The Federal Aviation Association (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). The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association 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, 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 Global Positioning System (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 instrument landing system (ILS) and, with the right airport lighting system, is as precise as an ILS from a general aviation 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 accessible as an all-weather airport. As of February 14, 2008, the FAA had approved 1,028 WAAS approaches at 577 airports. More than half of those are general aviation airports.
General aviation 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.
“The Next Generation Air Traffic Control System (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 general aviation aircraft provide pilots with in-cockpit data such as graphical weather and airspace information.
With more than 415,000 members, AOPA is the world’s largest civil aviation association. Some 70 percent of all U.S. pilots are members of the association, which is dedicated to protecting the interests of general aviation. From its founding in 1939, AOPA has supported technological advances that enhance aviation safety and provide significant benefits that encourage pilots to adopt the new technology.
February 21, 2008