FAA increases satellite coverage

Americom Government Services (AGS) officials announced that they have received a multimillion-dollar, 10-year contract through Lockheed Martin to support the Federal Aviation Administration’s satellite navigation system.

As part of the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), AGS will handle the operations, maintenance and logistics for two new GEO Uplink Subsystems, in Brewster, Wash., and Woodbine, Md.

WAAS was designed to enhance the accuracy and reliability of the Global Positioning System (GPS), and transmit horizontal and vertical guidance capabilities. GPS allows users to determine their positions anywhere in the world and broadcast them to receivers on aircraft. The newly announced agreement is part of a renewed lease with Lockheed Martin for two geosynchronous satellite links to broadcast WAAS messages.

Under the current arrangement, set to expire in 2006, an aircraft in Virginia sees a satellite over the Atlantic Ocean while an aircraft in Alaska sees a different satellite over the Pacific Ocean. If either satellite goes down, FAA loses WAAS connection.

With the new agreement, two satellites will be situated over the middle of the United States, providing more power and a second frequency available to all users. This frequency supports the Bush administration’s GPS modernization initiative.

“Now, no matter where you travel, you always have two satellites in view,” said Hal Bell, WAAS lead. “There’s no single point of failure.”

Federal aviation officials and National Air Traffic Controllers Association members say WAAS will enhance flight safety by providing the means to design instrument approach procedures for small general aviation airports that do not have that capability today.

AGS’ portion of the system will enable navigation message broadcasting 24 hours a day. The new uplinks will make it possible for aviation services to reach more communities. Of the roughly 15,000 airports in the National Airspace System, only 600 have vertical guidance.

A June 26, 2003, Transportation Department's Office of Inspector General report states that WAAS had become the agency’s most costly current acquisition. Scheduled to start in 1998, it did not offer service until 2003.

Although the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has expressed support for modernization efforts, the union says more personnel will be needed to work with WAAS.

"When WAAS is fully implemented and new approaches have been designed, the end result for air traffic controllers will be an increase in air traffic and complexity," said Doug Fralick, director of safety and technology for the association. "This is another reason why we continue to voice our concern about the controller staffing crisis. Already, controllers are being asked to do more and more with less and less."

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