Former FAA Administrator wants faster ADS-B deployment

  • 05-Nov-2009 04:59 EST

The federal government has yet to decide whether it will subsidize operators in their fitment of ADS-B equipment to aircraft.

At a recent SAE International meeting on ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance - broadcast), former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey urged the U.S. government to make funding of it a higher priority.

The FAA in 2005 committed to ADS-B as the new technology for air-traffic management. Instead of relying on an aging and maintenance-heavy radar system to separate aircraft from one another, air-traffic controllers would rely on a satellite navigation system with ADS-B.

Position information—along with onboard data related to flight number, aircraft type, and performance parameters such as speed—would be broadcast in digital form from the aircraft once a second to ATC ground stations and to other aircraft. Pilots flying ADS-B-equipped aircraft would, like ground-based controllers, see real-time displays of air traffic in their area. Eventually, some of the responsibility for keeping safe distances between aircraft would shift from ground controllers to pilots.

Satellite navigation being more accurate than radar, and pilot situational awareness being enhanced with onboard displays of local traffic, the expectation is that safety will improve with ADS-B, the FAA says. Aircraft routing will be more direct, and aircraft will be able to fly closer to one another, resulting in increased air traffic capacity, lower fuel consumption, lower CO2 emissions, and financial savings.

In a 2005 notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), the FAA set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2020 for aircraft to be equipped with devices that broadcast ADS-B data. The NPRM does not mandate that aircraft be equipped to receive ADS-B data; the FAA believes many operators will voluntarily equip for “ADS-B in” to take advantage of its benefits.

In her SAE presentation, Blakey, currently President and Chief Executive Officer of the Aerospace Industries Association, called ADS-B the foundational backbone of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). She said the recent fatal collision between small aircraft over the Hudson River could possibly have been avoided had ADS-B equipment been deployed on the aircraft and on the ground. ADS-B and other NextGen elements are estimated to produce $12.2 billion in economic benefits via aircraft fuel-efficiency improvement, job creation, and other factors, she said.

The system is being tested in several areas of the country, Blakey noted. All ground-based transmitters are set to be installed by 2013. She is pushing the FAA to move up the aircraft-equipage compliance deadline to 2015 despite the fact that meeting even a 2020 target would be as difficult as “changing a tire on a car going 60 mph down the freeway.” The FAA is expected to issue a final rule with a firm compliance deadline in April. Some operators already have installed ADS-B equipment.

The FAA needs a good handle on its long-term funding to be able to mandate an appropriate equipage compliance date, so it is important that Congress approve a multiyear authorization rather than provide funding in continuing resolutions and extensions as has been done over the past two years, Blakey said. “Failure to provide the FAA with the stability and financial security of a multiyear authorization is having a significant negative effect as critical NextGen projects are delayed under funding extensions.

“If the FAA weren't a federal entity,” she continued, “it would be a Fortune 500 company. And yet, we ask it to perform at peak of efficiency and safety without the ability to know what projects it can begin or what projects it can complete 90 days from now.”

Blakey also called for “a more significant contribution from the U.S. Treasury's general fund” for full FAA funding and for the capital expenditures necessary for NextGen. It would be proper for that funding to help cover ADS-B avionics equipment installation costs that otherwise would be borne entirely by operators, she said.

“Whether equipage is mandated in 2020 or 2015 … the fact remains operators are not likely going to be in a financial position to meet the mandate, nor should they have to without federal assistance. In fact, without substantial incentives or outright grants to help operators handle the multibillion dollar burden to equip, we are likely to have a sustained period when ADS-B ground stations are up and running, but the other half of the puzzle—the ‘airborne infrastructure,’ if you will—will not be in place. This situation could mean billions of dollars of delayed economic benefits and hundreds of millions of tons of C02 entering the atmosphere unnecessarily.”

To achieve a 2015 implementation, Blakey said, “I think we have to change the way we look at aircraft equipage. It is just as much a part of our national airspace system infrastructure as airports, runways, and satellites. And taxpayer dollars were used to help build our current air-traffic-control system. When you think of equipage as air-traffic-control technology on board aircraft, and you think of the huge economic and environmental benefits that will accrue once that technology is in place, government-supported installation makes a lot of sense.”

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