FAA greenlights satellite-based air traffic control system

As one of the massive flying seasons gets underway the government today took a step further in radically changing the way aircraft are tracked and moved around the country.  Specifically the FAA gave the green light to deploy satellite tracking systems nationwide replacing the current radar-based approach.

The new, sometimes controversial system would let air traffic controllers track aircraft using a  satellite network using a system known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B), which is ten times more accurate than today's radar technology. ADS-B is part of the FAA's wide-reaching plan known as NextGen to revamp every component of the flight control system meet future demands and avoid gridlock in the sky.

 ADS-B promises a ten-fold increase in the accuracy of satellite signals that will let air traffic controllers reduce separation standards between aircraft, significantly increasing the number of aircraft that can be safely managed in the nation's skies, the FAA said. The agency said when properly equipped with ADS-B, both pilots and controllers will, for the first time, see the same real-time displays of air traffic, improving safety.

Air traffic is projected to grow from 740 million passengers last year to one billion in 2015, and double today's levels by 2025, the FAA said.

The FAA in Oct. 2007 proposed all aircraft flying in the nation's busiest airspace have to have satellite-based avionics by 2020.  An executive order signed by President Bush on Nov. 18 accelerated the implementation of NextGen systems.

As part of this latest announcement the FCC turned up ADS-B in Florida by commissioning  11 ground stations in the Sunshine state. With the ADS-B pilots also receive free, real-time weather updates from the National Weather Service, as well as critical flight information such as temporary flight restrictions and special-use airspace. system that allows aircraft to be tracked by satellite rather than radar.

ADS-B services are currently being developed in Juneau, AK, Louisville, KY, the Gulf of Mexico and Philadelphia all slated to be completed by the end of 2010, the FAA said.

In  the current economic environment its hard to see the full NextGen rollout taking place sooner rather than later,  But really, the estimated costs, over $20 billion - don't seem like much any more compared to say, giving billions to say Citi or the auto industry with no obvious return on investment.

The growing air traffic congestion and delay problem that we face in this country is the result of many factors, including airline practices, inadequate investment in airport and air traffic control infrastructure, and how aviation infrastructure is priced. Addressing this problem involves difficult choices, which affect the interests of passengers, airlines, airports, and local economies. If not addressed, congestion problems will intensify as the growth in demand is expected to increase over the next 10 years, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report this summer.

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