Katherine K. Martin
Glenn Research Center, Cleveland
216 433-2406

Jacqueline Mayo
Cleveland Hopkins Airport, Cleveland

Laura J. Brown
Federal Aviation Administration, Washington

September 20, 2012
RELEASE : 12-050
NASA Glenn Partners with FAA to Demonstrate Wireless High Data Rate Networking on Airport Surface
CLEVELAND - A new communications system undergoing testing could improve air traffic management, safety and fuel efficiency and reduce air travel delays, increase security, and improve airport and airspace operations. The testing is being conducted by NASA's Glenn Research Center and the Federal Aviation Administration at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE).

The system, the Aeronautical Mobile Airport Communications System (AeroMACS), has been developed for reliable high data rate networking for air traffic controllers, pilots, airlines and airport operators on the airport surface. Two recent tests have verified the capabilities of this new class of broadband secure wireless mobile data communications system.

Currently, information is transferred using copper wire and fiber-optic connections that are underground. The installation of new buried cable by airports always presents the risk of cable cuts to existing infrastructure that can result in air traffic delays and reduce the life of the affected cable. The wireless AeroMACS system addresses these issues and provides a communications backup capability to the wired systems.

United Airlines, Boeing Corporation and ITT Exelis supported a series of tests that occurred earlier this year. These tests demonstrated an AeroMACS radio installed in a commercial aircraft for the first time. The system was communicating to AeroMACS base stations as the aircraft taxied at various speeds on the runway and on operational areas. Graphical aviation weather information was transmitted from NASA′s communications, navigation and surveillance technologies testbed at the airport to an electronic flight bag on the aircraft.

For this collaborative effort, a Boeing 737-700 corporate aircraft was outfitted with AeroMACS receiving equipment designed to operate in a bandwidth that is a protected aeronautical spectrum band by ITT Exelis with the cooperation of United Airlines, which provided hangar space and installation equipment.

The second set of tests in June demonstrated for the first time the transfer of data between the Cleveland Hopkins Airport Surveillance Radar-9 (ASR-9) station and air traffic control. The commissioning of a new ASR-9 station at CLE provided the opportunity to perform this test with the decommissioned radar prior to its removal. Such testing could not be done on an active, commissioned radar system that is used to separate air traffic, as safety would have been compromised. So using the decommissioned, but still operational, radar provided a unique opportunity for testing.

This test verified the performance of AeroMACS in providing high data rate transmission of critical information in the airport environment. This can enable the rapid and cost-effective deployment of new airport equipment and facilities. These include weather and aircraft wake sensors, airport surface surveillance systems and security systems. The system also provides backup communications capability for critical airport functions.

"The results of these aircraft mobile and radar data transfer tests will help validate the system's performance to meet operating standards and recommended practices," said Denise Ponchak, chief of Glenn's Networks and Architectures Branch. "Working with our next-door neighbors, Cleveland Hopkins and the FAA, as well as various airlines and other participants has brought our work in attaining our communications objectives closer to home."

These successful data transmission tests represent a major accomplishment in the Glenn-led research and development of the world's first AeroMACS prototype. It will help establish national and international standards for properly equipped aircraft to receive compatible AeroMACS services at airports in the United States and abroad.

"The results of this collaborative effort between NASA and the FAA will help to provide improved safety and regularity of flight communications on the airport surface which is a key capability necessary to enable the NextGen vision for the National Airspace System," said Brent Phillips, AeroMACS program lead with the FAA.

"We are proud to be a part of this innovative project with our neighbor - NASA Glenn," said Airport Director Ricky Smith. "This new technology will improve the way information is received as it relates to conditions in and around an airport."

Glenn developed the AeroMACS airport surface communications detailed concept design and research testbed under its Advanced Communications, Navigation and Surveillance Research Project and performed the foundational research. Since the conclusion of that project, the FAA has provided support to continue the development and testing of AeroMACS at Glenn and the CLE. The modernization of the National Airspace System requires cost-effective flexibility and scalability that is provided by this system.

For a print quality image of a portion of the AeroMACS system, see:


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