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ADS-B Improves Air Traffic Control, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

A new air traffic control system that is generating headlines is the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) which commenced service in Canada in January 2009.  ADS-B uses GPS information to replace radar when tracking planes.  It is more accurate and faster than radar, allowing planes to travel more closely together safely.  Jets flying under ADS-B surveillance need to be only five miles apart under current standards, even in remote places such as the Earth’s poles or over oceans where radar coverage is not possible.  ADS-B expanded in 2009 with additional receivers on the east coast of Canada and Greenland.  In 2010 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a final rule mandating ADS-B usage by January 1, 2020.  The project’s cost is an estimated $4.5 billion.  The FAA largely completed coverage of the U.S. through 700 stations by 2014, working through contractor Exelis, Inc.  The next step is for U.S. airlines to install equipment on their planes which will cost billions of dollars.  The airlines have been slow to implement the installation, due to the high cost and concerns that the FAA would continue to hold up its end of the project by establishing policies and procedures and training controllers.  Federal aviation regulators announced plans to exempt a number of U.S. carriers from the 2020 deadline for certain satellite-navigation upgrades.  However, the FAA continues to require airlines to install ADS-B Out, a more powerful technology than the original ADS-B.

NAV CANADA, a private air traffic control service, initially installed five ground station receivers around Hudson Bay in northern Canada which had no radar coverage.  By 1996, the system took control of all Canadian air traffic.  Today, all 41 of Canada’s air traffic towers rely on the computerized system, as do towers in eight other counties including Australia and Dubai.

Another next generation air tracking technology is Advanced Technology and Oceanic Procedures (ATOP), which has been in use at the New York, Oakland and Anchorage air traffic control centers in the U.S. since 2007.  The system integrates radar and satellite tracking data supported by multiple computers onboard aircraft and on the ground.  Planes report their positions every 14 minutes, and if a report is six minutes overdue or a plane veers off course, alarms sound to alert controllers.  Such technology makes it much easier for pilots to gain approval to adjust flight plans due to weather or air traffic, and ATOP is credited with saving 330,000 flying miles per year and 10 million gallons of fuel thanks to greater efficiency.

The FAA is promoting another cutting-edge system called NextGen which, like ADS-B, uses GPS for navigation.  Instead of pilots confirming approach and landing information by voice, they rely on computer data from NextGen, allowing maneuvers via autopilot.  FAA officials claim that NextGen could achieve $2 billion in annual savings due to greater efficiencies.  Costs to implement the system in ground stations and on board commercial aircraft are hefty.  U.S. airlines may be required to spend approximately $20 billion by 2030 on new equipment.

Yet another system in use to aid air traffic control uses Performance-based Navigation (PBN) software such as that designed by GE Aviation (at a business unit formerly known as Naverus).  The software analyzes data relating to individual aircraft performance and position in relation to other aircraft along with atmospheric data that impacts fuel consumption.  GE Aviation launched a PBN project at the Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport in the Sichuan Province of China.  The firm also provided technical support and assistance to Brazilian air navigation services provider DECEA to design Required Navigation Performance (RNP) flight procedures in that country.

In Europe, initiatives similar to ADS-B and PBN are under consideration.  European airspace control is scattered across the members of the EU and 12 other contiguous countries.  The result is that many flights zigzag around borders, adding an average of 26 miles to each flight and consuming an estimated $6.5 billion each year in costs such as fuel and wages.  In early 2015, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposed the adoption of PBN by all European airports as early as December 2018.

Another problem that the FAA is working to reduce in the U.S. is runway collision.  Airport Movement Area Safety Systems (AMASS) have been installed at dozens of U.S. airports.  However, while these advanced technologies are being placed at U.S. airports, many international airports, especially those in poverty-stricken countries in Africa and South America, have a long way to go in terms of airport and aircraft safety and security.  Political instability and insufficient funds permit many safety breaches to pass undetected, and airplane crash rates in these countries are much higher.  While many countries are doing what they can to improve safety and security, passengers continue to fly in these areas at their own risk.



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