SEA’s Take: NextGen and the March towards Progress

FAA-planeby Joe Braddock

The FAA recently released a list of more than 700 VOR and NDB instrument approach procedures that it proposes to cancel as the move towards the NextGen satellite-based air traffic system continues.  The FAA has set targets to reduce the number of operating VORs from 967 to 500 by the year 2020 according to the VOR MON Implementation Program dated October 24, 2012.

While there are certainly obvious cost considerations for maintaining both ground and satellite based navigation simultaneously, it remains to be seen if this movement towards only satellite based navigation will be detrimental in the future.  Redundancy and back-up systems are an essential part of aviation safety and aircraft operation.  All technologies are subject to interruption from natural disasters or sabotage, however satellite technology is also subject to other factors as well such as solar flares.  The FAA contends that this NextGen transition should be relatively seamless since it believes that most aircraft will have WAAS GPS receivers as part of ADS-B compliance.  However, several ADS-B products being offered today are incorporating GPS receivers for aircraft that do not have a dedicated WAAS GPS navigation radio on board.  Therefore, general aviation owners who can meet the ADS-B mandate with a UAT or transponder with built-in GPS will lose their ability for ILS approaches at the locations on the FAA closure list.

Alternatively, the FAA and USA as a country cannot afford to fund and account for every “what if” scenario.  Some of this responsibility will have to be taken on by owners and operators who are hesitant or cannot afford to upgrade their legacy avionics to NextGen type systems in the aircraft.  It seems to be a unified opinion that the National Airspace system is old and needs to be updated.  Safety and reliability cannot be assured with 50+ year old technology.  For example, many owner/operators were not pleased when they were forced to discontinue using LORAN in place of GPS.  However, no one can dispute the benefits of GPS technology in aircraft.   If planned properly and in a timely manner, most avionics upgrades can be painless, unobtrusive, and fundable.  It appears that the movement towards the Next Generation (NextGen) of aircraft technology is very strong and will not discontinue until all older technologies have been addressed.  Part of that is just simply human nature and progress.  Unfortunately, as with all things in life, that comes with a price most of the time.  That is not what many General Aviation operators want to hear, but it is the truth.

To access the FAA’s announcements, reports, and lists, Click HereIn addition, the FAA will accept comments in reference to the Proposed Rulemaking until May 28th , 2015.

FAA Completes Nationwide Equipment Installation for NextGen Aircraft Tracking System

Earlier this week, the Federal Aviation Administration announced the completion of a nationwide infrastructure upgrade that will enable air traffic controllers to track aircraft with greater accuracy and reliability, while giving pilots more information in the cockpit. This upgrade is a key improvement in the Next Generation Air Transportation System.

nextgen_blog“This upgrade is an important step in laying the foundation for the NextGen system, which provides controllers a much more precise view of the airspace, gives pilots much more awareness and information, and as a result strengthens the safety and efficiency of our system,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This state-of-the-art satellite system is already providing controllers with visibility in places not previously covered by radar.”

The nationwide installation of the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) radio network supports a satellite-based surveillance system that tracks aircraft with the help of GPS. This provides more accurate aircraft location information than the current radar system.

NextGen refers to a set of initiatives being implemented by the FAA in collaboration with the aviation community to ensure that the United States has the safest, most efficient airspace possible for decades to come. In addition to ADS-B, NextGen improvements are already delivering benefits that include more efficient air traffic procedures that save time and fuel and reduce emissions.

“The installation of this radio network clears the way for air traffic controllers to begin using ADS-B to separate equipped aircraft nationwide,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “It will also provide pilots flying aircraft equipped with the proper avionics with traffic information, weather data and other flight information.”

Of the 230 air traffic facilities across the country, 100 are currently using this system to separate traffic. It is expected to be connected and operating at all 230 facilities by 2019. All aircraft operating in controlled airspace must be equipped with ADS-B Out avionics that broadcast the plane’s location, by Jan. 1, 2020.

With the upgraded surveillance and broadcast system and aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out transponders, aircraft positions on controller screens update almost continuously, compared to every 4.7 seconds or longer with radar.

ADS-B also enables more accurate tracking of airplanes and airport vehicles on runways and taxiways, increasing safety and efficiency. The new system significantly improves surveillance capability in areas with geographic challenges like mountains or over water. Airplanes equipped with ADS-B In, which is not currently mandated, will give pilots information through cockpit displays about location in relation to other aircraft, bad weather and terrain, and temporary flight restrictions.

In addition to the operational benefits of ADS-B, each one of the 634 ground stations installed by Exelis of McLean, Va., is substantially smaller than a radar installation – resulting in less impact to the environment and less cost to maintain.

Source: Federal Aviation Administration