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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Developing the Newest Service for FAA SWIM: The NAS Common Reference

Monday, November 9, 2020

On any given day, nearly 5 terabytes of data—pertaining to flight movements, weather data, air traffic flow constraints, and more—move across the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) System Wide Information Management (SWIM) enterprise between data producers and end users. 

While this data richness unlocks the potential for enhanced operational awareness and analysis, its sheer volume can create challenges for airline operators and other users of SWIM data who have to drill down to find the right information for their particular need.

The FAA SWIM Program Office develops and deploys information services that disseminate digital data essential to the real-time awareness of air traffic operations in the National Airspace System (NAS). An overarching mission of FAA SWIM is to deliver the right information, to the right users, at the right time. 

Currently, users of FAA operational data via SWIM need to connect to producer services individually to access different types of operational NAS data, such as en route flight data, terminal weather data, and aeronautical data. 

Users must develop separate interfaces to these services, as well as derive their own logic for parsing, storing, and correlating this data in space and in time.

Screenshot of the NAS Common Reference interface showing data overlaid on a map of the U.S. East Coast.
In support of FAA, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center developed a test tool that enables visualization of data sets that SWIM NCR correlates spatially and temporally in response to user requests. (Volpe image)

The NAS Common Reference (NCR) is the newest information service that FAA SWIM plans to deploy to help fulfill its mission. 

NCR is a common, reusable service that leverages industry standards to ensure SWIM users can receive data from many SWIM producers in a consistently correlated manner. With NCR, users of enterprise SWIM data will have the ability to interface with a single SWIM service to access real-time, correlated data they need for decision-making. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Volpe Center is the lead system developer of NCR service in support of the FAA SWIM Program Office. 

Drawing from more than 10 years of experience in developing and testing new SWIM services, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center is uniquely positioned to deliver the needed NCR capabilities to meet FAA operational objectives and program milestones. Specific capabilities applied include requirements development and analysis, system design, coding and testing, system and database administration, and data analysis. 

U.S. DOT Volpe Center experts have helped spearhead the use of innovative, industry-standard technologies for automating the process of testing and delivering software builds to FAA. 

In the early phases of NCR system development, delivering software to FAA required traveling to the test facility lab in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and installing physical media on FAA systems. This work could take more than a week to complete in some cases. After introducing software delivery “pipelines” directly between the U.S. DOT Volpe Center and the FAA test facility lab, this process now takes a matter of hours.

In July 2020, the NCR system was deemed operationally effective and suitable for entry into service into the NAS. This determination was collaboratively reached by numerous NCR stakeholders—including multiple FAA lines of business and the U.S. DOT Volpe Center—based on results of rigorous system testing that demonstrate the NCR system baseline meets all applicable functional and performance requirements. 

FAA envisions NCR will be used by a variety of aviation stakeholders, and is already working on enhancements to the service to help meet future operational needs and user demand.

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is a key partner in this endeavor, continuing to design, code, and test the NCR system in support of these objectives.

Celebrating 50 years of transportation innovation for the public good, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s mission is to help the transportation community navigate its most challenging problems.