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For ConceptSolutions, May 2008

 

 

Web 2.0 for the Enterprise Fast Gaining Altitude in Aviation

By Mike Shields, Chief Technology Officer, ConceptSolutions

The goal for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) over the next 20 years, is to create a more flexible, scalable, highly automated system that can handle up to two to three times today’s air traffic volume and enhance safety while reducing fuel consumption, noise and emissions.  New aircraft, new industry business models, and skyrocketing levels of air traffic have commercial and military aviation officials working diligently to revamp the nation’s air traffic management system, and Enterprise Web 2.0, together with other new technology upgrades, is proving vital to these efforts.

Early Test Underscores Need

Meeting FAA’s and JPDO’s long-term objectives has been made more challenging by the persistent and growing daily demands placed on the current system.  In November 2007, the White House ordered steps to reduce air traffic congestion and long airport delays during the holiday travel season.  With this emergency move, the nation’s commercial and restricted air traffic management system was put to the test, as well as the effectiveness of coordination among the many government and commercial players involved.

In response to the President’s call to action, the Pentagon opened unused military and special use airspace (SUA), from Florida to Maine, in order to create a commercial airliner “express lane” during the busiest days of Thanksgiving and Christmas travel.  Although the overwhelming holiday crowds never materialized, the process of preparing the system to accommodate such surges in air traffic again placed increased focus on an important issue:  With some models projecting the number of air passengers to double or even triple by the year 2025 (Next Generation Air Transportation System In Brief,” JPDO publication, 6/21/07), how will the nation’s air traffic system handle such explosive growth?

Web 2.0 Solutions in Aviation: The Future is Now

For the many IT professionals involved in developing and implementing a variety of FAA systems currently in use, the short answer to that question is: “Web 2.0.”  Does this Web 2.0 refer to the same, much-hyped Web 2.0 that enables anyone with a computer to launch an Internet blog, edit a Wikipedia reference, or build a MySpace page?  Yes and no.

Fast Forward writer Joe McKendrick pointed out in a recent online column (Web 2.0-Enterprise 2.0 boundary, like work-life, is getting blurry, 5/6/08) “There are definitely clear distinctions between the consumerist Web 2.0 services in play out there, versus the tools and services businesses are adopting. When technologies or services are taken behind the firewall, their purpose and requirements change, which is to solve business problems.”

While sharing the basic “network as platform” characteristics of consumer Web 2.0, the information systems that are being deployed in the aviation industry to help modernize air traffic management are much more robust and secure, collaborative enterprise applications tailored for solving mission-critical problems.

As defined by open source software industry expert Tim O’Reilly (What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software, 9/30/05), Web 2.0 applications “harness the collective intelligence of users, and are continually updated services that get better the more people use them, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, through an architecture of participation.”  These key benefits – increased productivity and efficiency – make Web 2.0 applications ideal for aviation personnel, who must gather, process, securely manage and act upon mountains of complex, dynamic data generated in real time and in a variety of formats.  And aviation has become an early Web 2.0 adopter.

“The big question for many [businesses] on the fence now is: 1) Do we now have the right capabilities in terms of ready Enterprise 2.0 products? And 2) Do we generally understand how to apply them properly to obtain good returns on our investment in them?” observed ZDNet blogger Dion Hinchcliffe in his October 22, 2007, column.  With affirmative answers to both those questions, the aviation industry has embraced Enterprise Web 2.0 even as other business sectors continue to weigh the benefits against perceived risk.

The Launch of MADE and SAMS

Demonstrating Web 2.0’s short- and long-term viability in aviation, FAA recently launched two major systems vital to the overall safety and security of the nation’s air traffic infrastructure:  MADE (Military Airspace Data Entry) and SAMS (Special Use Airspace Management System).  Both systems were developed with the help of ConceptSolutions (www.Concept-Solutions.com), a Reston, Virginia-based information management and technology consulting company.

In December 2005, FAA’s Air Traffic Office of System Operations Security began the nationwide deployment of a new Military Airspace Data Entry (MADE) system.  The MADE system is a key component in the upgrade of FAA’s Military Operations System (MILOPS), a real-time information management gateway that offers online airspace information to and facilitates coordination among users in a variety of government, military and civilian agencies, including general and commercial aviation.

A Web 2.0 application, MADE is an automated, Web-based system that enables the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and branches of the military to safely and efficiently schedule use of SUAs, Air Traffic Control Assigned Airspace (ATCAA), and Military Training Routes.  The MADE system dovetails with FAA’s SUA Management System (SAMS) to provide near real-time data for scheduling usage of SUA, which includes, but is not limited to, Military Operations Areas (MOA), restricted areas, warning areas, prohibited areas and alert areas.

