What if you could get graphical weather data and traffic information piped to your airplane through an interface (and cost) similar to that with which you call up the local automatic terminal information service? ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) is here today, although in limited areas, as the FAA and industry grapple with broad-scale implementation of the system.
The ADS-B program uses multifunction displays and universal access transceivers to deliver traffic and weather data. Traffic information comes from aircraft (including GPS-based position reports, velocity vectors, and aircraft intentions) and air traffic control via traffic information service. Weather is yours through the ground-based flight information service.
The program promises a less expensive way to equip to a level of situational awareness that pilots would not have otherwise — because the information is floated into the ether by the FAA. It also provides a system by which the FAA hopes to reduce its reliance on ground-based radar for traffic separation — and enlist pilots in commanding more of their en route destiny. With targets shown on a cockpit display — essentially the same data that the controller sees — the pilot could be instructed in IFR conditions to maintain separation, just like under VFR. The pilot becomes a cog in strategic traffic planning en route as well, rather than simply a tactical manager.
Concerns include the baseline cost of equipping the aircraft fleet; in order for the system to work, a critical mass (if not everyone) within a given chunk of airspace must be ADS-B capable. Sources indicate that slices of airspace will be designated zones in which equipped aircraft have priority, with nonequipped aircraft diverted to other airspace or handled with lower priority. But just as nontransponder-equipped aircraft have workarounds to enter Class B airspace today, a similar process must be developed so that all segments of aviation are served.— JKB