THE US FEDERAL Aviation Administration has awarded Wilcox Electric a $475 million incentive-fee contract to develop and produce the world's first wide-area augmentation system (WAAS), which makes the global-positioning system (GPS) usable for all phases of civil flight.

Award of the contract to the US-based unit of Thomson-CSF is a significant milestone in the FAA's efforts to switch from ground-based to space-based navigation.

The WAAS will consist of 35 ground-reference stations, plus ground and satellite communications systems. It will provide integrity of GPS signals in support of all phases of navigation, from oceanic through Category I approach operations. The FAA has yet to determine whether the GPS/WAAS can provide enhanced accuracy to enable precision-approach operations down to Cat IIIB (auto pilot landings).

As prime contractor, Wilcox is responsible for system design, integration testing, and site installation. Hughes Aircraft is in charge of software engineering, and TRW is accountable for the communications network.

Wilcox was selected over four competing contractor teams led by Rockwell, Loral, Harris and Raytheon. The WAAS contract signing was expected in mid-May, but delayed because of protracted negotiations with the Pentagon over assurances for civil access to the GPS and technical issues.

Operational tests of the WAAS are planned by the FAA to start in early 1998. The WAAS is expected to be operational by 2001. The phase-out of ground-based navigation systems would begin in 2000.

The FAA believes that the WAAS is a precursor to a worldwide satellite-based navigation system. US Transportation Secretary Federico Pena says that "...others in Europe and Japan are closely watching, and this puts us in the international lead".

The FAA hopes to expand WAAS coverage to Canada and Mexico. A WAAS is being considered for Europe, and the FAA will work with counterparts in Europe for maximum WAAS commonality.

Source: Flight International