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"Airfield Safety Studies" Video Transcript

Airfield Safety Studies at NASA Ames Research Center

Our national air transportation system is evolving year by year. For more passengers to an increase of daily flights to the changing aircraft fleet, many airports are finding their systems strained as they work to prepare for the future. Runways and facilities that could accommodate the planes and jets of yesteryear may be proving inadequate for today's aircraft.

When the newest and largest group six aircraft land, like the Airbus A380, extra precautions must be taken at some airports to accommodate them. That's because these aircraft are about the length of a football field, nearly the width of two football fields and have tails that are about as tall as an eight-story building. Now, more than ever, airports need the resources that will help them make the best informed decisions about their future plans for facilities and systems.

The SimLabs at NASA Ames Research Center provides these resources with some of the most sophisticated simulation facilities in the world. One part of NASA's SimLabs is FutureFlight Central, a unique air traffic control and air traffic management test center, dedicated to solving safety and capacity problems at the nation's airports. FutureFlight Central allows controllers, pilots, airport officials, the FAA, the local community, and other stakeholders to evaluate technologies and collaborate on decisions pertaining to airport expansion or changes to operating procedures.

Elliot Brann, Air Traffic Controller, LAX ATC Tower: “As an air traffic controller, any time I can have input into the future of the system, that's a positive right from the start.”

A tower cab, featuring 360-degree computer generated views, allows up to 12 simultaneous controller positions. Dozens of support positions such as sim pilots, ramp controllers, and airport operators are located within the facility, making the airport environment as realistic as possible. In addition, a NASA Ames full motion 747-400 flight simulator operated by working pilots can be integrated into the studies.

Previous studies at FutureFlight Central were conducted for several major airports including Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles , Chicago O'Hare, and San Francisco. Recently, Los Angeles International Airport came back to the experts at SimLabs to evaluate five different configurations for the North runways.

Kurt Rammelsberg, Support Manager, LAX ATC Tower: “Los Angeles World Airports is looking to the future and determining the workload here to see which of these configurations may make it easier to run airplanes. Typically, an easier configurations gives the controllers and the pilots more time to think and it tends to create a safer environment.”

To conduct the study, SimLabs created detailed computer modeling of each of the five different North runway configurations. The first simulation was of the current two-runway design but with additional runway safety lighting. Three other layouts were created to represent variations of the two-runway configuration, complete with relocated runways, taxiways, and structures. A fifth option was created that featured a single runway on the North airfield and its associated taxiway changes.

After a year of preparing the simulation experiments, SimLabs painstakingly tested each of the five LAX north runway configurations under a variety of operational conditions. These included different weather conditions, emergency situations and the projected LAX air traffic demand and fleet mix for the year 2020, which is estimated to be nearly double what it is today. Air traffic controllers and pilots were surveyed after each configuration to gather their impressions on safety and operational effectiveness.

Kurt Rammelsberg, Support Manager, LAX ATC Tower: “It's important to involve humans in a setting like this as much as possible because humans are a huge factor in how an airport runs, whether it’s the controllers or the pilots, you can get their direct impressions on the exact layout, the design that we're studying and because their experienced they can give a lot of information as to which one's best.”

Jim Donovan, First Officer, Cathay Pacific Airways: “The simulation is unlike anything I have ever participated in because of the numbers of people involved. It was multiple computer systems and multiple groups of people, all working together in somewhat of a symphony to try to determine the best configuration for the airport. So it's very impressive. I've never seen anything quite like it.”

After all of the simulations were completed in August of 2009, NASA compiled the recorded data that documented numerous measures of safety and efficiency. This data included runway incursions, taxi delays, voice communications between controllers and pilots, and their post-run surveys. All of this data was presented to an independent academic panel, whose task was to recommend what action LAX should take to improve the safety and efficiency of the North runways.

NASA's SimLabs can provide this advanced simulation resource to any sized airport and with resources like NASA's FutureFlight Central and flight simulators supporting them, airports large and small can stay ahead of the ever-changing air transportation system.

For more information, go to:

Produced by the NASA Ames Video Production Group

(End of transcript.)

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Last Updated: October 13, 2016

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