The infrastructure supporting our current air transportation system has evolved as a combination of separate systems interconnected to serve the needs of pilots and air traffic control (ATC). The human-centric approach to ATC with multiple levels of backup capability has proven very safe and has provided efficient service until the late 1990's when air traffic approached system capacity limits. As traffic demand increases there is concern that the number of aircraft operations may exceed the human's ability to directly control individual aircraft, even with sophisticated decision support tools. Various automation approaches to air traffic management (ATM) for handling more aircraft operations are being investigated at an algorithmic level. Assuming automation algorithms are developed that could handle significantly more traffic than human controllers, could they be implemented safely with the current infrastructure, which was designed for human operation and intervention? An infrastructure design approach is introduced for supporting fully automatic operations of aircraft and ATM. It is based on an integrated design of communication, space positioning and ATM functions using satellite, airborne and terrestrial elements. Such an infrastructure could support civil uninhabited air vehicles (UAV) application and enable highly automated personal air vehicles.
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