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November 12, 2010

NextGen on track; ADS-B equipment a big question

The satellite-based “NextGen” airspace modernization system is taking shape on schedule and will provide pilots with low-cost traffic, terrain, and weather tools in the future, FAA and aviation industry officials said Nov. 11 at AOPA Aviation Summit.

“It’s a dramatic safety enhancement,” Dennis Roberts, an FAA official who took part in a NextGen panel discussion, said of the future system’s ability to provide more ATC coverage in remote areas and safely increase capacity. “It’s imperative for the future viability of our airspace system.”

The FAA will require all aircraft to provide ADS-B “Out” by 2020 in airspace where Mode C transponders are currently used. Avionics manufacturers are developing a wide array of new products that provide pilots traffic, weather, and terrain warnings based on ADS-B “In.” Unlike today’s subscription weather products, the ADS-B services will be provided free for an unlimited time, FAA officials said.

The cost of the new ADS-B equipment is the big question mark—but Tim Taylor, president and CEO of FreeFlight Systems, said meeting the ADS-B requirements will cost less than a transponder, and many of the new products will be able to connect to today’s WAAS-enabled GPS units.

AOPA has questioned the FAA rule that requires both Mode C transponders and ADS-B Out for general aviation aircraft. But FAA and industry officials said it’s likely that new products are being developed that will economically send out both signals. And all aviation segments will benefit from the added capacity, lower cost, and greater reliability the future system will bring. —AOPA Publications staff