The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has completed a 6.5-year-long installation of the satellite-based automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system that serves as the core of the NextGen air traffic control system.
Airlines and private aircraft owners now have less than six years to equip their fleet with ADS-B Out transponders to comply with an FAA mandate that takes effect on 1 January 2020.
But the completion of the ground infrastructure – following activations of ADS-B network stations in Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico – signals the end of a critical phase of the NextGen roll-out, which is scheduled to be fully active by 2025 at a combined costs to the FAA airlines of up to $42 billion.
“The installation of this radio network clears the way for air traffic controllers to begin using ADS-B to separate equipped aircraft nationwide,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.
In addition to providing more accurate positions of aircraft, the satellite-based navigation technology enables new flight and approach paths designed to reduce fuel consumption.
The FAA has approved more than 14,000 performance-based navigation procedures already, although the implementation has taken longer and faced more complexity than anticipated.
So far, about 100 of the largest air traffic control towers have also received software that allows the ADS-B signal to be displayed on the screens of air traffic controllers.
The rest of the control towers will be upgraded with the ADS-B software over the next five years, according to the FAA, with the largest and most active towers in line first.
The ADS-B system, unlike radar, provides near-real-time updates of an aircraft’s precise position, using the GPS signal on board the aircraft to provide continuous updates via satellite.
The current system relies on a network of radar systems that are less precise and more expensive to operate.
The challenge to implement ADS-B as the cornerstone of the NextGen air traffic system, however, is replacing Mode S transponders on tens of thousands of commercial and private aircraft with new equipment in less than six years to meet the FAA’s mandate.