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FAA Greenlights Satellite-Based Air Traffic Control System

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the no-clouds-in-the-sky dept.

Transportation 138

coondoggie writes "As one of the massive flying seasons gets underway the government today took a step further in radically changing the way aircraft are tracked and moved around the country. Specifically the FAA gave the green light to deploy satellite tracking systems nationwide, replacing the current radar-based approach. The new, sometimes controversial system would let air traffic controllers track aircraft using a satellite network using a system known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B), which is ten times more accurate than today's radar technology. ADS-B is part of the FAA's wide-reaching plan known as NextGen to revamp every component of the flight control system to meet future demands and avoid gridlock in the sky."

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Before someone brings it up... (-1, Flamebait)

sethstorm (512897) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905665)

...no, don't put the blame on just the unions that may have held it up.

Seattle-based Air Traffic Control? (0)

Philip K Dickhead (906971) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905689)

Not another Microsoft story!

CAN I HAS A LANDING?

clippy as the autopilot (3, Funny)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905735)

It look's like you are trying to land do you want help?

Re:clippy as the autopilot (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25905769)

Your landing has crashed. If this is the first time your landing has crashed, restart your landing and try again. Otherwise, contact your hardware provider for assistance.

re: gridlock in the sky (4, Insightful)

Fuji Kitakyusho (847520) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905743)

What good does it do to reduce gridlock in the sky if you can't simultaneously reduce gridlock in airport security?

Re: gridlock in the sky (4, Interesting)

Oswald (235719) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905759)

About as much good as it does to reduce airborne separation without pouring more runways. Everybody can get to their holding pattern 2 minutes sooner.

Re: gridlock in the sky (4, Informative)

the_other_chewey (1119125) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905841)

Exactly. The main problem the civil aviation in the USA has isn't a lack of airspace, but clogged airport aprons.

Parick Smith, the salon.com airline captain columnist, has just written about it again.

Nice comment [salon.com] about the usefulness of opening military corridors for civil aviation around thanksgiving:
"It will have roughly the same effect as, say, organizing a group prayer or rubbing a plastic airplane for good luck."

Re: gridlock in the sky (1)

mccabem (44513) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906175)

Any excuse for us to put even more [universetoday.com] satellites in the sky... And since having new satellites in the sky costs next to nothing, why not? Right?

-Matt

Re: gridlock in the sky (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 5 years ago | (#25908059)

think about it this way. Ground based radar is limited by line of sight, and horizon issues. it is technically possible to fly below it.

With a space based solution you always fly below it.

Re: gridlock in the sky (5, Informative)

lysergic.acid (845423) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906189)

while i agree that the post 9/11 airport security measures and completely pointless and make flying an absolute nightmare, that does not negate the benefits of this new system.

firstly, it's not the lack of "airspace" that this system is addressing. ADS-B provides more accurate/precise information to pilots in addition to having far more extensive coverage than radar. not only are they getting weather & air traffic information for improved situational awareness in the air, but this technology is also being used to help pilots navigate on the tarmac:

With radar, pilots rely on air traffic controllers and a see-and-avoid strategy that literally entails looking out the window to avoid wandering in the way of--or colliding with--other aircraft on the runways. With ADS-B, pilots have a cockpit display, which looks like a full-color, topographical map on a computer screen, showing where they are, where everyone else is, and the ever-changing weather around them. "It's giving the pilot an extra set of eyes," says von Thaden, who is also a licensed pilot.

ADS-B's ability to update in real-time is especially important on runways, with so many planes in such close proximity. "Things happen a lot faster on the surface," says Vincent Capezzuto, the FAA program manager for ADS-B. "There are aircraft speeding up to take off. There are aircraft that are landing and going really fast and decelerating and taking sharp turns onto these high-speed taxiways to get off the runway."
[...]
Additionally, by enabling more tightly spaced landings, and less time in holding patterns, ADS-B saves 40 to 70 gallons (150 to 265 liters) of fuel per landing. Mangeot estimates that the Continuous Descent Approach enabled by ADS-B, during which aircraft glide in with their engines at idle thrust, cut nitrous oxide emissions (a greenhouse gas) by about 34 percent as well as noise pollution by some 30 percent.

in fact the worst plane accident in history (excluding the 9-11 attacks, which were deliberate terrorist acts) was the Tenerife airport disaster [wikipedia.org] (1977) which involved the collision of two 747s on the runway. since pilots rely so heavily on air traffic controllers to help them navigate the runway, a simple miscommunication due to a language barrier between the pilot and the tower caused one of the 747s to be parked directly in the path of another 747 preparing for take-off. and because looking out the window was the only other way for pilots to see their surroundings (and avoid collisions), the heavy fog covering the airport that day obscured the two planes from each other until it was too late. this accident could easily have been prevented if ADS-B had been in place, since the pilots in both planes would have been able to clearly see their relative position to each other and to the layout of the runway system.

lastly, i want to point out the crash of Avianca Flight 52 [wikipedia.org] in 1990. this incident occurred during foggy conditions as well, but this time the root cause of the accident was due to the 707 being put in a holding pattern for over an hour until they literally ran out of fuel and crashed. the 707 was actually given priority landing right before they ran out of fuel, however due to bad wind shear info given by the flight controllers the plane dropped below the glideslope, resulting a missed approach. however, they didn't have enough fuel for a second approach. the engines flamed out; the plane lost power; and then it crashed.

accurate weather info, more tightly spaced landings, less time in holding patterns, and less fuel expended for landings would all improve the safety and efficacy of commercial air travel. perhaps if the planes on the ground that night had been able to taxi themselves using the ADS-B display, the decreased workload on the tower controllers would have allowed them to land more planes in a shorter amount of time--maybe even enough to let Avianca Flight 52 land before running out of fuel. or perhaps if they had gotten the correct weather info from the ADS-B system instead of the flight controller they wouldn't have had a missed approach.

