FAA ready to approve ADS-B standards & expand coverage

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The US FAA is almost ready to certify the automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) system in the USA, but whether it is ready to be deployed outside the state of Alaska and by commercial carriers remains uncertain.

FAA certification service senior engineer Rich Jennings says ADS-B minimum operational performance standards (MOPS) should be approved by the Radio Technical Committee for Aeronautics (RTCA) at a meeting next week. The FAA will then solicit public comment on the standards before issuing final MOPS certification, which Jennings expects will occur in November or December.

Jennings says the completion of the MOPS process should help ADS-B be extended outside Alaska. ADS-B is being tested on general aviation aircraft in the state of Alaska and on a mix of aircraft in several other countries. But the system is not in widespread use anywhere, and government aviation agencies have barely started the process of setting international standards - a key step to extending ADS-B worldwide.

Jennings says it will take a long time to set standards for high-level uses of ADS-B. But he says the completion of the MOPS process is a step forward for extending the use of the system’s basic capabilities, including separation of traffic and surveillance.

“It is just a matter of when it will grow to the lower 48 [states],” he told the International Advanced Aviation Technologies Conference yesterday in Anchorage.

“Our focus is on meeting Alaska’s needs, but to also do the best we can to make sure this is deployable nationwide,” added Mark Olson of FAA’s Capstone program office.

MITRE/Capstone principal systems engineer Jim Chieplak encouraged carriers attending the conference, including Northwest Airlines and United Parcel Service Airlines, to ask for the technology.

“Everything is being set for a transition to the lower 48,” he says.

But UPS and Northwest officials doubt the FAA will pay for the technology like it has in Alaska and say they are having a hard time convincing their bosses to approve ADS-B purchases.

“It’s [hard] trying to convince non-aviators of the benefit,” says UPS Airlines advanced flight systems director James Walton. “Right now we’re in an environment where if it’s not mandated you’re not getting it.”

UPS plans to equip ADS-B on some of its Boeing 757s and 767s, but Walton says it could be a while before he secures approval for installation on the carrier’s Boeing 727s, McDonnell Douglas DC-8s and Airbus A300-600s. He says if a passenger carrier also starts installing ADS-B, it could lead to more widespread support for the technology.

“Once the first [passenger] carrier equips, there will be more pressure to match the equipage,” Walton says. “You’ll get lawyers starting to worry about the liability of not having it, and that’s how things get done.”

Robert Zoldos of the US Air Transport Association says his members are especially interested in expanding ADS-B technology to the Gulf of Mexico area, where radar coverage is limited.

“Hopefully it will be [extended] before all our airlines run out of money,” Zoldos says.