FAA navigation tool shows promise

FAA's Free Flight program

A satellite-based navigation and communications tool that could significantly

improve the safety and capacity of the National Airspace System showed promise

during testing last week.

The tests, known as OpEval-2, were co-sponsored by the Federal Aviation

Administration and the Cargo Airlines Association and were conducted Oct.

26-28 in Louisville, Ky. They are part of the FAA's Safe Flight 21 program,

which examines emerging technologies and procedures that could lead to greater

safety and efficiency of air travel and control.

Last week's tests involved Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast,

which uses Global Positioning System satellites to obtain data about the

position of an aircraft and automatically broadcast the position information

to air traffic controllers and pilots.

ADS-B is one of the technologies expected to lead to Free Flight, which

will give pilots greater freedom in choosing direct routes and help controllers

use airspace more efficiently. For pilots, ADS-B provides a previously unavailable

picture of other nearby aircraft. For controllers, it gives a consolidated

picture of the airspace, particularly aircraft operating in areas not covered

by radar.

In Louisville, the FAA and UPS Aviation Technologies successfully evaluated

how ADS-B could help optimize final approach and departure as well as work

with surface maps to help improve runway safety. The first operational evaluation

tested equipment operability and the user interface with the hardware.

However, many questions remain, an FAA spokeswoman said. "These operational

evaluations are designed to answer questions we do not know yet as well

as answer them through future OpEvals," she said.

A preliminary report based on the data collected in Louisville is expected

in mid-December, with a final report in a few months, the spokeswoman said.

Another operational evaluation will be conducted with Federal Express in

late spring in Memphis, Tenn.

The test results will be used to determine what the FAA still needs

to do, such as addressing user interface issues, to make ADS-B usable, she

said. For instance, pilots should be looking out the window more than they

are looking at the display. Air traffic controllers also need to have the

proper symbols and colors on their displays.

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