Federal Aviation Administration
The FAA continued a dynamic research and development program in support of its mission to ensure the safe and efficient use of the Nation's airspace, to foster civil aeronautics and air commerce in the United States and abroad, and to support the requirement of national defense. During FY 1997, the agency made great strides in developing an architecture to guide the modernization of the National Airspace System (NAS). The FAA released a draft architecture in October 1996, which will serve as a comprehensive plan to modernize the NAS infrastructure in a way that benefits NAS users and service providers.
View of the soft ground arrestor system being installed at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
A partnership of the FAA, NASA, DoD, and the aviation industry made substantial progress in moving the NAS toward free flight, a concept that could ultimately allow pilots to choose their own routes, speeds, and altitudes during flight. This free flight concept could improve safety, save time and fuel, and be a more efficient use of airspace and our natural environment. In April 1997, the FAA released the Air Traffic Services Concept of Operations, reflecting the user-desired capabilities supporting free flight. In addition, this Government/industry partnership began intensive planning of Flight 2000, a validation and demonstration of these concepts and technologies in the Hawaii and Alaska airspace slated to begin in 2000. In July 1997, the FAA released the Flight 2000 Initial Program Plan, outlining increased safety, services, low-cost avionics, streamlined certification processes, and risk reduction.
During the fiscal year, the FAA continued research activities in numerous areas of aviation safety, including structural integrity, nondestructive inspection, flight loads, and crashworthiness. In the airports technology area, the FAA teamed with the Boeing Company to begin construction of the National Airport Pavement Test Facility, located at the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In response to a number of aircraft accidents attributed to the presence of ice on critical aircraft surfaces, the FAA joined with the U.S. Air Force to develop an aircraft-mounted system to monitor the condition of the wing. FAA engineers made significant progress in improving the performance of aircraft interior materials during fire, developing new standards for lavatory fire extinguishers, developing new materials with increased fire resistance, and providing fire test support to the National Transportation Safety Board in the investigation of the May 1996 ValuJet accident. The FAA also cosponsored a joint DOD-FAA-NASA conference on continued airworthiness of aircraft structures, held in July 1997. In September 1997, the FAA announced the selection of a team of universities to serve as the new FAA air transportation center of excellence for airworthiness assurance.
The FAA continued to acquire new automation systems for the NAS. During 1997, the agency made hardware infrastructure improvements, installing state-of-the-art computers at five en route centers to replace failing display channels well ahead of schedule. In addition, the agency deployed the final 6 voice switching and control systems, bringing to 21 the number of systems in operation at en route centers. The FAA also completed and certified the first software improvements to these state-of-the-art digital switching systems. The agency deployed to all 21 en route centers a system that provides emergency access to radios in the event of failure of the primary system, reducing the probability of total communications loss to aircraft operating under air traffic control.
In FY 1997, the micro en route automated radar terminal system became fully operational at the Anchorage, Honolulu, and Guam offshore facilities. The agency also completed a test to reduce the vertical separation standards from 2,000 to 1,000 feet over North Atlantic airspace while maintaining strong safety standards and then implemented the new standards at the New York oceanic center. Ground-to-ground data link communications via the air traffic services interfacility communications system also became operational at the New York facility during the year, enabling a more efficient transfer of aircraft navigation information and providing more timely position and performance data to controllers.
During the year, a more effective aviation forecast system, providing a national gridded data base of weather information, began operating at the Aviation Weather Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Also, a deicing decisionmaking system began formal evaluation at New York's LaGuardia and Chicago's O'Hare Airports. In addition, the agency commissioned 79 more automated surface observing systems, providing automated weather observing and reporting capabilities at 188 airports. The FAA also completed the first phase of development and deployment of a new state-of-the-art automated weather and radar processor system that collects, processes, and disseminates hazardous weather warnings and advisory information to air traffic controllers, traffic managers, meteorologists, and other users.
On October 30, 1996, the Secretary of Transportation announced the creation of an FAA security equipment integrated product team to acquire advanced security equipment. Based on the recommendations of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, this team purchased trace detection equipment to be used to screen carryon and checked bags. The FAA began deploying 57 CTX-5000's, the only FAA-certified explosives-detection system, to all major airports. The FAA awarded grants to the CTX-5000 manufacturer, InVision, and to L-3 Communications to develop second-generation computed tomography systems.
The FAA and its research partners continued to test hardened containers for use in aircraft cargo holds. On May 17, 1997, the FAA, in conjunction with the Civil Aviation Authority in the United Kingdom, conducted a blast test on a Boeing 747, detonating four simultaneous explosions in the four quarters of the 747 cargo bay under pressurized conditions. The test met all technical objectives and indicated no appreciable damage to the airframe. In addition, the FAA, in conjunction with the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, acquired a fuselage facsimile of hardened armor plating that can be configured to the exact parameters of an aircraft cargo compartment for repeated tests. The FAA began using this unit to validate vulnerability estimates, compare the effects of various types of explosives, and test and validate new aircraft-hardening concepts including containers.
In 1996, the FAA's Aviation Security Research and Development Division and the United Kingdon's Civil Aviation Authority collaborated to study blast effects on commercial wide-body aircraft and potential mitigation methods by exploding a pressurized Boeing 747-100 at Bruntingthorpe Airfield, Leicestershire, England.
During FY 1997, FAA researchers used human-factors-workload-baseline studies to examine the implications of airway facilities consolidation. Human factors specialists also completed a study to evaluate the performance impact of digital ground-to-air communications technology known as "vocoders," establishing clear controller preferences between alternative "vocoder" instruments and showing that air traffic controllers could use "vocoders" effectively. Researchers supported the deployment and evaluation of the Systematic Air Traffic Operations Research Initiative tool to four en route centers to help assess controller operations and deployed the first user-tailored version of the Automated Performance Measurement System to an air carrier for operational tests. This system provides the ability to analyze routine operations for safety trends and tendencies, providing the airlines and the FAA an accurate insight into the details of daily air-carrier line operations.
In general aviation, human factors researchers concluded several studies of aeronautical decisionmaking and produced a training videotape, instructing general aviation pilots on ways to set their personal minimums and create a personal checklist to improve safety. Using the Civil Aeromedical Institute's simulators, human factors specialists conducted research on Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation display formatting, the effects of grouping air traffic control message units in air/ground communications, and the baselining of pilot performance to assess the effects of free flight options.
The FAA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health began a 5-year study to address inflight disease transmission issues. Researchers also completed an initial evaluation of inflight medical events in the domestic air-carrier population and developed new DNA probes that permit the identification of microbes in postaccident human samples. FAA studies indicate that current projections for pilots dying in aviation accidents indicate a positive blood alcohol level (greater than or equal to 0.04 percent) in about 9 percent of the accident cases, an indication of over-the-counter drugs in 21 percent of the cases, and prescription drugs in 16 percent of the cases. Researchers also discovered controlled dangerous substances (e.g., schedule I: LSD and heroin; and schedule II: morphine, codeine, and cocaine in 7 percent of the cases; and schedule III: paregoric and schedule IV: phenobarbital and valium in 4 percent of the cases).
During the fiscal year, FAA's Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation issued five launch licenses, including one to Lockheed Martin for the first commercial launch to the Moon, as well as one license to operate a launch site (Spaceport Florida). The FAA issued 10 license amendments primarily addressing financial responsibility requirements. In addition to other routine inspections, the agency monitored 14 licensed commercial launches, including the first licensed launch from a foreign country when Orbital Sciences Corporation conducted a launch from Spain using its Pegasus launch vehicle. The agency also entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with DoD and NASA, to define the roles and responsibilities of each agency with respect to spaceports and commercial users of Federal services and facilities. The FAA also compiled and published projections on the low-Earth orbit commercial market.
On March 19, 1997, the FAA published in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the licensing of commercial launches conducted from Federal launch sites and has been working on a final draft of this rule based on public comments. During the fiscal year, the agency made significant progress in developing the technical safety requirements to be used in the licensing regulations on launches from non-Federal ranges. In addition, it developed and validated the technical requirements for assessing the suitability of launch sites. The agency also began developing standards and criteria for the operation of reusable launch vehicles under FAA's licensing process.