July 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 3 
Special Features

NCO goes commercial

NCO goes commercialMention network-centric operations and Boeing in the same sentence, and you'll likely be talking about future military applications. But there are NCO opportunities in commercial and general aviation as well-particularly in the area of air traffic management (ATM).

The aim of ATM is to provide a network of precise information about system performance, aircraft intent, weather and other facts to improve the capacity and efficiency of the National Airspace System and offer inherent security enhancements.

Satellites would extend the reach of the ATM network to enable seamless global communications, navigation and surveillance. Controllers and security personnel would know instantly when an aircraft deviated from its approved flight plan. They could also continuously track and communicate with aircraft beyond the range of radar and very-high-frequency radio.

Boeing formerly had a business unit devoted to Air Traffic Management. Now that effort is part of Phantom Works under the leadership of Kevin Brown, Boeing vice president of ATM. The primary reason for the move was "to leverage the business support infrastructure of Phantom Works to reduce our cost structure and better align our investment with the timing of the ATM market post- 9/11," Brown said.

Boeing has been under a two-year contract with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to develop network-centric concepts and conduct related demonstrations for ATM. The FAA is expected to award Phase Two of the contract, which will involve operational demonstrations of network and trajectory-based flight operations concepts, in August.

Boeing also is supporting development of a plan for a next-generation ATM system. The plan, due to be submitted to the U.S. Congress by the end of this year, will be the work of a Joint Planning and Development Office, under the leadership of the FAA and supported by the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Transportation and Commerce as well as NASA.

Boeing is advocating that the building block of the next-generation ATM system be the company's Strategic Architecture Reference Model.

The vision is that of "almost a super network that looks like an interconnected set of rings," Brown said. "You can close your eyes and almost see the network tying together the passenger with the airline, the air traffic control system, Homeland Security and other agencies responsible for our protection. If we're successful at garnering advocacy and convergence on a Strategic Architecture Reference Model, the power is enormous."

Boeing is working to change the paradigm of agency officials in favor of a "transformational" network solution to air traffic management over incremental improvements to existing systems with diminishing returns, Brown said. "It's really thought-shaping within agencies that are not familiar with NCO, its power and benefit. We are spending a lot of energy educating and evangelizing."

The Boeing approach also involves a strong emphasis on global collaboration. Boeing frequently brings together officials from U.S., European and Asian airlines and agencies to forge common ground for future requirements and overall architectures.

"Our mission is to transform air management globally," Brown said. "And we believe transformational modernization is the way to create an ATM system that meets capacity requirements needed for the continued, unencumbered growth of commercial aviation. It also benefits aircraft manufacturers and airline customers by providing a globally interoperable system that results in common flight deck equipage, procedures and training. And it provides more flexible airspace to accommodate unpiloted air vehicles or airplanes with unique performance capabilities, such as supersonic business jets."

The goal is to "really knit aircraft and their flight management systems together with ground automation," Brown said. "That would allow us to perform trajectory-based flight planning and operations as well as provide everyone with a common operating picture to manage traffic much more strategically."

The bottom-line benefit of such a network would be that "the system, very quickly and adaptively, could respond to any unplanned event-like weather, in-flight emergencies, or homeland security issues," Brown said.

"When you make the mental shift to network-centric, you have to think beyond individual products, projects and programs," Brown said. "You have to think about concepts of operations, architectures and standards in the broadest sense. To that end, Boeing is really very much on the cutting edge."

-Daryl Stephenson


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