I was listening to an ATIS (automated terminal information service) broadcast recently and something about half way through the report caught my attention. The automated voice for the message sounded to me like it said “FDX system operational. All aircraft operate transponders with Mode C on all taxiways and runways”.
I had never heard of the “FDX system” before so when I got home from my trip I did a Google search for “FDX system operational” but I didn’t find anything useful in the results. There were a couple of listings about a new safety initiative by the FedEx corporation but nothing pertient to my question about the ATIS recording.
My next step was to try and insure that “FDX system operational” was really indeed what I heard on the ATIS. I was able to track down and get the digital ATIS from FBOweb.com for the airport I was at and here is a text version of the recorded ATIS:
ATIS INFO Y 1551Z. 16011KT 10SM FEW009 ….NOTAMS… BIRD ACTIVITY VICINITY ARPT…. AS DEE EX SYSTEM OPERATIONAL. ALL AIRCRAFT OPERATE TRANN SPONDERS WITH MODE CEE ON ALL TAXIWAYS AND RUNWAYS. READ BACK ALL ASSIGNED ALTITUDES. READBACK ALL RWY HOLD SHORT INSTRUCTIONS. IN THE INTEREST OF NOISE ABATE MENT PLEASE USE ASSIGNED RY. …ADVS YOU HAVE INFO Y.
Ok, so it wasn’t “FDX system” that I heard it was actually “As Dee Ex System” but what is that? Well, as it turns out, “As Dee Ex System” is the “Airport Surface Detection Equipment – Model X” or better known simply as the ASDE-X which is a product developed by the Sensis Corporation.
The ASDE-X is a traffic management system designed for the airport surface. It combines several aircraft sensor systems such as multilateration transponder sensors, surface radar and ADS-B to a processor that feeds a tower display (pictured above) that shows the controllers aicraft position & identification on all airport surfaces….pretty cool. This system is designed to enhance airport safety (specifically runway incursions), reduce airport delays and in general, just make the airport safer and more efficient. The FAA has targeted 35 different airports for the ASDE-X system (currently deployed at 16 airports nationwide).
(BTW, I also had no clue what Multilateration was but thanks to Wikipedia I now have a much better understanding. There is also a whole website devoted to aircraft multilateration at http://www.multilateration.com)
If we look at the big picture, ASDE-X is also just one part of the larger FAA Runway Safety Program. The Runway Safety Program is aimed at reducing the number and the severity of runway incursions. A runway incursion is defined as any “unauthorized intrusion unto a runway”. Reducing the number of these intrusions, has been one of the FAA’s top priorities (in case you hadn’t noticed). In fact, the Sensis corporation has another product called the LCGS or Low Cost Ground Survelliance system and from what I can tell is like the “lite” version of the more complicated ASDE-X. The LCGS uses the same Surface Movement Radar Improved (SMRi) and tower display screen but leaves out some of the more expensive portions of the ASDE-X such as the multilateration transponder sensors, ADS-B and intergrated terminal radar.
All-in-all, ASDE-X seems like a pretty neat system that is sure to save some hides. In fact, the ASDE-X system has already been praised for alterting controllers and preventing a possible collision between a PC-12 and a CRJ-200 at the Charlotte airport on June 3, 2009. You can read more about this incident at the Aero-News.net.
If you want to read more about the ASDE-X system, Sensis has some more information available on their website at http://www.sensis.com/docs/128/