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Inside FAA's GPS-Based Air Traffic Control 290

longacre writes "With the growing number of planes in the air setting its archaic radar-based air traffic control on a course toward 'total system collapse,' the FAA has quietly begun testing a new GPS-based system on Alaska Airlines 737s. While radar can take over half a minute to determine a plane's location, GPS technology known as ADS-B broadcasts an aircraft's position to controllers and nearby pilots essentially in real time. If all goes as planned, travelers will see fewer delays as planes will be able to fly closer together and in reduced visibility conditions, and airlines will achieve significant fuel savings by flying more direct routes. The feds plan a gradual rollout over the next two decades that may cost up to $40 billion." There's still some contention about where the funding will come from.
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Inside FAA's GPS-Based Air Traffic Control

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @02:30AM (#19966169)
    to take 4 days off!
  • by alflauren ( 1124651 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @02:30AM (#19966171)
    I can velcro a Garmin to the dash of every plane in the country, hook it up to a cellphone, and get the same data. And I'll only charge $39 billion.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OverlordQ ( 264228 )
      The largest TRACON in the world (Southern California Consolidated TRACON - SCT, Callsign SoCal Approach) services 62 airports and is located in San Diego, California. This huge facility utilizes 10 radar sites and is soon to expand to 11.

      Man I sure want a garmin and a cell phone handling 11 airports worth of airtraffic. Replacing the infrastructure for all the TRACONs/Towers/etc across the States is why it's going to be expensive.
      • Dangerous! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Grax ( 529699 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @10:00AM (#19969013) Homepage
        Has anyone considered the security repercussions of this idea?

        If you trust the planes to tell you where they are, there is a potential that the planes could lie to you. I really hope they take that into account when designing the system.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) *
          If you trust the planes to tell you where they are, there is a potential that the planes could lie to you. I really hope they take that into account when designing the system.

          I think that they already rely on the planes to transmit a lot of data correctly.

          To the best of my understanding, civilian flight-control RADAR isn't an "active" system. It doesn't put out a whole lot of power and look for reflections, like a military system does. It's just a receive-only system, which listens to the signals being tran
    • typical small thinking.you think a project like this is cheap or easy? imagine the risk the company setting this up is taking, if anything goes with the system?
      • There's a huge gap between "cheap and easy" and "$40 billion." It's hard to imagine how the cost could be so high, when there is nothing about this project that seems to be monumentally difficult. GPS is already an established technology, the satellites are already in the air, and some planes are already equipped for GPS navigation. There is nothing new that needs to be invented, it's just a matter of implementation.

        The system has to be extremely reliable and fault proof, so that means the development costs
        • Re:$40 billion? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by NickCatal ( 865805 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @04:14AM (#19966635)
          People think that this is SOOO easy to do...

          For a time every single plane in the sky will have to have the ability to use both systems at once... and each air traffic control tower will have to be able to control both systems at once... and then you need to train the pilots and air traffic controllers to use the damn thing (you may think it is easy, but I don't feel like "on the job training" is too great of an idea at 50k feet)

          Then you need to have a system that can interface with the hundreds of different models of planes...

          And it needs to have 99.999% uptime (with a few more 9s in for good measure)

          And don't forget, you are going to need to have some agency with some big staff to organize this entire thing... and that office is going to need a secretary, and a few lawyers, etc, etc, etc... (even if you think it is a waste, there needs to be some people SOMEWHERE handling all of this, and they are going to need a copier, some toner, and perhaps a /. member to keep the lights on)
          • Re:$40 billion? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @05:14AM (#19966901) Homepage Journal

            People think that this is SOOO easy to do...

            Its not easy, but I can't see the infrastructure component of the system being more than a billion USD. That leaves you 39 GUSD to equip you entire aircraft fleet with mode S transponders. It sounds like an excessive price to me.

            The big challenge for the ATC system becomes scalability. Current methods of detecting aircraft are:

            • Primary radars
            • Mode C secondary radars
            • Mode S secondary radars
            • ADS-C (satellite linked)

            The primary radars might have a maximum range of 100 NM. The secondary radars about 250 NM. ADS-C works anywhere you have satellite communication but in practice only airliners in remote airspace will be using it.

            ADS-B gives you almost 100% coverage in your airspace. Many more aircraft are detected.

