Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is trying to make flying safer by sponsoring a bill to help pilots obtain the latest in satellite-based avionics.
The bill establishes a new loan program in the state’s Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development. Under the program, low interest loans will be provided for the purchase and installation of advanced satellite-based avionics. The upgrade is part of the FAA’s Capstone Program, a multi-pronged initiative aimed at making flying safer.
The bill is a good thing, because the technology is expensive, noted Jim Wright, an assistant engineer in the FAA’s surveillance broadcast services program, who has been part of the Capstone Program for several years.
“Depending on the type of aircraft, it can range from $35,000 to $70,000 because different things go into different airplanes,” he said. “I believe the governor’s bill makes it possible for private pilots to acquire an ADS-B insert and a hand-held Garmin unit that they can plug in.”
Alaska has seven times more licensed pilots than the national average. Because of the higher number of pilots, the mountainous terrain and rapidly changing weather, the state also has the highest aviation accident rate in the nation.
Aircraft equipped with Capstone avionics can receive signals from the FAA’s ground-based satellite receivers and transmitters. This enables pilots to have better situational awareness, and helps locate them in the event of an emergency landing.
“If they go down someplace, we will be able to find them more readily,” Wright said. “I have been on searches that lasted days and days and we never found the pilot.”
Pilots flying aircraft equipped with Capstone avionics are able to view exact position, groundspeed, position relative to altitude and terrain, position relative to other equipped aircraft, course, and destination on a display screen in the cockpit. Pilots also can receive real-time weather information. The avionics and advanced satellite system are aimed directly at preventing weather related accidents.
“The handheld unit shows traffic and weather and has a moving map,” Wright said. “It used to be that when you are flying low in VFR conditions and enter a cloud, that’s it — you’re dead — because you will likely impact terrain without a moving map to show you where you are. Too many people have done this.”
Other efforts to improve aviation safety include creating new digital maps of the entire state. The new maps will feature accurate height and depth data of physical terrain, and that will be incorporated into the FAA’s terrain models.