NASA, FAA showcase IT systems

Nearly a year to the day since TWA Flight 800 exploded off the Long Island N.Y. coast NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration last week demonstrated new systems and technologies that the agencies said will improve aviation safety.

NASA and FAA officials were at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly Va. showing off several prototype information technology systems such as the Cockpit Weather Information (CWIN) system which will for the first time give pilots an up-to-the-minute integrated graphical representation of the weather conditions nationwide and in a specific area. Flight crews currently receive in-flight weather data either over headsets from controllers or in printed form.

CWIN which was aboard a NASA 757 research plane receives information from surface observations terminal forecasts radar summaries and lightening strike data from a satellite data link. The information is displayed on a color panel located in the plane's cockpit. The system can create graphics and text displays and can show the weather conditions along an aircraft's intended route.

"With better information about hazardous weather planes can stay three times as far away from that weather than before " said Michael Lewis director of the aviation safety program at NASA. He added that airlines also will save on fuel costs by adjusting their routes early on when they know bad weather is ahead.

CWIN will be an important tool for free flight which the FAA is developing to allow pilots to choose their own routes speed and altitude based on flying conditions. "Pilots will be able to deviate from their planned route and get around [hazardous] weather conditions " Lewis said.

CWIN will be installed in passenger aircraft nationwide in September. NASA developed the software and McDonnell Douglas is the prime contractor on the project.

NASA also demonstrated the prototype Low Visibility Landing and Surface Operations (LVLASO) system which through airborne and ground-based systems should improve the safety of aircraft movement on the ground by allowing pilots to essentially see through bad weather.

LVLASO automatically gives pilots a map of where the other traffic is relative to their position on the ground information that is now given to pilots via headsets Lewis said. The new system can see through fog and other bad weather so pilots are not reliant on visuals alone. The system will be tested at Hartsfield-Atlanta International Airport next month.

Other new technology the FAA and NASA are working on include more accurate trace detection equipment to identify explosive material in luggage new software and hardware to locate fatigue cracks in an aircraft and a system that automatically turns digital data from aircraft flight recorders into a database of information from which researchers can generate reports. The system will help the FAA and pilots correct safety problems before accidents happen.

Vice president Al Gore on sight for the demonstration said the latest technology will help the FAA lower its accident rate even further. "We want to give those flying planes new tools to use " Gore said. He added that the work supports the recommendations made by the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security which he chairs.

Transportation Department secretary Rodney Slater said the department has already started work on 44 recommendations to improve safety that the commission directed at DOT. "The commission's bottom line on airspace modernization was get it done faster and with new technology we will " Slater said.


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