In March 2007, the MADE system drew outstanding reviews from FAA officials in Anchorage, Alaska.  With the rapidity of the Internet responses and updating, MADE has significantly enhanced real-time use of SUAs here,” said Greg Sonnabend, MOS, Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).  “The new system also has helped reduce the impact to non-military users,” he added.

By bringing an underlying Web 2.0 technology to bear for the FAA enterprise – i.e., Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX), a way of building interactive browser-based applications – MADE enables:

  • All segments of the civil aviation community to access military SUA schedules from a central database, and determine when SUA’s are available
  • Improved interagency collaboration between FAA, DoD and other users of SUA
  • Significant travel and fuel efficiencies for civilian users, while preserving the priority of military and other special government users
  • MILOPS to operate at significantly lower cost with higher output.  Prior to MADE, the MILOPS system required large, expensive rack servers at every location and dedicated Sun workstations to run critical applications.  The upgraded MADE and SAMS are now browser applications that can run from any computer, which eliminates the need for additional hardware, increases efficiency, and reduces costs.
  • Best use of available resources, including staff, system hardware, and purchased software.

FAA, DoD, ConceptSolutions and The MITRE Corporation’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development (MITRE/CAASD) collaborated to deploy the MADE capability throughout the National Airspace System (NAS).  MITRE/CAASD, the FAA’s Federally Funded Research and Development Center, laid the groundwork for developing and deploying the MADE system with a series of SUA research trials in Central Florida, Central Texas and Ohio.  The trials involved several DoD organizations, commercial and general aviation airspace users, and FAA field facility personnel.

From the early stages of deployment, the new scheduling system has delivered immediate benefits, including increased public safety, reduced commercial traffic delays, and improved airline efficiencies through reduced fuel costs.  Furthermore, the upgraded MADE and SAMS, together, have satisfied the original safety, efficiency, interagency coordination and reporting objectives set forth by the report on the joint review of special use airspace dated October 1989, as directed by Public Law 100-223.  After nearly 20 years searching for a viable solution, FAA has taken significant steps towards meeting the critical MILOPS objectives:

  • Provide the most efficient use of US airspace while ensuring maximum safety to users
  • Improve operations and provide maximum coordination between DoD, FAA and airspace users affected by SUA and other special-purpose airspace operations
  • Provide authoritative auditing and reporting of actual US airspace usage.

The MADE system is now operational at 282 military SUA scheduling sites, and more than 450 MADE users across the country have been trained – numbers that are expected to continue growing over time.

A TURBO Boost for Enterprise Web 2.0 Development

The MADE and SAMS solutions were developed using an Enterprise Web 2.0 platform called TURBO, an application development tool for creating and running secure Web 2.0 Rich Internet Applications (RIA).  TURBO optimizes the power of Oracle while empowering the legions of PL/SQL (Procedural Language/Structured Query Language) developers to build Web 2.0 rich applications at lower cost and greater speed than traditional enterprise custom application development methodology.

The TURBO development engine is a compiled virtual, 3-tier architecture that contains all components for enterprise solutions, including security, user interface (UI) renderings, stored business logic and optimized performance.  In developing RIA for aviation industry organizations, TURBO offers the following advantages and features:

Advantages

  • Application Security

  • Oracle scalability

  • Rapid development with smaller team

  • Built-in process improvement reduces development time & costs

  • Easily embed code snippets from open source library and tools

  • Application code is data-aware

  • Runs native in Oracle

  • Saves operation and maintenance cost by removing unnecessary middle tier physical application layer.

Features

  • UI with look and feel of a desktop application

  • Real-time, data updates and on-page user interaction

  • Auto-fill features

  • Interactive reporting grids

  • GIS capabilities

  • Charts and graphs

  • Rich Text Editor

  • Debugging features

  • Microsoft Office integration

  • Service B/NOTAMS messaging for system inter-operability and NAS integration

  • Minimal training to use.

Enterprise Web 2.0 Integrating Today’s Technology with Tomorrow’s Aviation

As many business sectors continue to mull the potential ROI of Enterprise Web 2.0 applications, FAA’s MADE and SAMS applications already are transforming aviation today by providing enhanced safety and security, increased efficiencies, and improved collaboration and communications.  Although the future of U.S. air traffic management will still rely upon existing technologies – satellite naviga­tion and control, digital non-voice communication, weather forecasting, traffic flow management and advanced networking – Enterprise Web 2.0 applications will be critical to tying these components together and helping ensure the safety and security of the nation’s skies.

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For more information, contact:  Scott Beller @ 202-365-5234

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