            Putting an ADSB transponder in every aircraft in the sky (ultimately) means that the ATC system has to start dealing with many times more aircraft. At the very least you need better filtering to enable the controller to see the aircraft he has to control and not be distracted by uncontrolled aircraft nearby.

            IMHO the torrent of new information will eventually lead to ATC systems delegating their tactical control to automated systems. Any other approach ignores the potential of this technology.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by thogard ( 43403 )
            Did you know the current system is based on the concept that everything in the system can fail at once and planes won't run into each other? Thats one of the reasons that towers still move little bits of paper around using a very well defined procedure.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by kaleth ( 66639 )
      Who do you think builds the transceivers now [garmin.com]?

      Despite the somewhat high cost of the avionics, the real expense is the ground stations and the infrastructure to process all the data.

  • Funding... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tuoqui ( 1091447 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @02:31AM (#19966179) Journal
    Courtesy of Mr. John Q. Public, The Taxpayers. What? You thought the airlines would have to come up with the money to upgrade their equipment?
    • by MoonFog ( 586818 )
      Well, it's not just "their" equipment. This system will survey all planes in the air and guide them, a system which means that all airlines, all the airports and every traffic controller needs to "speak the same language". As such, it's just as much the FAA's equipment, if not more, than the airline's equipment.
      • Re:Funding... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Urusai ( 865560 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @03:02AM (#19966335)
        Considering how much the American taxpayers have spent bailing out these losers (while the execs rake in hundreds of millions), they ought to be nationalized already.
        • I'd tend to agree, although my experiences with Amtrak have led me to be somewhat hesitant of this approach.

          The long story is that, although the airlines probably did deserve some compensation for business lost over 9/11, like every other good-intentioned policy this administration has implemented, it got completely FUBAR'd, and the airlines used 9/11 as an excuse to rescue them from their already-existing financial woes.

          (On the other hand, publicly-owned regional/commuter rail service in the US tends to be
          • by jandrese ( 485 )
            Amtrak got shafted by Congress, plain and simple. Congress mandated that they run unprofitable routes and that they turn a profit. They also get angry whenever Amtrak points out that hey, it's hard to run to ever little Podunk stop and still maintain a profit margin. Of course the alternative is having Amtrak only run the Northeast corridor and perhaps some west coast runs and not providing much service at all for the rest of the country.
    • by boaworm ( 180781 )
      Actually, airlines are not paying for this directly. Airlines pay a fee for utilizing an airport as well as flying through a certain airspace, something you can often see on your bill nowdays (airport taxes). After that, it's up to the airport to provide approach and area control. Usually, many airports are co-owned, and share one or a few ACCs (Area Control Centers).

      Think of it in the same way as with trains, you can start a train-business and start a route between city A and city B without building your o
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
      The Air Traffic control system is no different than the road system, river system, or Coast Guard. The Airlines DO pay for the ATC equipment in the planes. They pay for the radios, transponders, encoding altimeters you name it.
      It kind of reminds me of when they slapped the Luxury tax on light airplanes. It played well with the people since if you can afford to buy a light plane you are rich. The problem was that combined with the stupid law suits almost caused the complete destruction of the light aircraft
  • Costs.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Brian Gordon ( 987471 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @02:31AM (#19966187)
    40 billion? Can anyone offer some financial perspective.. it sounds like that much money should completely replace all those airplanes!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by atarione ( 601740 )
      a boeing 737 (small and reasonably cheap by airliner standards) costs between 50-85million dollars for a single aircraft

      so no you won't be replacing the whole of the airline fleets for 40billion dollars.

    • Re:Costs.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by diqmay ( 773248 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @02:58AM (#19966311)
      Delta owns the following:


      71 Boeing 737s @ $50 million per
      68 Boeing 757s @ $65 million per
      75 Boeing 767s @ $140 million per
      8 Boeing 777s @ $200 million per
      63 MD 88s @ $40 million per
      16 MD 90s @ $45 million per
      68 CRJ 100/200/700s @ $24 million per


      that brings this one airline's fleet cost to just about $25 billion. And I was giving the low estimate for the cost of the planes.

      http://www.delta.com/about_delta/corporate_informa tion/delta_stats_facts/aircraft_fleet/ [delta.com]
      • It never occurred to me to wonder how many planes there are. It seems amazing to me that a major carrier can serve the entire US with just 369 planes. Does that mean that all air travel in the US is served with just a couple thousand planes?

