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Michael Mewhinney Feb. 10, 2000

NASA Ames Research Center, Silicon Valley, CA

(Phone: 650/604-3937, 650/604-9000)

Tammy Jones

FAA Headquarters, Washington, DC

(Phone: 202/267-3476)



NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are studying ways to reduce the concerns and inconveniences of the flying public by reducing airline delays, improving efficiency and making flying safer.

Researchers from both agencies are studying various human factors issues-- involving air traffic controllers, flight crews and dispatchers -- that may occur as the FAA's Free Flight Program evolves during the next 10 to 20 years.

Free Flight is a new FAA and aviation industry concept designed to increase operational flexibility and reduce restrictions in the National Airspace System.

In the current environment, air traffic controllers are responsible for separating aircraft. The Free Flight concept, however, is intended to allow pilots more authority to choose and modify their own routes, in cooperation with controllers. This should result in more efficient aircraft routing and reduced delays. Researchers are examining some of the operational issues associated with sharing that separation authority between pilots and controllers.

"The idea is to let the flight crews have more flexibility in resolving their own traffic conflicts and managing their own airspace," explained Sandy Lozito, research psychologist and the NASA project leader from NASA's Ames Research Center, Silicon Valley, CA. "We give them several different kinds of traffic conflicts to examine pilot and controller procedures and communications."

Tests are being conducted in Ames' Boeing 747-400 flight simulator, linked by computer with air traffic controllers in the FAA's Integration and Interoperability Lab at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in New Jersey.

Participants in the five-week air-ground integration experiment include qualified Boeing 747 pilots and air traffic controllers from the FAA's Memphis Air Route Traffic Control Center. NASA researchers are also collaborating with simulation and human factors engineers from the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center, Atlantic City, NJ, and the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, Cambridge, MA, in the analysis of the data.

"We have five sets of participants, comprised of four controllers and two pilots," said Mark Rogers, FAA chief scientist for human factors. "We are evaluating their workload and their situational awareness during several traffic conflict scenarios they may face under Free Flight conditions."

In addition to being able to identify operational issues that affect shared-separation tasks, researchers also hope to provide recommendations to the FAA for information requirements and procedures to be implemented in Free Flight.

To help them explore this concept, researchers provide both the controllers and pilots with automation and display technology improvements that are considered necessary for Free Flight. The controllers are using the User Request Evaluation Tool, an enhanced ground-conflict probe tool developed by the Mitre Corp., McLean, VA. This tool is designed to assist controllers in the early detection of traffic conflicts. Similarly, the pilots are provided with cockpit displays of traffic and airborne alerting logic to help them in conflict-detection tasks.

The $1.5 million study, which concludes at the end of this month, is jointly funded by NASA's Aviation System Capacity/Advanced Air Transportation Technologies Program and the FAA.

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