Aeronautical Activities

Air Traffic Control and Navigation

The FAA embarked on an effort to modernize the national airspace system in an economically feasible manner, with minimal disruption to users. As part of that effort, the FAA began the development of the system's architecture, a comprehensive blueprint to improve the system's infrastructure over the next 20 years. In February 1996, the FAA released version 1.5 of the system's architecture, covering the timeframe 1998 to 2015. The FAA received comments internally, from the aviation industry, and from the general public and worked to incorporate suggestions into the development of version 2.0

The FAA's Display System Replacement (DSR) program to modernize equipment used at the 21 Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC's) and implement modern system operations and maintenance techniques completed its hardware and software design and development in FY 1996. The DSR team successfully accomplished product integration, fulfilled the initial requirements for DSR console testing, and completed its production readiness review.

While development of the DSR was under way, the agency began acquiring an interim system, the Display Channel Complex Rehost (DCCR), which is to provide a modern and reliable display channel system at five ARTCC's. DCCR acquisition and implementation proceeded significantly ahead of schedule in FY 1996. The FAA also completed system development and delivered DCCR equipment to four of the five selected sites.

In FY 1996, a Voice Switching and Control System (VSCS) at each of 11 ARTCC's became fully operational, bringing the total to 15 sites. VSCS is a state-of-the-art digital switching system that provides air-to-ground communications between pilots of en route aircraft and controllers, as well as ground-to-ground communications between controllers and other users of the national airspace system. FAA software engineers also developed the first VSCS planned product improvement in FY 1996.

In January 1996, the RTCA (formerly the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics) Technical Management Committee approved the Minimum Operating Performance Standards for the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS). The WAAS program, developed to serve all phases of flight from en route through precision approach, is the key program in the FAA's plan to move the Nation from a ground-based to a satellite-based navigation system. The Minimum Operating Performance Standards provided the guidelines for the avionics to be used in conjunction with WAAS. In May 1996, the FAA signed a contract with Hughes Aircraft Corporation for WAAS development, replacing the initial contract the agency canceled last April.

Several years ago, the FAA initiated an effort to modernize the tools available to air traffic controllers using the Oceanic Automation System, and the FAA implemented some of these new system features during FY 1996. The first system enhancement was the telecommunications processor, which became operational during the last quarter of FY 1996, and supports flight data input and output for future applications and the functional expansion of oceanic systems. The interim situation display became operational in the last quarter of FY 1996, replacing the plan view display.

Air-to-ground communications within a single air traffic control sector became operational at Oakland in October 1995 with the implementation of the Oceanic Data Link. A multisector variant of the system became operational at the Anchorage site in April 1996. An expanded multisector Oceanic Data Link will vastly improve the speed and reliability of controller-pilot communications at three oceanic sites.

The FAA also worked to enhance air traffic services in the Gulf of Mexico airspace for en route aircraft flying at 18,000 feet and above. During FY 1996, the FAA began implementing communications enhancements and prototype development of an ocean buoy-based satellite communications system.

In response to the growth in air traffic and increased terminal area delays, the FAA initiated the development of an automated system to assist traffic management specialists and controllers in the management of terminal area traffic. This Center-terminal radar control (TRACON) Automation System (CTAS) provides automated decision support tools for the planning and controlling of arrival traffic within 200 nautical miles of the arrival airport. During the fiscal year, FAA technicians implemented prototypes of two CTAS tools, the Traffic Management Advisor and the Final Approach Spacing Tool, at the Denver and Fort Worth ARTCC's and the Dallas-Fort Worth TRACON facility.

During the fiscal year, the FAA also continued work on the Surface Movement Advisor (SMA), an automation system designed for use at high-activity airfields. SMA facilitates the sharing of information among the air traffic, airline, and airport operations communities to assist in the decisionmaking process related to the surface movement of aircraft. The FAA installed a prototype SMA system in the control tower of Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport and performed a functionality stress test on the prototype in FY 1996. In August 1996, the SMA prototype underwent functionality validation and completed a 96-hour stability test.

As the first step in modernizing the traffic flow management infrastructure, the FAA began "reengineering" traffic flow management software using commercial "off-the-shelf" products. In FY 1996, the FAA, in collaboration with NASA, focused its new traffic flow management research and development efforts on the development of collaborative decision-making tools that will enable FAA traffic flow managers to work cooperatively with airline personnel in responding to congested conditions. Additionally, the FAA provided a flight scheduling software system to nine airlines.

In FY 1996, the FAA and NASA also began studying ground operations during low visibility at 10 U.S. airports. This research for the Terminal Area Productivity program began creating computer simulation models of the ground operations and investigating the operations effects of introducing a situational awareness aid in the cockpit during ground operations.

In addition, the FAA and NASA created the Air Traffic Management Interagency Integrated Product Team (IAIPT) to formally integrate research efforts directed at enhancing the safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of the national airspace system. The IAIPT solicited inputs from a broad spectrum of national airspace system stakeholders and combined these with guidance from relevant NASA and FAA advisory committees to establish technical goals and collaborative working procedures for individual research projects. During FY 1996, the IAIPT released an integrated plan for air traffic management research that defined the research scope, described the schedule and resources proposed for individual projects, and specified agency responsibilities.

In another joint FAA-NASA project, the FAA completed the first of three development efforts of the National Airspace Resource Investment Model. This model is being developed with three interrelated modeling capabilities: operational, architectural, and investment.

The FAA continued work on the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) during FY 1996. A joint program being undertaken by the FAA and DoD, STARS is designed to replace the Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS) with a modern, commercially based, fully digital system. The FAA awarded a contract for the STARS procurement in September 1996 to a team led by the Raytheon Company. Meanwhile, the FAA continued to provide upgrades and enhancements to ARTS to improve air traffic safety and equipment reliability at TRACON facilities. Significant accomplishments during FY 1996 included the implementation of the ARTS IIIE hardware and software upgrades at the Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and New York TRACON's.

During the fiscal year, the FAA also made great strides in upgrading the capability of the national airspace system by modernizing landing systems. Technicians installed more than 100 new Mark-20 instrument landing systems around the country, replacing instrument landing systems that were as much as 30 years old. The Mark-20's ensure that reliable, supportable landing systems will be in place until technicians implement the augmented GPS landing capability. Additionally, the FAA has used a service life extension program to modernize instrument landing systems that are 20 to 30 years old. At the end of the fiscal year, the factory had shipped 89 of these systems, and the FAA has outfitted more than 50 airports with the new systems.

For the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, the FAA joined NASA and industry in a consortium known as the Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiment (AGATE) to successfully complete Operation Heli-STAR. AGATE supplied the air and ground avionics, surveillance, and communications equipment for Heli-STAR aircraft, helicopters, and blimps operating within the Olympics' controlled airspace. AGATE also equipped the commercial aircraft that transported cargo for the Atlanta Olympic Games. These aircraft flew more than 1,400 flight-hours during the 6-week operation in which there were as many as 10 to 14 aircraft operating within a 3-mile radius at altitudes of 200 to 500 feet. Although the volume of low-altitude traffic was more than the Atlanta area had ever seen, the related "Fly Neighborly" community response system helped minimize adverse noise impacts in Atlanta neighborhoods.