Pioneering NextGen research for CDM-enhancing tools
Metron Aviation's Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) far-term research (fifteen years or farther) has over a decade history of applying math, science, and engineering to transportation-related problems. Our skill set includes deterministic and probabilistic analysis, linear and dynamic programming, and optimization. Metron Aviation ATFM far-term research is supported by a dedicated data management department which provides access to terabytes of aviation data as well as techniques for optimizing data extraction and identifying data anomalies. Metron Aviation has been highly successful at taking novel concepts in ATFM from conceptualization to implementation. A necessary ingredient for this success is an acute understanding of the interests and concerns of both the FAA and the airlines. Before new concepts can go operational, all factions of the aviation community must be assured that integration issues have been addressed to the greatest extent possible. We perform research in wide range of ATFM application areas, such as safety, weather, merging of aircraft from en route to terminal airspace (super-density operations), integration of new vehicle types (e.g. unmanned aerial vehicles) and dynamic airspace configuration, described below.
Safety is the paramount interest of the FAA, air carriers, and the traveling public. Metron Aviation contributes to safety in two key domains: system safety and safety during hazardous weather. The Air Traffic Management (ATM) system is a complex, adaptive, and safety critical System-of-Systems. In spite of its complexities, the safety of the air transportation system—as measured by number of fatal accidents—has improved over the past decades, both world-wide and particularly in the U.S. The aim of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is to further enhance the system’s safety while increasing capacity.
Metron Aviation contributes to migration of existing system to NextGen environment by providing services in different phases of Safety Risk Management (SRM) including risk assessment of off-nominal events, failure mode analysis, human task analysis, and safety net design. Our suite of safety analysis tools includes rare-event and Monte Carlo simulations, fault-tree and event-tree analysis, and cognitive modeling. Using these techniques, Metron Aviation’s researchers identify hazards, rank the hazards by severity and likelihood, and make recommendations for mitigation, including redesign and redundancies. We also employ Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) in assessing the hazards and risks that weather poses to aviation, as well as identifying the mitigation strategies to keep air travel safe.
Weather Translation and Impact
Adverse weather is the leading cause of flight delays. Much of traffic flow management depends on accurate weather forecasts and translation into the impact it will have on flight operations. Metron Aviation is a leader in development of metrics, tools, and methods for translating weather forecasts into potential impact. A primary challenge for the operational community is that traffic routing, delay, and cancellation decisions must be made hours in advance of scheduled departures. Metron Aviation is a leader in designing and evaluating probabilistic weather forecasts, which take into account both timing and location of weather activity. A probabilistic forecast is often an ensemble of several weather forecasts from a variety of reporting agencies, with weights assigned to each forecast based on historical accuracy for a given situation. Probabilistic forecasts enable managers to absorb some risk into air traffic planning; thereby exploiting airspace that often becomes available along an airborne aircraft's trajectory.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operate aircraft with no human pilot on board. Either the aircraft is programmed or the pilot is remote (ground-based). UAS are ideal for operating missions that are too long in duration (e.g. 36 hours) or too hazardous for an onboard pilot. Viable applications include military missions, law enforcement, border patrol, weather data collection, telecommunications, land use imaging, and cargo transport. NASA and other organizations have invested heavily in UAS research. Since today’s national airspace system is designed primarily for manned aircraft, integration of UAS into today is an ongoing challenge. Metron Aviation researches and addresses issues associated with UAS integration, such as conflict detection and resolution, control and communication mechanisms, new policies and procedures, and security measures.
A paramount challenge for the future is how to safely transition large numbers of aircraft from the en route environment into the terminal airspace. Super-Dense Operations is a set of air traffic management techniques that allows for more densely scheduled arrivals and departures around busy airports—without introducing extra risk. One of these techniques is relaxing the separation standards for wake-turbulence vortex. Depending on weather conditions, these dangerous air currents dissipate very quickly, enabling air traffic controllers to allow closer spacing between landing aircraft. Another technique is Performance-Based Navigation, which allows an aircraft to more tightly report and maintain its position, thereby allowing closer spacing during final approaches, particularly on parallel runways. Metron Aviation is a leader in exploring the techniques used to make Super-Dense Operations a reality. In particular, our researchers have contributed to the modeling techniques required to ensure safe operation of closely spaced aircraft and closely spaced runways. We developed the Tree-Based Route Planner, which allows aircraft to enter a busy airport’s airspace from a variety of directions, all converging into primary flows on final approach.
Tree-based routing structure dynamically tailored to a weather situation.
Dynamic Airspace Configuration
Metron Aviation is a leader in the development of dynamic airspace configuration (DAC). DAC adjusts airspace objects (such as airspace sector boundaries, flow corridors) to accommodate changing needs of airspace users. Of particular interest has been dynamic resectorization. Dynamic resectorization occurs today, but only by combining or splitting today’s static sectors. Metron Aviation applies state-of-the-art optimization techniques to form new sector boundaries in real-time that address new traffic demand patterns (e.g. created by weather avoidance of traffic management initiatives) while taking into account controller design criteria such as traffic flow alignment, sector dwell time, sector geometry, vertical transition, and traffic coordination issues. The net effect is to make better use of airspace resources, thereby reducing delays and workload.
Sectors formed for both a low-impact weather scenario (top row) and a high-impact weather scenario (bottom row) over Dallas Fort-Worth Traffic Center (ZFW).