In the current National Airspace System (NAS), there are many airports that are capacity-limited during the busiest parts of the day, and air traffic is expected to increase substantially in the future. NASA and the FAA are looking toward technologies that improve the capacity and efficiency of the NAS. The Terminal Airspace Configuration Scheduler (TACS) algorithms were developed for use in current research simulations for systems analysis of the NAS. These algorithms also could be the basis for new airspace management tools for use in the actual NAS as a means of improving airport arrival capacity through more efficient management of the arrival traffic system.

The TACS algorithms are a set of control logic that computes a recommended arrival scheduling radius with a corresponding runway configuration. The arrival scheduling radius is the radial distance from the airport that defines where the automated arrival scheduling tool intercepts aircraft bound to a target airport to assign required times of arrival (RTAs) at crossing fixes along the approach route and to the runway. It also configures the terminal airspace to give a combined airspace/runway solution to best accommodate predicted arrival volume.

TACS inspects the list of future arrivals and optimizes to either minimize the required number of arrival runways, or minimize the arrival scheduling radius. Dynamic manipulation of this radius is a new concept, and was demonstrated to increase an airport’s throughput by allowing the arrival scheduler more flexibility to arrange, delay, and expedite traffic when the radius is increased. TACS uses this concept to increase the size of the arrival scheduling radius when required to accommodate large volume, and decrease the size whenever possible to minimize impact of the more restrictive airspace.

TACS uses data readily available in the current air traffic control system, and provides a generalized solution that could then be used by other airspace management tools such as an Arrival Scheduler or a Terminal Management Advisor (TMA). TACS uses internal data and estimation schedules to determine the best airspace configuration when provided with a schedule of arrivals such as would be available from today’s flight plan logs.

TACS is not airport-specific. While it does output the recommended number of arrival runways, it leaves it to the client airport to select a specific configuration of runways to satisfy the recommended number.

This work was done by Patricia Glaab of Langley Research Center. NASA is seeking partners to further develop this technology through joint cooperative research and development. For more information about this technology and to explore opportunities, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. LAR-18328-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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