Re: gridlock in the sky (0, Redundant)

nabsltd (1313397) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906247)

ADS-B provides more accurate/precise information to pilots in addition to having far more extensive coverage than radar.

None of the benefits you mention really requires satellites as part of the system.

Currently, "radar" isn't really used by most civilian airports. Although they do have the capability to do "skin paints", they generally rely on the airplane transponders which report the GPS and inertial navigation information when queried by the air traffic control systems.

There is no reason you can't take this same information the tower receives now and send it out to all planes in the area so they can have in-cockpit displays like you refer to. Basically, it'd be the same system without the satellites. It would be a lot cheaper to do, and would have exactly the same results, but it wouldn't be as cool, so it probably wouldn't get funded.

Re: gridlock in the sky (1)

lysergic.acid (845423) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906349)

like they say, there's more than one way to skin a cat. however, this system is here now. the technology has been tested for over several years and proven itself to be effective. and there are things that can be done about the cost. GPS was really expensive when it first came out as well, but now it's relatively cheap to get a GPS navigation system. by standardizing the design for the cockpit device, it can be produced more cheaply by many manufacturers. and if it's a standard feature on all planes, that will also reduce unit costs, in addition to distributing the cost of operating the satellites across millions of planes.

the data speaks for itself. i don't think it has anything to do with satellites being "cool." if you can design a safe radar alternative to this system, you could present it to the FAA for their consideration. but if there are no other alternatives available, then what is wrong with the FAA adopting this technology?

besides, how would you transmit weather data from the national weather service without using satellites? how would you provide coverage outside of radar range? and if you're using GPS satellites for tracking planes, you're still using satellites, but i think only military planes using GPS with their transponders [wikipedia.org] .

Re: gridlock in the sky (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25906479)

Not all aircraft are in the "tower" airspace. "Center" radar updates are once in ~12 sec (tower/TRACON at about 5 sec). ADS-B updates once a sec (ok, two squitters per sec on 1090 MHz for you geeks, UAT is 1/sec).

The information is not just for ATC. It can be/is also received by other AIRCRAFT that are properly equipped.

And there is no ATC direct communication over the ocean (OK, you speak to an private company operator over HF, who relays it to the controller etc. -- I am ignoring a bit of non-mainstream communications here.)

Re: gridlock in the sky (2, Insightful)

dfjunior (774213) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906533)

None of the benefits you mention really requires satellites as part of the system.

...they generally rely on the airplane transponders which report the GPS...

ur not doin it right

Re: gridlock in the sky (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25906575)

He means "more satellites", as everyone (except you) understood.

Re: gridlock in the sky (2, Insightful)

mysidia (191772) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906669)

Yet another thing to break when an unexpected solar flare or two shorts out some satellites at high altitude.

Re: gridlock in the sky (1)

jimmydigital (267697) | more than 5 years ago | (#25908257)

I've not seen anyone bring this up yet.... The real promise of ADSB is to completely decentralize the ATC and open up the thousands of small airports to be used by VLJs in an entirely new kind of commercial air transport. No more hub and spoke.. any airport with a 5k' runway becomes a potential point of travel and with only a few people on board a plane.. there is no need for all the security theater. The existing ATC could never keep up with this much traffic.. but with ADSB it doesn't have to.

Re: gridlock in the sky (4, Insightful)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905765)

There's more to the aviation world than large airliners. ADS-B is a positive step in a lot of other ways.

Re: gridlock in the sky (1)

daBass (56811) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906033)

You mean like private pilots having to spend great amounts of money to upgrade their aircraft?

I like the tech, but I just don't see the need or the extra safety it is supposed to provide us. Flying is expensive enough as it is.

Re: gridlock in the sky (4, Informative)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906081)

The nature of ADS-B is such that there is the potential for ADS-B equipment to be considerably cheaper than traditional transponders. It remains to be seen whether this will be borne out, and I'm pessimistic about it, but the potential is there.

In any case, I never denied downsides, but there are upsides as well. As a glider pilot, I'm excited because ADS-B will probably be considerably more practical to install in an aircraft with a battery-driven electrical system.

Re: gridlock in the sky (4, Insightful)

davolfman (1245316) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906357)

We're talking the aviation market. There's a snowballs chance in hell of anyone charging a reasonable price for these.

Re: gridlock in the sky (2, Informative)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906421)

There's a small chance, if you are willing to accept a reasonable aviation price instead of a price that any outside observer would think to be reasonable. MITRE has developed a reference design for an ADS-B unit which runs off a few AA batteries and could conceivably be produced for just a few hundred dollars if the FAA can be convinced to allow less rigorous certification standards for this sort of application. Whether they can be made to see the light remains to be seen, but it's at least possible even if not likely.

Re: gridlock in the sky (2, Insightful)

azery (865903) | more than 5 years ago | (#25907201)

cheaper equipment: it would surprise me as you always need a mode S transponder for ADS-B. FAA relaxing on standards: if ADS-B is the sole means of surveillance, they will require even more stringent testing and performance. In the past, if your transponder was not perfect, they had primary radar to see you. In the future, with only ADS-B, transmitting e.g. a wrong position is much more dangerous.

Re: gridlock in the sky (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 5 years ago | (#25908871)

FAA see the light?

They are as blind to common sense as their radar systems are.

Re: gridlock in the sky (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 5 years ago | (#25907953)

While in theory it could be cheaper, I see one practical problem - demand.

When this goes live there will probably be some mandate to install it by a certain date. That means thousands to millions of these things will be flying off the shelves. If the leading avionics manufacturers want to charge for 300% profits are you going to stop flying to avoid buying one?

