NASA turns to air traffic control

NASA research is critical to new information technologies that will redesign

the way the national airspace is managed, according to witnesses who spoke

Tuesday before a House subcommittee.

NASA should focus on developing a wireless Internet with high availability

that will meet the requirements of pilots and air traffic controllers, said

George Donohue, visiting professor for air transportation at George Mason

University, speaking before the House Science Committee's Space and Aeronautics

Subcommittee.

The wireless telecommunications systems that aircraft use today are not

adequate to support a new system, he said.

As airline travel grows, technology must improve to safely reduce the spacing

of aircraft, Donohue said. Such technology includes collision avoidance

systems, situational awareness and communications, digital data links, and

Global Positioning System satellite navigation.

Although some people may view these as problems the Federal Aviation Administration

must address, NASA has been more successful at attracting skilled staff

to handle such research-oriented, long-term problems, he said.

Sam Venneri, NASA's associate administrator for the Office of Aero-Space

Technology, defended his office's $1.2 billion budget request for fiscal

2001. About six of the agency's 10 aerospace technology goals relate to

civil aviation.

The office hopes to develop technology that provides better information

and visualization in the cockpit, Venneri said. The office also will look

at the engineering processes and tools NASA uses to simulate operations

of spacecraft and aircraft, he said.

NASA also is looking at ways to increase airspace system capacity outside

the hub-and-spoke model commercial airlines use today. That format will

not be able to accommodate a tenfold increase in use, Venneri said.

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