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Day In the Life of Air Traffic Over the United States
Before 5:00 a.m. on the east coast, the skies across the United States are fairly quiet with a few hundred cargo and 'red-eye' flights, but a storm is brewing. As the day begins, there is a flurry of activity starts in the east and slowly moving west as people and cargo travel to their destinations.

To help keep track of these aircraft and maintain safety and efficiency through the inevitable weather related delays and system overloads, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and airlines use technology developed at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. The technology is called the Future Air traffic management Concepts Evaluation Tool better known as FACET.

FACET snapshot Image Above: A FACET snapshot of air traffic over the United States on July 10, 2006 at 2:45 p.m. EST/ 11:45 a.m. PDT. + View FACET Animation.

FACET is a flexible software tool that provides powerful simulation capabilities and can rapidly generate thousands of aircraft trajectories to enable efficient planning of traffic flows at the national level. FACET uses actual air traffic data from the FAA and weather information provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to analyze the flight plan route and predict trajectories for the climb, cruise and descent phases of flight for each aircraft type.

According to engineers, the analyses of these trajectories drive the various air traffic management applications. This innovative feature enables FACET to model airspace operations at the U.S. national level, and process more than 15,000 aircraft on a single desktop or laptop computer.

FACET has transitioned successfully from NASA laboratory use to national operational use. Technologies derived from FACET have been incorporated into the FAA’s traffic management system, which is used by more than 500 air traffic managers at about 100 sites across the nation. NASA has commercially licensed the FACET software to Flight Explorer®, a leading vendor of flight operations management tools that are used by nearly 5,000 dispatchers at more than 600 customer sites including 80 percent of major United States airlines.

In recognition for its innovation and contributions to science and technology, FACET was selected as NASA's Software of the Year winner for 2006.

The Software of the Year Award developed by the NASA Inventions and Contributions Board recognizes outstanding contributions in software development. Selection is based on a rigorous set of criteria including the software's significance to science and technology, its impact on NASA's mission, quality, usability, extent of potential use and innovation. All software must be licensed and commercially available.

The FACET Team is led by Banavar Sridhar and composed of Karl Bilimoria and Shon Grabbe from NASA Ames; and, Kapil Sheth, Gano Chatterji and Daniel Mulfinger from the University of California–Santa Cruz. The team will travel to Washington for the official awards ceremony in early September.

FACET is a component of a growing suite of air traffic management tools developed at NASA Ames as part of the NASA Airspace Systems Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

For more information about FACET, visit



For more information about the NASA Airspace Systems Program and other NASA Aeronautics Research Programs, visit:


Jonas Dino
NASA Ames Research Center