Air Traffic Control Resource Management Strategies and the Small Aircraft Transportation System: A System Dynamics Perspective

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Virginia Tech

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is leading a research effort to develop a Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) that will expand air transportation capabilities to hundreds of underutilized airports in the United States. Most of the research effort addresses the technological development of the small aircraft as well as the systems to manage airspace usage and surface activities at airports. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will also play a major role in the successful implementation of SATS, however, the administration is reluctant to embrace the unproven concept.

The purpose of the research presented in this dissertation is to determine if the FAA can pursue a resource management strategy that will support the current radar-based Air Traffic Control (ATC) system as well as a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS)-based ATC system required by the SATS. The research centered around the use of the System Dynamics modeling methodology to determine the future behavior of the principle components of the ATC system over time.

The research included a model of the ATC system consisting of people, facilities, equipment, airports, aircraft, the FAA budget, and the Airport and Airways Trust Fund. The model generated system performance behavior used to evaluate three scenarios. The first scenario depicted the base case behavior of the system if the FAA continued its current resource management practices. The second scenario depicted the behavior of the system if the FAA emphasized development of GPS-based ATC systems. The third scenario depicted a combined resource management strategy that supplemented radar systems with GPS systems.

The findings of the research were that the FAA must pursue a resource management strategy that primarily funds a radar-based ATC system and directs lesser funding toward a GPS-based supplemental ATC system. The most significant contribution of this research was the insight and understanding gained of how several resource management strategies and the presence of SATS aircraft may impact the future US Air Traffic Control system.

System Dynamics, Air Traffic Control, Small Aircraft Transportation System