Software Tool for Efficient Airspace Management (STEAM™)

The STEAM™ technology is a software system that applies robust support tools, data mining, and statistical methods to the intelligent management of special use airspace (SUA).

KBSI’s Software Tool for Efficient Airspace Management (STEAM™) combines a software system with robust decision support tools to enable special use airspace (SUA) scheduling agencies to efficiently manage airspace.  This SBIR initiative for Edwards Air Force Base, currently in Phase II, is developing the STEAM™ software system to enhance the Air Force’s SUA management.  The Federal Aviation Authority reserves a portion of airspace in the National Airspace System (NAS) for military training and testing in order to support the national objective of defense preparedness at all times.  Such airspace, known as SUA, segregates military activities from general aviation.  As a policy, the FAA wants the Department of Defense to promote as much as possible the joint use of SUA by military and civilian aircraft and the use of inactivated SUA by civilian aircraft while meeting all of its airspace requirements.

The agency responsible for scheduling military activities in SUA has to implement this policy by optimally using the airspace to meet all military requirements.  This task becomes very complex when there are a large number of military missions of different sizes and of different natures to be scheduled in the same airspace.  Moreover, the execution of military missions in SUA is subjected to uncertain factors such as weather, maintenance problems, etc.  These uncertain factors, along with late requests from military units, can impact the established schedule significantly and thereby necessitate the real-time scheduling of airspace.  In such a situation, the scheduling agency finds it very difficult to optimally utilize SUA for all required military activities and also maximize, at the same time, the scope of SUA use by general aviation.

There are currently airspace management tools, such as the Military Airspace Management System (MAMS) and the Special Airspace Management System (SAMS), that provide individualized features.  Adopting the individual merits of these systems, STEAM™ provides a versatile software tool that consists of (i) a powerful decision support system (DSS), (ii) intelligent graphic display of established schedules and real-time information on SUA status and the current activities in SUA, (iii) realistic and reliable models for aircraft density estimation and flight path prediction, and (iv) data mining and statistical methods for evaluating patterns of SUA utilization and for predicting future airspace requirements based on historical data.

  • Determination of optimal scheduling decisions in real time,
  • Accurate prediction of the durations in which SUA can be released to FAA for joint use,
  • Enhanced comprehension of activity schedules and current situation in the airspace (through intelligent graphic display of information),
  • Effective interaction with the system for rational real-time decision-making,
  • Efficient real-time solutions based on dynamic aircraft density and flight path predictions,
  • Graphical simulation of scenarios over time for various real-time decisions taken by the schedulers, and
  • Analysis of SUA utilization, prediction of future SUA requirements, and automation of report generation.

Phase II Development

In Phase II of the STEAM initiative, KBSI aggressively continued the development of a comprehensive set of advanced methods and tools for airspace scheduling and management.  The most visible product of that activity is a set of tools that can be used by airspace managers and policy makers to review, analyze, and assess SUA utilization patterns, design strategies to improve long-term efficiency, and support the day-to-day decision-making and coordination tasks involved in airspace scheduling and management.  The STEAM™ technology is designed to help airspace managers (1) coordinate and schedule airspace to support mission needs; (2) analyze airspace utilization history, patterns, and trends to derive meaningful management insights; (3) improve airspace utilization efficiency; (4) demonstrate and effectively communicate responsible stewardship of SUA; and (5) quickly make sense of the conditions and events involved in key flight-related events or situations (e.g., sonic boom, aircraft mishaps).

WebBanner_3DModelingAs part of the Phase II development, the STEAM™ technology was divided into two major categories.  The first category addresses the technology that supports airspace scheduling coordination and management.  The STEAM™ Schedule Capture and Decision Support (SCADS™) tool provides airspace managers with an efficient, user-friendly means for collecting and managing airspace scheduling requests, making and analyzing airspace scheduling decisions, and coordinating those decisions with requestors and the FAA.  The SCADS™ tool allows users to capture and manage changes to airspace schedule requests and provides a mechanism for importing airspace schedule request data (e.g., spreadsheet input) and revising airspace schedule requests.  The SCADS™ tool also provides automated support for building airspace release and recall reports, printing flight strips, and generating schedule-related reports.

The second technology category focused on providing wider access to the SCADS™ airspace schedule data via a centralized hub server as a means for promoting airspace scheduling data quality management and data sharing while eliminating duplicate data.  The schema for the hub allows systems that want to pull data from the hub with a read-only database view of current and future airspace scheduling data.

An aggressive development approach enabled rapid transition of these capabilities to the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) R-2508 Airspace Complex at Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB), providing a foundation for significant advancements within the DoD airspace management community.  In particular, the deployment of the SCADS™ tool and user training at EAFB’s R-2508 Central Coordinating Facility (CCF) provided a significant leap forward in ease of use and functionality, making it possible to work much more efficiently.  The R-2508 CCF management reported that SCADS “performed flawlessly” throughout the testing and cut-over period.  The tool has been in production use ever since.

The R-2508 airspace scheduling supports every major test program flying in the R-2508 airspace.  Improved scheduling capability continues to increase Air Force Flight Test Center’s (AFFTC) ability to efficiently utilize and schedule the limited airspace.  The accompanying airspace use analysis tools support improved utilization of SUA, facilitate aircraft mishap investigations, assist in the identification of SUA utilization patterns and trends, and support the definition of effective policies governing SUA usage.

As a result of this and other airspace management technology achievements under this contract, AFFTC awarded KBSI a five-year, Phase III task order contract to facilitate further technology transition and commercialization efforts to other U.S. government ranges with similar needs.