        Where on the plane is a unique ID that I can write down? I'm curious how often I've flown on the same plane.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by diqmay ( 773248 )
          I'd estimate about 4000 planes from the 20 largest domestic carriers service over 90% of the flights within the continental US. as far as identification is concerned, look for a string of letters/numbers starting with an "N" painted on the fuselage, usually just in front of the tail.

          you can then use this page to look up basic info about the plane in question:
          http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_inqui ry.asp [faa.gov]
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by tv_dinners ( 938936 )
          On the fuselage near the tail. There is an entire forum over at http://www.airliners.net/discussions/trip_reports/ [airliners.net] filled with geeks that record these numbers in little log books for the purpose of wanting to fly every plane in the air.

          They carry around cameras and binoculars viewing planes, taking pictures, and writing down little things on paper, all the while arousing suspicion amongst their cabin mates. Once they get bored with all that, they ask the stewardess if they can visit the cockpit. A f
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Sircus ( 16869 )
          That's what they own. They lease a bunch more, for a total of 600 planes. In terms of fleet size, they're behind American, Northwest and Southwest (and FedEx - those packages don't fly themselves, you know...). They're just ahead of United. If you regularly fly with one of the majors, it's not unlikely you'll meet the same planes repeatedly. Counting just major domestic carriers, you come out at ~3500 planes. But this excludes the foreign carriers you'll see at US airports (most of whom will be tendin
    • Re:Costs.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by ushering05401 ( 1086795 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @03:13AM (#19966373) Journal
      "Can anyone offer some financial perspective.."

      I don't know about airplane costs, but here is some perspective on other government upgrade projects... each upgrade involved both hardware and software systems.

      The IRS attempted to update their systems (originally designed in 1962). The project began in 1999 and was spread over several 'projects.' The 1999 plan was eventually scrapped after the main database was already around 40 million over budget and way over deadline. Further attempts to modernize the system in a more compartmentalized fashion lead to the $318 million lost due to excessive tax refunds in 2006 (for tax year 2005 returns). The system responsible was also scrapped and the old one was put back into service.

      Though not mentioned in the overview that I link below, a GAO report I saw a couple years ago put the total actual losses (internal/external/disaster recovery etc...) at several times the publicly reported loss numbers.

      Here is a general overview: http://www.crn.com/it-channel/192502071 [crn.com]

      The FBI attempted a complete systems overhaul (agents still can only use one search term in many of their databases, and much info is still paper file only). That was finally scrapped in 2005 after $170 million in costs, and over 170,000 lines of code... the project had been in progress for three years. The Washington Post put total upgrade costs since 9/11/2001 at around $600 million.

      Here is a general overview: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/artic le/2006/08/17/AR2006081701485_pf.html [washingtonpost.com]

      I suppose the successes don't make as much news as the failures, but the real perspective we should be looking for here is who the F*** is going to plan and manage a project that will be responsible for our air safety? The upgrade attempts that I know of all ended with the old systems being put back into place.

      NASA probably gets my vote. I have heard that their software design requirements and beyond insane, and that despite the catastrophic structural failures they have endured, the shuttle software systems are beyond rock-solid. They still use multiple levels of 'readers' to proofread every line of code as you would a thesis manuscript in addition to all other testers/unit-tests/sims etc..

      Regards.
  • by SEE ( 7681 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @03:13AM (#19966371) Homepage
    So we're talking $2 billion a year. Where to find it, where to find it . . .

    Hey, I know! Let's cut U.S. farm subsidies to the levels farmers get in Australia and New Zealand. Surely American farmers aren't so incompetent that even with the advantage of cheap Mexican immigrant labor they can't compete on an even footing with Australians, right? So cut subsidies by 80%. That'll generate, oh, seventeen billion dollars. We can update the air control system in just three years, then, and then let the money saved reduce the deficit.
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      Hey, I know! Let's cut U.S. farm subsidies to the levels farmers get in Australia and New Zealand.

      That would be zero.

