FAA software resolves flight path conflicts in advance

Air traffic controllers now can judge the safety of changing a pilot's flight path in midflight with software the Federal Aviation Administration is installing nationwide.

Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center, Fla., was the first location in FAA's deployment of the planning and mapping software. The task until now has required mental calculation and the use of paper progress strips.

'With a few keystrokes, the controller can determine if the route is free of conflict and will be safe,' FAA spokesman Fraser Jones said.

Controllers can detect potential conflicts with other aircraft up to 20 minutes in advance and determine the safety of pilot-requested route and altitude changes, for example, to avoid turbulence or take advantage of favorable winds.

The User Request Evaluation Tool 'allows air traffic controllers to look 20 minutes into the future of the flight path,' Jones said. A controller punches in a new route, and the software responds with a red, green or yellow light. It also continuously monitors aircraft adherence to filed flight plans.

Whenever pilots take more direct routes, they save airlines money and fuel and save travel time for passengers, Jones said.

FAA, which has tested the program at six air route traffic control centers including Washington, Cleveland and Chicago, plans to have the tool installed at its 20 control centers nationwide by 2005. It will then update the application at the original pilot centers, Jones said.

Air route traffic control centers guide airliners at high altitudes, about 40 miles outbound from the departure airport. Fort Worth, Texas, will be the next air route traffic control center to operate with the user request software, followed by Minneapolis and Denver.

Lockheed Martin Corp. began developing the tool under a $204 million contract in 1999.

Since then, the contractor has tested more than 600,000 lines of code and integrated the tool with two other major operational en route national airspace systems, the Host system and Display System Replacement. They required modification to support the user request software. The user request software runs on Sun Microsystems Inc. platforms, Lockheed spokeswoman Emily Donovan said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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