FAA set to launch GPS air traffic control system

System intended to boost safety as flight volume increases

Map it: Information, such as this moving-map display at the center of the console, will be transmitted to aircraft using the FAA's Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast that will be constructed by ITT.

Cockpit Photo by FAA

The Federal Aviation Administration last week awarded a contract for a key portion of its next-generation air traffic control system to ITT. The planned system will use Global Positioning System satellites to track the positions of aircraft, instead of the less-precise radar systems it will replace during the next decade, and give controllers and pilots the same view of traffic conditions.

The Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) network traffic component, which has been used in pilots in Alaska and Ohio, is the first major piece of FAA's overhaul of its air traffic control system. FAA will pay ITT subscription fees for traffic carried on the network.

Aircraft will receive GPS data from satellites, and will then transmit that data to ground stations, which will in turn transmit it to air traffic controllers and other aircraft. According to FAA, GPS is almost 10 times more accurate in determining an aircraft's position than radar.

In addition to being more precise, the satellite-based system will also refresh positioning data more frequently. Current radar equipment used for the air traffic control system updates positioning data every six to 12 seconds, but the satellites that will feed data into the ADS-B network are updated every second, said John Kefaliotis, director of business development at ITT. More precise geographical positioning data, along with the more frequent updates of position data, 'produces significant safety advantages from enhanced pilot awareness,' Kefaliotis said.

'[The system] produces significant safety advantages from enhanced pilot awareness.' ' John Kefaliotis, ITT

Along with air traffic control data, the ADS-B network will transmit weather information, terrain maps and flight information to displays in aircraft cockpits. According to FAA officials, the ADS-B network and the capabilities it will deliver within the overall Next Generation Air Transportation System upgrade are needed to handle an expected tripling of airport capacity in the next 10 to 15 years.

The technology's more precise locating of aircraft in the air and on the runways, and more frequent updating of location data, are expected to improve the safety of commercial flights, plus save money and eliminate waste and delay, FAA said.
Giving controllers and pilots more precise positioning data should help them select the most efficient routes, which will cut fuel costs and emissions, reduce noise, and result in fewer delays, FAA officials said.

The technology should improve safety for general-aviation flights too, because it will give general-aviation pilots access to data they haven't had before, including graphically displayed information on weather, air traffic and terrain. During a pilot of the technology in Southwest Alaska, aircraft equipped with ADS-B equipment between 2000 and 2004 had 47 percent fewer fatal accidents, according to an FAA spokeswoman.

The ADS-B technology is also less costly than today's radar networks, and it offers the potential for other safety features that could be added later, including data links to deliver safety information to pilots during flights and the ability to exchange position data among aircraft in the sky, ITT executives said.

FAA picked ITT as the prime contractor to build and run a network of ground stations for ADS-B. The contract is worth $207 million during the first three years and a total $1.8 billion between 2007 and 2025 if FAA uses all the services at its disposal.

ITT is to build, own and operate as many as 700 ground stations for ADS-B, including field radio sites, data-processing centers and network operations centers, plus all other necessary equipment. The contract requires ITT to have the system operational by 2010 and reach nationwide coverage by 2013.

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