28 May 2010

Our Future Might Just Be OK.... ADS-B to the Rescue

This week the US Dept of Transportation awarded its next gen ATC initial contracts.

This means that the USA has finally after YEARS or wrangling and false starts the US Government has finally taken the leadership role and published the rules for Next Gen Aircraft tracking and management.

The US DOT announced this week the performance requirements for aircraft tracking equipment that will be required under the Next Generation Air Transportation System. The avionics will allow aircraft to be controlled and monitored with greater precision and accuracy by a satellite-based system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast. (ADS-B).

“This technology represents another step forward in our ability to make America’s skies the safest in the world," The Obama Administration's point man Secretary Ray LaHood said.

The final rule requires aircraft flying in certain airspace to broadcast their position via ADS-B by 2020. The rule mandates that the broadcast signal meet specific requirements in terms of accuracy, integrity, power and latency.

“This rule gives the green light for manufacturers to begin building the onboard equipment that will allow our air traffic controllers to know where aircraft are with greater precision and reliability,” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said. “That is one of the key elements of NextGen that will improve the safety and efficiency of flight.”

Additional ADS-B services should allow pilots to view cockpit displays to see the location of other aircraft in the sky around them. ADS-B displays are envisioned to show pilots where they are in relation to bad weather and terrain – even at night or in conditions with poor visibility – and provide flight information, including temporary flight restrictions.

This has been a long time coming.

So what does it mean?

Effectively it means that everyone in the air turns on the light so that they can be seen in 3 dimensions no matter what the weather or terrain. Current generation equipment is susceptible to both and is cobbled together using different technologies and processes. Imagine that someone turned the main lights on for the whole room rather than individual spot lights in a dimly lit room.

At the same time - the US FAA awarded 3 contracts to the leading lights in this area - Boeing, General Dynamics and ITT to provide flying demonstration laboratories that show the full integration of these services. These contracts will then lead to the awarding of the final NextGen solutions for a US Airspace wide advanced capability. Thereby lessening the requirement for guided air traffic and thus ensuring more efficient use of the sky and more efficient flight planning and use of tools to make the use of scarce resources which includes fuel much much better than today's heavily managed processes.

Its a lot to make work and it is still far into the future but this is a very good step for all of us. Now the rest of the world has to agree. But at least there is a model to follow.

Image Courtesy of ITT one of the bidders on the contracts

No comments: