FAA expanding Alaska coverage

Federal Aviation Administration officials in Alaska are taking new technology to yet another part of the state with poor radar coverage and troubling terrain.

In the waning hours of 2000, the FAA provided pilots and controllers around Bethel with information they've never had before, thanks to the first broadcast of satellite positioning data in a system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast.

Using Global Positioning System satellites to determine an aircraft's location and a data link to transmit that information to the Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center, controllers and pilots got their first visual pictures of aircraft en route to Bethel, where there is no radar coverage.

The joint FAA/industry program, known as Capstone, has equipped almost 80 aircraft in and around Bethel—a hub for several isolated Eskimo villages—with new displays and GPS-based technology. By the spring, 150 aircraft will be equipped, Capstone program officials said.

Capstone officials are now transporting the lessons they've learned in Bethel to Juneau where terrain is even more treacherous and there is even less radar coverage, said John Hallinan, the FAA program manager for Capstone.

"This is the first new system introduced into air traffic control in 53 years," Hallinan said.

The Capstone office is starting to talk to aviation industry representatives in Juneau about technology that would meet the area's unique safety requirements; a meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10. FAA officials then will meet to discuss the expressed needs and develop a request for information to solicit proposals from industry by the end of Jan..

"There's new issues as we move from the flat area around Bethel to some of the more terrain-challenged areas around Juneau," Hallinan said. "We want to see if we can figure out what technologies are best suited to that and that we can deliver in a timely fashion."

The FAA will use the responses to the RFI to determine what technology is available to provide safe flight in low visibility and whether it can be operational in the next couple of years, said James Call, flight standards operations inspector with Capstone. The program received $5 million to begin the transition to Juneau this year, he said.

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