NASA, FAA use Wi-MAX-based tech to communicate with on-ground aircraft

NASA says that for the first time, it has demonstrated that a wireless communication system can transmit aviation data -- including route options and weather information -- to an airplane on the ground.

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Pictured: The FAA Bombardier Global
5000 test aircraft used in NASA's wire-
less communication system demonstra-
tion. (Credit: NASA)

The system developed by Hitachi is based on WiMAX standards but uses different frequencies – in protected 5091-5150 MHz spectrum – for airport surface applications, according to Network World.

NASA says the demonstration, conducted at Cleveland's Glenn Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) test bed in collaboration with the FAA and Hitachi on Feb. 11, shows how two technologies could change airport operations worldwide.

The team used an Aircraft Access to System Wide Information Management (SWIM), or AAtS, prototype technical solution to convey the aviation information to an FAA Bombardier Global 5000 test aircraft taxiing 60 to 70 miles per hour on the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport runway. They sent the information over a wireless communication system called Aeronautical Mobile Airport Communications System, or AeroMACS.

Hitachi developed the prototype AeroMACS hardware. AAtS is an FAA technology demonstration and prototype initiative that enables solutions for connecting aircraft and flight crews to common-sourced aeronautical, weather and flight information. The AeroMACS demonstration enabled connectivity to allow updates to weather, airport status and flight and flow information prior to takeoff, according to NASA.

Until now, pilots have relied on voice communication with air traffic control or their airline operations center for this type of information. Together, AAtS and AeroMACS will improve situational awareness and reduce the potential for human error by giving pilots access to the information they need to make decisions. The trials consisted of three test cases designed to evaluate performance of both the AAtS and AeroMACS technologies and they demonstrated that AeroMACS can simultaneously transport multiple services seamlessly.

"It performed very well; it passed the test," Rafael Apaza, the AeroMACS technical lead, said in the press release. "We were able to send multiple applications to the aircraft at the same time and exchange surveillance and advisory flight information with fixed facilities without losing any data. This wireless communications capability will deliver great benefits to U.S. airport operations."

In addition to improving safety, the new wireless technology could allow airports to grow and change more affordably by replacing old underground systems. Airport communication systems use a lot of underground cables, which makes repairs and changes difficult, Apaza said. Using wireless technology will reduce maintenance costs and downtime and allow airports to enhance capabilities more quickly.

The next steps for AeroMACS include end-to-end testing involving multiple airports and evaluation of security measures.

For more:
- see this Network World article
- see this press release

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