Airport database goes on Web

Airport database goes on Web

DOD system uses Internet, rather than teletype, to brief pilots on conditions

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

Defense Department officials have gone one step beyond the Federal Aviation Administration to improve a system that gives pilots data on conditions at foreign airports.

Lt. Col. Michael A. Williams saw the global reach of NOTAM when he received an e-mail from a DOD military cargo crew that had stopped by a cybercafe in Bangkok, Thailand.

Instead of briefing pilots through fax transmissions and telephone calls, the Army provides updated information to air crews in Europe through the Internet, said Air Force Lt. Col. Michael A. Williams, chief of the DOD Notes to Airmen (NOTAM) Division.

For example, the system could inform a crew that an airport in Skopje, Macedonia, is located near a steel tower.

Lights out on a runway? Unlit obstacles? Air crews can find them on NOTAM.

FAA officials at a Dulles International Airport facility near Washington continue to use a teletype system to distribute messages about domestic airports.

DOD officials have moved to a relational database management system from Oracle Corp. through which pilots can receive data via the Web using a Netscape SuiteSpot server and the DOD Non-Classified IP Router Network, Williams said.

'We used to have 50 personnel transmitting teletype messages,' he said. Things started to change in the 1980s, when FAA agreed to provide NOTAM system data and services to DOD, Williams said.

A proprietary database at the Dulles FAA command center has a custom gateway to the DOD NOTAM Oracle database, said Kenneth O'Brien, FAA product leader for operational data management systems.

'The old NOTAM [teletype servers were] old but reliable. You can beat 'em with a hammer, but they keep working,' Williams said.

But the teletype systems were inflexible and became expensive to maintain. When DOD officials found they couldn't upgrade their assembler programming language, they decided to use the Internet for distribution, he said.

Taking it to the Web

FAA officials have discussed Internet distribution of domestic airport data from the agency's teletype NOTAM system, through which it exchanges information with 144 countries, O'Brien said.

Agency officials would like to implement 'pretty much all the functionality of the DOD system' in the civilian one, including letting pilots make geographic searches on NOTAM to get information on airports on their routes and putting the information on the Internet, O'Brien said.

'The DOD system has much greater functionality. Pilots used to have to go to a base' to access the military NOTAM, O'Brien said. 'Now, they can go any place with an Internet connection. Pilots can fly more and spend less time in preflight planning.'

Since its April 1998 overhaul, DOD's NOTAM has used a Sun Enterprise 3000 server running SunSoft Solaris 2.6 and an Oracle8 RDBMS. Working with contractor Electronic Data Systems Corp., DOD officials have increased by 800 percent the data they can provide pilots through NOTAM, he said.

Since December 1999, they also have run Enterprise Translation Server 3.0 from Transparent Language Inc. of Merrimack, N.H., a Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 translator that users access through a Web browser, Williams said.

The product can provide high-quality translations of 18,000 French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish words per minute into English, said Ty Glasgow, enterprise sales director at Transparent Language.

'Slow [transmission] speeds meant we had to limit what we'd send,' Williams said. Pilots had to learn the NOTAM abbreviations, which system architects used for economy because of the 300-bit/sec transmission speeds. 'Closed,' for example, became 'clsd,' and runway is spelled 'rnwy,' he said.

In the teletype years, DOD subscribers received updates on more than 11,000 airports, and they had to search through reams of paper to find specific locations, Williams said.

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