UofSC researcher leads team to improve aeronautical communications with $4.4 million in NASA funding


  • Research to focus on new high-performance communications, networking and air-traffic management systems, including navigation and surveillance for both manned and unmanned aircraft.
  • Team to brief members of NASA leadership and Congress July 13-14 in Washington, D.C.

Columbia, S.C. – July 10, 2017 – A University of South Carolina researcher in the College of Engineering and Computing is the principal investigator for a new NASA-funded $4.4 million research project to address limitations in aircraft communication networks to improve operations and increase safety.

USC electrical engineering professor David W. Matolak and his team will brief members of NASA leadership and Congress about improvements needed for an air-traffic management system that is currently unprepared to handle rapidly expanding air travel and air transport in the U.S and globally. Of particular concern are safety issues caused by the rise of unmanned drone aircraft sharing airspace with conventional manned aircraft.

The NASA award is part of the agency’s University Leadership Initiative, in which select universities identify their own projects and lead the technical work with other universities and companies to solve aviation challenges.  

Over the next three years, the research will address several challenges to currentair traffic management systems, including:

  • Communication systems that are severely inadequate for future air traffic density and complexity;
  • Inefficient airport operations that cause significant aircraft delays;
  • The inability to accurately and continuously monitor and track all manned and unmanned aircraft.

“Our plan is to take advantage of all available aviation frequencies, and using those, to create new, faster and more effective wireless communications that are completely adaptive to all conditions,” Matolak says. “These new aviation radio systems will also be able to access multiple communication methods and resources — such as ground stations, other aircraft, satellites, trains and large sea vessels — for maximum efficiency. We are planning to dramatically improve the capacity and efficiency of all airport communication networks as well.”

Air traffic has been growing rapidly for the past 60 years. According to Aerospace America and the Federal Aviation Administration, the number of people traveling by air has grown from 46 million passengers in 1956 to 3 billion in 2016. Air travel is projected to hit at least 7.2 billion passengers and millions of drones by 2035.

Through their work, Matolak and his team will be analyzing, simulating, designing and testing models for stronger, more efficient aviation communications. The research will involve new communication techniques for complex air-traffic management simulations that illustrate the new network’s ability to handle significantly larger air traffic with rapid and reliable automated air traffic control and management. This will enable more efficient airport operations to remove delays, reduce costs and increase situational awareness.  

Matolak’s team includes co-investigators Ismail Guvenc, North Carolina State University; Hani Mehrpouyan, Boise State University; and Benjamin Boisvert, Architecture Technology Corp. The research groups will also have several post-doctoral research students, graduate and undergraduate students working on the project. 

About the University of South Carolina

The University of South Carolina is a globally recognized, high-impact research university committed to a superior student experience and dedicated to innovation in learning, research and community engagement. Founded in 1801, the university offers more than 350 degree programs and is a designated top-tier Carnegie Foundation research institution. More than 50,000 students are enrolled at one of 14 locations throughout the state, including the research campus in Columbia. With 47 nationally ranked academic programs including top-ranked programs in international business, the nation’s best honors college and distinguished programs in engineering, law, medicine, public health and the arts, the university is helping to build healthier, more educated communities in South Carolina and around the world.

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