The Colorado Department of Transportation soon will provide radar-like surveillance to mountain airports in the Centennial State.
The project, formally called the Colorado Air Traffic Control Beacon Interrogator (CO-ATCBI) Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) System, was undertaken because of the increase in air traffic at Colorado’s mountain airports during the ski season. During periods of inclement weather, aircraft are often diverted or delayed because their destination airports lack radar coverage, resulting in disruptions of travel plans for many.
In 2005, CDOT’s Division of Aeronautics began looking for ways to address this growing problem. The cost of utilizing existing, so-called traditional or “legacy” radars to provide the necessary coverage in the mountains was prohibitively expensive, as a single legacy radar costs more than $7 million, not including operation and maintenance.
Working with the FAA, CDOT developed a solution based on a combination of existing and next-generation technologies to provide the desired radar coverage without the need for costly legacy radars.
“It is a multi-sensor system that responds to the transponder from the aircraft,” says Travis Vallin, director of the Colorado Department of Aeronautics. “We can tailor the surveillance through the mountains and valleys. We will get a better picture than if we had a single line-of-sight radar.”
The Sensis Corp. has been selected to implement the first phase of the $15 million project.
The Colorado Surveillance Project is based on a system of distributed sensors, each about the size of a small refrigerator, that use existing transponders to determine an aircraft’s position and report it to the FAA Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center, located in Longmont. The term “surveillance” is used to distinguish the system from legacy radar. Air traffic information will be displayed as a standard radar target on screens in the Denver Center facility, which provides radar separation for all air traffic in portions of nine western states.
“It is being tested in Alaska now as part of the Capstone Project,” said Vallin. “It is also being used in Innsbruck, Austria, where there is a situation very similar to what we have with the mountainous terrain and impact on the winter season.”
According to Vallin, the sensors will be installed over the summer.
The project will be implemented in two phases. The first phase will provide coverage to airports in Hayden, Rifle, Steamboat Springs and Craig. Phase I is being funded by CDOT and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, as well as local participation by Routt and Garfield counties. It will cost $4.7 million and be operational by the 2008 ski season.
Coverage volume and project definitions for Phase II will be finalized in the fall of 2007. It is expected to include airport coverage in Montrose, Telluride, Gunnison, Cortez, Durango and Alamosa and is estimated to cost approximately $10 million.
Once complete, the FAA will assume ownership of the system, including operations and maintenance costs throughout its 15- to 20-year life. It also will provide for its certification into the National Air Space System.
“This project represents a dynamic step forward and will greatly improve the aviation system, as well as the overall efficiency of the transportation system for visitors to our mountain communities,” said Harold Patton, chairman of the Colorado Aeronautical Board.
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