FAA oceanic system goes live in Oakland

The Federal Aviation Administration has activated a system allowing for reduced space between aircraft flying over U.S. oceanic air space at the Oakland, Calif., en route air traffic control center, the first site for the Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures program.

ATOP, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., will conduct the next operational testing at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center in September. The Oakland center went live on Wednesday, FAA said today (Friday).

Previously there was no radar tracking of aircraft and no direct radio communication with oceanic air traffic, unlike domestic air traffic. Position reports based on onboard aircraft navigational systems are radioed to the controller. Due to the uncertainty in position report reliability, overseas flight tracks must provide greater separation margins to ensure safe flights, FAA said.

The ATOP system is integrated with the radar processing functions of the microprocessor en route automated radar tracking system, which will support tracking of aircraft using primary and secondary radar inputs and automatic dependent surveillance broadcast. It detects potential conflicts between aircraft and provides data link and surveillance capabilities. It also automates the manual processes currently used.

This new technology allows air traffic controllers to reduce the separation between aircraft from 100 to 30 nautical miles and allows communication between the aircraft and the control center.

"This is a significant achievement toward helping us provide our customers with oceanic services that allow more planes to fly preferred routes and manage growing international air traffic," said Charlie Keegan, FAA vice president for en route and oceanic services. ATOP improves fuel and routing efficiency, increases airspace capacity and reduces costs, he said.

The FAA manages approximately 80 percent of the world's controlled oceanic airspace, including approximately 24 million square miles over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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