Modernizing Air Traffic Control in the U.S.
Client: Federal Aviation Administration
Challenge: Modernize an aging air traffic management system to improve performance, reduce complexity and safely maximize the use of the nation’s airspace.
Solution: Use expertise across the company, including CSC’s e4 enterprise integration architecture and global Catalyst methodology to integrate complex databases and deploy essential software updates.
Results: Cornerstone capability for NextGen, supporting billions of dollars in cumulative benefits; enabling faster decision response times; improved coordination of flights; and a consolidated air traffic management data center.
With thousands of planes in the skies daily and unpredictable weather to contend with, managing the nation’s airspace is a gargantuan task. Also, as air traffic grows, safely maximizing the use of airspace is essential.
Since 1972, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has relied on CSC to provide technology know-how, including the recent modernization of its air traffic management system.
CSC led the transformation of the FAA’s aging air traffic management system into a state-of-the-art, service-oriented architecture solution called the Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS).
Since going live in August 2010, TFMS has been running 24x7, supporting more than 50,000 flights daily, with as many as 8,000 aircraft operating simultaneously. The goal: efficiency gains, which not only save money, but also create more environmentally friendly air traffic use.
A global approach
In 2004, the FAA anticipated that its air traffic management system was eventually going to ‘max out,’ so it embarked on a plan to install a new system that was open and expandable. TFMS is a large SOA solution that uses CSC’s e4 enterprise integration architecture with significant commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) integration.
When CSC began initial integration testing of the large-scale SOA solution for TFMS, we discovered the test system could in actuality only facilitate less than 10 percent of the required design workload.
With decades of public sector experience, along with considerable expertise in database integration and updating legacy systems, we tapped into resources across CSC to form a Tiger Team to spearhead performance improvement within the SOA solution.
Jim Hayes, a CSC system architect, says, “The ability for us to reach out into the corporation and bring those folks in to help us in an immediate fashion enabled us to provide a quicker solution to our customer.”
In tackling this complex challenge, CSC looked at the big picture. Michael Hennig, CSC’s performance architect for the project, says, “We took an approach within the performance team not only to just focus on an individual piece of the system, but we took a very global approach. And that included not just the software — it included COTS products, the database and the network.”
The road toward deployment was rocky. Performance issues arose with both the software and the integration of COTS products. Eschewing the conventional wisdom — throwing new hardware at a problem — the FAA and CSC collaborated on an approach based on CSC’s CatalystSM methodology to evaluate and improve system performance.
This approach culminated in the rollout of TFMS Release 3, a key milestone for the project. Release 3 focused on data and software in implementing a SOA infrastructure to modernize the legacy core application code. Our solution required innovation to overcome the TFMS baseline performance lags. For example, CSC had to develop application-level software to avoid database deadlocks and enable concurrent access to key databases, which improved response times and stability.
Dramatic TFMS baseline performance enhancements also occurred when the team organized multiple database requests into one materialized view request, which significantly reduced the load on the database. For example, response times for retrieving critical reports were reduced by 97 percent to 2.5 seconds. We also refactored long-running transactions so they could be processed concurrently as smaller transactions, improving response times by 85 percent in key areas such as aircraft ground delays and pre-departure flight re-routes.
To address TFMS database performance degradation, we created an automated algorithm to reclaim space, which reduced space utilization from 60 gigabytes to less than 100 megabytes per day. As a result, database processing time was reduced from minutes to milliseconds.
All these innovations resulted in TFMS performance specifications to sufficiently meet the design criteria. In all, TFMS performs over 25,000 transactions per minute in real time that provide flight and weather data to FAA traffic managers, controllers, commercial industry and international carriers. With this data, aviation stakeholders can make informed decisions that ensure optimized, safe use of the airspace.
Two planned follow-on software releases completed by CSC in 2011, with support from the Volpe Center, provided new enhancements for the FAA’s traffic management coordinators, as well as improved interfaces for upcoming NextGen applications. The latest release provides improvements in TFMS baseline computing performance and a reduction in server loads during peak traffic times.
NextGen air traffic management
TFMS is a cornerstone of the FAA’s Next Generation (NextGen) transformation program for enabling planned improvements over the next 15 years. NextGen is a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s National Airspace System to make air travel more convenient and dependable, while ensuring flights are as safe, secure and hassle free as possible.
TFMS and its follow-on enhancements are a core piece of the FAA’s NextGen program. Called Collaborative Air Traffic Management Technologies, TFMS takes inputs from a collaborative decision-making process between the FAA and airlines. With this information, FAA air traffic coordinators use TFMS to adjust departure times to relieve congestion and re-route aircraft when bad weather blocks normal routes. TFMS keeps air traffic moving safely and efficiently, reducing air space congestion, air travel delays, commercial airline operations costs and emissions.
TFMS replaced the legacy Enhanced Traffic Management System (ETMS), an action that, according to FAA estimates, provided millions of dollars in benefits to aviation customers annually through reduced air traffic delays. TFMS continues that benefit as a component of the FAA NextGen vision. Long term, the FAA estimates that NextGen will reduce total flight delays by 20 percent or more while providing billions of dollars in cumulative benefits to the traveling public, aircraft operators and the FAA.
Among the other benefits TFMS provides are centralized security and management, improved collaboration between the FAA and external partners, and centrally managed R&D lab environments to facilitate integration and testing for future enhancements.
The benefits also extend to the environment and beyond. FAA administrator J. Randolph Babbitt says, “Aircraft will burn less fuel and emit fewer greenhouse gases. Commercial pilots will be able to look at a screen and see other aircraft around them in the sky and on runways and taxiways. Terrain and obstacles will be more apparent in all kinds of weather, day or night.”
Michael P. Huerta, deputy administrator of the FAA, says, “NextGen capabilities and technologies are vital to maintaining a safe and sound aviation system that meets our nation’s needs. The application of critical 21st century solutions is already transforming aviation from a ground-based system of air traffic control to a satellite-based system where air traffic controllers have more automated tools to help make decisions and handle more traffic safely.”