3
Operational Concepts

The Integrated Plan’s discussion of operational concepts describes the performance of the future air transportation system in five areas:

  • security operations

  • safety assurance

  • airport operations

  • aircraft operations

  • ATM operations

Safety and security are best achieved when they are viewed as inherent in each operational phase, when they are integrated into each phase from the beginning, and when they are considered an integral component of system reliability and efficiency. Safety and security are less effective when they are patched onto technologies and processes by an outside group after the process of developing operational technologies and processes is well under way. In addition, just as safety is enhanced through the use of multiple, redundant systems, security can be enhanced through the use of a layered system in which multiple security features are connected and provide backup for one another (NRC, 2002). Layered security is effective, however, only if it is guided by a risk-based approach that quantifies the cost of each layer and its contribution to overall goals for the mitigation of security risks.

The other three performance areas described in the Integrated Plan—airports, aircraft, and ATM—reflect how responsibilities for the manufacture, ownership, and operation of physical assets are distributed among different organizations, but they do not correspond to distinct phases of operation. As discussed further in the next chapter, implementation of NGATS would be easier if each IPT corresponded to one group of operational concepts. With such an approach, each set of operational concepts would encompass integrated operations by pilots, air traffic controllers, and all of the other people and equipment involved in a particular phase of operation.

The systems-oriented grouping of operational concepts currently in the Integrated Plan should be replaced by a functional grouping of operational concepts that corresponds to how the air transportation system actually operates:

  • airport operations

  • terminal area operations

  • en route and oceanic operations

Operational concepts for airport operations will be needed for flight operations during approach, landing, and takeoff; for ground operations; and for curb-to-gate processing of passengers within the terminal.

Operational concepts for terminal area operations will be needed for flight operations between the last en route waypoint and the initial approach waypoint at major airports. This includes multicenter operational concepts for terminal areas that are so close together that responsible traffic control centers should take a collaborative approach to traffic flow management.

Operational concepts for en route and oceanic operations will be needed for aircraft operating between the terminal areas at their points of origin and destination, including aircraft operating in oceanic airspace. Operational concepts at this level should also encompass national traffic flow management.1

1  

ATM responsibilities for airspace over international waters is delegated to various countries; the United States is responsible for much of the oceanic airspace over the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans. Implementation of new operational concepts for oceanic airspace would require collaboration with the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is responsible for setting ATM standards and procedures for oceanic airspace.



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Technology Pathways: Assessing the Integrated Plan for a Next Generation Air Transportation System 3 Operational Concepts The Integrated Plan’s discussion of operational concepts describes the performance of the future air transportation system in five areas: security operations safety assurance airport operations aircraft operations ATM operations Safety and security are best achieved when they are viewed as inherent in each operational phase, when they are integrated into each phase from the beginning, and when they are considered an integral component of system reliability and efficiency. Safety and security are less effective when they are patched onto technologies and processes by an outside group after the process of developing operational technologies and processes is well under way. In addition, just as safety is enhanced through the use of multiple, redundant systems, security can be enhanced through the use of a layered system in which multiple security features are connected and provide backup for one another (NRC, 2002). Layered security is effective, however, only if it is guided by a risk-based approach that quantifies the cost of each layer and its contribution to overall goals for the mitigation of security risks. The other three performance areas described in the Integrated Plan—airports, aircraft, and ATM—reflect how responsibilities for the manufacture, ownership, and operation of physical assets are distributed among different organizations, but they do not correspond to distinct phases of operation. As discussed further in the next chapter, implementation of NGATS would be easier if each IPT corresponded to one group of operational concepts. With such an approach, each set of operational concepts would encompass integrated operations by pilots, air traffic controllers, and all of the other people and equipment involved in a particular phase of operation. The systems-oriented grouping of operational concepts currently in the Integrated Plan should be replaced by a functional grouping of operational concepts that corresponds to how the air transportation system actually operates: airport operations terminal area operations en route and oceanic operations Operational concepts for airport operations will be needed for flight operations during approach, landing, and takeoff; for ground operations; and for curb-to-gate processing of passengers within the terminal. Operational concepts for terminal area operations will be needed for flight operations between the last en route waypoint and the initial approach waypoint at major airports. This includes multicenter operational concepts for terminal areas that are so close together that responsible traffic control centers should take a collaborative approach to traffic flow management. Operational concepts for en route and oceanic operations will be needed for aircraft operating between the terminal areas at their points of origin and destination, including aircraft operating in oceanic airspace. Operational concepts at this level should also encompass national traffic flow management.1 1   ATM responsibilities for airspace over international waters is delegated to various countries; the United States is responsible for much of the oceanic airspace over the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans. Implementation of new operational concepts for oceanic airspace would require collaboration with the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is responsible for setting ATM standards and procedures for oceanic airspace.

