Boeing Frontiers
June 2003
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Volume 02, Issue 02
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Air Traffic Management
 

ATM's goal: design the air traffic control system of tomorrow

John HayhurstBoeing envisions connectivity-based programs as not only a new business area but also a growth tool for its traditional platform-based businesses, such as jetliner programs.

That tie between connectivity and growth in platforms forms the foundation of Boeing Air Traffic Management. This Boeing business unit is working together with numerous stakeholders to define requirements and build momentum and support for a transformational air traffic management system. The benefits of such a system include reducing air traffic congestion and delays, and increasing safety and security. Not coincidentally, both benefits are boons for Boeing's airline customers.

"The biggest value to The Boeing Company of Air Traffic Management is not in building hardware," said John Hayhurst, ATM president. "It's in creating a next-generation air traffic system that provides more capacity, safety and security for everyone. That's of enormous interest to airlines, but it also enables things like operations of unmanned air vehicles from Integrated Defense Systems."

The origins of ATM come in part from air-travel growth forecasts, some of which call for air traffic volume to double by 2020. The current air traffic control system would be hard-pressed to meet the soaring demand for air travel and commerce.

This realization led to the formation of ATM in 2000. The next-generation air traffic system envisioned by ATM would more thoroughly leverage information available from flight-management systems on airplanes and ground-based systems, with satellite links connecting airplanes and ground systems. Among other benefits, this network would enable air traffic controllers to view an airplane's path depicted in three dimensions over time, anticipate where and when airspace may become crowded, and identify and mitigate potential conflicts. It would also allow instant collaboration and rapid response among system users facing non-normal situations, and it would allow operators to adjust better to delays from weather or other situations, such as security incidents.

"A network-centric operation such as this puts more timely, synchronized information in the hands of both the users and operators of airspace," Hayhurst said. "By having this synchronized network of information, we believe the system can operate more efficiently, create more capacity for airplanes and improve the safety and security of the air traffic management system."

Boeing Commercial Airplane representatives agree.

"Over the next 20 years, we expect the number of commercial jet aircraft to more than double, from approximately 15,000 to more than 33,000," said Kent Fisher, vice president Future Customer & Market for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "The capacity of the aviation system will need to expand considerably in order to enable this growth. Network-centric operations will be a critical element to achieving this capacity growth."

The traditional suppliers of air traffic control equipment and systems, such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Thales, have built their businesses on evolutionary systems, Hayhurst said.

"What's important to Boeing is not who builds the equipment, but the overall design of the system," Hayhurst said. "Our interest lies in designing, creating and implementing an architecture that serves the needs of all users and allows more capacity."

Currently, ATM is demonstrating a number of its concepts to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. In February, ATM, working with Connexion by Boeing, Autometric and Preston Aviation Solutions, successfully demonstrated the feasibility of a number of potential enhancements to the National Airspace System. Capabilities demonstrated included

• Transmitting aircraft position data, both current and planned, to networked computers at multiple sites on the ground, enabling more strategic management of air traffic and rapid detection of aircraft deviations from their approved flight paths.

• Uplinking radar weather images to the flight deck and downlinking data regarding environmental conditions outside an aircraft. This enabled the display of better real-time weather information both in the air and on the ground.

• Transmitting operational data from an airplane, which enabled the ground display of real-time visual models of aircraft in flight, aircraft instrument readings, and the status of aircraft systems.

While these are important demonstrations that fit well with ATM's long-range vision, Hayhurst said an objective of the business unit is the formation of a multi-agency, national program office in the U.S. government that would lead the development and implementation of a next-generation air traffic management system. Achieving that important goal would have enormous benefits for other parts of Boeing as it would grow the market for both commercial airplanes and unmanned aircraft.

Hayhurst said he sees another important connection between ATM and the two largest Boeing business units.

"One thing that ATM uniquely does is to fill some of the white space between BCA and IDS," Hayhurst said. "We're bringing technologies from both of these large business units together to address an issue that Boeing has not undertaken in the past."

Hayhurst's assessment of this role? "I think that's cool."

—Junu Kim

 

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