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"Logan joins the age of the Internet"


 
Monday, December 18, 2006

Logan joins the age of the Internet
By Peter J. Howe
The Boston (MA) Globe


It's been 47 years since Logan International Airport joined the jet age.

Now a key part of the airport's operations is finally joining the Internet
age, too.

This month, officials at the Massachusetts Port Authority , which runs
Logan, started a new system that gives airlines, air-traffic controllers,
and airport officials a password-protected website to review runway
closings, weather conditions, and a trove of other Logan data. It's updated
every 30 seconds.

As recently as this fall, much of that information was being relayed through
the equivalent of teletype machines and conference calls -- which isn't
unusual. Boston's is one of only a handful of big US airports to install the
new "airfield reporting system." The two New York City airports and Dulles
International Airport, outside Washington, D.C., are among the few others
that are putting the information on websites.

If it lives up to expectations, Logan's new automated airfield reporting
system could help reduce flight delays for passengers, particularly during
snowstorms that shut down runways and force airlines to cancel and
reschedule flights.

With better, timelier data about runway and weather conditions, airlines may
have a better chance to use available takeoff slots during snowstorms and to
time aircraft de-icing operations to make sure planes are ready to go at
available takeoff times. (Because ice buildup on wings can make planes
crash, airlines typically have a window of only several minutes after wings
are sprayed with de-icing fluid before the plane has to be pulled out of the
takeoff queue and treated again.)

Alternatively, airlines can use the system to learn when they should hold
Boston-bound flights in other cities to reduce arrival delays and avoid
having planes circling over Massachusetts Bay.

"This new technology moves Boston Logan toward a more efficient airport
during all weather conditions," said Massport's acting aviation director,
Edward C. Freni. "Sharing instant information with our key partners
ultimately benefits the traveling public."

The website builds off of a bigger software system, called PASSUR, developed
for Logan by Megadata Corp. of Greenwich, Conn. It collects everything from
weather radar readings to jetliners' tail numbers by taking readings from
the onboard transponders that constantly broadcast the plane's identity and
status.

Earlier this year, Logan began using the Megadata PASSUR system to automate
the process of collecting landing fees, typically $250 to $700, depending on
the plane's weight. As planes arrive, tail numbers are automatically
recorded and correlated to a database that shows how much they weigh.

At the end of the month, airlines are automatically billed for all their
planes that landed. That's a far more efficient, reliable system than the
old, process, which required airlines to collect the data and send it with a
check to Massport, which periodically audited the reports.

The website puts in one place troves of information beyond which of Logan's
six runways are open or closed: reports of large flocks of birds, which can
cause planes to crash if they get sucked into jet engines, locations of
construction crews, and even the presence of tall building cranes along
runway approach paths.

"The whole theory is that you should not have to make five phone calls and
go to three websites to get what you need to know," said Ron Dunsky, a
Megadata vice president. "Up until now, it's been all about radios and faxes
and conference calls and teletypes. That's the Stone Age, compared to being
able to see it all on one portal."

In an interview in his 16th-floor office at Logan's control tower last week,
Joseph Reiter, Massport operations system manager, said one huge advantage
is "everybody gets exactly the same message at exactly the same time, and
they're getting it at electronic speed."

Using Net-based technology, Reiter predicted, will be a far more efficient
way of running Logan during what are called "snow desk operations," when
airport, Federal Aviation Administration, and airline officials "literally
sat around a desk" to negotiate whose planes can land.

Logan normally handles up to 120 planes taking off and landing every hour.
That can drop to 30 or fewer during storms.

Jim Celeste , general manager for JetBlue Airways Corp. at Logan, agreed the
new system is "a great tool to get updated field conditions." Echoing
comments from American Airlines and Delta Air Lines officials, Celeste said:
"Not only does this benefit our operations, but our customers as well. It
will enable us to provide the most accurate information in real time."

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