Tracking all Movement: MKE first with ASDE-X system

Fueling/Line Tracking All Movement By Jodi Richards, Associate Editor MKE first with ASDE-X system Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport (MKE) air traffic control is using an advance in technology allowing air...

Milwaukee's Appeal
MKE was an excellent location for testing the system, according to FAA officials. "I think that one reason that Milwaukee was selected," says Wanda Adelman, FAA air traffic manager, "is because of the climate. We've got really warm and really cold and a lot of the fog that comes off the lake. [There are] many days that we can't see the runway because of the fog, rain, and clouds, so it's a good place to be able to test in all types of different weather."

MKE has been the test site for surface radar as it's been developed over the past decade, according to Adelman.

Externally mounted antenna

She says on low visibility days, without ASDE-X, if an aircraft is arriving, ATC has to wait until the aircraft lands and then taxis off the runway and the pilot tells ATC that it is off the runway before controllers can clear the next departure for takeoff.

"With the ASDE-X, you can see the arrival coming in on the ASDE-X display. Once they're past the threshold, you can put the next aircraft into position and hold and then you can see the arrival taxiing off the runway, onto the taxiway, and you can verify that your runway is clear, even though you can't see it out the window, you can see it on the display."

Tony Molinaro, FAA spokesperson, says it's hard to say for sure what impact the system will have on reducing runway incursions. "It's hard to measure safety in those areas. But one of the major goals of the FAA is to improve safety at all facilities in the airport. And this is one of those systems that really focuses on ensuring a safer environment. Will it eventually result in fewer runway incidents? We expect so, but it's too early to see what that affect is yet."

According to Viggiano, the FAA plans to deploy ASDE-X at 34 airports across the nation, and the first 21 are already contracted at a total value of some $100 million. He expects these airports to be equipped with the system by the beginning of 2007.

The cost of deploying the first system at MKE was some $27 million, says Viggiano, which includes training users, software, hardware, research, development, and testing of the equipment.

Viggiano says one of the biggest advances in technology that has allowed a system like this to become available is the use of multilateration. However, he is quick to add that "beyond the technology, it's a recognition that maximizing the safe utilization of airport runways is a key resource that we have to pay more attention to and make sure we get the maximum out of it that we can in a safe way."

Future Upgrades
Like any other technology, airport surveillance systems are always being improved upon. Viggiano says Sensis has "a fairly steady stream of upgrades coming. One that's getting a lot of interest right now is taking the same basic principle and applying it to aircraft that are 30 or 60 miles away from the airport. So you can get radar coverage where in the past you had only procedural voice control."

Another advancement Viggiano sees is the ability to have a datalink from ASDE-X to the cockpit. "So a pilot not only knows where he is but sees all the other people around him on a display in the cockpit."

The FAA is also engaged in researching other technologies, including AMASS (airport movement area safety system), designed for larger facilities. "It's another screen in the tower that tells a controller how close his airplanes are," says Molinaro. "The difference [between AMASS and ASDE-X] is that AMASS also offers oral alert - the computer will alert the controller if two planes are getting too close on the runway." He adds that the two systems may some day be merged together.

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