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Drexel to Host International Conference on Research in Air Transportation

Air Traffic Control
Air traffic controllers direct air and ground operations atop a new air traffic control tower June 11, 2013, at Pope Field, N.C. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Tech. Sgt. Peter R. Miller)

Though 2016 is shaping up to be one of the safest years in aviation history, advancing technologies and more crowded skies means the future of flight will face new challenges.

An international group of researchers, industry professionals, operators and regulators will convene from June 20-24 at Drexel University for the 7th International Conference on Research in Air Transportation (ICRAT) in an effort to make flying safer and more efficient.

“Drexel is looking forward to hosting world-class air transportation researchers right here in Philadelphia. The purpose of this conference is to connect the innovators of tomorrow with senior researchers, field experts and regulators,” said Kurtulus Izzetoglu, PhD, local conference chair and associate research professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) jointly sponsor the annual conference.

“This is an excellent opportunity for the researchers to showcase their work and to promote global harmonization,” said Eric Neiderman, FAA conference co-chair.

ICRAT enables young air transportation researchers to share their work with a global audience. Topics presented at the conference will include airport design, environment efficiency, human performance and enhanced navigation, among others.

Eric Silverman, American Airlines’ air traffic control/airfield operations manager, will deliver a keynote speech.

Based at Philadelphia International Airport, Silverman is the eyes and ears of the entire northeast for American, which includes its three major northeast hubs: Philadelphia, John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports, which are part of the busiest airspace in the country. He is American’s liaison between the northeast airports and the FAA, with the goal of keeping the airline’s operations running efficiently and safely.

“No matter what the reason for the delay — weather, construction or an emergency — it always comes back to the customer to ensure we minimize the impact to their travel,” Silverman said.

Silverman said technology has radically changed air transportation in the past decade, and new innovations will have a great impact on how we fly in the future. For example, Performance Based Navigation (PBN), which uses satellite technology, is more precise and accurate than conventional ground-based navigation, yielding shorter routes and the benefits that go along with them, such as fewer environmental impacts.

Another area important to Silverman is how to improve and measure the abilities of air traffic controllers.

Drexel’s Izzetoglu is already taking on that problem. He and other Drexel researchers have developed a wearable fNIR (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) sensor to monitor the brain activity of air traffic controllers in real-time. The goal is to create biomarkers and metrics for objective assessment of human-system performance.

Last May, the FAA established the National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and tapped Drexel, along with several other universities, to conduct research needed to regulate a new emerging concern: introducing UAS into the nation’s airspace. Izzetoglu and a team of researchers will be employing the same brain monitoring technology to determine how to best assess operators’ expertise level and cognitive workload to be able to fly drones safely.