A massive modernization of the U.S. airspace system has passed a major milestone, with federal officials announcing completion of the nationwide installation of cutting-edge aircraft tracking technology.
The Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) radio network will allow pilots and air traffic controllers to have greater accuracy in tracking aircraft through the use of GPS technology, according to an April 2014 news release from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The installation is part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, a decades-long effort to transform aviation into a satellite-based system from the current radar-based system.
“This state-of-the-art satellite system is already providing controllers with visibility in places not previously covered by radar,” Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
Nationwide, ADS-B currently is being used at about 100 air traffic facilities, and is expected to be operational at the remaining 130 or so by 2019, according to the FAA. By the following year, any plane operating in FAA-controlled airspace must have ADS-B transponders that broadcast the aircraft’s location.
Officials say ADS-B, which was approved for implementation beginning in 2005, will boost efficiency by giving air traffic controllers essentially real-time updates on the positions of aircraft they are monitoring. The current radar-based system updates aircraft positions every 4.7 seconds or so. Controllers also will have enhanced accuracy in tracking planes on taxiways and runways.
The FAA says that NextGen upgrades already are saving time and money, while improving performance at the nation’s airports. At Dallas/Fort Worth, for example, satellite-based technology allows controllers to shorten the distance between planes at takeoff from 3 nautical miles to 1 nautical mile. That allows for up to 20% more departures an hour.
American Airlines, the largest carrier at Dallas/Fort Worth, is saving about $10 million in annual fuel costs and reducing exhaust emissions because its fleet spends less time awaiting clearance for takeoff, the FAA notes.
Growth in passenger traffic is helping drive the introduction of NextGen enhancements. U.S. airlines are projected to carry 1.15 billion passengers annually by 2034, representing an increase of about 400 million over 2013 traffic.
“The gains in safety, capacity, and efficiency as a result of moving to a satellite-based system will enable the FAA to meet the expected growth in air traffic predicted in coming decades,” the agency’s website states.