May 9, 2015

Described by FAA officials as “one of the most complex, challenging and ambitious” projects ever undertaken by the agency, the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) project is now live, linking computers at 20 air route traffic control center facilities throughout the country, and promising better routing for all aircraft operators, including those who fly business aircraft.

Developed by Lockheed Martin, ERAM replaced the 40-year-old “Host” computer network previously used by controllers to track movement of aircraft flying above 10,000 feet mean sea level. In addition to enabling an individual controller to track as many 1,900 aircraft at one time (exceeding the 1,100 maximum allowed by the Host network), ERAM also enables controllers to view aircraft outside their sector in what the FAA termed a “4-dimensional trajectory – 3D plus time,” which facilitates more efficient routing.

NBAA Chief Operating Officer Steve Brown noted that, perhaps most significantly, ERAM provides a solid technological foundation on which to utilize and implement other aspects of the FAA’s NextGen modernization efforts. For example, ERAM was designed to support a satellite-based air traffic control (ATC) network, whereas Host relied on system patches and workarounds to accommodate the increasingly widespread use of GPS-based routing.

“At the highest level, ERAM represents the brain of the ATC system,” explained Brown. “It is the core software enabling en route controllers to process flight plans more efficiently, while also fusing aircraft position data from both ground-based radar and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) into a common picture.”

Brown expects that the implementation of ERAM “should be largely transparent” to pilots flying in the national airspace system, although NBAA Members may notice some practical advantages right away.

“Business aircraft operators should see a higher percentage of their requests to fly direct approved, thanks to the system-wide increase in capability,” Brown noted. “ERAM also has a far better conflict probe [than Host provided], always working in the background to project all potential conflict areas with changes in routing.”

ERAM has been a long time coming: the original timetable called for implementation in 2010 at a cost of $2.1 billion. A revised timeline added four years and $330 million to the project, while the 2013 budget sequestration added still more costs, according to the FAA, and further delayed deployment by another year.

Despite those delays and cost overruns, Brown expects ERAM will prove to have been worth the wait.

“Many people may not necessarily recognize it as such, but ERAM is probably the most important foundational aspect of NextGen to be deployed so far,” he concluded. “It will dramatically improve a controller’s ability to do their job.”