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Tue, Nov 14, 2023

Next-Gen NASA Project Passes Initial Phase

Industry Plans Ahead For Packed Post-AAM Airspace

NASA’s aeronautical innovators have completed a significant step in their pursuit of safer, more efficient aviation technologies that spot hazards before they occur" said a presser regarding the System-Wide Safety project.

That name is a kind of catch-all for a team effort bringing together just about everyone in the industry to "explore new technologies and techniques to improve current aviation safety and potentially enable widespread use of new types of aircraft such as drones or air taxis." The upcoming boom in AAM technology will undoubtedly disrupt the industry just as other new developments in terrestrial travel, as those holding a rapidly depreciating taxi medallion can attest.

The project recently completed Technical Challenge 1 (TC-1), focusing on Terminal Area Risk Management. It is the first completed step along the way towards something NASA calls the "In-Time Aviation Safety Management System", a more dynamic, proactive approach to moderating aircraft transit demand. The system would upend the somewhat laissez-faire approach to traffic management today, reliant upon IFR flight plans on the high end and radio comms on the low. Leveraging machine learning systems and increasingly affordable computing power is expected to make a tidal shift in the way the busiest airports schedule and slot their incoming aircraft, lessening the chances for operator error and tragedy.

NASA offers a concise primer illustrating the efficiency improvements gained with the change: "In today’s airspace safety system, let’s say an air traffic manager is looking at their screen and guiding 10 airplanes towards their destinations. This person would use a combination of established safety rules and pattern recognition to make sure those aircraft remain a safe distance apart. If this person saw a hazard that posed a safety risk, they would work with the pilots aboard the aircraft and resolve the issue. Now, let’s think about the airspace of tomorrow. Instead of 10 airplanes total, 10 air taxis, 10 ultra-efficient airliners, and 10 commercial supersonic jets might be sharing the same confined airspace. Preventing and addressing hazards would become a more complex issue nearly impossible for a person to identify in time to prevent an accident."

Thanks to the unflinching, ever-vigilant capabilities of computers, the In-Time Aviation Safety Management System can identify such events far faster than human operators, then just as quickly deliver actionable safety procedures to prevent the dangerous situation long before it develops. Even better, the system, jacked directly into data streams too noisy and varied for a single human to parse second to second, can proactively prevent issues. 
Furthermore, preventing these situations from ever arising in the first place increases the efficiency of the airspace overall, since not as much time and effort would be spent by managers keeping things running smoothly

“What we’ve accomplished with TC-1 is really just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible,” said Kyle Ellis, NASA’s project manager for System-Wide Safety. “Developing these systems enables a new economy for aviation uses that will benefit us all in the future.”



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