FAA bangs the drum for GPS tracking

Air traffic control (ATC) relies on accurate aircraft position data, and the more precise this becomes the more efficient the system performs as a whole.

This efficiency has undoubted advantages for fuel burn, but there have been debates about the improvements to safety promised by next-generation ATC systems.

Yesterday (September 18), the FAA urged the aviation industry to accelerate efforts to equip all US aircraft with Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) systems in order to improve safety and air traffic control.

ADS-B uses GPS technology to provide real-time information about an aircraft’s position with greater accuracy than conventional radar systems, which only update position data about every five seconds.

This should further reduce the already tiny chance of mid-air collisions, and allow more efficient aircraft spacing to reduce airspace congestion and improve system-wide fuel consumption.

Having recently completed the necessary ground infrastructure for ADS-B by building 634 radio stations, the aviation regulator now wants to see commensurate efforts from industry.

“The FAA has met its commitment and built the foundation for ADS-B,” said FAA deputy administrator Mike Whitaker. “It is time for all users of the national airspace – avionics suppliers, aircraft integrators, operators and installers – to work together to ensure that all aircraft flying in controlled airspace are equipped with these NextGen avionics.

Having trialled the system in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, the FAA has now issued a “call to action” to ensure that all aircraft operators install ADS-B by its January 1, 2020 deadline.

Yet it has been claimed that ADS-B position data can be interfered with by hackers, some of whom have shown how to create “ghost” signals of non-existent aircraft.

The FAA has categorically refuted those claimes, promising that such signals would be filtered out and never make it through to an ATC controller’s screen.

Nonetheless, one hopes that for the first few years of ADS-B, at least, redundancy from ground radar stations is maintained until the new system has proved itself tamper-proof.

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