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The NASA/Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) North Texas Research Station (NTX) is a field laboratory with unique capabilities to enhance the development, evaluation, and transition of advanced concepts and technologies for air traffic management (ATM) research. Developed and managed by NASA Ames Research Center’s Aviation Systems Division, NTX represents more than 24 years of collaboration with the FAA on ATM research and technology transfer. NTX is located in the Dallas/Fort Worth (Texas) metroplex and features not only a network of high-fidelity operational air transportation data and sophisticated analysis tools, but also represents established partnerships with a wide range of FAA, air carrier, and airport operational facilities.

NTX primarily supports NASA Aeronautics’ ATM research efforts as well as collaborative research activities led by NASA partners (e.g., the FAA and the aviation industry). NTX is utilized in all phases of ATM research, beginning with early concept development through execution of operational field evaluations of advanced prototype systems.

Unique Capabilities and Distinct Location

The NTX field laboratory houses a network of computer systems to collect and analyze data from a large variety of sources in the National Airspace System and to simulate air transportation operations. The laboratory enables off-line, real-time “shadow” testing of prototype technologies in a secure environment. In large part due to its unique location and its direct access to the air transportation system, NTX provides tremendous benefits to research and technology transfer.

The NTX laboratory is located on the premises of the FAA’s Fort Worth Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC, or Center), immediately adjacent to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and is a few miles from Dallas Love Field Airport. DFW is one of the four busiest airports in the nation, and Fort Worth Center is the 8th busiest of 21 en route Centers. Airline operations centers for Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and Envoy are also in close proximity. Access to the data and personnel from these facilities, including permission to utilize the DFW backup central air traffic control tower, affords NASA researchers with the best possible capabilities to develop and test ATM technologies in realistic and demanding air traffic conditions.

As a result of NTX’s proximity to these many important air transportation assets, NASA has developed research partnerships with local air traffic control facilities, various airlines, the DFW Airport Board, and the University of Texas at Arlington. In addition, NTX has nurtured a close partnership with the FAA Southwest Region, headquartered in Fort Worth. In 2012, the FAA designated NASA’s NTX investment as a national, Next Generation ATM (NextGen) Test Bed along with two other FAA facilities in Atlantic City, New Jersey and Daytona Beach, Florida. These NextGen Test Beds are now linked by a secure, high-speed network to facilitate collaborative research.

Evaluating Developmental Systems with Operational Data

In addition to the laboratory building, NTX assets include research systems located in Center, terminal area, tower, and air carrier operational facilities, connected via a network of NASA research software systems. These systems may be used independently or in various combinations to meet changing research requirements, with user interfaces located in operational facilities to enable simultaneous evaluation of multiple developmental technologies. This capability allows rapid reconfiguration of research systems and components in a manner that is largely transparent to operational users, but which facilitates collaboration between researchers and operators.

Operational Field Evaluations and Technology Transfer

Since 1995, NTX has been the site of numerous field evaluations and simulations of NASA ATM decision support tools, including, most notably, the Traffic Management Advisor (TMA), playing a key role in technology transfer. In 1997, the FAA initiated its nationwide deployment of TMA by installing the NASA TMA prototype at Fort Worth Center. To support this installation, NTX developed software systems and procedures to support routine TMA operations, which enabled the FAA to draw on this experience, and expand TMA capabilities, for the national deployment to other facilities.

NTX has also evaluated terminal area scheduling automation, en route conflict prediction capabilities, and airline-air traffic collaborative tools. NTX contributed to the evaluations of the Efficient Descent Advisor (EDA) and collaborated with Boeing on the Direct Routes field evaluations. Additionally, over the course of several years, NTX collaborated with American Airlines on the operational evaluation of two NASA tools designed to save aircraft flight time in the en route airspace while considering weather and air traffic restrictions, Dynamic Weather Routes (DWR) and the National Airspace System Constraint Evaluation and Notification Tool (NASCENT).

Precision Departure Release Capability (PDRC), developed at NASA Ames Research Center, improved tactical departure operations by enabling the automated exchange of airport surface operations data to en route tactical departure scheduling systems currently available only through voice communications. PDRC technology reduced departure delays by more precisely scheduling departures into constrained en route traffic flows. This increased the efficiency of departure operations, reduced the number of voice communications between tower and en route traffic managers, and improved the use of available traffic spacing. This technology was transferred to the FAA in August 2013.

Current and Planned Activities

NTX is currently supporting research activities in several operational facilities:

The Airspace Technology Demonstration 2 (ATD-2) program evaluates several improvements to integrated arrival/departure/surface operations, while providing improved communication and operational awareness between air traffic managers, airline operators, and airport managers. NTX personnel deployed and supported the first two phases of the ATD-2 evaluation at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The third phase of the evaluation involves the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex airspace, taking advantage of the infrastructure that NTX has established in Fort Worth ARTCC, D10 TRACON and towers, and DFW Airport, and adding American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, the Love Field Air Traffic Control Tower, and Envoy Airlines. ATD-2 will improve efficiency of operations in the metroplex, allowing airlines to propose candidate departure flights for electronic reroutes before takeoff.

Future work for NTX will likely involve intelligent prediction and analysis capabilities for both airlines and air traffic management, as well as involvement in urban air mobility in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

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Last Updated: September 17, 2021

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