NextGen and the Flight Deck Display Research Lab

The current air traffic control system does not meet the scalability or flexibility demands of the future. In response to this, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) introduced The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), a proposed evolution from a ground-centric system to a satellite-based air traffic management system that allows more information to be shared between the air and ground, as well as between flight decks.

The Flight Deck Display Research Laboratory (FDDRL) develops airside displays and interfaces and performs research on future airspace concepts and flight deck procedures for NextGen.

The FDDRL refines concepts iteratively between development and experimentation in collaboration between human factors researchers and engineers. The main product they have been developing and testing is the Cockpit Situation Display (CSD). This display has served as the primary visual interface for both medium-fidelity single, multi-pilot simulators, as well as high-fidelity simulators. Many of the lab’s experiments have examined, or leveraged, CSD technologies to study significant human-in-the-loop (HITL) issues.

I conducted my master thesis in the FDDRL (see 3D Displays) and worked collaboratively in their team as a research assistant and intern. I was involved in some of their projects.

The projects mainly aimed at (1) providing the flight deck with more capabilities and tools for navigating the airspace with dynamic weather during the descend and (2) testing the impact of these tools on the communication between pilots and air traffic controllers and decision-making.

For example, one project was on evaluating different types of communication methods between pilots and air traffic controllers in a simulation study. Sixteen pilots (eight two-person flight decks) and four controllers participated in 32 20-minute scenarios that required the flight decks to navigate through convective weather as they approached their top of descents in a virtual airspace. During these scenarios, we evaluated flight updates and requests using voice communication vs. datacom methods (uplinking flight paths directly or by manually typing in text).

A dual-pilot station used during HITL simulations.

Tools, skills, and experience

As an intern, I was part of a team of human factors researchers and engineers. In this team, I:

  • Collaborated in writing a research proposal
  • Tested software for simulation studies with real pilots and air traffic controllers flying and managing a virtual airspace.
  • Conducted pilot behaviour observations
  • Cleaned and assessed quantitative data on communication between pilots and traffic controllers (initiations, response time, total negotiations, negotiation duration, negotiation iteration, non-conformance) using Excel
  • Helped with the analysis and applied repeated measures within-subjects ANOVAs in SPSS.


I have been part of a research team that aims at increasing the capabilities of the flight deck crew by expanding their roles and responsibilities through the use of new tools and concepts. I have helped in research to increase airspace capacity and safety for the next generation air traffic management system.

This work has been presented at the Digital Avionics Systems Conference: Johnson, W. W., Lachter, J., Battiste, V., Lim, V., Brandt, S. L., Koteskey, R. W., Dao, A., Ligda, S. V., Wu, S. (2011) An Examination of Selected Datacom Options for the Near-Term Implementation of Trajectory-Based Operations.  And Whitepaper has been prepared for the NextGen Flight Deck Human Factors Research and Development Program, the Federal Aviation Administration: Wu, S., Ligda, S. V., Lim, V., Comerford, D. A., Johnson, W. W. (2010). Designing Flight Deck Displays to Mitigate Weather Impacts under Trajectory-Based Operations; A Literature Review on Design Considerations and Options. 

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