NASA Aircraft Arrival Technology Gets Big Test in 2017

At NASA’s Langley Research Center, retired airline pilots test procedures that will be used during upcoming flight tests of a new aircraft spacing tool. The simulator is set up like a 757 jet, similar to one of the aircraft in the ATD-1 flight tests.

Commercial airline pilots who as children played “Follow the Leader” will have no problem with a new air traffic control innovation NASA and its partners are working on that also will make passengers happier. It’s called Flight Deck Interval Management, or FIM, and it promises to safely increase the number of airplanes that can land on the same runway at busy airports by more precisely managing the time, or interval, between each aircraft arrival.

Less time in the air also means additional savings in expensive jet fuel and reduced aircraft emissions. Even better: passengers would enjoy an increased chance their flights – connecting or otherwise – will arrive on time. FIM is part of NASA’s Air Traffic Management Technology Demonstration-1– or ATD-1 – a coordinated effort involving NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and industry to develop and evaluate new technologies and procedures related to aircraft scheduling and airport arrivals. A complex field demonstration of FIM involving NASA, the FAA and industry will be conducted in early 2017 over Washington State.

Today, current air traffic control technology and procedures can predict arrival times to within a minute or so. But FIM is expected to enable controllers and the airport to count on aircraft arriving within five to ten seconds of a predicted time. The cockpit-based prototype FIM system combines NASA-developed software with commercially available off-the-shelf hardware and connects the system to the aircraft’s onboard information and navigation systems.

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