Alaska members, along with AOPA Alaska Regional Representative Tom George, banded together to get the FAA to reinstate ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) for pilots and air traffic controllers in the state. The FAA, which temporarily took ADS-B targets off controllers' scopes in March, will make it available again on June 15.
"The outcry of the members is what got ADS-B up and running again in Alaska," said Randy Kenagy, AOPA senior director of advanced technology. "This is a clear indication of how valuable this technology is, of how important it is for these pilots to receive weather and traffic information, along with ATC separation in an area where radar won't work."
Alaska has been the testing ground for ADS-B since 1999, when the FAA installed several hundred ADS-B systems in general aviation aircraft. The technology is slowly rolling out across the Lower 48 states, providing a real-time weather datalink and traffic information for pilots in properly equipped aircraft. It also provides ATC coverage in areas where radar can't work.
On July 15, Alaska controllers will begin providing radar and ADS-B separation at the same time - something that has never been done before.
"This is a crucial step for the FAA," Kenagy said. "The validation of this next step is important for widespread ADS-B implementation in the Lower 48."
Currently, controllers can separate ADS-B-equipped aircraft from other similarly equipped aircraft, but it cannot provide separation between an ADS-B-equipped aircraft and a transponder-equipped aircraft. They must resort to non-radar separation, in which the controllers separate aircraft by having pilots report their position and altitude as they cross certain points.
After July 15, the controller will be able to separate ADS-B-equipped aircraft and transponder-equipped aircraft using the same screen, in what is called a "mixed environment."
"This underscores that ADS-B is a usable, necessary technology and not just science," Kenagy said.
But ADS-B not only provides better coverage and more information than radar, it also is more affordable than ground-based radar.
"For a couple hundred thousand dollars, you can put in a ground station and get coverage for aircraft equipped with ADS-B," Kenagy said. "To get that same coverage from radar, it would cost $15 to $20 million. However, without affordable avionics, there will be limited use of ADS-B."
June 8, 2006