Over the past year, this series has covered just about all there is to know about the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).
We have received a fair amount of mail, with many in the general aviation community seeking information on ADS-B hardware. The question that comes up most often is the current state of ADS-B installations throughout the U.S.
With just seven years to go before the 2020 requirement for mandatory ADS-B equipment for aircraft flying in the busiest airspace, almost all of the more than 800 ADS-B antennas have been installed.
Figure 1 demonstrates how well, despite financial cutbacks, the folks at the FAA have done with keeping things as close to schedule as possible. The turquoise areas are ADS-B installations that are already installed. The yellow areas are the remaining locations that will be completed by the end of 2013.
You may find it interesting to know why the area that has the yellow circle was picked on Dec. 17, 2009, to be one of the first areas for ADS-B deployment.
Historically, the Gulf of Mexico has been a problem area when it comes to navigating aircraft. Because there was limited offshore radar coverage throughout the region, ATC could never actually see air traffic in this area. Add to that limited radio frequency transmission, which meant pilots flying in this area routinely had to relay their positions and messages to dispatchers on the mainland, who in turn relayed the messages to ATC. This increased the level of errors made in communicating and the time it took to get a message where it needed to be. These delays caused all kinds of problems when approaching weather conditions came in, allowing for little to no time for evacuating people from these petroleum platforms.
From a meteorology standpoint, this region is very active.
It is also home to more than 3,800 oil and natural gas platforms. Over the years, helicopter air traffic has increased to between 5,000 and 9,000 flights per day. Yes, I said per day.
A system was developed to navigate within this region by using a grid of squares. A series of 20 mile by 20 mile virtual squares was set up throughout the Gulf. Only one helicopter can be inside one of these squares at a time.
With ADS-B, all of this goes away. In the Gulf it was a walk in the park to install ADS-B antennas and transceivers on top of strategically located oil platforms. This provided a complete ADS-B system to pilots and ATC throughout the region.
Taking full advantage of these oil platforms, weather-sensing equipment also was installed on strategically located platforms, offering far superior weather reporting to aircraft flying in those areas.
ADS-B has eliminated the grid routing system. Now helicopter pilots in this region can fly direct to their destination with just in-time communications. To add even more benefits to this system, spacing between aircraft is reduced to five miles. The same thing holds true for the commercial guys. While in this area, spacing between aircraft will decrease from 120 miles down to the same five miles used by the choppers.
These services soon will be part of NextGen for pilots across the country. By 2020, any aircraft flying within controlled airspace will be required to have both ADS-B in and ADS-B out.
Worried about what that will cost you? In the past year manufacturers of GPS products, flight planning systems, audio systems, interface electronics, and communications are either delivering ADS-B products or are in the development stages. These products are being introduced with all kinds of options that can be fine-tuned for each and every airplane in GA, from a non-electric Aeronca Champ to Piper Navajos. The best part? The prices of these systems are already dropping like a rock.This is the latest in a series of articles looking at the impact of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) on GA pilots.