Re: gridlock in the sky (1)

Kagura (843695) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905819)

What I want to know is what happens when a technologically savvy government or organization decides to start spoofing aircraft in the air or modifying/jamming actual airplanes' signals. There will always be a radar backup, however, as long as we don't become dependent on the greater accuracy that these satellites provide us.

Re: gridlock in the sky (2)

grimw (1253370) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905959)

Actually, you should look up "dependent". You say we it's okay to use it, but we shouldn't be dependent on it. Well, then why use it at all? Dependent just means we require its use, and if we want more accuracy, we do require its use. I'm preeeeeeettty sure we will still know how to use and will still have radar in case there are problems. You know, that same government you mention could very well do the same thing with our existing radar network. So, what's the difference? Also, with satellites, we can still do visual recognition if we think something is amiss. So, technically, we're getting even MORE failsafes. Take off your tinfoil hat now.

Re: gridlock in the sky (0, Redundant)

Fizzl (209397) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906343)

Actually, you should look up "require"

Re: gridlock in the sky (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906731)

What I want to know is what happens when a technologically savvy government or organization decides to start spoofing aircraft in the air or modifying/jamming actual airplanes' signals.

Probably the same that happens when/if today's lower-tech transponders are spoofed.

Re: gridlock in the sky (1)

scientus (1357317) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906435)

thats why private planes are doing so well these days

Whatcouldpossiblygowrong (1)

gapagos (1264716) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905799)

I'm surprised I didn't see this tag yet hehehe...

Re:Whatcouldpossiblygowrong (1)

Spudsman (1017024) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906051)

A lot. That's why there are different requirements for avionics than consumer electronics.

Re:Whatcouldpossiblygowrong (1)

ibbie (647332) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906679)

"Assertion failed: sorry, your plane will now crash."

Yeah. Makes some sense...

Subsidize? Or make airports/major carries pay... (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905809)

It seems reasonable that the government could rationalize subsidizing the costs of the "satellite-based avionics" required due to the fuel and time savings gained from decreased congestion. That would get rid of that controversy [aopa.org] .

Perhaps a more fiscally responsible approach would be front the money for the avionics switch, but levy a tax (proportional only to the actual increased efficiency) on the airports/major-carriers/other-major-beneficiaries.

Not changing anything soon... (4, Informative)

tylerni7 (944579) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905817)

ADS-B [wikipedia.org] is basically having each plane send it's own GPS signal to the aircraft controllers.

Because of the security risks involved with having each plane report their own position, rather than aircraft control finding all the positions for planes, I highly doubt that old fashioned radar is going anywhere soon.

Also, while this will be more accurate in areas where radar doesn't reach, I don't remember hearing about many planes crashing in midair too often....

Re:Not changing anything soon... (2, Insightful)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905943)

I highly doubt that old fashioned radar is going anywhere soon.

Not just that, but wouldn't it make more sense to run both systems concurrently for added redundancy and such?

Re:Not changing anything soon... (5, Informative)

bencoder (1197139) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905971)

It does make sense and it is what happens currently... the SSR(secondary surveillance radar) data overlays the primary radar return data, so if the aircraft stops squawking it's still visible as a dot or slash on the display. I'd expect the same would happen with ADS-B.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (1)

tylerni7 (944579) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906063)

Right, I would think that they will keep the old system too.
The point is if we still keep the old system, which never had any problems, and have this new system over it, we're not really seeing any change it's just the same old thing.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (1)

quanticle (843097) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906001)

As far as the first concern goes, ADS-B isn't really that much of a departure from the current scheme of things. Currently air traffic controllers usually rely on each plane having a transponder that broadcasts its ID. This transmission is then picked up by the radar systems and the plane's altitude/position is then plotted on the ATC's scope. ADS-B, as I understand it, allows the plane to append its GPS position to its transponder broadcast, allowing the air traffic system to get a more accurate read on the plane's position.

In either case, if the transmitter were turned off, the ATC would have a very difficult time finding the plane. As an example, on September 11, the air traffic controllers could not locate Flight 93 on their traces until after it had already crashed, since the terrorists turned off the plane's transponder.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906187)

ADS-B uses different hardware on board the aircraft and I believe most installations make it difficult to switch off. Its a bit like tail lights in a car. In theory a crook could pull the fuse out but in practice that might create more problems than it solves.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (1)

Ravon Rodriguez (1074038) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906517)

This is obviously a plot by our extraterrestrial overlords (whom I belatedly welcome) to minimize the blips caused by UFO's. Not to mention the fact that radar has been attributed to the recent (last 60 or so years) phenomenon of UFO crashes.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (1)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906599)

Well... this isn't just GPS. Proper data encryption will allow the planes to fly with the same level of security they had with Radar tech.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (2, Interesting)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 5 years ago | (#25907469)

Pretty much any scope goat with an oscilloscope handy can read out transponder codes in their head after a few days practise, including the military IFF stuff. I'm not sure what you mean regarding security in Radar tech? Radar is absolutely one very complex system, but secure it is not. You can buy gear off the shelf (it's expensive) to build your own electronic warfare station right at home :-)

While the actual transmission from each aircraft might be encrypted, you can bet your backside that all of it will be fed back over the same satellite in the clear. I, as a basement geek living on the 30th floor, will be able to soak it all up via whatever handy multiplexer they decide to use.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 5 years ago | (#25908011)

I've always found the military interesting. On the one hand they'll have the latest and greatest gear that can be found anywhere. On the other hand they'll land it using TACAN. :)

They have a lot of legacy hardware. I was surprised how little guided ordnance was dropped in the first gulf war. Then I was even more surprised to find out that most weapon systems are integrated with the launching platform - a missile that works on an F14 won't necessarily work on an F15 and vice-versa.