    • Hey, I know! Let's cut U.S. farm subsidies to the levels farmers get in Australia and New Zealand. Surely American farmers aren't so incompetent that even with the advantage of cheap Mexican immigrant labor they can't compete on an even footing with Australians, right?

      With respect, you seem to be under the false impression that US Farm subsidies actually go to American farmers in the first place. I'm not an expert (and stand to be corrected), but after a few minutes of anecdotal looking around, it seems

      • The basic method of subsidies is fixed prices paid to farmers which don't reflect market prices, which do go to all American farmers when they sell their crops. The first link you provide just shows why the subsidies are bad for the rest of the world. The second link just shows the consolidation of small farms is growing, so of course the share of subsidies that large farms receive is growing. It's been happening since farming became corporatised agribusiness. All farmers of certain crops are still being he
  • God Bless Mode-S (Score:4, Informative)

    by BillGatesLoveChild ( 1046184 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @03:15AM (#19966391) Journal
    Mode-S a very nifty datalink system that uniquely identified aircraft and can beam all sorts of useful traffic and navigation information. It was designed *WAY BACK* in 1975, only to be ignored by the FAA (the airlines the FAA works for didn't want pay for it). So they ignored it until a mid-air collision in 1986 woke up Congress, who mandated it in 1993. ADS-B (the Popular Mechanics article seems to be describing) AFAIK uses Mode-S to broadcast your aircraft's position using Mode-S, but the FAA have started shutting down Mode S transmitters 'because the safety benefits are not worth the cost'. Nice idea, but I hope it doesn't take another costly "wake up call".

    http://web.mit.edu/6.933/www/Fall2000/mode-s/today .html [mit.edu] http://www.aopa.org/whatsnew/air_traffic/tis.html [aopa.org] http://www.aopa.org/whatsnew/newsitems/2005/051020 mode.html [aopa.org] http://www.avionicswest.com/myviewpoint/modestrans ponder.htm [avionicswest.com]

    Lots of technogibberish here: Hey, Wiley! When are you writing "Air Traffic Control for Dummies"?
    • Totally O.T., but I actually witnessed the 1986 air disaster you mentioned. Piper Archer vs. DC-9... midair. The Cerritos Air Disaster.

      I only bring it up because I had almost forgotten the memory. It's not something that comes up in conversation often.

      Talk about emotional scars for an eight year old kid.

      Here is a brief link for anyone who wants a timeline: http://www.firefightersrealstories.com/cerritosair .html [firefighte...tories.com]

      Regards.
      • That must have been really rough and worse being a kid. Not sure what the right phrase is, but you have my sympathies. If it's any consolation, it gave the industry the kick it needed to make sure it didn't happen again.

        Anon Poster: Check the MIT link. They say Mode S with a mod can carry GPS data. From the link: "The GPS Squitter has taken [Mode S], added more bits and in those bits, transmits information as derived from GPS.'' The Mode S extended squitter was demonstrated by Lincoln Labs and the FAA in Bo
  • I hope... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OpenSourced ( 323149 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @03:20AM (#19966403) Journal
    There's still some contention about where the funding will come from.

    I hope there's also some contention about what will happen when those closer-together planes are left without GPS due to a war in the Gulf or some technical glitch, and the radar backup cannot keep up with the added traffic (if it could, what'd be the point?)

    • I hope there's also some contention about what will happen when those closer-together planes are left without GPS due to a war in the Gulf or some technical glitch, ...
      They'll just switch to Galileo [wikipedia.org]... ;-)
    • Re:I hope... (Score:5, Informative)

      by GooberToo ( 74388 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @09:43AM (#19968795)
      There currently is zero contention on where the funds will come from. Under current fee schedules, the FAA with have some 120 million extra in their coffers AFTER they complete their ADS-B deployment.

      How do I know this? Because it's in the public record. The airlines and their lobbyist have been spreading misinformation and FUD on a make believe funding crisis. They have been doing this to take control of the FAA. What? Ya, sounds odd, but here are the details.

