ADS-B ground radios in midst of critical testing

PARIS, 18 June 2009. The move from radar surveillance for air traffic control (ATC) to satellite-based technology is getting closer after successful testing in Florida and current testing in Kentucky.

Jun 18th, 2009

By John McHale

PARIS, 18 June 2009. The move from radar surveillance for air traffic control (ATC) to satellite-based technology is getting closer after successful testing in Florida and current testing in Kentucky.

The satellite technology – Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B), part of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) initiative – "will be 10 times more accurate than radar," says Michael McNeely, business development manager for FAA programs at ITT. "It will also improve safety," by reducing mid-air collisions and accidents caused by poor weather conditions, he adds.

With more accurate approaches and landings, ATC operators will be able to decrease separation between planes safely, thereby cutting down on delays, he adds.

ITT officials were demonstrating the capabilities and advantages of ADS-B technology at their booth at the Paris Air Show this week.

ITT provides the ground infrastructure for ADS-B, McNeely says. Two years ago ITT won a contract to deploy the radio capability to the FAA for ADS-B. The other competitors were Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, he says. The initial contract is to develop, deploy and maintain the ADS-B ground infrastructure.

ADS-B uses GPS satellite signals to provide pilots and air traffic controllers with accurate and rapidly-updated information about aircraft in flight and on the ground.

ITT recently completed successful testing of their technology in South Florida -- with the deployment of 11 ground stations in the region, which includes five general aviation airports.

"We have capability at about 275 FAA air traffic control facilities in the U.S., and will have 800 by 2013," McNeely says.

Florida tested high-altitude capability and the test currently being run in Louisville, Kent., will cover lower altitude critical surface coverage, McNeely says. The trick there is that "we cannot be with 17 miles" of the terminal because the frequency ITT radios are using is the same as that used by pilots and ATC, he says.

ITT therefore used low-power radios that would not interfere with the other radio traffic, he says.

This test should be completed by the end of the year, when the FAA will make a determination on whether to move forward with is technology or re-work it, McNeely says.

ITT is currently working toward deployment of broadcast services for 19 additional FAA-defined airspace areas within the United States and deployment of surveillance services to key sites, including; Philadelphia, Pa.; the Gulf of Mexico; and Juneau, Alaska.

McNeely says that some private organizations have already equipped their fleets with ADS-B technology such as Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. They use it to track student pilots, he says.

ADS-B technology has been developed over the last eight to 10 years, heavily tested in Alaska where there is limited visibility and a good deal of small airplane traffic – "most people have to fly to get to one part of the state or the other especially in winter," McNeely says. About 200 aircraft had ADS_B capability put into their avionics systems – such as airport moving maps, and terrain maps, he adds.

ADS-B testing in Alaska "resulted in around a 40 percent drop in the accident rate," McNeely says.

The requirement is to provide coverage equal to that provided by the current radar system, McNeely says. "We are using a conservative coverage model and expect it will do better than that."

"We can see aircraft as far as 250 miles out," he adds. "It kicks butt."

ITT's ground ADS-B radio system receives aircraft position then cleans it up by using three different radios – to accommodate for any variances – fuses the information together, puts it out over the network for delivery to the proper air traffic control facility, McNeely says.

ITT'ADS-B team includes: AT&T, which provides the network; Thales, which provides the radios and multi-sensor tracker; WSI, who is the weather service provider; Sunhillo, which provides the service delivery point (SDP) equipment; Pragmatics, which provides software development support; and SAIC, which provides engineering and implementation support.

Currently the ATC terminals need to be updated with the proper software, McNeely says. This is a separate program charged to Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, McNeely says. Some of the systems in use are quite old and in the midst of separate upgrade not related at all to ADS-B. This will be a significant challenge and the FAA is giving them a year to accomplish the task – the end of 2010, McNeely says.

ADS-B is much more than the ground and the ATC displays, McNeely says. The aircraft will also have to be equipped with ADS-B in and ADS-B-out devices to send and receive messages, he explains.

This can be expensive for general aviation pilots, McNeely notes. The only GPS maker right now that makes in ADS-B device that sends and receives is Garmin, he adds.

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