June 3, 2008
AOPA President Phil Boyer and Randy Kenagy, AOPA manager of air traffic technology, flew to Alaska last week to get a first glimpse at the FAA Capstone Program. This test project provides traffic, terrain, and weather to a multifunction display screen in the cockpits of general aviation aircraft at an affordable price. AOPA supported funding for the project in Congress and has helped set the project's course.
Among the new technologies being tested is ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast), which allows an aircraft to broadcast their GPS-based position to both ground controllers and other aircraft. This so-called traffic information service-broadcast can give general aviation an affordable collision-avoidance system.
Also being tested is an enhanced terrain database, which, combined with GPS position information, increases situational awareness and reduces the risk of controlled flight into terrain. A datalink system (flight information services), which sends weather information (including graphics) directly to the cockpit, is also being evaluated.
Some 40 Capstone systems (which includes a multifunction display, GPS receiver, and datalink transceiver) have been installed in aircraft operating in the unique weather environment around Bethel, Alaska. This small community of 5,000 people can only be reached by air or water. Riding in a Cessna 207 operating under special VFR rules (the norm for this weather environment), AOPA viewed the actual display of other aircraft in flight on an UPS Aviation Technologies MX-20 multifunction display.
Almost 160 Alaska aircraft will be Capstone-equipped when the experiment is fully under way sometime next year. (AOPA will also continue to evaluate the technology with two Capstone-equipped aircraft and ground units operating from the association's Frederick, Maryland, headquarters.)
Accompanying the AOPA team on the Alaska visit were Sam Seery, director of sales and marketing, and Craig Hudson, Capstone project manager for UPS Aviation Technologies, supplier of the on-board and ground-based Capstone equipment.
Thursday evening some 25 Bethel-area pilots attended a barbecue where the visiting team from the Lower 48 questioned them on their initial reactions to the new technology.
While in Anchorage, Boyer also spent time consulting with FAA Alaska Regional Administrator Pat Poe and his management team; Richard Przywarty, director of the Alaska region of the National Weather Service; Tom Wardleigh and Ginny Hyatt of the Alaska Air Safetry Foundation; and Felix Maguire, past president, and Bart Tiernan, president, of the Alaska Airmen's Association.
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