      Right now, ever ticket sold has a tax which pays for infrastructure costs. Plus, every gallon of fuel sold (per gallon tax) pays for infrastructure costs. The airlines, by far, are the largest users of FAA services. What they want to do is to have the per ticket tax waived, pocket it, reduce their tax on Jet fuel and increase the taxes on the planes that hardly or rarely use FAA services. On top of that, they then want to create a "user fee" system where the FAA is free to set their own rates. The want to charge for items such as weather briefing, landing fees, IFR (instrument flying) service fees, in route update fee, etc. This means two things. One, and most importantly, the FAA would no longer have to own up to Congress on how and where they spend their money. Which is sad because right now they can not even explain where some 20 million went. And two, the small guy would be expected to pay the airline's share in taxes. Worse yet, even by the FAA and airline's own admission, they would suddenly create a significant funding short fall.

      In a nut shell we have:
      o Airlines want per ticket tax waived so they can pocket it (ticket prices would not be reduced)
      o Airlines want a tax reduction forcing small guys to carry the airline's tax burden
      o The airlines/FAA and crying the current infrastructure will not pay for new tech deployment
      o Both the FAA and airlines have finally admitted their scheme will fall short of the existing taxes by hundreds of millions. AOPA has been saying this for a long time using the FAA's and the airline's own numbers with VERY conservative accounting.

      Contrary to the assertions made in the article, there are fewer planes flying now than there has been since the 1970s; which is the US's peak in aviation. Even the current infrastructure can handle the load. The FAA's concern is a new category of jet has been created; the Very Light Jet (VLJ). The problem is projections indicate the FAA's current tax schedule will be able to handle the growth until at least 2030.

      Long story short we have the airlines and the FAA working to break free of Congress' funding oversight. Currently, the US's FAA model is considered the best model in the world for both funding and safety, bar none. In all other places in the world where user fees have been implemented, GA has been destroyed, costing thousands and thousands of jobs. Worse, most analysts exist aviation safety will begin to decline almost immediately as pilots will now be reluctant to use federal services because it costs a per use fee. This means more pilots in higher densities without being in contact with each other. Worse, this means more pilots flying into unknown weather conditions.

      Long story short, the funding for this system is already well established. Any short falls will be addressed by congress. Their current effort is to break free of congress and create a windfall for the FAA and the airlines; as they would be free to charge anything they want for their services. If they get their way, US skies will very likely become a dangerous place to be, even in commercial planes.

      If this concerns you, I highly recommend you contact your representatives and congressman to let them know you expect the airlines to pay their own way and you demand the skies remain the world's example of safety. Tell them absolutely no user fees.

      If you want more information, please go to http://aopa.org./ [aopa.org.]

      One last note, there is a FAA crisis looming. Right now, there is a mandatory re
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Oswald ( 235719 )

        So you if know some young people needing a future, push them that way.

        Just make sure it's not any young people you actually like. My wife and I have three children (and about 45 years combined in ATC), and we've made sure they understand all the good reasons NOT to follow in their father and mother's footsteps. 466 days to retirement....

  • What about.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Meltir ( 891449 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @03:21AM (#19966411) Homepage
    failures ?
    A single plane that will have a broken device, and wont transmit its position properly will have the option of taking down a lot of stuff.
    Whatever the shortcomings of the current radar system, radars tend to work regardless of the planes condition, and regardless of its position.
    Heck, IIRC planes only need special equipment to identify themselves, not to tell if they are actually there, and where they are.
    Sorry - but i prefer false positives (radar ghosts, or whatever their names) from false negatives (nah, its not a plane, it doesnt have GPS, it must me a bird. [15 minutes later] OH F*CK, EVERONE - RUN!!!....).
    If its not going to replace radar systems for good - i see no point in spending 40b, and i dont see how it can replace them - given the requirements for such systems.
    • this was one of my questions as well.

      also, from what i can tell it takes everywhere up to 30 seconds to get a decent lock on gps. 30 seconds doesn't seem like much, but now lets see how much 30 seconds matters in a jumbo doing 1000miles an hour. if your gps loses it's lock for some reason, that's a scary amount of time to be flying blind.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Omega45889 ( 1041896 )
        These 2 posts reek of ignorance. First of all, commercial airliners dont do 1000mph, thats over the speed of sound. Second, while GPS may take 30 seconds to get a lock (no idea if this is true), the GPS would undoubtedly be always online. Third, they will obviously have redundant backup hardware onboard that is also always active in case the primary and secondary fail. Not only that, but its not like aircraft will all of a sudden fly right next to eachother, there will clearly be an ample buffer , and the s
        • Second, while GPS may take 30 seconds to get a lock (no idea if this is true), the GPS would undoubtedly be always online.

