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Embedded Systems

Ada & Next-Generation Air-Traffic Control

Ada will be at the center of the UK's next-generation Interim Future Area Control Tools Support (iFACTS) air-traffic-control system by Praxis. Praxis is developing the next-generation Air-Traffic-Control (ATC) system for Britain's National Air Traffic Services (NATS). NATS provides ATC services at 15 of the UK's biggest airports and en-route air-traffic services for aircraft flying through UK airspace.

iFACTS will use a new program that is being designed and implemented from the start with the SPARK Ada language, a choice based on Ada's proven strength in developing large, long-lived, high-reliability systems. The program will use the GNAT Pro native toolset on IBM AIX workstations as the development environment.

Praxis, a specialist in critical-systems engineering, was appointed by NATS in March 2007 to write the specification and develop the software for iFACTS, which will trigger the biggest change in ATC since the introduction of radar. The system will monitor radar for air-traffic controllers, and assess the viability of various options available to them for maneuvering aircraft, as well as give them more time to make decisions. Traditional paper flight information strips will be replaced with electronic data lines and more sophisticated split-screen displays.

"The combination of Praxis's experience in critical-systems engineering and the high integrity of SPARK Ada enables the development of this vitally important and sophisticated system," said Robert Dewar, president and CEO of AdaCore, whose GNAT Pro development environment has been selected for the Ada implementation. (Dewar recently examined the topic of Safety AND Security in Dr. Dobb's Journal.)

iFACTS will provide air traffic controllers with a set of advanced tools to increase capacity to meet the growing demand from the civil aviation industry. It will also alert controllers to flights that are not following their flight plan and detect medium term conflicts, which will also enhance safety capability.

Keith Williams, Praxis's managing director, said, "It is extremely exciting to be able to deploy our capability in critical software on the iFACTS project and work with partners who combine advanced technology with rigorous safety certification -- AdaCore was the perfect solution for our high integrity SPARK Ada development needs."

Ada is a high-level, structured, statically typed programming language designed by a team led by Jean Ichbiah for use by the U.S. Department of Defense in the late 1970s. Ada addresses some of the same tasks as C or C++, but is strongly typed and provides compiler validation for reliability in mission-critical applications, such as avionics software. SPARK is an annotated subset of Ada, which means that programs written in SPARK can be compiled by any Ada compiler.

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