Making the Skies Safer Is a Global Affair

April 2016
Topics: Air Traffic Management, Air Navigation, International Relations, Aviation Industry
For more than 55 years, MITRE has helped the FAA provide the U.S. with the world's safest, most efficient airspace system. But aviation is global, and safety doesn’t stop at our borders. Our experts also work to improve aviation across the globe.
Changi Airport in Singapore.

When you fly outside the United States, you probably don't worry about moving across time zones and national boundaries. This seamless operation requires harmonized global standards and sophisticated systems engineering that ensure continued safety and efficiency throughout the world.

MITRE, which operates an FFRDC sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration, has long extended our reach to the rest of the world. Because each country's systems and operations affect the others, the FAA encourages MITRE to engage in aviation research and development work for other nations. As a result, MITRE has performed work for international civil aviation authorities, airport operators, and airlines in more than 50 countries.

This work takes many forms but typically falls into one of three categories: system modernization; development and implementation of new, innovative solutions; and synchronization of aviation systems worldwide.

It Starts with the Right System

One of our primary roles is to offer assessments and recommendations in a variety of scenarios. For instance, we often serve as an objective analyst for nations' aviation procurement decisions.

"MITRE operates independently from government and industry," explains international portfolio director Gregg Leone. "We don't produce commercial products, or take money from private industry. That makes us uniquely positioned to help countries choose the technology that will best meet their aviation modernization needs."

We also assist other nations when their system acquisitions or implementations don't go according to plan. "In these situations, we first assess whether the technology is the right one for the purpose," says Leone. "If it is, we identify barriers to its effective implementation and make recommendations to overcome those obstacles."

MITRE also performs assessments and provides advice on potential airport site locations or for increasing capacity at existing airports, either through infrastructure or procedural changes.

Applying Lessons from Related Aviation Challenges

Another of our roles is to provide solutions to complex aviation challenges across the world. Although each country experiences unique conditions, many of them now face airport saturation issues we've already experienced and addressed in the U.S.

For example, major hubs like Atlanta, Denver, and Dallas today use MITRE-developed procedures that increase capacity significantly. MITRE is exploring the potential for implementing these same procedures in other parts of the world.

MITRE has also worked in partnership with the FAA to disentangle the air traffic web for cities served by multiple airports, such as New York City. An increasing number of cities around the world contend with similar problems today. The hope is that emulating the "U.S. way" can help them avoid the need to reinvent solutions that FAA, MITRE, and U.S. industry have already developed, applied, or studied.

At Dubai International Airport (DBX), for instance, we have developed procedural ways to increase throughput using dual arrival runways instead of the single arrival runway operation the airport uses.

"The close proximity of DBX's runways necessitated even greater innovation," notes Leone. "However, we were able to apply our experience with closely spaced parallel runway operations in the U.S. to offer unconventional yet safe solutions in Dubai."

In other work, we are helping several European and Latin American nations move toward advanced satellite-based navigation systems. We also adapted the voice recognition and speech synthesis capabilities of our automated Air Traffic Controller Trainer (now installed in Argentina) to meet dual-language needs. And across the globe, we work with countries to develop service improvement plans that look at airspace modernization, safety, efficiency, and capacity.

MITRE provides technical expertise to aviation authorities around the world in support of global harmonization.

Mentoring Innovation in Other Parts of the World

MITRE also helps other countries do their own aviation experimentation and innovation.

A prime example: MITRE's collaboration with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to develop a Center of Excellence for Air Traffic Management. The center will seek solutions for the aviation infrastructure and air traffic management (ATM) challenges facing the Asia Pacific region.

As part of that effort, MITRE and CAAS partnered to set up a MITRE facility in Singapore. The site—MITRE Asia Pacific Singapore (MAPS)—opened in August 2015 and is equipped with a subset of the laboratory capabilities MITRE uses to support the FAA's work program.

"The MAPS laboratory facilitates a long-term program of research, development, and technology transfer not only for Singapore but for the world," says MAPS portfolio manager and site leader Greg Nelson. In the Middle East—another region experiencing rapid aviation growth—we have embarked on similar work. 

Similarly, we are working with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to establish an in‑country aviation Technical Center and to help AAI with the tools and capabilities to conduct in-house human-in-the-loop experiments and research and development related to India's ATM needs.

Global Harmonization Brings It All Together

As aviation technology, procedures, and standards become more complex and airspace more crowded, it will take a global approach to enable aircraft to fly safely and seamlessly throughout the world. MITRE takes a leading role in these efforts—a concept known as "global harmonization."

Another international organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), has introduced a new programmatic approach to global harmonization of ATM systems called the Aviation System Block Upgrades (ASBU). ASBU is a concept in which aviation authorities implement the common building blocks of capabilities at defined points in time, thereby enhancing the performance of the global ATM system. The ASBU framework also helps accommodate the vast differences in aircraft equipage that currently exist.

MITRE worked with both FAA and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) to develop their input into the ASBU concepts. We later partnered with CANSO to offer a training program that is helping aviation service providers across the world incorporate the ASBU framework into their own operational upgrade decision-making processes.

The Benefits of a Round-Trip Process

Despite their international nature, all of these efforts ultimately benefit FAA and U.S. aviation stakeholders.

"Our work to help other nations adapt to technological developments, address increasing demand and capacity constraints, and cope with the territorial nature of international airspace management—among many other issues—helps the U.S. remain on the leading edge of aviation advances," says Leone. "The more MITRE learns about the new challenges the aviation industry is facing in other nations, the better able we are to help the FAA address similar challenges when they arise here."

—by Marlis McCollum

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