ATM Modernization

Can This Application Streamline Airline and GA Departure Flows at Airports?

General Aviation pilots at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas will soon be able to use Pacer to avoid busier departure periods. Photo: McCarran Airport

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is providing a live proving grounds for general aviation operators and air traffic controllers to assess the ability of a new Mitre developed web application, Pacer, to improve the way that general aviation operators file for and obtain departure clearances.

Mitre engineers describe Pacer as a progressive web-application, which looks and behaves like a mobile smartphone app, but uses a web browser for access. By cross-referencing data sourced from the FAA’s System Wide Information Management (SWIM) flight data publication service and Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS) as well as submitted planned departure times from commercial airlines and GA operators, Pacer helps to create a more realistic departure demand picture.

The thinking behind Pacer is that it could be used as a way to help GA operators avoid being on the surface of an airport waiting to obtain a departure clearance during peak demand times. Currently, most GA operators have no way of providing controllers with updated information about their expected departure times, a gap in technological capability between smaller GA aircraft and commercial airliners that could be filled using mobile smartphones and tablets.

An overview of what PACER’s technological architecture looks like. Photo: Mitre

Prior to Mitre developing Pacer, the Clark County Airport Authority had contracted with a local Nevada company to develop a digital application that allows GA pilots at McCarran to submit information about their departure plans, while also receiving a graphical view of the demand picture based on airline demand data and flight plans submitted from other GA operators.

“We took that over and recreated it with our system and we’re working on tuning that to where we can give pilots a view out into the future, like hours or days in advance, of how busy the airport is predicted to be at different times of the day,” Paul Diffenderfer, air traffic management advisor at MITRE, told Avionics International.

The intended use of Pacer envisions GA pilots or fleet operators using the web application to register their aircraft, select a departure time and then view the available projected departure demand chart for that time period. That gives pilots the option to avoid crowded departure times.

Here are the steps a pilot using Pacer would go through. Photo: Mitre

According to Mitre at McCarran, about 25 percent of overall flight operations are general aviation aircraft. That number can increase to 50 percent during special events such as boxing matches, which was the original reason why Clark County Airport Authority sought to create a tool giving GA pilots the ability to digitally submit information about their departure plans.

During a trial period with the previous tool, McCarran airport personnel noticed that GA pilots began to adjust their departure times into time slots where departure demand was lower.

“One notable finding in related work conducted by the Clark County Airport Authority is that when pilots were provided with a tool like Pacer that allows them to see the predicted demand, some pilots would adjust their departure time to seek out periods of lower demand. This provided an overall reduction in the periods where the departure demand exceeded the departure capacity of the airport,” said Diffenderfer.

Pacer came online at Las Vegas in June, and the FAA plans for GA operators at the airport to start using the capability in September. In addition to pilots, Mitre has also created accessibility with different functionality for the use of Pacer by fleet operators and airport or air traffic management coordinators as well.

An expanded version of Pacer is being developed that could be deployed at fixed-based operators (FBOs) in the near future.

“We are working on a version to be deployed in FBOs in the form of a kiosk that pilots can interact with,” said Diffenderfer. “Future versions will provide the airport authority and FAA traffic managers with access to an administrative view. We are actively engaging pilots, operators, and FBOs to begin utilizing the Pacer capability at McCarren Airport (LAS) and Dallas Love Field. Clark County Airport, the FAA, and NBAA are pushing to have Pacer used by as many pilots as possible at LAS and Henderson Airports during the NBAA-BACE which will be held in Las Vegas in mid-October.”

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