Five-year airport test lab to help streamline air travel, reduce fuel use, save airlines billions

WASHINGTON, 29 June 2016. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden joined representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), American Airlines, and Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) to open a new airspace technology demonstration (ATD-2) laboratory – a five-year test project to streamline the arrival and departure of aircraft, improve surface operations to increase safety and efficiency, and reduce fuel use in the nation's aviation system.

Jun 29th, 2016
NextGen data communications technology operational at 45 of 56 air traffic control towers in U.S.
NextGen data communications technology operational at 45 of 56 air traffic control towers in U.S.

WASHINGTON, 29 June 2016. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden joined representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), American Airlines, and Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) to open a new airspace technology demonstration (ATD-2) laboratory – a five-year test project to streamline the arrival and departure of aircraft, improve surface operations to increase safety and efficiency, and reduce fuel use in the nation's aviation system.

The ATD-2 project, part of the Obama Administration's NextGen initiative, is the next major step in both the DOT and NASA's efforts to create the air transportation system of the future. The initiative will provide coordinated schedules between the ramp, tower, terminal, and center control facilities, giving air traffic managers the tools to make better decisions about how to reduce congestion. ATD-2 will also help to ensure the aviation system is able to absorb the more than four billion additional passengers that are estimated to be traveling globally over the next 20 years without compromising the safety of our skies.

"Today is a great moment for the city of Charlotte, for air travelers, and our environment," says Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "As a son of this city and this state with its special history with modern flight, I'm thrilled that Charlotte Douglas International Airport is at the forefront of this innovative partnership between DOT and NASA that will have a transformative and lasting impact on aviation."

NASA is committed to transforming aviation by dramatically reducing its environmental impact, maintaining safety in more crowded skies, and paving the way to revolutionary aircraft shapes and propulsion, officials say. The Agency projects that green aviation initiatives could save the commercial airline industry as much as $255 billion over the next 25 years.

"Imagine being able to spend less time pushing back from the gate, taxiing to the runway, and taking off," says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "The work that will be accomplished in this demonstration lab could be a game changer in terms of reducing airport congestion, which is good for passengers and for business. It's also good for the environment, as engines spend less time running on the ground."

"The Airspace Technology Demonstration-2 (ATD-2) project is an excellent example of what strong partnerships can yield," adds Jack Christine, Deputy Aviation Director of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. "This program will deliver operational and environmental benefits, as well as improve the passenger experience at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. We look forward to working with all of our partners to make this demonstration a reality."

Projects such as ATD-2 are part of the 21st Century Clean Transportation System, championed by President Obama, and consist of smart, strategic integrated investments to help reduce carbon pollution and strengthen the economy. A new approach to the transportation system can help American industry and the public by improving how goods are moved and creating transportation choices for more people, all while reducing reliance on fossil fuels, cutting carbon pollution, and strengthening resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the U.S. with almost 45 million passengers flying through it annually. The airport is the second busiest hub for American Airlines, which operates about 90 percent of the airport's approximately 700 daily flights. Testing ATD-2 at the Charlotte airport will demonstrate how the system can help balance air traffic at smaller and larger airports with intersecting air traffic routes.

The airport’s proximity to other East Coast airports contributes to a “metroplex” type of operation. A metroplex includes one or more commercial airports with shared airspace that serves at least one major city. Charlotte Airport shares airspace with Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and with Washington, D.C.

American Airlines is the dominant carrier at Charlotte Airport and will be a valuable partner in the ATD-2 testing.

ATD-2 testing will be conducted in three phases during the next five years.

· Phase One: Baseline integrated arrival, departure and surface system demonstration, including FAA’s Surface Collaborative Decision Making concept, at Charlotte and Washington, D.C.’s air traffic control center. Begins September 2017 and evaluations run throughout 2018.

· Phase Two: An expanded demonstration including scheduling scenarios that add Atlanta’s air traffic control center, and a more complete fusion of NASA and FAA technologies. Begins September 2018 and evaluations run throughout 2019.

· Phase Three – Continues field demonstration at Charlotte, Washington and Atlanta air traffic control centers, and begins testing of the Metroplex Coordinator in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, terminal control and air traffic control center environment as a simulation or field test. The Metroplex Coordinator is the system used to coordinate departures from multiple metropolitan area airports competing for the same constrained airspace. Begins September 2019 and evaluation run throughout 2020.

“Solving the problem at a single airport is not enough. An integrated system that coordinates all the players is needed, and the Metroplex Coordinator does this,” says Leighton Quon, project manager for NASA’s Airspace Technology Demonstrations project, which is run out of NASA’s Ames Research center in California’s Silicon Valley. “It will be like the symphony conductor making sure all the various instruments, who know how to play their part, come together to perform the full composition.”

NASA expects results from each ATD-2 phase to inform the next. A NASA-FAA Research Transition Team will review findings from each phase; some initial changes to operations at the test sites could be implemented along the way, resulting in some early benefits from this work.

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