Air Traffic Control Newsletter #152

Air Traffic Control Reform Newsletter

Air Traffic Control Newsletter #152

Post-Mortem on 2017 US ATC Corporation Effort

In this issue:

Post-Mortem on 2017 US ATC Corporation Effort

“Shuster Gives Up on Air Traffic Control Spinoff.” That headline, and others like it, began appearing online the evening of February 27th. It shocked everyone in the large coalition of aviation, think tank, and taxpayer organizations that had worked on ATC corporatization for more than two years. Surely the subject’s leading political champion had not soured on the idea. So why was he pulling the plug? The mystery was deepened by the fact that only a few weeks before, the word had been passed quietly to supporters that Shuster finally believed he had enough votes to bring the FAA reauthorization bill (which included the ATC corporation section) to the House floor the week of March 12th.

It took some digging, but I came up with the answer. Leading up to the early-February decision to bring the House bill to the floor was a series of events indicating re-engagement of President Donald Trump on this issue. On January 11th, during an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump made another of his strong statements on the failure of FAA to modernize the ATC system—although he said this would be separate from the trillion-dollar infrastructure plan to be announced in February. This was followed by Trump taking part in the Jan. 31-Feb. 2 Republican Congressional Retreat at the Greenbrier in West Virginia. Sources who were there say that he brought up ATC reform again there, and said that it would be in the infrastructure bill. When told that there were recalcitrant Republican House members that probably only Trump could persuade, I’m told that he agreed to make calls and twist arms to ensure enough votes for the bill to pass.

It was a few days after the Greenbrier event that Transportation Committee staffers had informed supporters that the vote was now planned for the second full week of March. Shuster himself told Roll Call (Feb. 2nd) that he hoped to move the FAA bill before beginning work on the White House infrastructure bill.

The first shock came on February 12th, when the White House released its “Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America,” with air traffic control entirely absent. But the real blow came on Feb. 27th, when I got an email previewing Shuster’s statement about giving up on the bill. I couldn’t believe it.  A couple of days later I talked with a direct participant who told me that the previous Friday the White House had notified Shuster’s office that the President would not be making calls and twisting arms after all. And apparently without that promised effort, House Leadership’s vote count came up short. It appears that Shuster was faced with two choices: either call for the vote and (almost certainly lose) or pull the ATC section from the bill. I won’t second-guess him on which was the less-bad choice.

Media commentary supports this explanation. Aaron Karp in Aviation Daily (March 1st) wrote that “the Trump Administration has been notably quiet on the issue this year,” failed to include it in its infrastructure proposal, and “did not signal its willingness to back Shuster if he made another effort” to pass the bill. And the Wall Street Journal editorial lamenting the proposal’s demise faulted Trump for the same two reasons, including that he “did nothing to help pass it.”

Readers of this newsletter know the underlying reason for the lack of sufficient House votes: the Big Lie campaign waged relentlessly by AOPA and NBAA, which misled numerous members of the House General Aviation Caucus into thinking the bill would turn over the ATC system to “the big airlines” and shift resources away from the smaller airports that bizjets and small private planes depend on. That same disinformation campaign frightened hundreds of small-town mayors and airport directors into writing op-eds opposing corporatization and sending letters to their Senators—which accounted for the lack of an ATC section in the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill.

Among the ironies of this saga are that two of the ringleaders of the Big Lie efforts have received awards from aviation organizations. The Air Traffic Control Association (of which I’m a member) gave its coveted 2017 Glen A. Gilbert Award to former Delta CEO Richard Anderson. When he was still CEO, Anderson and his lieutenants put out demonstrably false claims about both NATS and Nav Canada, and pulled Delta out of Airlines for America because of that group’s support for corporatization. After Anderson retired from Delta and the airline switched sides, it never repudiated or apologized for its falsehoods—which were repeated often by the AOPA/NBAA propaganda machine. And Aviation Week, which editorially endorsed ATC corporatization over several decades, somehow gave one of its 2018 Laureate awards to none other than NBAA’s Ed Bolen.

» return to top

What Next for U.S. Air Traffic Control?

Opponents of ATC corporatization are celebrating their success in maintaining the status quo, but that leaves us with a seriously flawed ANSP. FAA’s Air Traffic Organization is one of the few in the developed-country world that is still:

  1. Part of the aviation regulatory agency, rather than being at arm’s length from it;
  2. Funded by taxes rather than charges for its service to aircraft operators;
  3. Weighed down by a cumbersome bureaucracy that has a dismal track record on developing and implementing new technology and procedures;
  4. Micromanaged by the executive and legislative branches of the federal government; and,
  5. Dependent on uncertain annual appropriations, rather than a reliable user-fee revenue stream which supports issuing revenue bonds to finance large-scale capital expenditures.

