NEXCOM (Next Generation Air/Ground Communications)
NEXCOM is an analog/digital radio system incorporating VDL (VHF Data-Link) Mode 3 technology as well as the latest technological advances in radio communications. The ultimate goals of NEXCOM are to provide capability to accommodate additional sectors and services; reduce logistical costs; replace expensive-to-maintain VHF and UHF radios; provide data link communications capability; reduce air-to-ground radio frequency interference and provide security mechanisms. If successful, the new system will support growth in the National Airspace and General Aviation infrastructure well into the next century.
Research Integrations supported the effort to mitigate program risks in the development of the NEXCOM radio by supporting the systematic evaluation of potential human factors issues related to the radio system and interface. Our work included the identification of the potential human factors issues, development and conduct of studies and methodologies to evaluate the issues, development and communication of recommendations for improvements to promote an easy to use radio and interface designed to be resistant to user errors or misunderstandings.
Two types of radio control panels were being developed and evaluated: one for general aviation applications and one for transport airplanes. The logic of the radio underneath the control panels includes several enhancements to the current radio systems because of the use of digital technology. These new features were all important to evaluate. The features include:
- Controller override
- Transmit status indicator
- Next channel uplink
- Urgent downlink request
- Service level status indicator
We also had to evaluate the potential effects of the voice quality and system delay related to the digital communication.
Approach and Solution
We worked with the NEXCOM project office at FAA headquarters, the team at the FAA Research, Development and Human Factors Laboratory, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, User Interaction Research and Design, and other organizations who participated with us in the NEXCOM Human Factors Working Group.
Our team identified and maintained a list of potential human factors issues related to all features of the NEXCOM design. This list was updated throughout the project as we gathered additional information and performed additional studies. As issues were identified that needed data to address them, we developed and conducted those that the full team agreed were the highest priority. These included two simulator studies addressing performance and subjective assessment of pilots using a simulation of the proposed NEXCOM communication features. The studies were performed at the FAA Technical Center using their Air Traffic Control lab and two cockpit simulators. The pilots flew either a 747-400 simulator or a general aviation simulator. Both simulators were included because of the difference in tasks and workload associated with them. The final report describes these studies. More info about Final Report...
We also conducted an audio booth study to evaluate the frequency and modulation of the Transmit Status Indicator and general usability assessments on each of the radio control panels (transport and general aviation).
The final product was a guidance document that included all the work completed by the NEXCOM team and additional general guidance for use in certifying the NEXCOM radios and control panels. More info about Guidance Document…
In 2004 the FAA suspended the NEXCOM program. Our report is meant to be a way to document the human factors issues and the guidance developed for them during the program. It is possible that the program will be opened again in the future and the report will be useful for picking up where the work was left off.
Federal Aviation Administration
User Interaction Research and Design, Inc. and Boeing Commercial Airplanes