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Performance Success Stories

A Better View of Operations at World's Busiest Airport

Improved situational awareness helps controllers make better decisions that support the safety and efficiency of ground surface movements at Atlanta:
  • ASDE-X is a surveillance system that uses radar and satellite technology to help controllers track the movement of aircraft and vehicles on the airport surface
  • ASDE-X provides detailed information of how aircraft are moving on runways and taxiways
ASDE-X improves controller awareness about where planes are anywhere at the airport and contributes to a better management of the ground-movement of aircraft.

NextGen Update

NextGen Implementation Plan (PDF)

Improved Surface Operations
Focuses on improved airport surveillance information, automation to support airport configuration management and runway assignments and enhanced cockpit displays to provide increased situational awareness for controllers and pilots; a key step is sharing airport surface information with authorized stakeholders.

Imagine being 40 stories up and looking down at a 4,700 acre sea of blinking lights, massive aircraft, trucks and trams moving in all directions. That's the air traffic controller's-eye-view of Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. But a NextGen technology called ASDE-X is slicing through all of it, giving the controllers a crystal-clear view that lets them know the precise location of aircraft and vehicles on the airport surface.

With close to 2,300 operations and 250,000 passengers a day on average, Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world. To achieve that level of performance, air traffic managers have to be attentive to what happens on the ground as well as in the air.

In 2008, air traffic controllers began using information from a safety tool, Airport Surface Detection Equipment — Model X (ASDE-X), that tracks the movement of aircraft and vehicles on runways and taxiways, and aircraft as they are on approach to the airport for landing. This continuous location and identification information, which increases the controllers' awareness of the situation — the full picture — of what's happening on the airport surface, is especially helpful at night or in bad weather when visibility is poor.

"At night, the airport is a sea of blue lights," said Marshall Mowery, the manager of Air Traffic and Surface Operations who oversaw ASDE-X in Atlanta. "With ASDE-X, controllers can see which taxiway a particular aircraft is on."

ASDE-X was primarily designed to help controllers prevent aircraft and airport vehicles from entering occupied runways. But the FAA discovered that the improved situational awareness that ASDE-X provides also contributes to better management of the ground-movement of aircraft.

The FAA analyzed data from two days with similar conditions* and during the busiest departure times — one before and one after the introduction of ASDE-X. On the days studied, ASDE-X, along with other factors such as additional departure headings, airline-initiatives to reduce loading of passengers, and the 3-hour tarmac rule, helped reduce taxi-out times at Atlanta by 48 percent in the morning departure push and 29 percent during the afternoon departure push.

Improved situational awareness has helped controllers better manage departure flow on the airport surface and minimize congestion in the gate area. The information controllers receive from ASDE-X help them more efficiently direct aircraft to the active runways, freeing taxiways and enabling smoother movement of aircraft around the airport.

ASDE-X is in use at 34 other airports. The FAA shares ASDE-X data among controllers, traffic managers, flight operations centers, ramp operators and airports managers.

* Similar meteorological and runway configuration conditions.

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