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Technology Pathways: Assessing the Integrated Plan for a Next Generation Air Transportation System This approach—of grouping operational concepts by phase of operation—corresponds naturally to the way that aircraft operate as they move from the departure gate to the arrival gate. In addition, this approach would greatly simplify the interfaces between operational concepts compared with the complex interfaces needed in the Integrated Plan, which implies the creation of five sets of operational concepts—one for aircraft operations, one for ATM, one for safety, etc. Future versions of the Integrated Plan would also be improved by defining both the goals that must be achieved by each operational concept and the process or approach by which those goals will be accomplished. Specific technological solutions should be viewed as speculative until they have been demonstrated to be the best means available to implement a particular operational concept. Therefore, it is important to develop the tools needed to assess operational concepts that will meet the primary objective of resolving demand issues and increasing capacity while also satisfying enabling, interrelated requirements for safety, security, environmental effects, consumer satisfaction, and industrial competitiveness. Until that assessment is complete, the Integrated Plan should avoid prescribing specific solutions that may be too limiting. For example, the Plan’s discussion of security operations states that “sensor technology and countermeasures will be used to detect and render man-portable air defense systems ineffective” (NGATS JPDO, 2004, p. 11). Developing, deploying, and maintaining missile defense systems on commercial aircraft would be very expensive and may not represent the most cost-effective solution to this problem, even if one assumes that small missiles will become a significant security threat in the future. The need for an integrated, systematic approach to operational concepts is further illustrated by the discussion of remote piloting capabilities in the aircraft operations section. This capability is mentioned as a possible means for enabling “ground intervention in case of pilot incapacitation or for security reasons.” This discussion does not seem to consider that remote piloting capabilities also create the potential for remote hijacking of multiple aircraft by terrorists who have taken over a traffic control facility. The Integrated Plan should more carefully consider the strengths and weaknesses of specific technological and procedural approaches (e.g., remote control of aircraft by ground controllers) as they relate to the stated goals (e.g., to be more secure). Changes in the airline industry that have occurred since it was deregulated in 1978 demonstrate the futility of trying to predict whether the air transportation system of 2025 will be dominated by point-to-point or hub-and-spoke route systems and by jumbo jets or regional jets. However, no matter what types of users dominate the future air transportation system, operational concepts for in-transit operations should strive to satisfy increased demand for passenger and cargo traffic, with safe separation between aircraft and with the ground, in all types of weather. As soon as possible, the JPDO should use available analytical capabilities to define guiding principles for the development of new operational concepts. The guiding principles that are ultimately adopted by the JPDO should also be reflected in the NGATS vision and goals. Four possible guiding principles are described below, for purposes of illustration: Use precise information. The current air transportation system is based on certain assumptions about the availability and precision of information related to aircraft position and velocity, atmospheric conditions, etc. In recent decades, the accuracy and timeliness of this information has improved by orders of magnitude. Therefore, one guiding principle could be that NGATS will take full advantage of precise information about aircraft performance and flight status, adverse weather, wake vortices, and the state of the air transportation system that is quickly disseminated to improve situational awareness and support effective decision making by all system users. Such an approach could increase safety, reduce vertical and horizontal separation, eliminate operational restrictions on closely spaced runways, enable operation of more than one aircraft on a runway at a time, and eliminate the adverse effect of reduced visibility on system capacity. Such a guideline would promote research to safely increase system capacity by making better use of existing runways and airspace, and it would improve the performance of the air transportation system regardless of which aircraft types dominate the airspace or which route structures are employed by the airlines. Use existing flight management system capabilities. Another guiding principle could establish that NGATS will take full advantage of the flight management systems, the Global Positioning System (GPS), traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS), and terrain alerting and warning systems (TAWS) that are installed in more than 4,000 air transport aircraft. More than 20,000 aircraft in the worldwide fleet will be equipped with these systems by 2025. Operational concepts that take full advantage of these performance-based capabilities could be implemented much more quickly and more economically than concepts that require new equipment to be retrofitted into all aircraft in the fleet. Taking full advantage of the advanced navigation capabilities and other precise information that current systems provide could dramatically improve the situational awareness of system users. The FAA is already taking a step in this direction in the form of the Required Navigation Performance Program. This program is establishing aircraft performance standards that would allow aircraft to use already installed technology to break free of the traditional ground-based navigation system. In addition, operational concepts could be developed, based

