Concept Engineering and Development
Turning concepts into capabilities for a safer and more efficient NAS
Since its inception in 1995, the core business of Metron Aviation has been conceiving, designing and developing new concepts and capabilities to make the National Airspace System (NAS) operations safer, more efficient, predictable, equitable and flexible. For well over a decade, Metron Aviation has successfully transitioned dozens of significant new ideas off the chalkboard and into operational use.
In the process, Metron Aviation has developed a systematic approach to moving an idea through successive stages of maturity called Concept Engineering and Development (CED). The CED process has been specifically tailored to meet the particular challenges of fielding new capabilities in aviation. The CED process draws on all of Metron Aviation’s core strengths: operational experience, advanced research activities, specially developed research infrastructure, an extensive warehouse of archived operational data, scientific and mathematical expertise, and involvement in designing and developing the FAA’s decision support tools. The FAA traffic managers and flight operators have always been a part of the CED process, to ensure development of the right solution for the right problem, so Metron Aviation can always provide solutions that will meet the needs of all parts of the aviation community.
The proof of the effectiveness of the CED approach is the rich stream of operational improvements that it has moved across the challenging barrier between the theoretical and the operational world. These achievements began with the original Flight Schedule Monitor (FSM) and continue through to newly deployed capabilities like Integrated Program Modeling and concepts soon to be operational, such as System Enhancements for Versatile Electronic Negotiation (SEVEN).
The CED process accelerates the deployment of operationally-tested capabilities through an engineering process designed and optimized for maturing new aviation concepts. CED encompasses Mission Analysis, Concept Exploration, Concept Development, through Prototype Development preparing concepts for eventual operational use, as demonstrated by the implementation of Airspace Flow Program (AFP) in FSM.
Successful CED projects begin with an effective Mission Analysis. The objectives of Mission Analysis are to recognize an operational inadequacy, clearly identify the underlying problem, identify the stakeholders in the system and define clear objectives for the solution. A well defined, disciplined Mission Analysis process ensures CED efforts are properly focused on real solutions to real problems.
The quality of Metron Aviation’s Mission Analysis derives in part from the unique position in aviation that allows the team to fully understand the operational issues and the needs of the stakeholders. Through supporting the FAA’s daily operations for over a decade, Metron Aviation is regularly called upon to perform special analyses into key operational problems. As a direct result of this relationship, Metron Aviation is fully engaged with the Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) community, which is the primary forum through which flight operators and service providers discuss and resolve operational problems in aviation.
In the Concept Exploration (CE) stage of development, Metron Aviation starts with a well defined mission and finishes with a clear, validated approach for a solution. Throughout this process, Metron Aviation works closely with stakeholders, reviewing their ideas for new approaches to the mission and presenting and explaining candidate concepts for their review. This review process includes organized walk-throughs of alternative concepts, storyboard exercises, use cases, interaction diagrams and activity diagrams. Each potential approach is evaluated through quantitative analysis and subject matter expert review. Evaluation criteria include effectiveness, cost to deploy, cost to support, workload, risk associated with the aviation community’s ability to absorb change and whether the proposed approach aligns with the FAA’s long term strategic objectives. Metron Aviation maintains a state-of-the art research infrastructure that supports the evaluation process, including a multi-year archive of historical aviation data, a number of specialized simulation environments, commercial statistics, mathematical and data analysis tools and a set of specialized analysis tools designed and built expressly for aviation research and CED.
The CE stage terminates when Metron Aviation has reached a consensus with the operational community on a solution approach that meets the needs of all parties and provides cost-effective improvements to NAS operations. The final product of CE includes a detailed description of the selected concept, an initial concept of operations document and a blueprint for how to proceed with the CED process.
The Concept Development (CD) process transforms the solution approach developed in CE into a clear description of the software, producing the blueprint for operational procedures and successful deployment by the FAA and airlines.
The key to success in deploying new technology is ensuring that all problems in the software design have been fixed, all operational impacts have been considered and the needs of all parties will be met. Metron Aviation has found that the only way to meet these requirements is to thoroughly refine and vet the concept through Human-In-The-Loop (HITL) simulations that incorporate the people who will be the eventual users of the new system. These simulation exercises are at the core of our CD process.
Early in a typical CD project Metron Aviation develops the initial prototype software and begins the refinement process. In this process, system stakeholders participate in realistic interactive simulations of the problem situation under “live” operating conditions. The participants are given the opportunity to use the new software to manage the problem and observe the results of their actions. Other participants might react to the situation and the actions of the other players by exercising their own controls over the system and the group plays out the scenario until the problem is resolved in the simulation. By observing this process, the results and absorbing operator feedback, any enhancements to the solution are identified and implemented for the next round of simulations. After several iterations of this process, Metron Aviation converges on the best implementation of the solution and guidelines for execution.
This approach has proven successful and consistent in producing high quality, defect-free solutions for complex aviation problems, and has supported the delivery of the most significant advances in the field of Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM).