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Modernization Plan

US air traffic control system being upgraded

eTN Staff Writer  Apr 28, 2010

A satellite-based system provided by the US target="_blank">Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to air traffic controllers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is making it safer and more efficient to track and separate aircraft.

"This new technology is a tremendous leap forward in transforming the current air traffic control system," said FAA administrator Randy Babbitt. "The operational benefits in Philadelphia extend as far as Washington, DC, and New York, which has some of the most congested airspace in the world."

Called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), the new system is a core technology under the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). By using ADS-B, air traffic controllers have more precise information while separating aircraft in the sky and on the runways, leading to greater efficiency and safety benefits. Controllers who have access to ADS-B receive one-second update rates compared to four-and-a-half second update rates with radar.

Potentially, they will be able to reduce separation in the enroute environment from the current five nautical miles to three, saving both time and money for the airlines while reducing the carbon footprint. Pilots flying aircraft equipped with ADS-B know precisely where they are and are able to see other properly-equipped aircraft. They also have access to better information on area weather and receive flight information electronically, such as airmen notices and temporary flight restrictions.

Philadelphia is one of four key sites that the FAA selected to demonstrate ADS-B services. The other sites include Houston, TX; Louisville, KY; and Juneau, AK. The sites were selected because of their unique airspace environments and local needs.

ADS-B coverage at Philadelphia extends 60 nautical miles out and approximately 10,000 feet up. It also covers the surface area and the approach corridors to the runways. Philadelphia was selected because of its current automation platform that is used by air traffic controllers, called the Standard Terminal Automated Replacement System. Also, UPS has equipped for ADS-B services and a large amount of their operations are conducted at Philadelphia International Airport. In addition, US Airways is in the process of equipping its aircraft to use ADS-B.

Philadelphia Airport also has Airport Surface Detection Equipment (ASDE-X), which provides detailed coverage of movement on runways and taxiways allowing controllers to detect potential conflicts. The ASDE-X at Philadelphia has been upgraded to receive ADS-B data. Additionally, the ASDE-X surveillance data will be used as a Traffic Information Service - Broadcast (TIS-B) source so pilots can see non-ADS-B targets on their cockpit displays.

FAA is installing the ground infrastructure for ADS-B. The agency has proposed that airlines and private aircraft install ADS-B avionics by 2020. Some airlines and private aircraft have already started equipping in advance of that date. ADS-B is expected to be available nationwide by 2013.

US air traffic control system being upgraded
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