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Technology Pathways: Assessing the Integrated Plan for a Next Generation Air Transportation System on the performance capabilities of current air transport aircraft, that allow simultaneous, independent, parallel approaches to closely spaced runways in low visibility conditions. Reduce the impact of aviation on local communities. Operational concepts for NGATS should be designed to improve operational efficiency while reducing community impacts (noise and emissions). For example, trajectory-based flight operations would, among other things, allow continuous descents and eliminate the need for adding power to level off during approaches. This would reduce emissions, fuel consumption, community noise, and travel time. Continuous descent approaches would also minimize level flight at low altitudes, which produces more noise and requires a higher thrust setting than descending flight. Continuous descent approaches also keep aircraft at higher altitudes during most of the approach to landing, which increases noise attenuation (NASA, 2004). Increase the productivity of air traffic controllers. Another guideline might establish the principle that new technologies, systems, and procedures will increase capacity by increasing the productivity of controllers (rather than rely on a business-as-usual approach that strives to double or triple the capacity of the air transportation system by doubling or tripling the number of controllers). For example, one way to increase the productivity of controllers in crowded airspace would be to have controllers monitor the placement of an aircraft route “tube” between two cities or waypoints, while relying on aircraft to self-separate within the tube. Whatever approach is ultimately used to define and assess operational concepts—and the operational roles that human beings should play—it should focus on the area of greatest importance to the future of the air transportation system, which is satisfying increased demand, while also satisfying enabling, interrelated requirements regarding safety, security, environmental effects, consumer satisfaction, and industrial competitiveness. The operational concepts developed by the IPTs will help sharpen the focus of the entire effort by clearly defining the end state toward which all other investments in research, development, facilities, equipment, procedures, etc., should be directed, in both the short and long term. It is still too early to know what the air transportation system of 2025 will look like in detail, in part because it is impossible to anticipate with certainty the impact of anomalous changes in the world, such as the rise of computer technology over the last 30 years, the rise of the Internet over the past 15 years, or the rise of international terrorism over the last 5 years. However, much information about the air transportation system of 2025 can be deduced from (1) current knowledge about those elements of the existing system that are expected to still be in place, (2) knowledge of short-term improvements that are being or soon will be implemented, and (3) analysis of future operational concepts. Finding 3-1. Operational Concepts. The Integrated Plan implies that it will develop separate operational concepts for security operations, safety assurance, airport operations, aircraft operations, and ATM operations. Safety and security are inherent in the execution of the latter three, and operational concepts that integrate safety and security considerations from the beginning are more likely to satisfy system requirements than concepts that have safety and security imposed later in the development process. Recommendation 3-1. Operational Concepts. The JPDO should define operational concepts to satisfy future demand by phase of operation: airport operations terminal area operations en route and oceanic operations Safety and security risk management systems should be embedded in each of the above operational concepts, not set apart as separate considerations. The Integrated Plan should describe an iterative process for defining and assessing operational concepts as they relate to quantifiable system performance goals. The process should involve discussions with stakeholders and progressively more detailed modeling and simulation to assess performance and identify problems and guiding principles. The JPDO should support research to enhance and assess modeling and simulation capabilities. REFERENCES National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). 2004. Design and Testing of a Low Noise Flight Guidance Concept. NASA/TM-2004-213516. Hampton, Va.: Langley Research Center. Available online at <http://techreports.larc.nasa.gov/ltrs/PDF/2004/tm/NASA-2004-tm213516.pdf>. National Research Council (NRC). 2002. Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. Available online at <www.nap.edu/html/stct/index.html>. Next Generation Air Transportation System Joint Planning and Development Office (NGATS JPDO). 2004. Next Generation Air Transportation System Integrated Plan. Washington, D.C.: JPDO. Available online at <www.jpdo.aero>.