NASA, FAA simulate air traffic

Travelers in two bustling airports may be oblivious to a high-tech test by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration as they rush to make connections and pick up luggage. The two agencies have added an innovation to the mix of airport technology already in development.

NASA's Ames Research Center is working with the FAA to test new air traffic control technologies using Virtual Airspace Simulation Technology Real-Time (VAST-RT) capabilities. A recent two-day effort used operations at Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago's O'Hare international airports, including the airspace between them, to test VAST-RT.

Tests included an advanced flight simulator, an airport control tower simulator and a laboratory that simulates air traffic control functions outside an airport. Pilots and controllers at the center conducted simulated flight operations to and from O'Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth airports, including flights that intersected this airspace.

Researchers finished a preliminary series of simulations, kicking off the first of several simulations planned to increase the scope and usefulness of NASA's simulation facilities.

"With air travel expected to at least double in the next 20 years, NASA and [the FAA] are developing new concepts and technologies that will enable this expansion without a significant increase in delays or hassles for the traveler," said Harry Swenson, manager of NASA's Virtual Airspace Modeling and Simulation Project.

"This will provide a thorough understanding of the benefits and the ability to explore potential limitations of these conceptual and technological solutions in a safe, realistic and efficient environment," he added.

The program gives scientists a chance to study "the changing roles of the human operators" as new tools and procedures are introduced, said Sandy Lozito, a NASA researcher specializing in air traffic management.

"The VAST-RT technology gives us the realism required to conduct human factors assessments in an operationally relevant environment," said Lozito.

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