By AOPA Communications staff
The FAA recently marked a major milestone in the move toward a satellite-based air traffic control system with the implementation of the 1,000th instrument approach that uses the enhanced GPS Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS).
AOPA has been a strong proponent of WAAS as part of the move toward satellite navigation that the association has championed since 1990.
“There is a lot of talk about NextGen (next generation), a satellite-based air traffic control system that is envisioned for 20 years down the road,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer, “but WAAS is an example of what I like to call ‘NowGen’—technologies to improve air traffic that are either here today or will be ready to deploy in the next three to five years.”
Since WAAS was turned on three and a half years ago, AOPA has been pressing the FAA to transform aviation by implementing as many of the satellite-based approaches as possible each year. The FAA has diligently done so, implementing more than 300 each year.
WAAS is a satellite-based system that corrects minor errors in GPS signals, making them even more accurate and allowing the FAA to develop instrument approach procedures for airports without having to install and maintain expensive radio transmitters. For instance, a WAAS approach can cost as much as 20 times less to implement than a traditional ILS, and with the right airport lighting system, it is as precise as an ILS from a GA pilot’s perspective.
In addition, as the FAA transitions to a satellite-based navigation system that includes WAAS, the agency will no longer need to pay to maintain costly ground-based infrastructure. AOPA has supported WAAS not only as a cost-saving measure, but because it has the potential to make virtually every public-use general aviation airport in the United States all-weather accessible. As of Feb. 14, 2008, the FAA had approved 1,028 WAAS approaches at 577 airports. More than half of those are GA airports.
GA pilots and aircraft owners have embraced satellite navigation and the advanced capabilities of WAAS from the outset. Tens of thousands have already equipped to take advantage of WAAS. While the airlines had originally favored an alternative to WAAS, at least one, Southwest, has announced plans to equip 200 of its Boeing 737s with WAAS-capable GPS receivers.
“NextGen is vital to the future of aviation in America, but it won’t be complete until 2025 or later,” said Boyer. “WAAS is an excellent example of things we are doing now and in the near future to improve the National Airspace System.”
Other satellite-based technologies already being used extensively in GA aircraft provide pilots with in-cockpit data such as graphical weather and airspace information.
February 21, 2008