FAA begins building oceanic air traffic system

The Federal Aviation Administration has accepted the initial hardware and software for a new air traffic management system that will improve separation of aircraft flying over U.S. oceanic airspace, FAA said yesterday.

Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures to replace FAA's existing systems and procedures.

ATOP will let controllers reduce the space between airborne aircraft while preserving passenger safety and, in the process, improve fuel efficiency and costs, the company said.

ATOP will increase international air travel capacity and automate the manual processes now used, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman said. The system, which FAA accepted July 31, will integrate flight data processing, detect conflicts between aircraft and provide data link and surveillance capabilities.

FAA expects to begin using the system next June, said Charlie Keegan, FAA's associate administrator for research and acquisitions. Full system operation is slated for 2005. By that time, the highest percentage increase in air traffic is projected to occur across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, FAA said.

FAA is installing the upgraded system at air route traffic control centers in Oakland, Calif., New York and Anchorage, Alaska, as pilot sites to test the system and to train controllers and technicians. Oakland will begin using ATOPS in June 2004, said David Ford, leader, FAA's Oceanic and Offshore Integrated Product Team.

Oceanic air traffic control has no radar tracking of aircraft and no direct radio communication, as domestic air traffic does. Position reports based on onboard aircraft navigational systems are radioed to the controller. Due to the uncertainty in position report reliability, planned overseas flight tracks must provide greater separation margins to ensure safe flights, FAA said.

The ATOP system will manage approximately 80 percent of the world's controlled oceanic airspace, which includes about 24 million square miles over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. The system will be integrated with the radar processing functions of the microprocessor en route automated radar tracking system, which will support tracking of aircraft using primary and secondary radar inputs and automatic dependent surveillance broadcast.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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