multiple screens showing aircraft positions, routes and
hazards including terrain and predicted weather. Tese
indicate potential trafc conficts and weather threats on
any new route that might be contemplated.
In addition to emergencies, current conops calls for
a ground operator to take the frst ofcer role during
certain portions of a fight where teamwork is critical,
including arrivals, departures and taxiing. NASA is also
considering a “harbor pilot” ground controller who
would take over from the super dispatcher from the top-of-descent point down to the gate.
“Tere are unique challenges, including bringing the
ground pilot up to speed quickly,” Borghese said, adding
there are other issues. “Te biggie is pilot incapacita-
tion. It’s a low probability, but we really want it covered
because it has a big impact. But incapacitation is a
continuum from disorientation to death, so we have to
gradually bring in human judgment.”
NASA plans to investigate using physiological
monitoring of the captain. Tis would include altering
for non-responsiveness, but the threshold for a ground
controller taking over an aircraft would be high because,
under the SPO conops, the captain remains in charge of
the safety of the fight. “Is he sleeping, is he dead, or has
he gone into oxygen deprivation and thinks he’s fne? Te
person on the ground, if they see the monitors going of,
can hook in and ask how he is doing,” Johnson said.
Based on simulation studies, NASA has decided the
ground operators should be qualifed pilots trained in
dispatcher skills. Pilots in those earlier studies make clear
they wanted someone in the ground-support role “that
has been were I’ve been, that can feel what I feel and
know what the issues are,” said Vernol Battiste, a senior
research psychologist with San Jose State University
working on the project. “We decided to go with pilots
initially and train them to be dispatchers.”
How to establish trust between airborne and ground-
based crew members will be a major issue examined in
the study. Borghese said pilots want the ground opera-
tors also to be pilots type-rated in their aircraft, and one
possibility is that line pilots man the ground station
between trips to stay current and build confdence. But
seniority, reputation and other human factors could
come into play.
In the aircraft, Rockwell Collins is looking at technologies including speech control, active sidesticks and decision
aids to reduce workload for the solo captain while procedurally having a frst ofcer available on the ground.
“We want to bring that dynamic, creative problem-solving capability of the human brain to help the pilot,
while having more immediate fight automation on the
cockpit side in case they do not have enough time to
react and come in to help,” Borghese said.
“Automation is also something that can help routinely. Te person on the ground is a limited resource
and not there to help all the time. Automation will
help with routine tasks that require a lot of attention
and keep the pilot’s head down, looking at charts for
information,” he said.
Automated decision aids are an important part of the
mix, but Borghese said the software may have to explain
why it came up with a particular recommendation, to
help build pilot trust. He gives the example of a medical
emergency in fight, where the diversion airport selected
by the decision aid is not the closest. For the pilot to
accept the decision, “the software needs to explain it
picked that airport because the medical facilities are
nearer,” he said.
Under the NASA SPO study, the Rockwell Collins team will spend the frst year developing enabling
technologies and concepts of operation that will then
be tested over the next years in increasingly complex
scenarios using a distributed simulation network. Tis
will link NASA Ames, NASA Langley Research Center
in Virginia, Rockwell Collins and its teammates at California State University Long Beach and the University of
Iowa Operator Performance Laboratory.
NASA Ames has the ground operator station and
a NextGen airspace simulation capability that will be
used in the study, while a fightdeck simulator has been
located at Rockwell Collins’ Training & Simulation Solutions in Sterling, Virginia, close to Washington Dulles
International Airport, from which pilots will be drawn to
participate in the simulations. “Te conops will pin down
what we look at and drive the kinds of simulations to be
performed,” Matessa said.
Te simulations are only the next in a long series of
steps necessary before reduced-crew, single-pilot or even
autonomous operations can become a reality in commercial aviation. “Te challenge is to come up with concepts
that get the job done, and to have a path forward to get
them into the aircraft,” Matessa said.
But technology will not be the pacing factor. Already,
reporting on NASA’s SPO research has drawn negative
reactions, including arguments that any pending shortage
should be met by airlines paying pilots more, not cutting
crew size. But within the industry there is a belief that
reduced-crew operations could come within a decade.