I suspect that half the problem is the way military contracts are done. The people making the stuff are in competition with each other, so there isn't incentive to collaborate on something like universal missle communication protocols (so you can hook any missle up to any plane). Also - the original contract includes R&D and deployment of N planes. If you want to change one feature after 10 planes are delivered now you re-open the contract negotiation (with only one bidder since nobody else can make it without R&D).

I've seen similar stuff at work - some favorable contract terms are reached and then everybody is stuck in gridlock without any ability to make changes for a decade.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (3, Informative)

peragrin (659227) | more than 5 years ago | (#25908137)

The military is addressing that very issue. very slowly but they are. I do believe the missiles for the f-22 and the f-35 use the same interface. they are doing this from a logistics point, as each plane literally needs it own equipment for testing and in the field having to lug 12 different interfaces around has proven to be a pain.

Think of it less in terms of contracts and more like the auto industry. each brand of car(ford, gm, toyota, honda, etc) and each car in their respective lineups would use different engine codes in their computers, and in some cases different plug interfaces for the information.

to get a ford f-150 engine computer interface you had to spend several hundred if not thousands of dollars. and again for every different unit. Manufactories think such things needed to be kept secret. yet years of pressure has finally brought at least some standardization in that area allowing less expensive diagnostic units.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (2, Informative)

EricTheMad (603880) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906755)

Because of the security risks involved with having each plane report their own position, rather than aircraft control finding all the positions for planes, I highly doubt that old fashioned radar is going anywhere soon.

It's no more of a security risk than the current system which relies on each plane to report it's own position with a transponder.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (1)

BarefootClown (267581) | more than 5 years ago | (#25908065)

The transponder doesn't report position (well, save for altitude), it merely replies to the radar's interrogation to return a code. Conveniently, it also makes radar more functional at longer distance, but range and bearing are still determined by timing and angle of the antenna, respectively.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (1)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 5 years ago | (#25907443)

Sounds a little like systems in use by the Australian FAA - sort of, they route all the voice and a few other cool odds and ends via satellite. Things like RADAR PPI & SSR - which is the similarity, bonus points for having aircraft transmit the stuff direct instead. A relatively modest :-) home enthusiast could drop 50 or 60 thousand on kit to watch the entire country. Should be quite trivial to plot it all in near real time over the net. (It'd be the kind of thing I'd do anyway, then get my arse kicked by some government authority not too keen on the idea) Even better is that the footprints for these birds cover half of Asia too, so all the foreign intelligence gathering agencies get to see the big picture just as well as the guy in the tower.

It'd also be a good method to track wayward fliers - back in the mid 90's I used to chug around Canberra in a C-150, before they had mode C working, had lots of fun at treetop height and messing about in the clouds. I did not actually have an IFR rating, though I was young and was quite partial to the idea that I was entirely invincible. Fortunately I lived through it, in hindsight it might have been better if I had someone watching over my shoulders to keep me honest.

Re:Not changing anything soon... (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 5 years ago | (#25907981)

As others have pointed out, this is already the status quo.

What is your threat model? Terrorists hijack 747 to crash it into a barn near Topeka?

A reasonable air defense network isn't going to try to have 100% coverage of the country.

This system is supposedly very accurate. That means that you could create a data feed from the FAA to NORAD with realtime positioning on all legitimate air traffic. Then NORAD could get a data-feed from military radar. Anything that isn't civilian gets investigated. Anything civilian that behaves outside its published performance envelope (a "747" flying supersonic, for example) also gets investigated. An improved civilian radar system can improve military response, since it can help eliminate the 99.9999% of law-abiding traffic in the air.

In theory the data could go both ways as well, so that civilian controllers can have primary data for non-broadcasting aircraft. Military radar in theory would be much more accurate than what controllers are currently using (I don't think current ATC primary radar gives you anything other position - military radar most likely will give you altitude and speed as well).

They have only been working on this for 30 years (5, Interesting)

grandpa-geek (981017) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905825)

The FAA has been working on this for 30 years. I was involved in studying it back in the 1970's.

They have also been working on digital ground-air-ground communications since 1948 (I once had some reports on the subject that go back that far). AFAIK, they still don't have the digital ground-air-ground.

At one time the FAA radars were the last users of vacuum tubes, and the replacement parts were coming from factories that bought the original manufacturers equipment and were making it in who-knows-where. They didn't even replace the original manufacturer trademarks on the tubes. Quality control? Forget it.

Technology advances at the FAA very slooooowly.

Re:They have only been working on this for 30 year (1, Insightful)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906095)

Technology advances at the FAA very slooooowly.

As they should be. Twitter breaks for 24 hours because of an update to their code, no big deal. Radar goes out for 15+ seconds? HUGE DEAL.

Re:They have only been working on this for 30 year (2, Insightful)

Ravon Rodriguez (1074038) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906445)

exactly. I'd be interested in finding out what kind of redundancy they have in the system; Satellites become disabled in one way or another too frequently.

Re:They have only been working on this for 30 year (1)

joe_frisch (1366229) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906261)

Depends on what you mean by "tubes". For high power pulsed microwave systems (like radar) specialized vacuum tubes are often the most cost effective and most efficient source. At SLAC we use 250, 75 megawatt pulsed klystrons (tubes). There is no practical solid state replacement. Many TV stations use a type of radio-frequency called an IOTs. Microwave ovens use "tubes" (magetron). Low power / low noise is different: I don't know of modern applications for signal-level tubes, but there may still be some.

Re:They have only been working on this for 30 year (1)

tkjtkj (577219) | more than 5 years ago | (#25908849)

Exactly! The FAA's approach to technology and air safety has been irresponsible at best. If theyv'e been at this for 30 years, then i gaurantee that what they have in mind is to actually use equipment from that era!! Their approach to safety was the reason why i left the aircraft industry (am a mech. engineer). Under the Bush administration changes have increased risks, not the reverse: crowding of airspace, letting carriers do their own inspections of aircraft, attacking the Flight Controllers union, understaffing in retaliation, keeping secret the news of the extremely serious problems at Quantus hidden from the US's public view ... On and on ... Its entirely conceivable that their "ultimate plan" is to get out of the "business" of safety management, quality control, and flight management. I betcha they see computers and satellites as the pathway to that goal! Its nothing short of criminal. j. anderson, m.e., m.d.

what's tracking going to do? (5, Informative)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905849)

Okay, it might decrease the already low probability of midair accidents, but the air traffic control system has bigger problems. Firstly, that they are understaffed and overworked. It's the highest stress job in the civilian sector last I looked and these people are pulling 10 and 12 hour shifts every week. They're tired, and they make mistakes. They're also an aging group -- the certification requirements are high, and very, very few people who are under the age of 30 work these jobs. Many of them are set to retire in just a few more years which will stress an already fragile system.

Second, nobody's been investing in airport infrastructure. The planes are getting bigger but the runways aren't and we're not adding new runways either. Part of it is politics but a lot of it is economic.

Third, communications -- they're still using one-way VHF. Two people talk and the signal heterodynes and nobody knows what was said. They need a better comm system.

Lastly, much of the processing infrastructure is running on 1960s tech -- old mainframes. They haven't upgraded in all this time because there's no other options. What good will satellites do if the ground control stations are still running vaccum tubes? We need to network the ground stations together and provide a better interface with the birds in the sky. One of these big iron setups went down in New York and it paralyzed most of the eastern seaboard. That lack of redundancy in such a safety-critical environment is simply unacceptable.

Re:what's tracking going to do? (2, Insightful)

Deadstick (535032) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905883)

Second, nobody's been investing in airport infrastructure.

That should be firstly. For all the administration's talk of opening up new airways, we do not have an air shortage. We have a concrete shortage. More routes for the enroute phase of flight just give you a shorter trip from one traffic jam to the next traffic jam, and it's going to stay that way until we get more runways open.

rj

Re:what's tracking going to do? (4, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905923)

Second, nobody's been investing in airport infrastructure.

That should be firstly. For all the administration's talk of opening up new airways, we do not have an air shortage. We have a concrete shortage. More routes for the enroute phase of flight just give you a shorter trip from one traffic jam to the next traffic jam, and it's going to stay that way until we get more runways open.

rj

As I understand it the traffic problems in the USA are primarily on a few high traffic routes like New York to Washington. If they invested in high speed rail on those links the congestion problem in the air might not be such an issue.

Re:what's tracking going to do? (2, Informative)

zonky (1153039) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905937)

As I understand it the traffic problems in the USA are primarily on a few high traffic routes like New York to Washington. If they invested in high speed rail on those links the congestion problem in the air might not be such an issue.

Er, like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acela_Express [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:what's tracking going to do? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905951)

As I understand it the traffic problems in the USA are primarily on a few high traffic routes like New York to Washington. If they invested in high speed rail on those links the congestion problem in the air might not be such an issue.

Er, like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acela_Express [wikipedia.org] ?

Its average speed (140 km/h) is too slow to compete with air travel.

Re:what's tracking going to do? (0, Troll)

toby (759) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906101)

So? Read a freaking book.

Alien notion: There's more to life than speed and convenience.

Re:what's tracking going to do? (2, Interesting)

nabsltd (1313397) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906285)

It's much easier to get to the endpoints of the Acela, and so you save all the transit time to the airport, all the security delay, the waiting to board delay, and the sitting on the tarmac delay.

For the Washington to New York run, it's generally faster to take the train.

Of course, if you're dirt cheap and have the time, there are bus tickets for less than $40 round trip, and some specials were as low as $1 one-way.

Re:what's tracking going to do? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906309)

Does it have spare passenger capacity? If so why do so many people fly?

Re:what's tracking going to do? (2, Insightful)

jonwil (467024) | more than 5 years ago | (#25907337)

Wouldn't surprise me if people just didnt know that the Acela Express was a viable alternative to air travel. Plus, even with all the savings in time (no need to go out to the airport, go through security etc) there may still be other reasons to fly.

Re:what's tracking going to do? (2, Funny)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905947)

If they invested in high speed rail

WHAAAT?!? This is America, you damn pinko commie! We don't do that shit here.

Re:what's tracking going to do? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25906727)

Ugh. Call him "pinko" or call him "commie" but not both. "Pinko commie" just makes you sound ignorant.

Re:what's tracking going to do? (5, Insightful)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 5 years ago | (#25907649)

You understand wrong.

The problem of air traffic in the United States is a combination of a number of things: insufficient airport runway capacity, overused "super hubs", predictive overselling of tickets, and antiquated air traffic control systems. All these factors contribute, some (much) more than others.

I'm a private pilot, so let's be honest - there's plenty of room the air. I fly through very busy (Sacramento and San Fransisco, CA) airspace frequently, I've never had a "near miss". Nag about 40-year-old technology all you want; it works rather well. And in the small-ish airplanes I fly, there are lots of small airports for me to fly to where there is no congestion, no hope of congestion, and rarely any other aircraft "in the pattern". (Airports have an expected approach and landing sequence, usually based around an imaginary box shape around the runways, this is called 'the pattern' by pilots)

But when you are talking about congestion, you are really talking about runway capacity, because although there's plenty of room in the sky, there are a relatively small number of airports. Combine that with the tendency of airlines to create "mega hub" airports for connecting flights (EG: Atlanta, GA) and the problem of runway shortages become paramount.

A decent runway is about 1 or 2 miles long. It's basically a 2-4 lane freeway for just a mile or so. Adding more runways dramatically increases air capacity. A 1.5 mile runway is vastly cheaper than 100 miles of railroad, but services a similar amount of traffic over the same distance. Aviation infrastructure is ridiculously cheap compared to highways, trains, and other forms of travel. (except maybe by boat, which is cheaper still but much slower)

Why is this hard to understand?

Many large, busy airports have 2 or more runways, and often they split traffic based on type. My small, single-engine 4-seat Cessna 172 with its landing speed of about 60 Knots gets the short runway, while SouthWest airlines flight NNN with its landing speed of 125 Knots gets the big one.

Notice that my small plane takes 2x as long to approach the runway as the big jet? Adding a small, short, "General Aviation" runway to this large, busy airport adds as much as 3x the capacity anytime a small plane (like mine) lands there. (my plane, plus the two commercial planes that would have landed there, anyway)

Technology advances in combination with commercial flight restrictions (show me your SHOES!) mean that there are more small-medium sized planes in the sky, flying shorter trips, and generating more traffic where it counts - at the runways.

Add runways. They are cheap, especially when compared to the cost of other forms of infrastructure....

Re:what's tracking going to do? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#25907939)

Another poster pointed out the time you can save by going directly from one CBD to another by train. You can't directly compare rail with air transport because they scale in totally different ways. With rail the stations are cheap and the track is expensive. For air transport the reverse is true.

I am surprised that you would consider landing a 172 at an airport used by heavy jets at all. Small airports are much more convenient, and the landing charges are lower. I doubt the hassle of dealing with air side security at a major airport is worth the trouble. You didn't mention separation standards for a light wake turbulence aircraft following a medium or heavy aircraft. That can put a lot of delay into the system as well.

The mega hubs exist for the same reason as shopping centres and cities. It is good for business to be close to other businesses. Passengers want to be able to transit to other airlines.

But economics work against large airports as well. They provide employment and encourage population growth. New people move in and complain about the noise. Building a new airport opens up new arrival and departure trajectories and pushes down house prices. Eventually the whole airport has to move and that can get very expensive.

One advantage of rail is that you can go directly into a city centre at 200 km/h. I think the best place to use aircraft is for the long haul.

Lack of runways (1)

plover (150551) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906053)

There's an easier way to solve the problem of lack of runways that nobody seems to want to discuss: raise the cost of flying. Pile on airport fees and jet fuel taxes. It's simple economics: if you raise the price, demand will drop. The runways will clear themselves.

There's a lot of reasons for society to not encourage flying: the pollution it causes (delivering particulates directly into the upper atmosphere may be a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect,) the increased ability of diseases to spread across the planet like wildfire, the noise, security, fossil fuel usage, etc. And it's not like business needs as much face-to-face communications with today's networking technologies.

Raising the price will clear the skies of today's casual travelers, and that's a good thing.

Re:Lack of runways (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906219)

Or we could just throw them all into a scrap heap. That'll REALLY learn 'em. Actually, let's save on the greenhouse effect even more and go back to using the horse and buggy. And who needs computers? They're just filling up landfills anyway, and we can create more jobs by having people do it the old fashioned way. The economy will be better than ever if we do this!

Baka.

Re:Lack of runways (1)

Deadstick (535032) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906275)

That reminds me of the Duke of Wellington's opposition to the construction of railroads..."It would only encourage the lower classes to move about unnecessarily."

rj

Re:Lack of runways (1)

plover (150551) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906369)

I didn't say we couldn't fly, I just said society has a lot of reasons to discourage it.

For example: I'm flying to Florida this weekend just because I want to go see palm trees and lie on a beach, and because I have frequent flyer miles coming out of my ears. If this flight were to cost me $1,000 out of pocket I wouldn't consider it. So I'm going out there to help plug up the airports during the busiest travel weekend of the year, just because Minnesota is cold and boring. Does society need me to fly there? No -- I'm just more tarmac clutter, as far as the rest of you are concerned. Why should you encourage me to fly?

Re:Lack of runways (1)

profplump (309017) | more than 5 years ago | (#25907705)

Buddy, if *you* don't want to fly just *pretend* the trip costs $1000 out-of-pocket. But the rest of us might want to fly, and probably would not appreciate giving extra money to the government just because you think some of the reasons we choose to fly aren't societally valuable.

What you're suggesting is akin to taxing food to discourage obesity -- sure, you'd make overeating more expensive, which is good for society. But you'd also make sustenance-level consumption more expensive, which is quite likely to be much worse for society than whatever gain you'd get from reduced overeating.

If you'd like to discourage tourism-related travel you should tax tourism, not travel. Or, you know, let places with tourism decided for themselves how many resources they'd like to dedicate to air travel and charge landing fees accordingly, intervening only when there's a strong, clear conflict of interest with the rest of society.

Re:Lack of runways (1)

overcaffein8d (1101951) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906927)

  It's simple economics: if you raise the price, demand will drop. The runways will clear themselves.

didn't work with gasoline

Re:what's tracking going to do? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906413)

Second, nobody's been investing in airport infrastructure. The planes are getting bigger but the runways aren't and we're not adding new runways either. Part of it is politics but a lot of it is economic.

Right. They didn't just build a new airport at Denver. Sea-Tac didn't just add a third runway. There isn't a steady history of building new airports and runways in the US over the last thirty years...
 
Oh, wait.

Re:what's tracking going to do? (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906741)

Would this track planes over the United States only, or would it have the capability to track them all over the world (like GPS does)? This would sure be useful when a plane goes down off of its course and outside radar range. Searching would be much, much easier.

Re:what's tracking going to do? (1)

maeka (518272) | more than 5 years ago | (#25908851)

Second, nobody's been investing in airport infrastructure. The planes are getting bigger but the runways aren't and we're not adding new runways either. Part of it is politics but a lot of it is economic.

