Working Through the Downturn

Airports meet in Austin after a year of unprecedented challenges to business models

Oswald relates three central NextGen technological drivers: RNAV/RNP, which provides procedural guidance to aircraft; ADS-B, a technology that enables better aircraft and vehicle surveillance; and data communications, comments Oswald, “Bringing what we know of the Internet to the air traffic system so that everyone has immediate access to the same consistent operational data throughout the system.”

What NextGen can do, says Oswald, is lower approach minimums via improved navigational precision (separation of aircraft from obstacles and other aircraft); navigate to visual conditions via new types of procedures enabled by NextGen technologies; improved in-trail separation standards due to higher precision navigation and improved avionics; and enhanced merging and spacing within the terminal environment.

Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport executive VP of operations James Crites offers what he calls some subtleties on NextGen from an airport operator’s perspective: “We have non-integrated ground-based air traffic systems; we have a lot of disparate systems that are going to have to talk with one another.

“There are a lot of platforms and a lot of vendors involved, and the complexity of NextGen is now becoming a reality,” says Crites. “How do we integrate all of this and what’s the role we play in that?”

What we are looking for is a stream of data that is consistent across all data systems, says Crites.

He relates that technology is playing a role with regard to the runway status light system (RWSL) and the final approach runway occupancy signal (FAROS). “But I think the key to all of those systems for an airport operator is real-time and comprehensive situational awareness,” comments Crites.

“What we see with the newer systems is that IT systems have advanced to a point where we can start capturing a lot of data, and now we are getting into information overload, and the systems don’t talk to one another.”

Now that airports have the ability to diffuse data across disparate suppliers of systems, he says, they are now starting to capture what Crites calls ‘intelligence.’ Key, says Crites, concerns GIS (geographic information systems) integration; with a consistent, accurate, and shared database, all parties involved can benefit from systemwide analysis.

FedEx’s senior manager for air traffic operations Steve Vail echoes Crites’ call for integrated data systems.

“Everyone does not yet have a complete set of information; everybody has their information, and their actions are predicated on the information that they have, not from a system viewpoint, but from an individual operator viewpoint,” says Vail.

“Cooperative partnerships among all entities at the airport are needed for system management. Department readiness is key — we the operators, or the airport; whoever is controlling a particular aircraft must broadcast intent to really have a proactive integrated system. We just can’t keep surprising each other.”

Vail stresses the need for dynamic runway balancing and predictive tools to make NextGen all that it could be.

“There are many challenges yet to be faced…surface traffic management is an art,” says Vail. “It is not simply a display telling you to do this — you have to be familiar with the movement of the aircraft; and everybody has to be involved.”

Exhibitor Technology Spotlight

ACI-NA’s annual conference and exhibition consisted of more than 80,000 square feet of exhibit space for the 117 exhibiting companies, reports the association. Following are a few of this year’s technology highlights.

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