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New center to provide advanced aeronautical research and training
  • Picture of an air traffic control center.

Key goals of the center are to create a Massachusetts- based training center for advanced aeronautical research to improve aviation safety and efficiency.

A significant number of air traffic controllers in the New England region are expected to retire in the next decade, increasing the demand for a modern education and training facility. To help meet that need, UMass Amherst and M2C Aerospace, Inc., of Milford, Mass., have launched plans for a new Aviation Research and Training Center at Westover Air Reserve Base in nearby Chicopee, Mass.

The center will be located at Westover in space leased from the Air Force and staffed by UMass Amherst faculty and students and scientists from M2C. It will use a high-fidelity 360-degree air traffic control tower simulator that will be modified for three-dimensional views of a variety of operational environments.

The center is supported by a $5 million state grant that will be used to secure additional funding from the state and federal governments, private industry and foundations, says John Collura of the UMass Amherst Transportation Center and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the UMass Amherst College of Engineering. A five-year agreement between UMass Amherst and M2C was signed last September as an initial step in creating the center. The state has since released $100,000 from the state grant to conduct a cost study for renovating a building at Westover to permanently house the center, which is expected to open in the spring of 2017.

“We’re currently planning to renovate approximately 27,000 square feet at Westover, about 7,000 of which will accommodate the 360-degree simulator,” says Collura. “Being based at a military installation, we plan to offer current military air traffic controllers who are ending their active service an opportunity to become certified as civilian air traffic controllers through an onsite training program.”

A significant number of air controllers in the New England region are expected to retire in the next decade and that increases the demand for a modern education and training facility. This approach could be adapted for new civilian controllers, which—in combination with the transitioning military controllers—would help alleviate the Federal Aviation Administration’s shortage of certifiable controllers and allow for joint military training with Westover’s staff.  

Key goals of the center are to create a Massachusetts-based training center for advanced aeronautical research to improve aviation safety and efficiency. The center will also develop and apply advanced training methods to ensure air traffic controllers, pilots and airline operators are able to leverage the benefits of newly developed technologies capable of improving aviation safety and efficiency. The center will also encourage and support economic development at the air base and the region.

Collura says that UMass Amherst and the new center would be one of the few institutions anywhere to have such a facility to simulate aircraft in flight, and it can also reproduce weather conditions and their impact on aircraft and air traffic controllers. The participation of UMass Amherst is one of the programs in the UMass Transportation Center in the College of Engineering.

Ann M. Dancik, president and CEO of M2C, and her staff have been working with Collura and UMass Amherst officials for the past two years to establish the aviation center. She says the experience has impressed her. “Government and industry organizations looking to leverage advanced aviation-related research and technologies are quickly developing an appreciation for the talent and creativity embodied by the faculty, students and facilities at UMass Amherst,” Dancik says.

The simulator will also serve as a research platform for faculty who want to do research and address critical questions such as how to integrate unmanned aircraft safely into the national airspace with manned aircraft.

Collura says the new center opens up a number of possibilities. “In conjunction with M2C we have been in discussions with NASA to collaborate with the aviation center by providing access to their systems and eventually establishing a NASA presence,” he says. “The NASA Ames Research Center located at Moffett Field, Calif., has expressed an interest in the possibility of a presence on the East Coast. Additional discussions are in progress with the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center in New London, Conn., to collaborate on aviation research to improve search and rescue, disaster response, and counterterrorism activities supported by air operations.”

Collura says the aviation center is currently a member of the FAA’s Northeast unmanned aircraft test site along with MIT, University of Syracuse, University of Rochester, and a few others. Testing would take place at the Joint Base Cape Cod, Buzzards Bay.

UMass Amherst News Office