The FAA is investing in airport infrastructure. Replacing ILS with LAAS might not be sexy - but it will increase capacity and reduce accidents.
Most of the airports which need more runways do not have the room to add more runways. How many major airports east of the Mississippi are not landlocked?

The complex fact is that adding runways does not linearly increase capacity. Unless you build a remote terminal you quickly switch the bottleneck from runway space to taxiway space. Every additional airside intersection increases ground delays and adds to control complexity.

This will not... (1)

actionbastard (1206160) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905875)

Replace TRACON. It also won't replace Ground Traffic Radar. Few, if any, aircraft mishaps occur during the cross-country leg of an aircraft's flight plan. Most airplane crashes -which are not accidents- occur during approach-and-landing, on the runway or taxiway, or during takeoff.

Re:This will not... (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906125)

Actually, this will make ATC's job a whole lot easier (both TRACON and ground traffic). Knowing where everyone is very precisely means you can automate a lot of common tasks. If I can file an IFR flight plan, and NextGen/ADS-B has it on file, unless there's some sort of conflict in the air, I should be able to get from airport to airport with very little controller interaction. The controller should be there to watch over NextGen and handle conflicts. Hell, collision avoidance between aircraft is automated (ALWAYS listen to the TCAS, ignore the controller), why can't most of your normal traffic routing be automated?

Capstone Project (1)

rwyoder (759998) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905929)

I can't believe the article doesn't mention that the FAA's Capstone project deployed ADS-B in Alaska years ago.

Speaking as a pilot. . . . (4, Interesting)

colonel (4464) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905963)

This is mixed news for me.

Currently, a big plane will show up on radar as a blip. The pilot will call control, and state his/her identity and position. Controller will then make an educated guess as to which plane is which dot on the radar scope, and assign you a 4-digit "Squawk" code (Say, 1234). Pilot enters the squawk code in to his instruments, and the instruments then start broadcasting "Aircraft 1234 is at 32,000ft" on the radio. This then lets the radar display aircraft identification and altitude beside each blip. Simple, yes? Prone to human error?

So obviously, we need something less vulnerable to human error, and more vulnerable to programmer error. That's how the world works.

With ADS-B, the aircraft pulls down GPS coordinates and altitude, and then broadcasts them in cleartext on open frequencies to everyone. "Aircraft C-FBQN is at 10,000ft at N45.4870947 & W75.0967026 travelling at 121kts heading 180 True."

So, targeting your ground-to-air missiles just got a whole bunch easier.

The advantage, though, is that you can become much safer in the areas where there's no radar coverage. Hudson's Bay, North Atlantic, etc. Those are busy places with lots of planes and sleepy pilots.

Also, the aircraft I mentionned earlier in my example is C-FBQN. I love that baby, but she doesn't show up on radar. With ADS-B, my flying can get much safer.

http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/archives/007288.html [zawodny.com]

And I don't have to even worry about the missiles, as I have no heat signature and don't show up on radar, so they'll be able to get really close, and never actually hit me.

Re:Speaking as a pilot. . . . (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905993)

assign you a 4-digit "Squawk" code (Say, 1234)

Note thats a four digit octal code, twelve bits.

Also ADSB uses a mode S 24 bit code so it doesn't have to be allocated on the fly like 12 bit codes for mode A.

Re:Speaking as a pilot. . . . (1)

Atlantis-Rising (857278) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906119)

Indeed, the most worrying air safety problem in the western world today is how surface to air missiles are targeted at commercial airliners on approach to LAX or JFK.

Re:Speaking as a pilot. . . . (3, Informative)

durandal61 (705295) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906409)

So, targeting your ground-to-air missiles just got a whole bunch easier.

I think this statement is quite silly.

1) Coordinates do not help you if you have a shoulder-launched SAM. You track the target visually, during approach or takeoff.

2) If you want to down a plane that is beyond visual range, you don't need coordinates: your SAM is radar guided, and you work for some country's armed forces. That plane is going down whether it transmits coordinates or not.

End of story.

d.

Re:Speaking as a pilot. . . . (1)

scientus (1357317) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906495)

Yep, its a great move, if you had a good reason you can allways turn off the signal, and anyways surface to air missles dont have GPS except for the really expensive ones that only big governments tend to have, they work via heat. With wn.wikipedia.org/wiki/WAAS GPS is VERY accurate and has gaurantees now so its all good

Re:Speaking as a pilot. . . . (1)

j. andrew rogers (774820) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906703)

And I don't have to even worry about the missiles, as I have no heat signature and don't show up on radar, so they'll be able to get really close, and never actually hit me.

Modern infrared spectrum missiles of the last twenty years or so are not attracted to heat signatures, Hollywood notwithstanding. They lock onto specific aircraft based on an image profile. In essence, the missiles have sufficient discrimination to chase a specific aircraft from all aspects after such aircraft have been designated as target by whoever launched the weapon using very advanced image processing techniques. Heat signatures are almost entirely irrelevant, only broad-spectrum imaging matters. This is among the reasons that the current generation of anti-aircraft missiles are generally considered impervious to passive counter-measures. If someone with a vaguely modern anti-aircraft weapon wanted to hit whatever it is you might be flying in, it is a trivial matter for the most part. The only defense would be to look like something entirely different than whatever it was the weapon was launched at.

Re:Speaking as a pilot. . . . (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906817)

And I don't have to even worry about the missiles, as I have no heat signature and don't show up on radar, so they'll be able to get really close, and never actually hit me.

Depending on the warhead size, "really close" is usually close enough. =)

Anyways, I think ADS-B is a huge win for air transport. It makes things much safer for everyone, and I say this as a private pilot, a skydiver, as well as an experimental aircraft builder. If everyone walks away alive, everything worked as it should.

about friggin time... (1)

lindoran (1190189) | more than 5 years ago | (#25905999)

wow ... finally somebody decided something down at the FAA...

