FAA NextGen: Now Landing in Philly




Yes, Philadelphia. The hometown of W.C. Fields, who was alleged to have said "Philadelphia, wonderful town, spent a week there one night," is one of four cities to have the FAA’s NextGen system installed. The others are Houston, Louisville and Juneau. The system does it all: navigation, surveillance, and communication.

Of course, they use satellite technology.  The Philadelphia Inquirer did a nice piece on it yesterday:

"Philadelphia is a pioneer site," said Federal Aviation Administration vice president Victoria Cox, announcing that Philadelphia controllers now have the capability to track planes equipped with the technology, known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast, or ADS-B.

It’s part of a nationwide aviation overhaul – called Next Generation, or NextGen – that the FAA hopes will be largely operational by 2018.

By 2020, all aircraft flying in U.S. airspace must have the ADS-B devices in their cockpits.

Philadelphia is a demonstration site because United Parcel Service is here and has equipped 100 aircraft with satellite-technology. US Airways Group Inc. is in the process of equipping some of its planes, the FAA said.

Philadelphia controllers also use a computer system, called STARS, that takes information, including the ADS-B signals, and translates it to the screens controllers look at.

In addition, Philadelphia was selected to get some of the first satellite-surveillance radios because of its location in congested East Coast air space. The other test sites are Louisville, Ky., where UPS is based; Houston; and Juneau, Alaska.

Seven ground radios – each about the size of two refrigerators – have been installed around Philadelphia, including two on airport property. They will be part of a network of 813 radios by 2013, the FAA said.

Once airplanes get specialized GPS devices in cockpits, pilots will transmit via satellite to ground radios, which will bounce information to control towers. Controllers, in turn, will transmit to the radios, which will broadcast up to the cockpit.

The new technology will allow pilots, for the first time, to see what controllers see: other aircraft in the sky around them, bad weather and terrain, and information such as temporary flight restrictions.

 Need more detail? Check out the FAA’s NextGen Implementation Plan (84-page PDF). There are basically five elements to this system:

  1. Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B). ADS-B will use the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite signals to provide air traffic controllers and pilots with much more accurate information that will help to keep aircraft safely separated in the sky and on runways. Aircraft transponders receive GPS signals and use them to determine the aircraft’s precise position in the sky. This and other data is then broadcast to other aircraft and air traffic control. Once fully established, both pilots and air traffic controllers will, for the first time, see the same real-time display of air traffic, substantially improving safety. The FAA will mandate the avionics necessary for implementing ADS-B.
  2. System Wide Information Management (SWIM). SWIM will provide a single infrastructure and information management system to deliver high quality, timely data to many users and applications. By reducing the number and types of interfaces and systems, SWIM will reduce data redundancy and better facilitate multi-user information sharing. SWIM will also enable new modes of decision making as information is more easily accessed.
  3. Next Generation Data Communications. Current communications between aircrew and air traffic control, and between air traffic controllers, are largely realised through voice communications. Initially, the introduction of data communications will provide an additional means of two-way communication for air traffic control clearances, instructions, advisories, flight crew requests and reports. With the majority of aircraft data link equipped, the exchange of routine controller-pilot messages and clearances via data link will enable controllers to handle more traffic. This will improve air traffic controller productivity, enhancing capacity and safety.
  4. Next Generation Network Enabled Weather (NNEW). Seventy percent of NAS delays are attributed to weather every year. The goal of NNEW is to cut weather-related delays at least in half. Tens of thousands of global weather observations and sensor reports from ground-, airborne- and space-based sources will fuse into a single national weather information system, updated in real time. NNEW will provide a common weather picture across the national airspace system, and enable better air transportation decision making.
  5. NAS Voice Switch (NVS). There are currently seventeen different voice switching systems in the NAS, some in use for more than twenty years. NVS will replace these systems with a single air/ground and ground/ground voice communications system. 

Yeah, there’s a video…