Python for air traffic control?

Carlos Ribeiro cribeiro at
Mon Jul 2 23:50:04 EDT 2001

William, please don't take me wrong. I would like to make some comments 
about the air traffic discussion. Let's not make this in a full blown flame 
war, ok?

At 21:33 02/07/01 -0400, William Park wrote:
>Judging by his thin skin, I don't think it was a serious post.

I would not say this; I actually think it was the opposite. Air traffic 
control is a *very* hard problem, and Russ's question was not related to 
the actual algorithms for traffic control. Insted I think that he was 
asking about the feasibility of using Python to develop a system that is:

- Real time. You can't stand to lose a single event.
- Non stop: 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, 365 1/4 days per year.
- Mission critical: people's live depend on it.

Considering this, your reply must have sounded as a troll to him. I'm not 
an specialist on this, but I can tell you that the problem in air traffic 
control is *not* how to map airplane positions using radar input; is how to 
calculate paths and coordinate communications with dozens, or even 
hundreds, of airplanes, while following *very* strict safety rules that 
tell how to solve conflicts that arise all the time. You have to manage the 
queues for takeoff and landing, keeping everything in sync to make the most 
of precious time.

As for the flight path planning, please note that airplanes can't travel in 
any place in space. You can't see it but there are several "lanes" in air 
space, defined by the authorities. The use of the radio frequencies must 
also be managed by the tower to make sure that there are not any undesired 
interference between different airplanes. The system must also balance a 
high degree of automation and the need for human decision. This is not the 
place for dumb decisions.

In short, it is *hard* stuff, and it pushes our ability to develop high 
quality systems. That's the kind of stuff that design-by-contract is 
supposed to be used for.

Carlos Ribeiro

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