…fly safely without ground controllers

Artigo sobre softwares e comunicação em aviões para minimizar problemas humanos. Muito atual em tempos de crise na aviação brasileira. Um sistema como esse poderia, talvez, ter evitado a colisão do Legacy com o avião da GOL. A idéia é de menos infraestrutura em terra e mais software embarcado…menos homem e mais software e comunicação no cockpit…Mas o imponderável estará sempre presente…Vejam como an Internet in the sky could let planes fly safely without ground controllers.

By David Talbot

The technology that underpins the air traffic control system hasn’t
changed much in a half-century. Planes still depend on elaborate
ground-based radar systems, plus thousands of people who watch blips
on screens and issue verbal instructions, for takeoffs, landings, and
course changes. The system is expensive, hard to scale up, and prone
to delays when storms strike.

An entirely different approach is possible. Each plane could
continually transmit its identity, precise location, speed, and
heading to other planes in the sky via an airborne network. Software
would then take over, coördinating the system by issuing instructions
to pilots on how to stay separated, optimize routes, avoid bad
weather, and execute precise landings in poor visibility.

In the near term, such technology could save travelers time and might
reduce fuel consumption. Long term, it could revolutionize air travel
by enabling more planes to fill the sky without the addition of
infrastructure and staff. Vastly greater numbers of small planes could
zip in and out of thousands of small airfields (there are 5,400 in the
U.S. alone), even those with no radar at all. “The biggest holdback to
the number of airplanes that can be in the sky is that air traffic
controllers are separating aircraft by hand,” says Sally Johnson, an
aerospace engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center. “Until you get
away from that paradigm, we are at the limits of what you can do.”

As a practical matter, airborne networks that rely on software and
cockpit computers rather than humans to issue instructions are still
decades away. But in June, NASA plans to demonstrate a prototype of
such an automated system at a small airport in Danville, VA. A
computer at a ground station near the airport will receive data from
multiple planes and give the pilots their initial holding fixes, then
tell them what planes they’re following and where to go if they miss
their approaches. In the planes, cockpit displays will show pilots
where the other planes are, and a computer will give them instructions
that guide their trajectories.

Future systems might go further: planes would communicate not just via
a computer on the ground (or via satellite) but directly with each
other, relaying information from other planes in an Internet-like
fashion. This radical advance in airborne networking could come from
research funded by the Pentagon — the midwife of today’s terrestrial
Internet. The vision is that not only navigational data but
information about targets, real-time intelligence, and bombing results
would flow freely among manned and unmanned military planes, to
vehicles on the ground, and up and down chains of command. “There is a
terrestrial backbone of hardwired connections, and there will be a
space backbone between satellites. What we are talking about adding,
for aircraft, is an equivalent third backbone in the sky,” says Dave
Kenyon, division chief of the Technical Architectures Division at the
U.S. Air Force Electronic Systems Center in Bedford, MA.

The U.S. Air Force is beginning to define the architecture of an
airborne network and hopes to begin actively developing and testing
the network itself between 2008 and 2012, Kenyon says. Taken together,
the military research and the related air traffic control research
into airborne communications networks could change how we travel in
the decades to come.