore Washington International Airport and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
Related: Air Traffic Management News