Military tool keeps track of global flight rules

New global regulations established to help air traffic controllers cope with increasingly crowded skies worldwide may pose a problem for the U.S. military because many of its planes do not comply with the requirements.

If military planners fail to take the restrictions into account, the result may be unexpected, costly delays for Defense Department aircraft.

In response to the new regulations, the Air Force Electronics Systems Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., has released a software tool designed to give planners up-to-date information on global air traffic management (GATM) requirements.

Called SPARC — for Strategic Projection of Airspace Requirements and Certification — the software has piqued the interest of some general officers and the Federal Aviation Administration, Air Force officials said.

The Air Force estimates that, in some areas, eight planes can now fly in the space formerly reserved for just one. That has led to requirements for improved navigation, communication, surveillance and safety systems, according to 1st Lt. Matt Nuffort, chief of strategic planning for the Global Air Traffic Operations division at Hanscom.

GATM requirements are not universal. Some requirements will not take effect in the United States for several years but are already in place in Europe, where air traffic is more congested.

Although military aircraft once were exempt from all GATM requirements, that has not been the case since 1997. The Air Force is upgrading its fleet to meet the requirements, but will not complete the work for several years.

Because noncompliance with GATM requirements can determine whether aircraft can operate in some regions, it is essential that planners know the rules. That's where SPARC comes in.

Released in May, the system enables users to plug in projected routes for a plane and obtain the latest GATM requirements for all areas along those routes. It will also show users when new requirements will be enforced in specific regions and will transform the information into a Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint presentation so that others can be briefed on compliance efforts and requirements.

"The SPARC tool is designed for a person analyzing future needs," said William Thedford, one of two support contractors at the Electronic Systems Center who conceived SPARC. "So, for example, if one of the aircraft program offices would need to be prepared for a specific requirement, they could show a global map where they cannot fly if they don't have the equipment.

"Another issue we've encountered is that while many exemptions are still in place for [military] aircraft, it doesn't guarantee they will have access to the airspace when they want it. They might call up and be told, "We're busy right now with commercial aircraft. Stand by.' And they could be in the airspace another two hours or longer."

Once SPARC is installed on a computer, changes in the status of GATM rules will be available via the Internet. The Air Force's GATM team is updating aircraft information with the help of aircraft program managers, but a version of the software to be released in July will enable users to do that themselves.

Since SPARC was demonstrated during a GATM user's conference in April, interest has spread rapidly, Nuffort said. Brig. Gen. Daniel Leaf, director of operational requirements for the deputy chief of staff for air and space operations, asked that the SPARC team brief the Air Force's three-star quarterly acquisition review board in May and the four-star review board July 8. Those two boards encompass lieutenant generals and generals, respectively.

In addition, the Air Force is discussing SPARC with the FAA and the Navy, Air Force officials said.

Because SPARC is an in-house Air Force project, Thedford said he could not determine the specific cost of development, but he pointed out that because it is a government-owned product, it is available to government users at no cost.

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The results will be:

* Longer flight times.

* A need to carry more fuel and smaller payloads.

* Fewer missions flown.

* A slower rate of deployment of troops and equipment.

Source: Air Force Scientific Advisory Board

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