All over the world, the Spanish information systems company Indra ensures a plane's safe takeoff, travel, and landing. Its air traffic management systems have been sold to more than 20 countries; its parts and products are found in many more, thanks to sales to international companies such as Raytheon. In fact, about 20 percent of flights in the world cross a center with an Indra system installed. The systems process and integrate information such as a plane's flight plan, its real-time location and movement, the weather, flight changes, and the general flow of plane traffic in a given area.
"One of the reasons our system is one of the most advanced in the world is the algorithms we use to determine the plane's trajectory, the accuracy of the trajectory according to the route, meteorological conditions, and performance of the aircraft," says Javier Ruano, director of air traffic management for Indra. Originally, the job of traffic controllers was largely based on radar, but today, as flight zones are becoming increasingly crowded, this planning has gained in importance.
Research at Indra, and in fact the cutting edge of flight control around the world, involves using satellite information and data links between planes and ground control as a way to attain a higher degree of accuracy than radar and eliminate the blank spots that exist in today's radar systems— for example, over the ocean. With a navigation satellite system, an onboard computer knows its location with great accuracy and can communicate it to the air traffic control center. (Radar, however, will always be required as an independent source of information, because someone with intent to do harm could take manual control of an onboard computer.) Additionally, this link allows an exchange of trajectory information between ground and air computers, thus improving planning and prediction.
One other benefit of the new data-link systems will be a reduction in actual dialogue between pilots and controllers. "Though in most of the world the standard flight language is English, sometimes the communication between non-native pilots and controllers can be difficult and result in mistakes," says Ruano. "These will be avoided through automated dialogue, which will also offer the clear benefit of workload reduction."
Another element of control involves replacing typical hydraulic systems, such as wing flaps, that power different elements of flight. New systems will be electric ones, with power and signal wires delivering the controls to the wings. Hydraulic systems are heavy, but they have been reliably employed in aircraft since the beginning of flight. "The aircraft industry is very conservative," says Quintana of SENER, which is designing these new electromechanical systems. "It's a very safe system, very conservative. But if you are trying to evolve into lighter aircraft, the electromechanical system is significantly lighter than a hydraulic one."
In addition, Indra is one of the top producers of flight simulators in the world, supplying simulation equipment all over Europe and to the United States as well, where they are used to train American navy pilots. The company recently supplied new training simulators for U. S. Navy Seahawk helicopters. This technology will be part of a new EADS-CASA flight training center, which will be an addition to the company's manufacturing and research centers near Seville.