FAA tries to get runway system off the ground

FAA tries to get runway system off the ground


Detroit Metro Airport last month became the second of 34 airports across the country to receive an upgraded warning system to provide air traffic controllers with visual and aural alerts of potential runway accidents.

Despite criticism in Congress last month about delays and malfunctions, the Airport Movement Area Safety System is showing improvement, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

FAA has upgraded the software for AMASS to reduce the number of false warnings.

Michael R. Huffman
FAA's Michael R. Huffman says false warnings have decreased from about twice an hour to once a month.
AMASS, which was installed at San Francisco International Airport last August, was designed to enhance the Airport Surface Detection Equipment Model 3. ASDE-3 shows the location of aircraft on the ground to controllers.

Something extra

'ASDE-3 provides a blip to controllers on their displays,' said Mike Huffman, FAA's team leader on the AMASS project. 'But AMASS is an extra tool for their eyes and ears that will provide aural and visual alerts.'

Two years ago, AMASS would send about two false alerts in an hour, but improvements in the system have reduced that number to one a month, he said.

AMASS warns controllers of potential conflicts between arriving aircraft, and aircraft and vehicles on the ground.

FAA plans to install the system at the remaining 32 busiest airports in the nation by September of next year. Currently, all 34 airports use ASDE-3.

AMASS consists of the Terminal Automation Interface Unit, which is built by Dimensions International Inc. of Alexandria, Va., and the AMASS subsystem. The AMASS subsystem, developed by Norden Systems of Norwalk, Conn., compares runway scheduling data with output from ASDE-3, looks for possible conflicts and sends out alerts accordingly.

TAIU receives information about arriving airborne aircraft from the controllers' radar and suggests a runway for the aircraft, Huffman said.

The AMASS subsystem uses data on ground aircraft from ASDE-3, he said.

AMASS looks at the position and velocity of aircraft in the air and on the ground, as well as vehicles on the runway, he said. If there is a possible conflict, the system posts alerts on ASDE-3 displays, Huffman said.

Dave Dougherty, project manager at Dimensions International, said the TAIU subsystem is housed in a 19-inch rack from Crenlo Inc. of Rochester, Minn.

The rack holds three computer chassis and four 200-MHz Pentium MMX PCs, a 17-inch high-quality monitor from NEC America Inc. of Dallas, a Motorola V.3600 modem and an altimeter from Shadin Co. Inc. of Minneapolis.

The software, written in C++, is composed of three units.

The radar acquisition unit, the core of TAIU, processes information on the velocity, altitude and position of incoming aircraft. After the runway prediction unit has scanned the airport and suggested a runway on which the aircraft can land, the third unit'the AMASS subsystem'does its data comparisons and issues alerts if necessary.

The AMASS subsystem runs on Pentium III PCs under IBM OS/2 Version 4.0, said Guido Sottosanti, program manager for AMASS at Norden Systems.

ETA: years late

AMASS is years behind schedule because of software bugs and other problems. FAA expects the system to cost $90 million, up from estimates of $60 million in 1993. Those problems were reiterated in a hearing last month of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation.

Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board criticized AMASS, saying the system would warn a controller of a potential collision only after a situation was already in progress. The board said the system would reduce the time available to prevent a collision.

Huffman said the system's performance has improved in the last six months. AMASS has sent out 35 alerts in operations at the San Francisco and Detroit airports. The average warning time for alerting the controllers was 22 seconds, enough to stop a potential accident, he said.


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