NASA Spinoff

Surface Operations Systems Improve Airport Efficiency

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

As part of its research to make air travel safer, NASA began collaborating with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2005 to develop what are now called surface traffic management systems (STMS). Both agencies have expressed a need to gather and organize data on airport surface operations, the management of all airport vehicle activities on or near runways, including the movement of aircraft, baggage vans, fuel trucks, catering vehicles, security personnel, and any other ground traffic. STMS continuously record data to determine the position of aircraft using a transponder signal, GPS onboard the aircraft, or primary radar. These surface surveillance systems, which report locations every second for thousands of air and ground vehicles, generate massive amounts of data, making gathering and analyzing this information difficult. To record and help analyze airport operations data with the eventual goal of automating airport ground traffic, NASA sought assistance from private industry.


The Aviation Systems Division at Ames Research Center has contributed to surface automation research by helping to develop surface traffic management systems, which are decision-support tools designed to aid surface traffic planning.

In 2005, Mosaic ATM Inc., of Leesburg, Virginia, developed the Surface Operations Data Analysis and Adaptation (SODAA) tool with funding from Ames Research Center through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. In essence, says Chris Brinton, Mosaic ATM’s president and a former Ames employee, “SODAA is an off-line support tool that can be used to analyze how well the airport surface operation is working, and to help in redesigning procedures and decision-making processes to improve airport operations.” Mosaic ATM continued its work with a Phase II SBIR in 2006.

After identifying what NASA, the FAA, and the aviation industry required, Mosaic ATM built and then systematically improved upon a prototype for SODAA. These improvements included advanced query, visualization, and data analysis capabilities to allow researchers to pinpoint trends and correlations in vast amounts of recorded airport operations data. Now widely used, SODAA has two main capabilities: supporting analysis of surface operations and developing STMS adaptation data, which provide airport configuration parameters for STMS. Mosaic ATM designers have also made a special effort to reduce the time needed to build STMS adaptation data sets, with options that include predefined functions.

Product Outcome

Mosaic ATM’s SODAA helps airports and carriers avoid the significant costs of aviation delays by providing analysis tools to help refine and improve airport operational procedures. Even a small airstrip manages numerous variables for each aircraft and ground vehicle, and collecting data 24 hours a day on hundreds of different vehicles and situations can become unwieldy quickly. Working with current airport surface surveillance systems, SODAA manages these large amounts of data, revealing where slowdowns or irregularities occur.

SODAA presents this data in a graphical user interface (GUI), allowing for immediate, useful interpretation, such as when changes in the flight schedules at the airport cause inefficiencies. Using the GUI, users can define queries—and areas of concern—which SODAA can plot on a map, display in a graph or a table, or export to other software. SODAA pulls raw airport data and STMS log files into its database, and then flags data that may be of interest.


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