FAA issues rule on satellite-based air traffic control

Agency issues requirements for surveillance technology many aircraft will be required to have by 2020

The Federal Aviation Administration has set technical requirements for advanced satellite-based tracking technology that is part of the agency’s multiyear, multibillion-dollar program for its next generation (NextGen) air traffic control system.

Under a new final rule from the Transportation Department, the parent agency of the FAA, aircraft flying in specified portions of  United States airspace will be required to use the satellite technology, named Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS–B), to interface with air traffic controllers. ADS-B is considered a key part of the NextGen program.

The FAA said ADS-B technology is more precise than radar and the agency expects it to reduce times needed for taxiing and flying and to allow aircraft to save fuel and money. Aircraft flying in congested airspaces such as areas near major airports will be required to broadcast ADS-B signal by 2020, according to the rule published May 27.

Officials told reporters during a conference call that complying with rule will cost aircraft operators and government between $2.1 billion and $4.1 billion

The rule specified standards for data link capability, transmission power, accuracy, and integrity for the ADS-B technology that aircraft must use to comply with it. The requirements focus on using ADS-B technology to broadcast information about an aircraft through an onboard transmitter to a ground receiver. The final rule identifies this as ADS-B Out.


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During the conference call, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said the final rule represented “a step across the threshold that we have been waiting a long time for.” Babbitt said he didn’t anticipate much opposition from the airline industry to the final rule and that he thought the airline industry did see the business case for using ADS-B.

The Air Transport Association (ATA), which represents commercial air carriers, said with the system estimated to cost several billion dollars, "ATA is carefully reviewing the ADS-B rule released today, and will have no further comment until that in-depth review is complete."

Meanwhile, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which represents general aviation, said “the ADS-B Out equipment that the rule requires will cost the individual general aviation aircraft owner thousands of dollars but only duplicates what already exists with today’s radio transponder.” AOPA also said it’s reviewing the rule.

In August 2007, the FAA selected ITT to be the prime contractor for a nationwide network of ADS-B ground stations that the agency will pay to use as part of the program.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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