Integrating Unmanned Aircraft into NextGen Automation Systems

September 2012
Topics: Air Traffic Management, Airspace, Avionics, Civil Aviation Security
Nathan M. Paczan, The MITRE Corporation
Jeremy Cooper, The MITRE Corporation
Eric Zakrzewski, The MITRE Corporation
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The routine integration of unmanned aircraft into non-segregated civil airspace is important to enable a number of current and proposed applications ranging from military and homeland security to a wide variety of research and eventually commercial purposes. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently undertaking a comprehensive overhaul of the National Airspace System (NAS) known as Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). NextGen will include increased automation systems for both terminal and en-route Air Traffic Control (ATC). Improvements in two-way data communication links between aircraft and ATC will facilitate the use of such automation systems. The robust integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into NextGen automation systems is an integral component to meeting the far-term (2018+) NextGen vision. By determining how UAS flight operations and protocols may be different than those of traditional manned aircraft, informed decisions can be made concerning the data and interfaces required to accommodate routine UAS operations by NextGen automation systems, ultimately leading to safer and more efficient integration of UAS into non-segregated civil airspace. This paper describes many of the challenges associated with such accommodation as well as proposed solutions to address these challenges based upon construction of prototype interfaces using established UAS communication standards and envisioned ATC automation interfaces. Enhanced data formats, communication protocols and algorithms are also researched and discussed.

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