          Most consumer grade GPS receivers quote cold start times of 45 seconds, warm start 15 seconds (no idea if the expensive things they will be using on planes are better). Cold start basically means that you haven't seen at least 4 of the satellites that are in view for several hours, so losing the lock on all the satellites for a few minutes is only going to cause warm-start conditions at
      • Losing GPS doesn't have to mean you're flying blind. You can always add an inertial navigation system as a backup.
    • Whatever the shortcomings of the current radar system, radars tend to work regardless of the planes condition, and regardless of its position.
      Heck, IIRC planes only need special equipment to identify themselves, not to tell if they are actually there, and where they are.


      That's incorrect. ATC radar does not supply the 3-D position of the aircraft, it can only see range and bearing. The height is supplied by the transponder on the aircraft (the same that also broadcasts its ID code).
  • by Flying pig ( 925874 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @03:25AM (#19966423)
    From the header: "planes will be able to fly closer together and in reduced visibility conditions"

    Which means that if there is a solar flare or something of the sort, the potential for disaster is enormous. Loads of planes flying around close together using a system that depends on vulnerable satellite links.

    This is also assuming that air travel continues to expand. I know that /. is full of posts from global warming deniers, but now that even the politicians are starting to do things rather than talk, this could be a system that takes 20 years to implement and then is redundant.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by FireFury03 ( 653718 )
      Which means that if there is a solar flare or something of the sort, the potential for disaster is enormous.

      The chances of a solar flare killing a significant proportion of the GPS satellites seems very remote.

      Loads of planes flying around close together using a system that depends on vulnerable satellite links.

      The GPS ranging sats are in reasonably low orbits so not especially vulnerable to solar activity. Of course, they may be requiring SBAS signals too, which rely on a small number of satellites in GEO
    • by crivens ( 112213 )
      ADS has already been implemented over the North Atlantic by NAV CANADA and NATS. So if it takes the FAA 20 years to implement, something is amiss. And I doubt it will be redundant. ADS and CPDLC (FANS - see Wikipedia or search Google) are technologies that are being implemented (and are expected) to safely support future growth in air travel.
  • Ease The Pain (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @03:38AM (#19966461)
    Doing away with paper based voting, radar positioning systems, and switching to bio-fuels is one heck of a tech addiction, but that's Americans for you. If you guys want high capacity aircraft to fly closer together and straighten flight paths to save fuel there is a way of doing it without the expense or danger. It's a called a frikkin train!
    • Most people don't like having a two-hour or more flight turn into an all-day trip (note, Australian here. It's a long way between capitals).
  • by maggard ( 5579 ) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @04:10AM (#19966609) Homepage Journal

    Responding to some of the (typically) under-informed criticisms...

    (Why bother to understand a topic when you can quickly post an opinion?)

    This isnt intended to replace all traffic management, for instance at airports, just to lessen the overhead of overseeing the more predictable long stretches in-between.

    Aircraft spacing would be lessened under the proposed system but still be considerable. Therefore even if GPS accuracy were degraded by the US Military it wouldnt have much practical effect. Besides accuracy to a few hundred feet is already problematic when youre traveling that far every second.

    The new systems arent any more susceptible to interference from solar flares or other natural phenomena then current systems; indeed theyre predicted to be more robust.

    Finally, 40 billion dollars US does seem like a lot of money. But considering the FAAs historic phenomenal mind-bogglingly beyond-grossly-incompetent record [findarticles.com] at managing system deployments its probably a low-ball on a cost-plus contract...

    • by crivens ( 112213 )
      Just to continue your informative post: ADS is meant to provide position reports in areas not covered by radar. It complements voice position reports and radar coverage.
    • by samkass ( 174571 )
      More to the point, the primary users of this system would probably be in class A airspace (above 18000ft), where you need to be on instruments already. Below that, and you have every ma and pa cropduster without even a radio, let alone a GPS, flying around (I don't know why it surprises some people that a radio is not essential equipment in an airplane-- they're not very aerodynamic).
    • ****Finally, 40 billion dollars US does seem like a lot of money. But considering the FAAs historic phenomenal mind-bogglingly beyond-grossly-incompetent record at managing system deployments ...***

      Well, yeah -- it's the FAA's unimpressive record that worries me. I'm sure these guys understand ATC better than I and other /. readers do. But do they really know what they are doing?

