U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today announced a significant NextGen milestone with the completion of En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM), a highly advanced computer system used by air traffic controllers to safely manage high-altitude traffic. The first ERAM system went online at Salt Lake City Center in March 2012. The final installation was completed last month at New York Center.
ERAM is the backbone of operations at 20 of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) en route air traffic control centers. The system, a crucial foundation for NextGen, drives display screens used by air traffic controllers to safely manage and separate aircraft. It uses nearly two million lines of computer code to process critical data for controllers, including aircraft identity, altitude, speed and flight path. It almost doubles the number of flights that can be tracked and displayed to controllers. ERAM was designed to be the operating platform for other NextGen technologies, including:
Performance Based Navigation (PBN): Controllers are already using ERAM to make use of PBN procedures that enable controllers and flight crews to know exactly when to reduce the thrust on aircraft, allowing them to descend from cruising altitude to the runway with the engines set at idle power, saving on flying time and fuel consumption.
Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B): The FAA is moving steadily toward replacing the old system of ground-based radars to track aircraft with one that relies on satellite-based technologies. ERAM already receives information from aircraft equipped with ADS-B and displays that data on controllers’ screens. This technology has made it possible for controllers to provide radar-like separation to aircraft that previously operated in areas where no radar is available, such as the Gulf of Mexico and large parts of Alaska. ADS-B will replace radar as the primary means of tracking aircraft by 2020.
Data Comm: To reduce congestion on radio frequencies, the FAA and the aviation industry continue to develop Data Comm, which will allow controllers and pilots to communicate by direct digital link rather than voice, similar to text messaging. ERAM is already equipped to handle this technology.
Secretary Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta attributed the success of the development and installation of ERAM to the collaboration between FAA management and labor, including the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS). This collaborative process is now a blueprint that will be applied to the rollout of future technologies.
To see how ERAM works, view the FAA's video: En Route Automation Forms NextGen Cornerstone
Related: FAA News, Avionics News