The FAA's LTRACON
May 1, 2001 12:00 PM, Ellyce Kelly
The new Atlanta LTRACON is the FAA's first totally digitalfacility in the country. The large-scale display systems are also afirst for an FAA facility.
WHEN JIM VALLONE, A FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATIONrepresentative, was assigned the task of overseeing the new AtlantaLarge Terminal Radar Approach Control Center (LTRACON), he knew hewas embarking on one of the most challenging experiences of hiscareer. Vallone, a member of the National Air Traffic ControllersAssociation and a long-time employee of the FAA, represents airtraffic controllers for the North Georgia area. He oversees siteselection for new facilities like LTRACON in Peachtree City,Georgia, which opened on April 10, 2001. He makes sure FAAcontrollers have the most technologically advanced equipment fortheir jobs, and still keeps purchases within budget. Atlanta'sTRACON, which operated at Hartsfield until the grand opening of thenew facility, manages flights for more than 30 airports in Georgia.One of those is Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, thebusiest passenger airport in the world. Hartsfield alone has 78million passengers a year and a daily average traffic count of 2600flights. The Atlanta TRACON controllers have seen an average dailycount of 3200 flights a day, with a yearly total far exceeding onemillion.
“This is an amazing facility. We are open 24 hours a day,seven days a week, 365 days a year. We don't stop.”
— Jim Vallone
The FAA facility in Hartsfield was a small, 20×40-footroom, so more space was necessary. Also needed were more radarscopes to monitor the heavy traffic in and out of the airports,especially Hartsfield. Vallone realized they were either going tohave to add onto the existing building or build an entirely newfacility. He also knew that Hartsfield plans to expand itsinternational presence. The airport and the city of Atlanta hadalready been planning to spend a $5.4 billion, 10-year capitalimprovement budget to expand on the east side of the internationalconcourse, with new gates, an additional runway and-more parking.The TRACON facility is located on the east side of Hartsfield. Thecity of Atlanta did not want to approve expansion of the currentstructure on that land, due to the existing expansion plans.Through congressional approval, FAA upper management decided tobuild a new facility and consolidate other air traffic facilitiesby bringing Macon and Columbus airport control into the new space.All air traffic operations of the new Atlanta LTRACON will run outof the Peachtree City facility, and the old building at Hartsfieldwill eventually be eliminated.
THE NEW FACILITY
The new Atlanta LTRACON is the FAA's first totally digitalfacility in the country. Most of the FAA's other TRACON facilitatesstill use older analog radar scopes. The large-scale displaysystems are also a first for an FAA facility. There are two LTRACONfacilities currently open, in Chicago and in Southern California,and there are plans to open ones in Northern California, Potomac,Boston and Central Florida. In April, the FAA will bring inapproximately 140 air traffic controllers, 50 air traffic personnelto support the controllers, and 45 to 50 airway facilitytechnicians from its Hartsfield location. The new control centerhas 25 radar scopes in the room; some of those have associatedhandoff positions for busy times when coordination is required withother facilities. Land lines are also available at all of thesestations so controllers can speak directly to other airportfacilities and to pilots.
Cape Dixson Associates Incorporated, a professional consultingfirm specializing in presentation and performing arts technologies,was hired by the FAA to provide lighting design and later hired tosupply consulting for A/V projection systems design, acoustics andmechanical noise control. The FAA first explored projection optionsin 1998 and was originally interested in rear-screen technology.But they needed a 4-foot area behind the wall for access andmaintenance in order to have rear-screen projection systems. Giventhe room design, they realized that was not a possibility. So theyinstalled 9×8-foot front-projector screens and waited topurchase the projectors until closer to the opening of thefacility, hoping to get the latest technology at the best price.However, with the help of CDAI, the FAA discovered that frontprojection would cause glare on the new radar scopes. At thispoint, with the control room complete with new carpet, consoles,keypads, computers and radar scopes, Jim Vallone suddenly had areal problem. He had a perfect new control room but a seriousprojection issue. In a dynamic, hectic control center, glare onradar scopes is unacceptable. Vallone and his team went back to thedrawing board to reconsider rear projection.
FIXING THE GLITCH
“With CDAI helping us, we realized that front projectionwould cause glare on the radar scopes. Through the formal bidprocess, we chose Barco to provide our rear-screen projectionsystems. We felt Barco could offer a total solution, not to mentiontechnologically advanced products at a reasonable cost,” saidVallone. “The real trick was identifying where oursuperstructure was located and installing these screens withoutdamaging our completed control room.”
