Boeing Frontiers
July 2002 
Volume 01, Issue 03 
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Ait Traffic Management
Suite Success

Boeing develops tools for designing an air traffic management system

ATMPhilosopher and systems theorist Russell Ackoff said, "To manage a system effectively, you might focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behavior taken separately."

This advice, intended for organizations, also applies to air traffic systems. Traditionally, nuggets of technology have been plugged in to the air traffic system to fix a specific problem, rather than used like ball bearings, which allow different parts to interact more smoothly and result in systemwide improvements.

Boeing Air Traffic Management is taking a comprehensive, systemic approach to solving the problem of congestion and delays on the ground and in the skies across the United States and in parts of Europe and Asia. ATM's goal is to make flying even safer and more secure, significantly increase capacity, and keep aviation affordable for all users around the globe. ATM also is looking to improve the environment by making the system more efficient.

How does one begin to design the air traffic system of the future? Last year, ATM unveiled a concept for accomplishing this ambitious goal. To add detail to the concept, however, the team needed powerful development tools.

"We really had no existing or sufficiently mature tools," said Dennis Muilenburg, vice president of ATM Engineering. "The tools available at that time only simulated parts of the system, such as individual airports. Our approach required a suite of tools that would help us simulate the entire system," said Muilenburg. "We needed to understand how the parts interact and integrate."

ATM modeling and simulation tool setTo put this quandary into context, imagine a team designing a new airplane without the rich resources available today—from aerodynamics modeling, to weights analysis, to CATIA, the threedimensional modeling tool used to validate the airplane design and assemble jets in a virtual world before any metal is cut.

The ATM team did not have to go far for help in developing a suite of modeling and simulation tools. Boeing organizations Preston Aviation Solutions and Autometric brought their expertise to bear on the problem. So did Phantom Works and other business units.

As a result, ATM soon expects to have a modeling and simulation tool set that covers the entire spectrum of activity in an air traffic management system.

Muilenburg explained that ATM needs such sophisticated tools because an air traffic system is composed of networks of numerous interacting systems.

"In the United States alone, we have a national command center, 21 regional centers, hundreds of major airports and airline operations centers, and thousands of commercial, military and general aviation aircraft," Muilenburg said. "By modeling this 'system of systems,' we can integrate and connect their existing networks into a single, more effective solution."

U.S. air traffic system is largest in the worldATM plans to be able to model scenarios on many different levels, according to Muilenburg. For senior government and industry officials who make policy and investment decisions, ATM will be able to show the effects of traffic forecasts, as well as conduct safety and cost-benefit analyses. ATM also is modeling national, regional and airport airspace, and global communication, navigation, and surveillance infrastructure; it even will cover cognitive performance to simulate human interaction with system components.

ATM's initial focus has been to establish a baseline by modeling the current air traffic system, Muilenburg said. A fast-time simulator created jointly with Phantom Works can process operational air traffic data from a 30-hour time period, depicting more than 55,000 flights at 80 major U.S. airports—compressing it into five minutes. The team also is using a set of "what-if" operational scenarios, simulating the aggregate effects of different variables that influence the system performance. For example, a scenario may explore the effects of enlarging airspace sectors above a busy airport, or a change in rules to allow a reduction in space between aircraft.

These and other tools will enable the team to conduct benefits analysis (how much capacity increase we can expect), safety analysis (designing in functional redundancy, integrity and reliability) and security analysis (operational procedures for heightened situational awareness). Ultimately, the tool set will help demonstrate the value of ATM's proposed air traffic concept to stakeholders.

"This powerful suite of tools will help us shape the air traffic management market by showing our customers what is possible," said Muilenburg. "It's crucial to the largescale 'imagineering' of tomorrow."


Simulating the flow of information

While some Boeing engineers develop simulations of aircraft moving across the sky or along the ground, others contemplate the flow of something a bit less tangible: information.

Boeing Air Traffic Management currently is defining the architecture of its proposed concept for a new satellite-based air traffic system. Key to this concept is providing precise aircraft trajectory data to predict flight paths 40 minutes into the future, shared data through a real-time common information network, and simplified airspace design.

One of the developmental challenges is end-to-end modeling of information moving through the air traffic system. An example of end-to-end modeling is to show how information—say, the precise location of an airplane entering the airspace near an airport—gets transmitted to a controller on the ground. ATM's end-to-end simulations of the related information flow must depict the starting and end points (nodes), the speed of the information and the path it takes, the amount of data that can move at one time, and availability (including peak and non-peak times) within a given air traffic system architecture.

Once information flow models are defined, engineers can modify components of the architecture, such as the satellite constellation or network characteristics. Then ATM can use one of its development tools to determine how those changes affect the air traffic system model, revising the end-to-end simulation.


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