Purdue University Graduate School
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Data-Driven Anomaly and Precursor Detection in Metroplex Airspace Operations

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posted on 2020-04-17, 01:57 authored by Raj DeshmukhRaj Deshmukh
The air traffic system is one of the most complex and safety-critical systems, which is expected to grow at an average rate of 0.9% a year -- from 51.8 million operational activities in 2018 to 62 million in 2039 -- within the National Airspace System. In such systems, it is important to identify degradations in system performance, especially in terms of safety and efficiency. Among the operations of various subsystems of the air traffic system, the arrival and departure operations in the terminal airspace require more attention because of its higher impact (about 75% incidents) on the entire system's safety, ranging from single aircraft incidents to multi-airport congestion incidents.

The first goal of this dissertation is to identify the air traffic system's degradations -- called anomalies -- in the multi-airport terminal airspace or metroplex airspace, by developing anomaly detection models that can separate anomalous flights from normal ones. Within the metroplex airspace, airport operational parameters such as runway configuration and coordination between proximal airports are a major driving factor in aircraft’s behaviors. As a substantial amount of data is continually recording such behaviors through sensing technologies and data collection capabilities, modern machine learning techniques provide powerful tools for the identification of anomalous flights in the metroplex airspace. The proposed algorithm ingests heterogeneous data, comprising the surveillance dataset, which represents an aircraft’s physical behaviors, and the airport operations dataset, which reflects operational procedures at airports. Typically, such aviation data is unlabeled, and thus the proposed algorithm is developed based on hierarchical unsupervised learning approaches for anomaly detection. This base algorithm has been extended to an anomaly monitoring algorithm that uses the developed anomaly detection models to detect anomalous flights within real-time streaming data.

A natural next-step after detecting anomalies is to determine the causes for these anomalies. This involves identifying the occurrence of precursors, which are triggers or conditions that precede an anomaly and have some operational correlation to the occurrence of the anomaly. A precursor detection algorithm is developed which learns the causes for the detected anomalies using supervised learning approaches. If detected, the precursor could be used to trigger actions to avoid the anomaly from ever occurring.

All proposed algorithms are demonstrated with real air traffic surveillance and operations datasets, comprising of departure and arrival operations at LaGuardia Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport, thereby detecting and predicting anomalies for all airborne operations in the terminal airspace within the New York metroplex. Critical insight regarding air traffic management is gained from visualizations and analysis of the results of these extensive tests, which show that the proposed algorithms have a potential to be used as decision-support tools that can aid pilots and air traffic controllers to mitigate anomalies from ever occurring, thus improving the safety and efficiency of metroplex airspace operations.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Aeronautics and Astronautics

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Inseok Hwang

Additional Committee Member 2

Jianghai Hu

Additional Committee Member 3

Shaoshuai Mou

Additional Committee Member 4

Dengfeng Sun

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