Air Traffic Control Automation
V. David Hopkin Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Throughout most of the world, aviation as an industry is expanding. Far more aircraft are flying now than formerly, and still more are expected in future. Air traffic demands are notoriously difficult to predict as they are always vulnerable to powerful extraneous and unforeseeable influences beyond the control of the aviation community, but all current forecasts concur about a substantial future increase in aircraft numbers and about a continuing variety of aircraft types. As a consequence, air traffic control must seek to accommodate increasing demands for its services. Even the most efficient current air traffic control systems cannot remain as they are, because they were never designed for the quantities of air traffic now expected in the longer term, and they could not readily be adapted to cope with such increases in traffic volume. The combined sequential processes of devising, proving, and introducing major changes in an air traffic control system take several years, but to make no changes is not a practical option. Air traffic control must evolve ( Wise, Hopkin, & Smith, 1991).
A relevant parallel development is the major expansion in the quantity and quality of the information available about each aircraft flight. This development has brought significant changes and benefits in the past and will bring further ones in the future, applicable to the planning and the conduct of each flight. The quality and the frequency of updating of the information about the position of each aircraft were enhanced when radar was initially introduced and then became progressively more refined, and further enhancements are expected as information becomes available from satellites, data links, and other innovations ( Hopkin, 1989). In principle, it seems that practical technical limitations on data gathering for air traffic control purposes could disappear altogether because whatever information is deemed to be essential for safety or efficiency could be provided.
With limited and finite airspace, the only way to handle more air traffic in regions that are already congested is to allow aircraft to approach each other more closely in safety. Flight plans, navigational data, on-board sensors, prediction aids, and compu