  • by VincenzoRomano ( 881055 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @04:15AM (#19966643) Homepage Journal
    And in the case the aviunics is failing, then the airplane will be invisible to everyone but radars!
    The best way would be a (distributed) radar system + GPS.
    You need both system failing in order to get an airplane lost.
  • Wouldn't this make it possible for an attacker to lock-on to the GPS location transmission and launch a fire-and-forget SAM? A truck full of rockets could be remotely controlled to takeout every plane in its local airspace with very little effort. The security of any data transmissions for civilian use cannot be that good because the information is made available to other planes and ATCs in the locale.

    I would have thought that tracking regular GPS transmission significantly simplifies steering rules for a r
    • Wouldn't this make it possible for an attacker to lock-on to the GPS location transmission and launch a fire-and-forget SAM?

      In theory, yes. But you'd have to design and build such a missile first, and that isn't trivial. Much easier to steal a current-generation infrared-guided SAM instead.
  • by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @04:58AM (#19966831) Homepage
    The FAA in technology terms are the dunce of the class in global Air Traffic Control terms, sure people can point to the "ooh its a big country" but Europe has a single upper airways control centre in Maastrict (Netherlands) and has continued to churn out new approaches and solutions from its single policy, R&D and Simulation organisation Eurocontrol. Europe is also embarking on a single pan-european system which will be deployed in around 15 years time (this is the HARD end of technology).

    Part of the issue is the FAAs view that it knows best (despite the evidence to the contary) so when new approaches to ATC are created elsewhere (mainly Japan and Europe) they push back against them and try and create their own solution. They are continually trying to take the short cut (expensive short cut) with some new technology gizmo rather than doing the hard way of actually planning a pan-USA federated ATC system with a single upper airway controller and decent federation around the major hubs and then delivering that incrementally focusing on the key cruch points in the existing systems. They just look for the silver bullet.

    The FAA is a case study on how not to do large scale IT, and a case study on how not to learn from others.
  • Over the past 30 years the FAA has consistently demonstrated that it is not capable of deploying a single pan-USA system to improve air-traffic control in the United States. They've wasted tens of billions of dollars in badly thought out schemes to replace the current system and have consistently not learnt from the lessons of other major ATC areas such as Asia and most especially Europe.

    Why on earth would anyone think that the FAA, who have delivered bugger all in 30 years, will be able to deliver now? I
  • There's already a tested, approved and standardised system; follow links in this page for info. [www.gpc.se]

    But the inventor [wikipedia.org] has for a long time been harassed by various US instances, in order to facilitate US interests, and that's why you won't see it in the USA.

    • Jupp, the FAA didn't see any benifit for the american flight industry and therefore shunned the system and the security improvements it could have brought.
      The article refered to by slashdot is nothing more then a advertisment for the NextGen system. It askes no critical questions and totally avoids the subject of internationalization of the system. But of course that does not matter, cause its not like airplanes ever go between countries, right?
    • I have taken a quick look at gpc.se, and it does seem odd that Håkan Lans is only suing his old lawyers. How about suing his web designer too?
  • by JetScootr ( 319545 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @05:27AM (#19966939) Journal
    There's still some contention about where the funding will come from.
    Actually, there's absolutely no doubt where the money will come from - we the people. The contention is whose hands it will go thru first before the system is complete. The "who pays for it" question is a distraction in many, many public projects, such as "who pays for a cleaner environment?" "Who pays for (existing | preventing) illegal immigration?", etc.
    In a way, it can be said that governments and companies have no money at all, except that which they receive from individuals. For example, car makers objected massively to adding airbags, and one excuse they pulled up was cost. But who pays for every part of the car when it's bought? Car makers? uh, no. Every added cost to everything is always passed on to the people who buy products and use services. It must be, or the companies providing products and services would eventually go out of business.
    The "who pays for it" debate is always part of the push and shove of hogs eating out of the gov't trough. Sadly, most people don't get this at all.

