NASA, FAA showoff wireless aircraft communication technology

NASA says wireless technology could let airports grow and change more affordably by replacing old underground systems


NASA said that for the first time it has demonstrated that a wireless  system can communicate – sending route options and weather information for example -- with a jet on the ground.

NASA said it tested a demonstration system known as Aircraft Access to System Wide Information Management (SWIM), to wirelessly send aviation information to an FAA Bombardier Global 5000 test aircraft taxiing 60 to 70 miles per hour on the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport runway. They sent the information over a prototype wireless system called Aeronautical Mobile Airport Communications System, or AeroMACS, developed by Hitachi.

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The Hitachi system is based on WiMAX wireless communication standards, but uses different frequencies --in protected AM(R)S spectrum (5091-5150 MHz)-- for airport surface applications to enable connectivity on the ground, according to NASA.   The system includes authentication, encryption, digital certificates and a number of other communication controls.

Pilots now rely on voice communication with air traffic control or their airline operations center for this type of information because traditional wireless technologies don’t support high data throughputs. Together, AAtS and AeroMACS will improve situational awareness and reduce the potential for human error by giving pilots access to the information they need to make decisions, NASA said.

“This was the first time we provided this type of information to an airplane over a ground wireless network,” said Paul Nelson, Glenn’s project manager for Cyber-Security and Secure Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) in a statement. The new wireless technology could allow airports to grow and change more affordably by replacing old underground systems, Nelson said.

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“Airport communication systems use a lot of underground cables, which makes repairs and changes difficult. Replacing and eliminating the underground infrastructure with wireless technology will reduce maintenance costs and downtime and allow airports to enhance capabilities more quickly,” Nelson said.

The next steps for AeroMACS will include end-to-end testing involving multiple airports and evaluation of security.

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