More Airplanes Need More Airspace...

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Software To Relieve Bottlenecks

With all those airplanes in the works, plus thousands of light jets destined for the airways, and an apparent economic upswing driving ever more traffic into the skies, long-term predictions say air traffic will triple over the next 20 years. Since the amount of airspace will remain the same and new runways are slow and scarce, NASA and the FAA are working on advanced technologies that will squeeze more efficiency out of the existing system. Last week, NASA successfully tested new software that it says will help prevent bottlenecks and alleviate the need for holding patterns by tweaking departure times of aircraft by just a few minutes. The Multi-center Traffic Management Advisor (McTMA) analyzes radar data, flight plans, weather information and input from controllers to forecast air traffic congestion. McTMA then generates an advisory, typically a small delay, for each aircraft predicted to encounter congestion. In the test, the new techniques were applied to traffic headed for Philadelphia, and during periods when airborne holding is routinely encountered, no such holding was observed, NASA said. Taking part in the tests were the Air Route Traffic Control Centers in New York, Washington, Boston and Cleveland; the Philadelphia Terminal Radar Approach Control and the National Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Herndon, Va. McTMA makes possible a fundamental shift from distance-based to time-based metering of aircraft, NASA said. "Time-based metering can reduce airborne delays and improve coordination and planning between adjacent air traffic control facilities," said Tom Edwards, deputy director at NASA's Ames Research Center in California. Future tests will seek to gradually expand the McTMA operational envelope to demonstrate multi-center, time-based metering of departures, arrivals and en route flows to multiple destinations, NASA said.