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Two-Way Data Flows Through SWIM


Airlines are submitting flight data into SWIM.

Data supplied by airlines will be used by the FAA to improve departure times.

This new two-way data sharing is expected to improve overall traffic flow efficiency.

You often hear that it's better to give than receive, but air carriers are learning that it's better to give and receive when it comes to flight data published to System Wide Information Management (SWIM) — a new development that's expected to improve air travel efficiency.

Delta Air Lines was the first carrier to submit data to SWIM, starting with surface data elements related to off-block time — when planes push back from the gate — that in turn is used by the FAA's Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS). American Airlines and United Airlines also began participating after completing testing.

"The one unknown that we don't have a lot of control of is departure time," said Mark Novak, manager of the FAA's Decision Support Systems, which includes TFMS. "The very first thing that this will do for us is improve our departure times so it will improve our departure demand modeling."

Airlines also benefit from sharing this information, which is already stored in their automation systems and used to report delay figures to the FAA. If the FAA initiates a ground delay program, a procedure used to keep aircraft at their departure airport to manage demand and capacity at arrival airports, its length will shorten because air traffic managers know the times will be more accurate. The result is fewer delays and more airplanes that can arrive at the airports, Novak said.

Airplane landing gear blocked in place

Airlines are beginning to submit data to SWIM, starting with surface data elements related to off-block time — when ground crews remove the chock blocks and push planes back from the gate — that in turn is used by the FAA's Traffic Flow Management System, creating a new two-way data exchange.

The FAA collects all data that make up TFMS and sends them to SWIM for consumer access. Airlines and other companies, such as Flight Explorer or FlyteComm, take data from TFMS via SWIM to operate their businesses. The FAA has a good idea of how many airplanes will depart a given airport at a certain hour, but each airline has a different business model and information nobody else knows, such as equipment problems. Air carriers are knowledgeable sources that can improve overall traffic flow efficiency when they're contributing to a broader situational awareness in the National Airspace System.

"We have a huge user base," Novak said. "So now we're adding more and more data and giving it the ability to be two-way."

"That is a game-changer," said Jeri Groce, SWIM program manager. "Now we will have the most current and accurate data available for any of our users."

Two-way data interfaces were the heart of the latest software release for TFMS in May 2016. Besides airlines feeding data into SWIM, another objective was consolidating TFMS data exchange through SWIM with Canada, Mexico, and Europe. The FAA uses SWIM to expand information sharing with Caribbean nations, which is an agency priority because of the high traffic demand there, particularly in winter.

"This will give us more certainty into that area as to what traffic is coming to us, and they'll get certainty because they will see what's coming to them," Novak said.

Two-way information sharing with the airlines and FAA falls under the NextGen Advisory Committee priority of surface operations and data sharing. TFMS has hundreds of data elements streaming through its information feed, but airlines plan to eventually offer 11 elements: initial off-block time, earliest off-block time, actual off-block time, actual takeoff time, actual landing time, actual in-block time, target movement area entry time, aircraft tail/registration number, flight cancellation, flight intent to leave the gate early, and gate assignment.

These elements will be put into TFMS automation to support the upcoming Terminal Flight Data Manager early implementation, which also will use SWIM.

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