Search Ames


Text Size


February 12, 2001

John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

650/604-5026 or 650/604-9000

Tom Winfrey

Los Angeles World Airports, Los Angeles, CA


Jerry Snyder

Federal Aviation Administration

Western-Pacific Region, Los Angeles, CA



NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: You are invited to a media open house featuring "rehearsals" for simulations of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) operations. The event will be held in FutureFlight Central, an air traffic control tower simulator at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, on Thursday, Feb. 15, between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. PST. To reach Ames, take the Moffett Field exit off Highway 101, drive east to the main NASA gate and report to the visitor ‘badging’ for vehicle passes and directions to Bldg. N262, room 100 (and the simulator press check-in table). Media representatives must present valid press credentials and photo ID to enter Ames.


Using a two-story simulator, NASA and its partner organizations are studying possibilities for enhancing runway safety at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

From Feb. 20-23, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) LAX-based air traffic controllers; pilots from United Airlines and other carriers; Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) officials; and NASA researchers plan to ‘recreate’ LAX in a computer. The initial simulation runs will be based on the present LAX configuration and will be conducted at NASA Ames’ FutureFlight Central air traffic control tower simulator. In March, researchers will conduct ‘what-if’ simulations of potential changes at LAX. Researchers will not have the validated results of either study until at least April.

"Experts can test possible solutions to runway incursions in a safe setting, the computer's virtual world," said Nancy Dorighi, FutureFlight Central simulator manager. A runway incursion is any occurrence at an airport involving an aircraft, vehicle, person or object that creates a potential collision hazard with an aircraft during take off or landing by intruding into that aircraft’s runway space.

"We are pleased to be part of this research project that is using the latest technological advances to find ways to enhance aviation safety," said Lydia H. Kennard, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports which owns and operates LAX. "Los Angeles International Airport is one of the first airports to participate with NASA on such a project," Kennard said, referring to a Sept. 22, 2000, "Space Act" joint agreement.

"These simulations will provide us with the opportunity to try new procedures without impacting our current operations," said Sherry Avery, FAA’s air traffic manager at the LAX air traffic control tower. "Quite an impressive effort is underway to improve safety, which is the FAA's number one priority."

The simulator creates a ‘virtual’ airport in its ‘computer mind,’ in order to let planners test airport designs and changes. The simulator is a walk-in, full-scale, 360-degree facility that portrays runways, landings, ground traffic and many other airport factors in a realistic, computerized world. During simulations, scenes evolve in the same manner that real-world changes occur. In the computer world, airplanes come and go and the weather changes. Consoles at each controller location show radar, weather maps and runway lights. They also have touch-screen controls and other data readouts.

In Phase I of the LAX study, engineers constructed a three-dimensional model of LAX, including visual representations and traffic scenarios. During the February simulations, researchers will validate their computer representation of the airport. Phase I will also involve aircraft landing simulations of visual and instrument approaches to LAX. All current studies will focus on the two runways on the south side of the airport.

"Our goal in Phase I is to provide as realistic an experience as possible for the tower controllers," said Boris Rabin, Ames project manager for the LAX simulation.

In March, Phase II will include evaluations of runway-use alternatives and procedures. An industry-wide team also will plan procedural options that include, or affect, pilot workload, phraseology changes, air traffic control responsibilities, pavement changes such as closing taxiways or opening new taxiways, signs, pavement markings, lighting and runway approach assignments. Communications between the tower and pilots and runway use have already been identified as potential factors in LAX runway incursions.

During simulations, researchers will measure airport take-off and landing capacity, including runway occupancy time, inbound and outbound taxi times, hold times, and arrival and departure rates. In addition, researchers will measure controller-pilot communications, controller workload, delays and other factors. These data, along with video and audio recordings, will allow the project team to assess the impacts of possible new runway procedures and construction on ground traffic flow and airport capacity.

Working with the Department of Transportation’s FAA and Volpe National Systems Transportation Center, Cambridge, MA, NASA experts will review controller-to-controller and controller-to-pilot radio communications in order to assess the impact of different LAX tower test scenarios on the complexity of resulting taxi instructions.

United Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines are providing pilots and ramp operators. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is monitoring and advising during the project. Simulation participants will communicate using radio headsets as they do during current actual LAX operations.

During Phase III, an industry group guiding the project will work with NASA to use a 747-airplane simulator at Ames linked with the FutureFlight Central airport simulator to study the ‘human factors’ component of pilot interactions. These studies involve examination of pilots and controllers and their interactions with the airport environment. The goal of human factors studies is to better understand human-machine interaction, thereby increasing efficiency and promote human well being.

Other unique features of NASA FutureFlight Central include the capability to move the tower ‘eye point’ to any location (including a ‘pilot eye view’); precise controls to simulate weather, time-of-day, cloud coverage and lighting; a voice and data communication network, allowing ground-to-tower and air-to-tower human interaction. More FutureFlight information is on the Internet at:


- end -

text-only version of this release

To receive Ames news releases via e-mail, send an e-mail with the word "subscribe" in the subject line to To unsubscribe, send an e-mail to the same address with "unsubscribe" in the subject line.

NASA Image Policies