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FutureFlight Central
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Airport Planning

Airport Design

Flawless airfield design is vitally important to the success of an airport. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of inefficient runway and taxiway layouts within our nation. It is challenging, if not impossible for airport administrators, consultants and planners to comprehensively understand potential air traffic issues that design changes create without rigorous controller input.

In the past, fast-time modeling software and tabletop consulting with tower staff have been used to develop proposals and to estimate the impact of airfield modifications. But until air traffic controllers can test a new design under peak traffic conditions, there is uncertainty as to whether design assumptions are accurate. Remedies are expensive, or even impractical, once construction has occurred.

Using virtual reality simulation, Controllers can be fully immersed into any design and readily identify any efficiency issues. Conducting simulations at NASA’s FutureFlight Central before finalizing construction and environmental plans will mitigate risk and facilitate low cost modifications. Controllers can suggest improvements, evaluate bottlenecks and lend their credibility and support to the most safe and efficient design possible.

Community Affairs

Airports serve a vital role in the infrastructure of our nation. As obsolete airfield layouts are redesigned and improved, community concerns sometimes arise. Often, airport neighbors cannot easily comprehend the air traffic issues motivating these changes. Airport operators can involve local officials in simulation projects. Air traffic controllers can demonstrate existing conditions and proposed improvements at FutureFlight Central and NASA Ames SimLabs integrated facilities. Community leaders benefit through viewing the project’s Video /DVD or even by participating in the simulation to gain a full understanding of complex issues and solutions.

Customer Case Study: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

The LAX Runway Incursion Studies evaluated several potential LAX airfield design changes with the objective of reducing runway incursion incidents, thus increasing airport safety. In Phase III, a center taxiway design included modified high-speed exits from Runway 25L, one of the airport’s primary landing runways.

While conducting simulations at FutureFlight Central, certified FAA / LAX controllers noticed that the proposed locations of the runway exits were slightly misplaced. This caused aircraft go-arounds during simulated peak traffic conditions, as the distance between turnoffs was too great.

Had this been built and not been discovered, it could have caused unnecessary go-arounds. Each go-around requires an additional 10-15 minutes of extra flying time, fuel and crew costs, controller workload, possible passenger misconnections and the loss of a valuable landing slot, intensifying airport delays. But because LAX carefully tested their designs at FutureFlight Central, controllers identified this subtle inefficiency and the turnoff locations were readily modified.

For more information, please see Our Projects and Los Angeles International Airport Runway Incursion Studies, Phase III — Center Taxiway Simulation.

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Technology Evaluation

NASA FutureFlight Central is uniquely capable of evaluating technologies for controllers in the terminal air space.

Examples of technology evaluation include:
  • Human factors testing of new air traffic management decision support tools
  • Rapid prototyping of new air traffic management technologies in a risk-free environment
  • Human validation of Airport and Airspace Simulation Model (SIMMOD) or (Total Airspace and Airport Modeler (TAAM)) capacity forecasts
FutureFlight tower radar and console displays are entirely programmable and integrated into the simulation. In addition, customers can temporarily install their software displaying the technology under evaluation in the FutureFlight facility. The software under evaluation interfaces with FutureFlight's simulation software through the use of the (HLA) interface.

Real-time simulations in the FutureFlight facility can also be used to validate fast time simulation tools, fine-tuning their use in planning environments.

Customer Case Study: Surface Management System

The Surface Management System (SMS) is a decision support tool that may help controllers and airlines manage airport surface traffic at busy airports, thus improving safety, capacity, efficiency, and flexibility. The NASA Ames Research Center's Advanced Air Transportation Technology Project, in cooperation with the FAA, is developing SMS.

Two simulations of the SMS software were conducted in the FutureFlight facility in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the SMS software with air traffic controllers. Active tower controllers from Dallas/Fort Worth airport (DFW) participated in the simulation, managing virtual Dallas/Fort Worth east side traffic.

FutureFlight Central's simulation software delivered real-time aircraft updates (including aircraft ID, aircraft type, latitude, longitude, altitude, climb rate, on-ground/airborne status, heading, ground speed, and simulation time) to the SMS.

Stephen Atkins, NASA's Project Lead for SMS, noted that "We learned a tremendous amount, for example, about how controllers assign departures to runways, sequence departures, and select taxi routes, and how SMS can better help tower controllers perform these tasks.

"FFC allows the eventual users to experience SMS in a realistic environment. It's not until controllers try using a DST [decision support tool] that they can provide the feedback needed to design a usable and useful product," Atkins concluded.

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Procedure Development

The FAA regulates air and surface traffic under broad guidelines applicable to the conditions at any airport. Since each airport is a unique operating environment, air traffic and ramp controllers manage traffic following procedures developed specifically for their airport. The aim of all procedures is to speed aircraft on their way safely and efficiently.

NASA FutureFlight Central is a virtual air traffic control tower where planners, managers, controllers, pilots, and airlines can work together in real time to evaluate new airport procedures in a live, risk-free work environment.

