As with all technology, the tools used for air traffic control are always improving. Recently, for example, it was announced that the first remote air traffic control tower would open in Sweden. In a smaller evolution, NASA has provided the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with software to better manage the spacing between planes.
Terminal Sequencing and Spacing (TSS) technology enables the routine use of Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures. PBN was developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization. It moves aircraft navigation away from the traditional use of ground-based beacons to a system more reliant on airborne technologies.
"PBN will allow the implementation of airspace structures that take advantage of aircraft able to fly more flexible, accurate, repeatable and therefore deterministic three dimensional flight paths using onboard equipment capabilities," explains the UK's Civil Aviation Authority. "It has variously been described as reengineering the way we fly."
The TSS software produced by NASA builds upon PBN standards to reduce the number of course and altitude changes, thereby saving time and fuel and reducing emissions. It provides information to controllers about the speeds they should assign to aircraft for fuel-efficient, continuous-descent arrival paths. The software will also reduce the frequency of communications required between controllers and pilots.
TSS is part of NASA’s work towards the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which is a cross-industry initiative aimed at modernizing the air traffic control system in the US. The FAA will be rolling out TSS over the next five years with a view to initial operation in 2018.