NASA Turns to Air Traffic Control

WASHINGTON (04/12/2000) - NASA research is critical to new information technologies that will redesign the way the national airspace is managed, according to witnesses who spoke Tuesday before a U.S. House of Representaives subcommittee.

NASA should focus on developing a wireless Internet with high availability that will meet the requirements of pilots and air traffic controllers, said George Donohue, visiting professor for air transportation at George Mason University, speaking before the House Science Committee's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee.

The wireless telecommunications systems that aircraft use today are not adequate to support a new system, he said.

As airline travel grows, technology must improve to safely reduce the spacing of aircraft, Donohue said. Such technology includes collision avoidance systems, situational awareness and communications, digital data links, and Global Positioning System satellite navigation.

Although some people may view these as problems the Federal Aviation Administration must address, NASA has been more successful at attracting skilled staff to handle such research-oriented, long-term problems, he said.

Sam Venneri, NASA's associate administrator for the Office of Aero-Space Technology, defended his office's $1.2 billion budget request for fiscal 2001.

About six of the agency's 10 aerospace technology goals relate to civil aviation.

The office hopes to develop technology that provides better information and visualization in the cockpit, Venneri said. The office also will look at the engineering processes and tools NASA uses to simulate operations of spacecraft and aircraft, he said.

NASA also is looking at ways to increase airspace system capacity outside the hub-and-spoke model commercial airlines use today. That format will not be able to accommodate a tenfold increase in use, Venneri said.

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