Customer Case Study: Los Angeles International Airport Runway Incursion Studies: Alternatives Simulation

The LAX Phase II Alternatives Simulation evaluated several candidate LAX airport changes designed to reduce runway incursion incidents, thus increasing airport safety.

Diagram showing proposed B-16 Extension
Diagram showing proposed B-16 Taxiway extension

LAX tested six alternatives, combining changes to the airport with new procedures for routing traffic. Alternatives tested included landing on the inboards, adding a second controller to the South side, and routing traffic via a proposed B-16 Taxiway extension. Tested traffic conditions included departure and arrival rushes, programmed for an operational throughput capacity of 170 operations per hour.

The two most favored alternatives utilized the B-16 Taxiway extension. Controllers rated these alternatives as having the least potential for a runway incursion and as being safer compared with today's LAX operations. Controllers also gave these alternatives high marks for traffic management ease and efficiency. Departure rates were the highest of any of the alternatives.

The study team, composed of controllers and representatives from the airport, airlines, and FAA, cooperatively designed the alternatives.

For more information, see the Phase I: Baseline Simulation and Phase II: Alternatives Simulation.

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Space Exploration

Robotic Field Testing

Today’s technology allows scientists to research territories that are not easily accessible to humans through robotic field-testing. Robotic field-testing enables scientists to examine how teleoperated robots would best be utilized on the Moon and Mars.

FutureFlight Central provides a remote integrated environment for both ground control and science teams for field projects. In 2007, FutureFlight Central provided live ground control for a robotic site survey project at the Haughton Crater in the Canadian arctic. The large screens enabled shared viewing of several telemetry-driven applications and their corresponding displays. One display allowed visualization of the data from ground penetrating equipment carried by one of the robots. Another display showed the lidar or scanning laser rangefinder data for 3D terrain modeling. A Google Earth map monitored planned versus actual rover trajectories, and a robot-mounted camera provided live video from the field. Video conferencing with the base camp enabled local and remote teams to collaborate in real-time.

Remote Science Virtual Presence

Exploration of planetary analog environments, whether high mountains, deserts, or the depths of the ocean, requires team members to be good physical condition. Utilizing the concept of a remote science team, researchers can mitigate the cost and human risk from exposure to extreme environments. FutureFlight Central can create a real-time immersive panoramic viewing environment that allows researches to be virtually present at the field site and fully participate in mission decisions. Because preparation and execution of the field tests requires a great amount of time and money, FutureFlight Central helps improve the productivity of the mission.

FutureFlight Central has a 360-degree panoramic immersive viewing environment and infrastructure that supports
  • Multiple simultaneous views of data
  • Web casting
  • Video conferencing
  • Digital audio/video recording
  • Wireless video streaming

Air Traffic Controller Training

Simulator training, long proven as a cost-effective and reliable method for training pilots, is an under-exploited resource for air traffic controllers. Typical training consist of many hours working "on position" with an instructor. Often significant time is invested by the trainer only to find that the person doesn't work out.

In a full scale simulation, scenarios can be created for the anomalies that, in a live environment, you might have to wait weeks or months to occur. The quality of training is improved because of the ability to stop a scenario at any point to discuss alternatives and replay exercises.

Experienced controllers can use simulation training to validate and familiarize themselves with procedures for operating the airport safely under phased construction with temporary taxiway or runway restrictions.

Ramp Tower Training

The FutureFlight testing facility can be used to simulate a hub or airline ramp tower environment. This allows an airline or its contracting tower services company to familiarize and train ramp operators on ramp procedures at an airport, as well as, optimize for safety. Simulations allow personnel to prepare in advance of new facilities, by anticipating problems and working out solutions.

Customer Case Study: Airport Group International

Airport Group International (AGI), the contractor for San Francisco's Pier A (international) ramp operation, used FutureFlight Central to introduce untrained ramp operators to their new environment. AGI runs Pier A on a 24 x 7 schedule, handling approximately 215 flights per day generated from 22 air carriers.

Bob Peterson, AGI Ramp tower manager for SFO's Pier A, said,"NASA FutureFlight Central provides the best training environment possible." As a result of using FutureFlight Central, AGI determined they needed to accelerate their training plan as well as increase staff in the new facility.

For more details, go to Ramp-Tower Controller Training, Ramp Tower A, San Francisco International Airport

Ground Emergency Response Training

One of the critical times when an airport's operational efficiencies are tested is when an accident occurs. The time to respond to the accident is crucial in terms of saving lives as well as containing the costs to the airport and airlines. Fire is the fundamental hazard in any aircraft incident involving a forced landing.

In large complex airports, the location of emergency facilities, the surface routing of emergency response vehicles as well as the human communication procedures which take place during an emergency are all critical decisions for an effective response.

NASA FutureFlight Central provides an environment for not only determining the optimal location of emergency facilities, but also allows practicing the optimal surface path for vehicles (based on airport traffic patterns) as well as practice drills in communications for ATC tower, ramp and emergency facility personnel.

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Last Updated: September 13, 2017

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