OGC and FAA Harmonization Initiative: Connecting Airplanes to Updated Infrastructure

Transporting people and goods from point A to point B requires technological standards that reduce risk, streamline communications and improve efficiencies. The FAA, in partnership with agencies like the Open Geospatial Consortium, is working to upgrade and implement new technologies to make air travel safer, cleaner and faster.

Image Credit: FAA NextGen.

While traveling is something most of us look forward to, the ins and outs can be exasperating. Delays, lost baggage, crowded airports and security lines are often the toll paid for that little slice of heaven on a beach or for making it to that important meeting on time. Over the last several years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been working to upgrade and improve aviation infrastructure as part of a long-term initiative referred to as the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen.

According to the FAA’s implementation plan, the aviation industry represents 5.2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product ($1.3 trillion per year) and generates more than 10 million jobs.

The FAA says improvements to the current system will reduce delays by 41 percent, lower carbon emission by 16 million metric tons and provide about $38 billion in “cumulative benefits” with improved efficiencies by 2020.

One important piece of the modernization plan is creating and vetting standards that will allow for greater interoperability within the National Airspace System (NAS). The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) has been involved in testing and advocating for standards for years via various interoperability initiatives currently underway, several of which deal with aviation.

OGC, founded in 1994, is an international alliance with more than 470 members from businesses, government agencies, and research organizations. They work to develop and promote open standards for geospatial, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Earth observation data. U.S. members include IEEE, NASA and universities like Johns Hopkins and Columbia.

George Percivall, chief engineer for OGC, notes, “Some people say, ‘If I had to learn the standard it would cost me more time.’ But they end up recreating the standard anyway.” To Percivall, standards represent a cumulation of design with the kinks worked out over many years.

Adopting standards reduces confusion and costs while streamlining functionality. For example, as part of NextGen, the FAA began transitioning to System Wide Information Management (SWIM) in 2007. Prior to this shift, agencies and businesses communicating with or seeking data from NAS were all using different computer languages. This required building complicated point-to-point networks between cargo shippers, control towers, airplanes, and so on. Using the same interface for data sharing and collection increases the speed and flow of information. This improves safety, reduces delays, and lowers costs.

NAS system before SWIM, requiring complicated point-to-point networks to communicate between a diverse group of airspace users. Image Credit: FAA.

 

NAS after SWIM. Image Credit: FAA.

OGC and the FAA’s Aircraft Access to SWIM Harmonization Project (AAtS) has been working to build and strengthen a bridge between SWIM and aircrafts since June 2013.

Percivall explains, “AAtS increases the amount of aeronautical information like ground conditions, weather, and notices to airmen.” OGC’s work to help improve interoperability between aircrafts and SWIM is part of a larger body of work that involves testing and developing standards for the aviation industry. The primary goal of the initiative is to allow greater connectivity with aircrafts. “Improved communications infrastructure delivers richer quality information to the pilot in the cockpit in the right amount at the right time,” Percivall notes. “You are sending weather information that is relevant to the forward-looking track of the airplane.”

In other words, a busy pilot doesn’t need to be reading weather reports after the plane has passed through those conditions.

Based on recent studies of the aviation system, the OGC will present its findings and recommendations for the future of interoperability to the aviation community at a conference at the end of August.