One problem... (1)

Dr_Banzai (111657) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906015)

Between peak oil and global recession, what makes them think air traffic will increase at all? It's time for people to wake up: we've come to the limit of our conquer-and-consume growth economy. It's all downhill from here.

Futurama. (3, Funny)

Ostracus (1354233) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906085)

"ADS-B is part of the FAA's wide-reaching plan known as NextGen to revamp every component of the flight control system to meet future demands and avoid gridlock in the sky.""

Space invaders showed us how to avoid gridlock.

Without having RTFA (who does these days..)... (2, Insightful)

dos4who (564592) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906115)

Which is a "better" scenario. One where there are many small points of possible failure (a GPS sending unit per plane) or one large point of possible failure (having a radar station go fubar on a Friday night)?

What are the opinions of Slashdotters who experience both types of failures in their respective corporate worlds?

Re:Without having RTFA (who does these days..)... (1)

Gazzonyx (982402) | more than 5 years ago | (#25908025)

FWIW, I think the FAA uses ADA for most (all? I'm too lazy to look it up, free mod points if anyone wants to link the wiki) of their systems. For me ADA-95 is a guilty pleasure language; it's really well thought out and it almost won't let you shoot yourself in the foot. I'd give it a thumbs up from the programming department.

The question is, what's the leading opinion from the network guys/gals? If I program a bulletproof solution, it doesn't mean a thing if the heavy metal goes down hard and isn't redundant. Anyone know anything about airport NOCs?

Grid lock? (1)

Sam36 (1065410) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906341)

Gridlock in the air, grid lock on the ground, but what about possible grid lock in the satellite orbits? When are those things going to start crashing into one another? I know there is an awful lot of them up there....

And the most important feature! (1)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906383)

ADS-B issues every aircraft a unique, trackable ID number that can be used to issue bills to every aircraft that passes through an area. This means the sky will now become a big toll road.

don't need a satellite (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25906491)

I work on ships and with AIS (automatic identification system) which transmits our location speed and course as well our identity,coupled with electronic charts and gps we know exactly where everyone is and what they are doing.The system allows us to safely navigate large ships in narrow channels and avoid collision and groundings.This technology with a few modifications could be adapted to air travel and ground control.

Re:don't need a satellite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25906677)

It is -- ADS-B is the aviation "sister" to AIS you speak of.

In fact, at least one person holds patents *relating to* both technologies (even though the VHF version of ADS-B is not popular and will likely to never see widespread use, whereas AIS is in VHF band and is widely deployed).

ADS-B, Great for developing countries as well! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25906707)

The great thing about ADS-B is that the infrastructure costs is much less then radar and it's reliability and accuracy far surpass it as well. Radar coverage is also LOS only, an issue that plagues pilots that fly near mountainous terrain. This technology will be fantastic for developing countries as well, because of those reasons.

As a pilot having used ADS-B (in small aircraft, where hitting other airplanes, especially at uncontrolled fields, is an enormous concern), I can say that this is a fantastic advantage in the cockpit.

Not to mention that having a location to the nearest foot when an aircraft crashes of its last location while greatly improve SAR efforts.

Any naysayers of the technology citing security concerns fail to realize that most of the issues they spout off can still easily be accomplished with modern transponders in today's aircraft.

Another possible benifit - information update rate (1)

dividius (693179) | more than 5 years ago | (#25906975)

Another benefit is the update rate of ADS-B. The sweep for en route radar is 11s. So the closure rate for two aircraft heading in opposite directions could be as much as 20 miles per sweep. In contrast, ADS-B could provide position updates to the controller every second. In the terminal area, the sweep rate is ~5 seconds, and aircraft are of course going more slowly. Still, there are potentially significant benefits for the final approach, especially for parallel runways where a big potential concern is aircraft blundering off of their approach and into an aircraft on the parallel approach.

satellites are not "tracking" the planes (4, Informative)

cstacy (534252) | more than 5 years ago | (#25907185)

The summary makes it sound like satellites are going to track the airplanes, but that's not what is going on at all.

What this is really about is that the airplane's transponder (simply a radio that transmits about 200 miles around) will broadcast not only the plane's ID tag, but also it's GPS position. Satellites only come into this system in the sense that the airplane has a GPS receiver on board, and GPS is of course satellites. So each airplane broadcasts not only who it is, but where it is. The other new part is that all the airplanes will recieve and process that information to give the pilots a picture of who else is flying around near them. Furthermore, ground radar stations will broadcast on the transponder channel as a proxy for those aircraft that are not equipped to transmit their GPS.

Historically, planes have always transmitted an ID code (mainly, a manually assigned code from the air traffic center who is most recently responsible for them). The next big thing was for the transponder to also include the aircraft's altitude. Now, these are called "transponders" because they only transmit when polled by a ground station's radar sweep. And until recently, only the ground controllers received the transponder hits from the aircraft. About 10 years ago, planes (expensive airliners, mainly) started receiving and processing the nearby transponder responses as well, so that they could see what other planes were at their altitude. This is a collision-avoidance system. So now that planes are equipped with GPS comes the revolution: they can transmit their precise location to each other, and also to the controllers, and everyone can see a complete picture of where all the nearby planes are. This will ultimately enable pilots to fly more efficient routes, allowing more freedom for the controllers and pilots to work things out dynamically.

The system goes on-line August 4th, 2009. (1)

ciderVisor (1318765) | more than 5 years ago | (#25907569)

Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

Skynet fights back.

"Greenlights" isn't a word. (1)

diodeus (96408) | more than 5 years ago | (#25908335)

It's true.

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