Rather than have the standard 4-foot space behind the system (2feet is the actual width of the projection system, and 2 feet ofspace is needed for access), Barco and M & R Consultantsdesigned a layout in which the existing structure would house therear-projection screens.
“We basically had to fit a square piece of equipment intoa round room,” said Mark Dunlap, Barco control room salesengineer. “With the help of M & R Consultants, we wereable to create the new structure and attach it to the existingsteel framework 25 feet off the floor. This allowed access to theback of the screen through a main hallway. Ergo Consoles was ableto create an enclosure around the display wall and make itcosmetically appealing.”
“It was quite a feat, but, amazingly enough, thefabricators and Barco installers were able to pull off therestructure without a hitch,” said Vallone.
The rear projection has turned out to be a big plus for the FAA.“The Barco screens are something new in an FAA TRACONfacility. We are using these for traffic management, supervisoryfunctions and coordination. The physical room is 65 feet indiameter. Our old facility was a small, rectangular room. Asupervisor could walk from one side of the room to the other tocoordinate an urgent situation such as bad weather. The new room istoo big for that.
“With the Barco screens on the wall, the supervisor cansimply plug in the headsets and pull a conference call together,pointing to the screen to explain what he's talking about. Everyoneis looking at the same picture on a very large screen.”
The FAA purchased 20 Barco MP50 video display systems for thecontrol room. Three 2×2 systems are located throughout theroom, and one 4×2 system is in the center of the room. Themain 4×2 wall will be used for arrivals into Hartsfield only.The first 2×2 system will be used for departures, mainly outof Hartsfield. The second 2×2 system will be used to monitorsatellite airports. The third will be used to monitor air trafficin and out of Macon and Columbus. (That transition is expected totake place in Spring 2002.)
John Myles, FAA air traffic supervisor, will oversee operationson all four walls. The major differences he sees between the oldfacility and the new one are size and technology. “As acontroller, I will now have a higher resolution picture and moreinformation.” He can now see the traffic flow coming intoHartsfield on a larger screen and determine if he needs to makeadjustments in departures or make changes to traffic flow, withoutleaving his station. For example, if there is a weather systemapproaching, he can redirect traffic and set up a new flow bycommunicating with his staff across the room without ever leavinghis post.
“The Barco walls eliminate the need for controllers andsupervisors to leave their primary work stations. [The walls] alloweveryone to communicate on the same page,” said Vallone.
The Barco walls will also be used for other programs that helpair traffic controllers make tough decisions and direct air trafficsmoothly. The Enhanced Traffic Management System, for example, is aproprietary product of the FAA that tracks global air traffic.
Another product the FAA will show on the Barco wall is theTerminal Doppler Weather Radar. It is “a very importantproduct that shows thunderstorms, gust fronts, microbursts and windshear activity near the airport. This is critical when an aircraftis closer to the ground. It is slower, and its handlingcharacteristics are less stable when the landing gear is down andthe flaps are set to land. Any sudden changes in wind direction orspeed can greatly impact its performance.”
Vallone continued, “Another product we will show on theBarco wall is the Passive Final Approach Sequencing Tool, aNational Free Flight Initiative program supported by the FAA'sadministrative office. This program will help with long-termprojection to balance the use of the runways and reduce delays. Wewill also have a live video feed of the Weather Channel on all ofthe walls.” Vallone says other FAA programs will also beshown on the displays.
“This is an amazing facility. We have state-of-the-artcolor radar scopes. We are only the fourth facility in the U.S. tohave these color radar scopes. The old systems required a very darkroom. We are able to have more light in the room because of theSony CRT product. We also have the ARTS IIIE, an air trafficautomation system and ACD (ARTS Color Display and Radar Scopes) byLockheed/Martin. Our communications system is RDVS-IIA byLitton/Denroe, and our information display system is an ACE/IDS 5by Systems Management Inc.,” said Vallone, “This ishigh-tech!
“The main benefit of the new facility is that it allows usto be so much more efficient. It will not so much change what we doand how we do it, but it will affect our long-term planning. Wewill be better able to address our customers' needs and the needsof the major airlines.
“We are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days ayear. We don't stop. Even if the Atlanta airport or one of oursatellite airports is closed, we are open, ready for business.Safety is our top priority. With the Barco walls and some of theother technology, we will be better able to monitor weather andtraffic, which will enhance safety without a doubt.”
Ellyce Kelly, Barco's public relations manager, has overthree years experience in the large-scale video display industryand over five years experience in marketing and mediarelations.
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