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Posted on July 9th, 2015

Reaching Orbit – I Believe I Can Fly

Most people are aware that our current aviation system to track and navigate airplanes is out of date and greatly in need of an overhaul. It may feel like we are all ducks being organized into a row for landing which is essentially the case, however a new software is taking a more automated approach to air traffic control. Since 2009, NASA has worked on a new software tool to alleviate some of the strain, called Terminal Sequencing and Spacing (TSAS).

The new software works within a doughnut shaped area as the region covered extends 5 to 35 miles from the airport. At present, pilots have access to flight deck automation, but that same level of automation is not mirrored in air flight control systems, leaving some of these processes to languish unused. TSAS adds more controller tools that take advantage of the flight deck automation available to pilots, this optimizes profile descents allowing more flights to come together safely for final approach. These more efficient glide paths will also reduce noise over airports and curb fuel use.

If you have ever seen Tin Cup, you’ll know that air flight controllers are under a lot of pressure and stress on a daily basis; and even a small mistake can be catastrophic. TSAS will make their job a little easier (and your flight safer) by automating some of the communications and procedures completed during an approach.

TSAS underwent system integration and testing starting in 2011 at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. It went through a multitude of tests with controllers and pilots in their simulation facility before it was transferred to the FAA in 2014 for even more testing. The system was integrated in the Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey at the William J. Hughes Technical Center. In Atlantic City, the system was not only tested in simulation procedures, it was also tested during live operations.

TSAS will be deployed in nine major airports between 2018 and 2022: Atlanta, Charlotte, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle. While this new software will operate behind the scenes for the average passenger, it should help reduce time in the sky and get you to your destination quicker and without incident. 

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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