Safety through software

Jenifer Herman’s team of software engineers works to enhance safety at airports across the United States.

Everyone who flies has a vested interest in aviation safety. Jenifer Herman has worked for almost 20 years to help provide airports with the tools they need to make sure air traffic controllers are aware of everything that’s going on in the air and on the ground.

Herman is Saab’s Director of Software Engineering for Federal Aviation Administration Programs in the United States, where she manages a team of nine software engineers. One of her biggest projects has been ASDE-X, shorthand for Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X.

“Since 2001 we’ve installed surface safety systems at 35 of the largest airports in the United States,” she says. “We take input from multiple sensors and radar systems. Our multilateration system at the airport receives signals from aircraft and, from the relative timing of those signals, we can compute a very accurate position.”

When these positions are fused with information from airlines’ flight plans, Saab software generates a precise picture of the airport environment, both in the air and on the ground. Safety logic within the system provides air traffic controllers with audible and visual alerts to prevent potential runway incidents.

Another project is Precision Runway Monitoring – Alternate, a system currently installed at the airport in Detroit, Michigan.

“It’s for airports that have aircraft arriving on parallel, closely spaced runways,” Herman says. “We provide very accurate positional information out to 40 miles [65 kilometres] to make sure the aircraft are staying in position in their arrival corridors as they approach. This allows for increased traffic flows.”

The newest project in development for nine smaller US airports is the Airport Surface Surveillance Capability system. This utilises data from transponders on aircraft and vehicles to enhance safety on airport runways and taxiways. Herman was drawn to the world of high-tech right from the start of her career. She attended Clarkson University, known for its emphasis on technology and engineering, and she worked for General Electric during and after her studies. A series of corporate reorganisations found her working for Martin Marietta and then Lockheed Martin. In 1995 she was recruited by a small but growing company called Sensis, which created solutions for air traffic management; Saab acquired Sensis in 2011. Throughout her career in the male-dominated field of engineering, Herman says she has been challenged to prove herself, but has been treated fairly.

“I have stayed in a technical role through the years because it is something I enjoy and do well, and I believe it makes me a better leader,” she says.


Name: Jenifer Herman
Occupation: Director of Software Engineering for FAA Programs
Home: Syracuse, New York, USA



Jenifer Herman is one of nine Senior Fellows in Syracuse, USA. The programme honours individuals on the basis of “sustained, exceptional technical contributions.” They are responsible for advancing the technical integrity and competitive position of the company’s people and products. The Senior Fellows lead a number of initiatives, including the fostering of an entrepreneurial spirit within the organisation.


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