Imagine what flying will be like when the promises of NextGen come to fruition in a way that can make a difference for general aviation. Think of a place and time when airplanes will be able to tell air traffic controllers and other airplanes exactly where they are. Controllers and pilots will be able to see this information, updated every second, on screens in front of them. You won’t have to guess the altitude of that distant speck and wonder if it poses a potential conflict, you’ll know.
With such frequent position updates and GPS accuracy, controllers will be able to better manage traffic, reducing congestion and separation in busy airspace.
Pilots flying in the VFR environment will have an added valuable situational awareness tool. ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) can deliver real-time weather to the cockpit where you’ll be able to get text and graphical depictions to help you make wise route and altitude choices. Combined with a GPS database, you’ll have terrain information to help avoid surprises in low ceilings and visibility. You’ll save time, money, and frustration. And you’ll be safer.
Because controllers will have a far better sense of where your aircraft is, including its altitude and its flight path, search-and-rescue operations will be improved. If an aircraft stops transmitting, ATC will be able to tell rescuers exactly where it was at the time of the last transmission, significantly narrowing the search area.
And all of this will be available regardless of whether you are in an isolated area far from today’s radar coverage or in the middle of a large urban center. And because being tied to radar will be a thing of the past, a broader network of stations will improve your ability to get ATC services in areas never seen by radar.
This is more than a distant dream. Thanks to federal investment in avionics and ground infrastructure, in large areas of Alaska, it’s a reality—and has been for nearly a decade.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to fly to Anchorage to participate in the Alaska State Aviation Trade Show and Conference, and the trip was so much more than I could have anticipated. This was my first opportunity to fly myself to Alaska and my first chance to really sit down with representatives of many different segments of aviation in the state. They welcomed me warmly and heartily endorsed the goals of AOPA’s General Aviation Serves America campaign to educate decision makers and the public about the true value of general aviation to all Americans. After all, no group has a better or more personal understanding of that value than Alaskans who are dependent on GA for so many of their transportation needs.
At a dinner arranged by AOPA Regional Representative for Alaska Tom George, we spoke about the many issues facing general aviation and the importance of NextGen modernization. These aviation leaders shared with me their insights, generated by years of actually flying with ADS-B. Some viewed ADS-B equipage as a competitive advantage, and everyone saw it as a vital enhancement to safety. And all of their comments made me think, “What are we waiting for?” The technology is here. It works. Let’s get going.
Back in Washington, D.C., the debate continues over the relative merits of ADS-B technology. In Alaska, they know just how effective it is because they use it every day. And while the Washington crowd agonizes over the challenges of integrating this relatively new technology into the air traffic control system, controllers in Alaska have been looking at integrated displays with ADS-B information since 2001 and the equipment has been in some aircraft since 2000.
All this came about through significant federal support for the Capstone program, which made Alaska a test bed for ADS-B technology and implementation. The aviation system users there have proven its value and effectiveness. It has even saved lives, getting rescuers to the scene of remote accidents in time to help downed pilots.
The Capstone program is over, but Alaska ATC and airplanes are still ADS-B equipped, so pilots continue to enjoy its benefits.
AOPA has actively and vocally supported the goals of ADS-B and advocated for the technology that makes it possible, even installing the equipment in AOPA aircraft and taking Washington decision makers on flights to demonstrate exactly how it works. We have also been pushing for financial support such as that offered in Alaska to help general aviation pilots take advantage of this new technology.
Of course, we continue to advocate for rational implementation that will maximize the benefits and minimize the equipage costs for general aviation. And though we have not always seen eye to eye with the FAA on these issues, I am optimistic that we can overcome these challenges.
We must. The benefits to safety and efficiency of this proven technology are too important to pass up. We know it can be done. We know it works. Now we just need to do it.
E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at [email protected].