FAA wants satellite navigation systems on aircraft by 2020

The Federal Aviation Administration today proposed all aircraft flying in the nation’s busiest airspace have to have satellite-based avionics by 2020.  Such systems would let air traffic controllers track aircraft by satellites using a system known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B), which is ten times more accurate than today’s radar technology. 

That ten-fold increase in the accuracy of satellite signals will allow air traffic controllers to reduce separation standards between aircraft, significantly increasing the number of aircraft that can be safely managed in the nation’s skies, the FAA said. 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. 

Under a contract awarded to ITT and Nortel last month, mobile WiMAX-based ground stations for the new system will be brought online across the country, starting in the East Coast, portions of the Midwest, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. Nationwide coverage is expected by 2013. WiMAX supports  wireless data over long distances. 

With ADS-B, both pilots and controllers will see radar-like displays with highly accurate traffic data from satellites – displays that update in real time and don't degrade with distance or terrain. The system will also give pilots access to weather services, terrain maps and flight information services. The improved situational awareness will mean that pilots will be able to fly at safe distances from one another with less assistance from air traffic controllers. 

After years of research and development, and use by general aviation pilots in Alaska and air transport carriers in the Ohio River Valley, the FAA determined in 2005 that ADS-B is ready to be made operational throughout the national airspace system.  In Southwest Alaska, the fatal accident rate for ADS-B-equipped aircraft has dropped by 47%, the FAA said.  

Not everyone is enamored with the ADS-B idea.  Some wonder about security of its data transmissions and some wonder how such a systems would work in such a large, complicated scale.  Detractors will have 90 days to comment on the proposal, the FAA said. 

The proposal is also part of the FAA’s grand plan to completely revamp the nation’s skyways. The Next Generation (NextGen) plans include controversial new rules and regulations to help reduce delays, fuel consumption, aircraft emissions and noise around some of the east coast’s busiest airports.

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