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4D Virtual Airspace Management System


The management of air traffic (ATM) across the wide areas used in international routes is a growing problem with the increasing numbers of passengers and flights in operation. The systems used for ATM are adopting new technologies quite slowly and the modern controller is using working environments similar to those in use 30 years ago. Despite the fact that the management of air traffic is partly a three dimensional problem and the benefits of this have been discussed for a long time, no extensive use of 3D technologies has been made to date.

Project objectives

A new 4D technology, called D4 to differentiate it from the existing 4D ATM concept, will provide new ways for the controller to visualise and interact with information. Novel ways of representing the information will provide the opportunity to reduce knowledge gaps, supporting optimal decision-making. AD4 aims to build an innovative virtual airspace representation, supporting efficient ATM control systems where 3D interaction with air traffic/airport space is accessible to the controllers. It will explore the application of VR displays and 3D interaction technologies to provide an environment within which a controller can monitor a large number of aircraft over a wide area, being kept aware in real-time of the many complex factors in the control sector. The AD4 IT infrastructure, integrated with real ATM systems and simulation environments like, for example, ESCAPE, will enable the determination of the benefits, in terms of enhanced understanding and clarity of perception, that 3D displays and representations can provide to the controller.

Display of the En-route Flight Manager
Display of the En-route Flight Manager

Description of the work

The AD4 project will address the analysis of operational concepts and human factors, as well as the engineering of the IT infrastructure and its core components (4D Human-Machine Interfaces, Middleware, Predictive and Applicative Components, interfaces to external data e.g. Meteo and ATM system integration), the development of a working demonstrator in an operational context, validation by use of the MAEVA 5th Framework Programme project methodology, and the assessment and exploitation of results.

AD4 will be based on extensive re-use of a technology called D3 (D-Cube), developed in a successful national project, co-funded by the Italian Space Agency ASI. Such technology supports dynamic management and scalable data elaboration for Digital Elevation Models, meteorology, pressure and wind fields, radar tracks and telemetry data using auto-stereoscopic displays and 3D mouse devices. The AD4 system will be implemented in collaboration with experts in the field of ATM systems, virtual reality, and human factors supported by the Italian Agency for Air Navigation Services, ENAV, covering:

  • a definition of the operational concepts and their expected impacts, including a review of the state-of-the-art technologies and systems
  • a careful study of the major aspects related to the next generation 4D HMIs, driven by an extensive analysis of the human factors and an extensive assessment of safety and security aspects
  • the construction and on-site integration of a demonstrator in a real ATM control centre, tested by air traffic controllers
  • two workshops, involving major players of the field and key users, to present preliminary results and the final outcomes of the AD4 project.

Expected results

The AD4 project will construct different releases of the IT infrastructure integrating 3D technologies and ATM components, driven by models using OMG-MDAs (Object Management Group Model Driven Architectures) and making use of Component Middleware (CORBA CCM). A final demonstrator will be hosted by a real ATM control centre and tested by air traffic controllers. Dissemination material will be published in a dedicated web site,, to circulate important results in the relevant ATM communities.

Display of the Approach Flight Manager
Display of the Approach Flight Manager