These are major flaws in governance and funding, and an array of previous congressional reform measures (including accounting, personnel, and procurement reforms) have manifestly failed to fix the underlying problems. Since neither the House nor the Senate has passed an FAA reauthorization bill (and will this month pass yet another, probably four-month, extension of current law), there is time to consider and push for at least some reforms that begin to address the ATO’s dysfunctions.

The first item on the above list could be addressed by moving the ATO out of FAA and making it a separate modal agency within the U.S. DOT. This would remove the inherent conflict of interest due to the ATO being embedded within the aviation safety regulator (FAA) rather than being at arm’s length from it. Organizational separation of air safety regulation and the provision of ATC services has been settled ICAO policy since 2001, and nearly all the world’s ANSPs are now separate from their country’s air safety regulator. This change has been advocated by a long list of government bodies, including:

  • the Aviation Safety Commission in 1988;
  • the National Commission to Ensure a Strong, Competitive Airline Industry in 1993;
  • Vice President Gore’s National Performance Review in 1993;
  • DOT Secretary Peña’s Executive Oversight Committee in 1994;
  • the Clinton Administration’s USATS government corporation legislation in 1995;
  • the Mineta Commission report in 1997; and,
  • Senior U.S. DOT officials in the early 2000s.

Former Clinton White House economist Dorothy Robyn recommended organizational separation in a 2008 Brookings Institution report, “Air Support: Creating a Safer and More Reliable Air Traffic Control System.” The Brookings report proposed moving the ATO out of FAA and making it a separate modal administration within DOT. It also recommended physical separation, removing the ATO from the FAA building in Washington and relocating it elsewhere. Besides the benefit of arm’s-length safety regulation, this change would clarify the very different functions of the two entities. FAA regulates all the players in aviation: airlines, aircraft and powerplant producers, pilots and mechanics, airports, repair stations, etc. The ATO exists to provide services to customers—those who operate aircraft in the national airspace system. ( Robyn’s recommended switch from aviation taxes to ATC fees is probably too drastic a change to imagine reaching a consensus about in the next four months.

Problem number 3—the FAA’s dysfunctional procurement system, could be addressed by some further reforms. First, the NextGen program—which never should have been separated from the ATO—should be re-united with it prior to the separation. Second, the new ATO should be exempted from civil service provisions and given a free hand to replace its current procurement system. Those changes would enable it to recruit a CEO and senior managers and compensate them with competitive pay and benefits. This could stop the brain drain and turnover that has left the ATO largely at the mercy of aerospace contractors to define requirements for new systems, leading to grandiose projects that take forever to develop and implement, and typically experience large cost overruns, as documented by decades of GAO and Inspector General reports. Rep. Peter De-Fazio (D, OR), Ranking Member of the T&I Committee, has said that FAA’s procurement system is even worse than that of the Department of Defense.

With FAA and the ATO as separate DOT entities, the existing FAA Management Advisory Council would also need to be replaced with two such bodies, one for each agency. Obviously, the focus of the two bodies would differ, with the FAA body advising on (I hope) reform of FAA’s regulatory model, as has taken place successfully in a number of European countries that have separated ATC from safety regulation. The ATO advisory body would represent ATC stakeholders, as does the much-larger NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC).

What this modest reform would not do is change the funding and governance of the ATO. It would still remain funded by current aviation excise taxes, appropriated annually by Congress. It would still be under the jurisdiction of congressional committees in both houses of Congress, would report directly to the DOT Secretary, and would have its budget controlled by the Office of Management & Budget. As I have written here and elsewhere for several decades, those are flaws that only corporatization could fix. But political realities will have to leave those reforms for another day, perhaps to the following FAA reauthorization.

Note: In 2010 former FAA Administrator Langhorne Bond and I published an article on this subject in The Journal of Air Traffic Control’s Spring issue. I have posted it online (very slightly updated):

» return to top

Remote/Virtual Towers Moving Ahead in Europe and Asia

While the FAA is only monitoring two U.S. remote tower projects funded by state and private money, corporatized air navigation service providers (ANSPs) in Europe and Asia continue to plan, fund, and implement remote/virtual/digital towers at airports of widely varying size.

Perhaps the biggest recent news is that remote towers are moving toward implementation at medium and large hub airports. In January I reported the project at Singapore’s Changi International Airport (the world’s 6th busiest), under which NATS and Searidge Technologies are deploying a “smart digital tower” in a 22-month demonstration project to see how suitable it is to handle all the tower operations at a major airport. Not to be undone, the same team has now been contracted for a similar project at Hong Kong International Airport.

The largest mid-size airport with remote tower capability is Budapest International. Searidge and HungaroControl received certification last fall for the new facility, which can handle all tower operations at the airport. It is currently operating on a contingency basis, while carrying out live controller training, and HungaroControl hints that the remote tower will replace the legacy tower in daily operation by the end of the year.

