Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

DETAILS OF a two-year, 2,000-aircraft, demonstration of the technologies required for the free-flight concept have been released by the US Federal Aviation Administration. Almost $400 million in funding required to stage the trial has yet to be approved by Congress, however.

Free flight is designed to remove the constraint of ground-based control. FAA officials say that the Flight 2000 demonstration, scheduled for 30 September, 2000, is essential if modernisation of the US air-traffic- management system is to be accomplished by the accelerated date of 2005 mandated by the Gore Commission in February.

The objectives of the trial, to be conducted in Alaska and Hawaii, include demonstrating the safety and efficiency benefits of free flight, streamlining avionics certification and reducing the risks in modernising the US airspace system by 2005. Officials hope that the demonstration will provide cost/benefit data which will convince airlines to re-equip to operate within the free-flight architecture.

Flight 2000 will be used to evaluate automatic dependent-surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) for en route, terminal-area and airport-surface surveillance. Air-to-air ADS-B will provide a cockpit display of traffic information, to help pilots maintain separation. The global-positioning system (GPS) will be used for navigation, enhanced by the wide-area augmentation system (WAAS), and precision approach, using local-area augmentation systems installed at three Alaskan and five Hawaiian airports.

The FAA is seeking $170 million to buy and install avionics in the 2,000 airline, commuter, air-taxi and general-aviation aircraft planned to participate in the trial. The Flight 2000 avionics include a VHF datalink radio, a WAAS-capable GPS receiver, a Mode S transponder with squitter capability for the ADS-B, and a cockpit information system which will process position, weather, traffic, terrain and other data for presentation on a multi-function display. Avionics installations are to begin in late 1999. As the equipping of aircraft will be voluntary, the trial will have to include coping with mixed fleets, the FAA says.

The FAA says that it must receive an initial $131 million funding in fiscal year 1998 if it is to begin the Flight 2000 demonstration on schedule, so as to resolve key architecture issues in time to meet the 2005 deadline for US airspace-system modernisation.

These include communications options. VHF datalink will be the principal communications medium for Flight 2000, with Mode S used for ADS-B, but other options, including low/medium-Earth-orbit satellites, will be evaluated.

One of the goals of Flight 2000 will be to streamline certification and reduce the cost of equipping aircraft to operate within the eventual free-flight airspace system.

Source: Flight International