The FAA announced this week that it will add a third geostationary satellite to the two existing satellites that comprise the space-based portion of the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS). With the augmented Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation signal, WAAS enables access to low-altitude en-route airspace without a required backup and will eventually enable vertically guided approaches to many airports around the country, both in busy urban areas as well as remote regions where there has traditionally been insufficient navigation equipment for general aviation. "Over the past year, AOPA has lobbied Congress and pressured the FAA to pursue this procurement aggressively," commented Andrew V. Cebula, senior vice president of government and technical affairs for AOPA. "We're glad to see the FAA has taken this positive step in the future of satellite-based navigation for the United States."
A third satellite brings benefits to general aviation pilots by increasing the geographic "footprint" of redundant WAAS satellite coverage should one of the satellites fail and adds WAAS coverage to some areas of the airspace system. The FAA has selected Lockheed Martin to lead a team of manufacturers. Lockheed has partnered with Boeing and Raytheon to provide this new WAAS satellite and possibly more in the future. The satellite will also have a new "second frequency" capability, which is part of a long-term effort to provide GPS navigation information over two protected frequencies, increasing the navigation capabilities substantially and reducing the threat of intentional and accidental interference. Eventually, all GPS and WAAS satellites will have two-frequency capabilities. The WAAS system is scheduled to begin an initial operating capability this summer with improvements to follow over the next few years.