Research at Ames

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Areas of Ames Ingenuity: Next Generation Air Transportation
A collage of next generation air transportation images

About NextGen

Transforming the way we fly.


Airspace Operations Lab at NASA Ames. A simulation of ADS-B is being conducted.
This illustration depicts the major organizational and operational elements of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen)—a transformation of the U.S. air transportation system by the year 2025.
Controllers Using EDA in a simulation, and a chart of regular and efficient descent profiles.
Next Generation Air Transportation System, or "NextGen" is a comprehensive transformation of the NAS, which includes all components (airspace, facilities, equipment, services, workforce, procedures, etc.) that enable the nation's air transportation system. The goal of NextGen is to create a safer, more reliable, more efficient, and environmentally friendly air transportation system. The transition to NextGen is vital to improving system performance, meeting continued growth in air traffic, and increasing the Nation's mobility to support economic progress.

NASA's contributions:

NASA is one of several U.S. government agencies that play a crucial role in helping to plan, develop and implement NextGen. NASA is collaborating with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other industry partners to develop advanced automation concepts and tools that provide air traffic controllers, pilots, and other airspace users with more accurate real-time information about the nation's traffic flow, weather, and routing. The greater precision of this information is a key enabler of NextGen.

Ames' role

NASA Ames Research Center’s advanced airspace modeling and simulation tools have been used extensively to model the flow of air traffic flow across the U.S., and to evaluate new concepts in airspace design, traffic flow management, and optimization. Researchers at NASA Ames are developing and testing innovative automation concepts, technologies, and procedures, to identify the most promising capabilities to help achieve NextGen. NASA Ames develops air traffic management automation tools that the FAA uses that directly benefit the flying public.

We are currently investigating ways to:
  • Increase the number of aircraft that air traffic controllers can safely move through the airspace.
  • Maximize airport capacity by improving ground efficiency with accurate takeoff and landing schedules.
  • Reduce weather and congestion delays through system-wide aircraft scheduling.

Read more about the NASA Ames’ major contributions to NextGen.

View a video of a Day in the Life of Air Traffic over the United States

Featured example: ATD-1

How is Ames integrating NextGen technologies that will allow arrival aircraft to safely fly closer together on more fuel-efficient routes to increase capacity, reduce delay, and minimize fuel burn, noise, and greenhouse gas emissions?

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ATM Technology Demonstration-1 (ATD-1) technologies include:
  • Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B)
  • Area Navigation (RNAV) Arrival Routes
  • Optimized Profile Descent (OPD) Procedures
  • Terminal Metering
  • Flight Deck Interval Management (FIM)
  • Controller Managed Spacing (CMS) tools
Using the ATD-1 technologies, both pilots and controllers will have more accurate and timely information and advisories, thus reducing the need for extensive coordination and negotiation to achieve more efficient operations. The schedule, determined well in advance, will be communicated to both controllers and flight crews.

Flight crews will know their intended flight path, which aircraft they ought to be following, and the desired spacing interval at certain points along their designated route to reach the destination airport safely and on schedule. Controllers will no longer have to make last second decisions concerning merges and arrival slots, and will not likely need to provide as many interventions as they do in today’s busy traffic conditions.

Read more about ATD-1

Featured example: EDA

How can air traffic controllers synchronizes the descents of all arrival aircraft so that each can maintain a descent approach that minimizes noise and emissions?

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San Francisco International Airport flight test data shows significant noise reduction resulting from idle-thrust descents and more precise flight paths enabled by the Efficient Descent Advisor.
Someone working with the Efficient Descent Advisor controller tool on a computer.
What is the problem?

As an airplane transitions for landing, today's air traffic control procedures often force the aircraft to fly inefficient arrival paths involving frequent changes in direction, altitude, and speed in order to maintain safe separation from other aircraft. The frequent changes of this stair-step approach are problematic because they often require added engine power, which increases fuel burn, causing detrimental effects to the environment.

What is the solution?

Continuous Descent Approaches (or CDA) is concept that enables aircraft to “coast” during the final stages of flight, using less engine power. Air traffic controllers use the Efficient Descent Advisor (EDA) to synchronize the descents of all arrival aircraft so that each can maintain a continuous, gliding descent at low engine power, thereby minimizing fuel consumption, environmental emissions, and noise pollution.

Read more about EDA.

Featured example: SARDA

How is NASA developing decision support tools for tower controllers to reduce the amount of time an aircraft spends taxiing before takeoff or after landing?

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Tower controllers test out NASA new surface automation tools in a simulation at NASA’s Future Flight Central air traffic control tower simulator. Reduced taxi times will help to eliminate unnecessary fuel burn, resulting in fewer emissions and less impact on the environment. Improving the efficiency of airport surface operations is the focus of NASA's surface optimization research. NASA's Spot and Runway Departure Advisor (SARDA) is being designed to help tower controllers maintain a smooth, uninterrupted flow of aircraft moving towards the runway for departure to maximize runway throughput.

For Ground Controllers, SARDA creates an optimal schedule for releasing aircraft so that departing aircraft can keep their engines off until just before their scheduled release time and proceed straight to the runway, significantly reducing fuel burn and environmental emissions.

SARDA also helps Local Controllers carry out more efficient runway operations in managing arrival traffic. SARDA provides optimized take-off advisories for departure aircraft, and runway crossing advisories to help arrival aircraft get to the gate.

Read more about SARDA