Friday, December 16, 2011
(Nicole Creston -- Orlando, FL, WMFE ) Most people think beaches, bikers and NASCAR when they hear about Daytona Beach. But research at Daytona Beach International Airport and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is expected to revolutionize cockpits and airport control towers around the country, and eventually, the world. That’s where a group of aviation experts are working on the “Next Generation” of air travel technology, called "NextGen" for short.
It uses GPS, among other things, and is expected to be the most expensive national transportation project since interstates were built. The Federal Aviation Administration expects NextGen to improve communications, lower fuel costs, and decrease delays for airplane passengers.
Pilots are busy. They’re flying the plane, and keeping track of many important details. Some of the most crucial information comes from air traffic controllers with specifics on take-offs, landings, routes and weather conditions.
It sounds something like this: “’Turn right 30 degrees radar vectors for traffic climb and maintain flight level at two-four-zero and contact Washington center on one-three-five-point-zero.’”
That example comes courtesy of Embry-Riddle professor Sid McGuirk, a 35-year air traffic control veteran. “There’s a lot of information in there,” he adds.
McGuirk says currently pilots have to write most of that down as they’re maneuvering the plane. They’re trained to handle it, he points out, but research at Embry Riddle’s Daytona International test bed could help the NextGen system make all that easier…and that never hurts.
“In the future, the communications [are] going to be much like an email message, or a tweet, or twitter, if you will,” explains McGuirk. “So, the controller can tweet the clearance to the pilot and the pilot can tweet back that he or she acknowledges the clearance.”
Like those new communications, most of the test bed’s research takes place on computers – in fact, the 10,000 square-foot facility could be mistaken for simply an office building at first glance. But the centerpiece of the test bed is a console topped with three enormous screens that simulate the view out of Daytona International’s air traffic control tower windows…in real time. Real airplanes are being tracked on those screens, as they come and go.
But, it’s a simulation. So researchers can slip in virtual aircraft equipped with NextGen technology, including advanced GPS and lots of new communication gear, and see if they can work within the existing system.
McGuirk says he adapted to many updates throughout his time as an air traffic controller, but he’s amazed at how different things are now than when he first started. He says, “You actually had to take a piece of plastic, and write on the piece of plastic with a grease pencil and then manually push the piece of plastic across the flat radar screen to follow the aircraft!”
US Congressman John Mica of Winter Park heads up the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mica says the FAA, Embry Riddle experts, and the private aviation industry all agreed the system needs an upgrade.
“Well, we basically have a post –World War II aviation air traffic control system,” Mica says. “We rely on a ground-based radar system.”
He’s says he’s happy to have Central Florida’s unique resources on the job. “A test bed, an actually functioning model at the Daytona Beach International Airport which is located and co-located – the property’s adjacent to Embry Riddle. Couldn’t have a better combination.”
Mica says air traffic is expected to double globally by the year 2020. That’s where GPS comes in. The ability to see exactly where an airplane is in the sky means aviation officials can look for unused airspace that’ll fit more planes in the air, safely. And GPS has a knack for finding the shortest routes, which saves money on fuel and reduces travel time for passengers.
NextGen program manager Wade Lester says there’s more good news for passengers – the system will cut down on weather-related slowdowns, which make up 60 percent of all air travel delays. Air traffic controllers will see weather trouble way before they can now.
“They’re able to say, ‘Oh, at this point in time, this aircraft will converge with this bad weather,’” Lester explains. “So rather than waiting until you fly right up to it and the pilot says, ‘I see really bad weather and I’m going to have to’ what we call vector, ‘I’m going to have to vector around that weather,’ they say, ‘Just make a small course correction early and you’ll arrive much closer to your original destination.’”
Lester says the GPS additions and improved communications are just part of this massive air travel modernization project, and implementing all the changes will take some time. Pilots, air traffic controllers, and passengers should see the benefits within the next few years, but the FAA is aiming for full completion in 2025.
Click here for an audio version of this story.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) More and more people are using iPads, laptops or smart phones when they travel on public transportation – but that number might drop off as trains, planes and buses become more crowded. New findings by the researchers at DePaul University show that use of technology on public transit grew at record rates last year. But public transit remains, well, public – and that means not everyone’s comfortable digging into personal emails or commenting liberally on Facebook.
The researchers measured how people's behavior changed as their surroundings grew more crowded, basing their findings on observations of more than 16,000 passengers on 215 bus, rail, and plane rides. "On the largest buses, seating about 80, technology use falls by more than a third when more than 40 people are on board," said Joe Schweiterman, one of the researchers on the study. The effects were similar on airplanes. In particular, people were much less likely to use devices with large screens, or to make cell phone calls, than they were when they felt their surroundings were private. "We hear endless complaints that the coach cabins of airplanes have become awful places to use technology," said Schweiterman.
Technology use remains most prevalent on the Acela trains in the Northeast corridor, which, at 42 inches each, has by far the roomiest seats. On those trains and on intercity buses, it was common for more than half of passengers to be glued to their devices. But when conditions get crowded, tech use goes down significantly. So as more people take, say, long-distance bus rides, will their own hangups keep them offline?
“Crowding is the enemy of those techno travelers who like to use multiple devices at once, such as working on laptops and placing cell phone calls," said Schweiterman. "In crowds, they abandoned this type of behavior.”
Friday, August 13, 2010
It's was a wonderful piece of reporting this week in the Middle Seat column of the Wall Street Journal: a review of DOT data, yielding what amounts to an MPG rating for the airlines. Alaska came out on top, with a bit of luck (like being West Coast-based) and some good practices (like shutting down engines quickly at the gate). The worst guzzlers turn out to the three biggest U.S. carriers.
But here's the big question: would information like this -- that getting you from LAX to JFK sucks around 10 gallons more fuel on Delta than it does on JetBlue on average -- cause you to change who you buy your ticket from? Let us know in the comments.