  • by zmollusc ( 763634 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @05:46AM (#19967019)
    So.. instead of using radar to measure where aircraft are, you trust the aircraft to tell you where it is? Real reassuring.
    Why can't we extend this system to cars? Scrap all the cops' speed measuring equipment and just wait for phone calls from speeding gps equipment wanting to fess up?

    No, i didn't rtfa
  • GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation aka GAGAN is what India calls it. This system is supposed to be operational in 2008.

    wiki page [wikipedia.org]
    Details in google's cached [64.233.167.104] copy of the announcement.

    Google search would also get more details on this.
  • by Hangtime ( 19526 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @07:51AM (#19967671) Homepage
    The FAA has been trying to upgrade the ATC for nearly two decades and is roughly seven years behind schedule from the original plan's timetable not the one they just changed to make themselves not look like total asses. The FAA has FAILED miserably and it is all of us who suffering. From longer ground delays at our nation's largest airports to few flights in smaller communities due to unnecessarily constricted airspace - the FAA's making it more difficult for all of us to fly.

    I would suggest everyone read Michael Boyd of Boyd Aviation, an aviation consulting firm, that has been highly critical of the FAA and over a decade ago brought the idea of "Free Flight" to Congress but since that time has been ignored. Boyd has his pulse on the aviation world better then anyone I know and writes a column each Monday.

    http://www.aviationplanning.com/asrc1.htm [aviationplanning.com]
  • I am sure that this is great technology, but it will only encourage the airlines to continue to switch from large aircraft to so-called regional jets [wikipedia.org]. Since the total number of people flying is either stable or increasing, the net result is that there are more smaller aircraft in the air today that ever before. That's what's causing the delays.

    Salon recently published a good description [salon.com] of the problem, written by an airline pilot [askthepilot.com].

  • someone please save us from the airline industry. it has turned into a giant pain in the ass that pretty much no one enjoys using. its pretty sad when a 1 hour flight takes over 4 hours from entering the airport to getting your luggage at your destination. security is the biggest joke, if anyone actually thinks we are safe you are deluding yourself, all of the checks are a waste of time and money, if hijackers really wanted to take down a whole fleet of planes they could on a whim. people need to stop l
  • What some posters fail to realise is that planes can be flown safely even when something like ADS fails or is not available. This sometimes occurs when ATC systems or communications networks fail, which like all man made engineering systems can and does happen. Controllers manually control the flights and increase their separation. They are trained to do this and the systems do support them.

    I'm trying to find out when GPS was first introduced in the skies, but some posters seem to think this is a new techno
    • by grumling ( 94709 )
      Most, if not all, modern military airframes are heavily dependent on P-Code GPS systems, to the point that a pilot's satchel containing maps and mission data is now just a hard drive that plugs into the console. They all are able to tie into the joint tactical radio system (JTRS), which is a major communications backbone that is able to send position data, IM, and voice to tactical displays anywhere in the world, and more importantly, to troops in the theatre. Amazing stuff. Too bad it has to be used for s
      • Determining ionospheric interference is still the biggest error source for most of civilian GPS. Until the L5 band becomes available (which would serve the same function as the L2 P-code band for military GPS), we are as good as we're going to get for now without supplementing the nav with inertial sources (which are only useful if they're on an aircraft).
  • Improved en-route traffic control is a fine idea, and should help save fuel and shorten flight times, but I seriously doubt if it will have a significant impact on delays.

    Over at Salon (ad-view required for non-registered users), Patrick Smith has had a convincing couple [salon.com] of articles [salon.com] making the case that delays are a side-effect of airlines using more smaller airplanes to move passengers around with more flexibility. More operations (take-offs and landings) with fewer passengers per operation means airports
  • by The_REAL_DZA ( 731082 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @09:06AM (#19968391)
    before U.S. air traffic gets completely grounded? Nope, sorry, but I think I prefer the current system "warts and all."
  • Could someone explain why the pilot is even necessary anymore? Just pay a sky jockey to sit and babysit a computer and let that fly the aircraft. Hell, we do it with prostate surgery now, why not a jet aircraft.

    The only caveat is that the system for flying the aircraft not use Windows in any way, shape or form.
  • I mean, I don't even get fricken peanuts any more. They must be saving up for this! That, and they've shrunk down the pillows. Gotta be savings there...

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