Researchers aim to avert airport gridlock with a new
software tool being evaluated in NASA’s virtual control tower

NASA researchers and Dallas/Fort Worth air traffic
controllers conducted the second evaluation of the Surface
Management System (SMS), being developed at NASA’s Ames
Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. Current systems used
by airports don’t provide controllers with accurate
information about the number of future departures. During the
various "rush hour" times at the airport, scheduled
departures often exceed runway capacity, creating delays.

"The main objective of the Surface Management System is to
allow the controllers and airlines to collaboratively manage
departure operations and surface movements. The system
gathers relevant information from multiple sources, processes
it and displays the appropriate information and advisories to
the users," said Dr. Steve Atkins, SMS project lead at Ames.
"The system has the potential to decrease departure delays
significantly," he added.

The information compiled by the system is displayed as
aircraft-location maps, departure timelines and load-capacity
graphs giving controllers timely data to effectively manage
aircraft movement between the terminal and the runway. With
this information, controllers can predict possible traffic
congestion and rapidly eliminate system bottlenecks.

Ames’ Future Flight Central (FFC) air-traffic control tower
simulator was used for the evaluation. Future Flight central
gives controllers a unique facility to test software tools
with its detailed 360-degree views, providing controllers a
very realistic experience. The data collected will be used to
refine the SMS user interface and identify additional user

"We presented a spectrum of ideas to a group of Federal
Aviation Administration controllers and airline
representatives to help us focus on what potential
capabilities would be most helpful. Our ideas have been
received positively," said Atkins.

The realism provided by FFC will allow for the smooth
transition to the field-test portion of the evaluation.
Additional features such as integration with arrival
scheduling and other air traffic management tools will be
added as part of the staged evolution of the tool.

Other participants in the evaluation were representatives
from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Free Flight
Program office, officials from major passenger and freight
carriers, and controllers from Memphis, Tenn., and Norfolk,
Va., airports.

The Surface Management System is being developed at Ames by
the Advanced Air Transportation Technologies Project, a part
of the Aviation Systems Capacity Program. Ames has been
conducting air-traffic control research and development since
the mid-1980s.

More information about the Aviation Systems Capacity Program
can be found on the Internet at:

More information about Future Flight Central is available at: