FAA and US Airways move closer to ADS-B trials in Philadelphia

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Tests of automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) on US Airways Airbus A330s could begin later this year as the carrier takes delivery of new aircraft equipped with software to handle those operations.

An aircraft equipped with ADS-B uses GPS to determine its own position and broadcasts that information to ground stations, and other aircraft with similar equipment.

In November 2008 FAA said it awarded a contract to avionics supplier ACSS to equip 20 Airbus A330s with the ACSS "SafeRoute" tool to test ADS-B operations at Philadelphia International Airport.

Today FAA acting administrator Robert Sturgell, US Airways SVP flight operations/inflight Ed Bular and President of ACSS joint venture partner L3 Communications Kris Ganase signed a wide-ranging agreement in Washington, DC that covered the trials.

Bular of US Airways says the details of the Philadelphia trials are still in development, but the carrier is most likely to begin testing ADS-B on A330s scheduled for delivery starting in May. The carrier has 17 of the widebody aircraft on order.

SafeRoute is a software application designed to optimise merging and spacing of aircraft on approach to an airport, and supply surface movement area management to potentially reduce runway incursions.

Another feature Bular says US Airways plans to test is the capability of the ACSS systems to allow for flight level changes during in trail procedures on transatlantic flights. Currently carriers need multiple approvals from air traffic control to switch to a flight level that provides better fuel efficiency.

The tests in Philadelphia build on trials UPS has conducted with SafeRoute at its Louisville, Kentucky hub. UPS Boeing 757s and 767s now have the systems, says Ganase of L3. ACSS has made one tweak to SafeRoute since UPS began testing last year, he adds.

UPS also plans to test ADS-B alongside US Airways in Philadelphia allowing for the carriers to work in tandem to test the SafeRoute system. Philadelphia airport is also readying for the trials, as FAA contractor ITT aims to have the ground infrastructure operational at the airport by October of this year.

FAA is awarding ACSS $6 million to equip the US Airways A330s, but carrier executive Bular says the company is likely to incur expenses in areas such as pilot training.

Under the pact signed today FAA, US Airways and ACSS agreed to consider a range of NextGen technologies at selected locations including Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), Local Area Augmentation System (LAAS) and Required Navigation Performance.