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JOURNAL ARTICLE
Aviation Week & Space Technology
February 4, 2002
By Michael Mecham

Ground Movement Simulation Sets Stage for Field Trials

After simulating what happens to ground operations during peak stress periods, NASA Ames Research Center is ready to move on to the real thing, using software to help airlines, ramp handlers and air traffic controllers predict trouble and figure out how to deal with it.

Called the Surface Management System, the software project just completed a second full operations simulation of ground ops at the east side of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The SMS' next phase will involve a demonstration this spring/summer of the software's capabilities at Memphis (Tennessee) International Airport. Memphis was chosen because it already has the technology needed to support the field trial.

The initial demonstration will be limited to the airport's ramp tower so researchers can gain some utility from the tool in real-time operations, SMS Project Leader Steve Atkins explained. In the summer of 2003, however, the goal is to begin a full working use of the software's predictive capabilities.

The DFW simulation was conducted at Ames' Full Flight Simulator [FutureFlight Central], which can create a 360-degree, 3D image of any airport for airport planning and operations studies. The SMS project used real-time data on east side aircraft movements to develop scenarios for preventing gridlock among departing aircraft.

The east side is DFW's busiest, with three parallel and one diagonal runways.

SMS is part of the Advanced Air Transportation Technologies project that Ames is conducting for the FAA. Its goal is to provide a predictive software tool that gathers information from multiple sources--air traffic controllers, the Tracon, airlines and ramp controllers--about surface operations.

Of course, experienced operators probably don't need software to predict the ebbs and flows of an airport's regular activities. The SMS tool is aimed at helping them react well when operations are thrown badly off course by storms or sudden demands that arise when the national grid suffers a calamity, such as an interruption in a hub's activities due to an accident.

The SMS software tool manages real-time data so airport operators can form tactical and strategic responses. Tactically, the tool allows air traffic controllers to make immediate decisions on runway departures and takeoff sequences when they are confronted with sudden shifts in traffic flow, such as an FAA order to increase miles-in-trail distances. Strategically, the software helps airport towers and/or ATC centers predict what is likely to happen in the next hour or so.
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