Control of multiple airports from a single remote tower center is under way in Germany, Norway, and Sweden. As noted here in January, German ANSP DFS’s remote tower center in Leipzig is operational, and is expected to begin controlling traffic at Saarbrücken by October. Later on, the center will also control traffic at Erfurt and Dresden airports. In Norway, Avinor continues work on its remote tower center in Bodo, with technical support from Kongsburg. The first of 15 small airports to receive tower services from there should be operational by mid-year. Under a contract with Ninox, the remote tower center could be expanded to handle nearly two dozen additional small airports. And the ANSP of Sweden, LFV, is now developing a remote tower center at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, initially designed to serve four smaller airports.

Two new remote tower joint ventures between an ANSP and a technology company were announced earlier this month at the World ATM Congress in Madrid.

  • Searidge and NATS, which are already engaged in joint efforts in various countries, announced the launch of a Digital Tower R&D Laboratory, to be based at London Heathrow Airport, whose control tower is operated by NATS.
  • Frequentis and a division of DFS announced a joint venture to offer remote tower systems worldwide. Frequentis DFS Aerosense will begin operations this year from a headquarters in Austria.

These follow two similar joint venture efforts established last year. One is between Sweden’s LFV and Saab to offer remote tower systems worldwide. The other, called Ninox, is a joint effort of Avinor, Indra Navia, and Kongsberg.

There are large benefits to be had from remote towers, including improved visibility and surveillance during bad weather and night-time operations, increased safety from having a contingency tower at a major airport, and significant cost savings (especially when providing tower services to a number of small airports from a single remote tower center). It is ironic and tragic that “the world’s largest ATC provider” does not have a budget for remote towers and does not include this ATC breakthrough in its “transformational” NextGen program.

» return to top

Some Progress on PBN Noise Impacts

FAA’s Metroplex program aims to make use of more-precise performance-based navigation (PBN) to make possible shorter aircraft arrival and departure routes at airports in large metro areas. Planes equipped for either area navigation (RNAV) or the more-precise required navigation performance (RNP) would be directed to fly new, optimized tracks. This would benefit airlines and other aircraft operators by saving them time and fuel, it would reduce carbon emissions, and it would shrink the noise exposure pattern on the ground near airports to a lot fewer square miles—hence less noise exposure.

FAA persuaded Congress of these benefits, and in the 2012 FAA reauthorization law, Congress aimed to shield the agency from costly and time-consuming litigation by stating that if the negative impacts from implementing PBN procedures at an airport did not individually or collectively make a net negative impact on the environment, the project would get a “categorical exclusion” from having to do a detailed environmental study.

That was then, but as Metroplex was rolled out in places like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Baltimore/Washington, the response of those affected by increased airport noise was loud and litigious. Because what had been a wide dispersion of (especially) departure routes was now concentrated to a few very narrow bands that nearly all the planes followed, many square miles did experience less noise, but others experienced very large increases. And at least in some of these Metroplex locations, FAA apparently failed to do very much community outreach to prepare residents for what was soon to occur.

The big news for affected residents came last August, when a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled 2 to 1 in favor of a suit filed by Phoenix residents, who argued that FAA had failed to consult them and imposed major negative noise impacts on them. The same court is now hearing a similar appeal filed by aggrieved residents of Washington, DC. But they might not be too happy with the results if they win. In Phoenix, residents’ groups negotiated an agreement, unveiled last November 30th, that does just two things. First, FAA agrees to create temporary departure procedures similar to pre-Metroplex ones “to the extent practicable.” Second, it will “consider and develop” new routes for departures to the west.

Last fall David Grizzle, the former Chief Operating Officer of the Air Traffic Organization, told CNBC that there is a basic conflict between Metroplex’s goals (time and fuel savings, CO2 reductions, and reducing the area affected by noise) and satisfying all the affected residents. “There is an intrinsic issue of concentrating noise in particular places that comes with precision-based navigation that is inescapable,” he said, correctly. He said FAA knew years ago that some areas would face increased noise, but hoped that this negative impact would be offset by the much larger areas getting less noise—but those people haven’t spoken up.

One ray of hope was reported by Scott McCartney in his Wall Street Journal column on March 8th. A study done for FAA and Massport (operator of Boston’s Logan Airport) by John Hansman, director of the International Center for Air Transportation at MIT, did computer simulations of noise reductions made possible by reducing a jet aircraft’s departure speed. With today’s much quieter engines than several decades ago, the larger noise impact during departures is caused by the “whoosh” of air over the plane’s surfaces. Reducing departure speed by 30 knots (35 mph) for a few minutes would decrease the noise under the plane’s flight track by between 1.5 and 5 decibels, and would also significantly reduce the width of the noise footprint. McCartney reports that the impact on airlines would be modest—for a typical 737 it would increase fuel burn by about 7 gallons and add about 30 seconds to the departure phase of flight.

If implemented by FAA, this change might be enough to permit Metroplex PBN plans to go forward largely as planned, preserving most of their benefits. If not, airlines and airports might have to consider purchasing noise easements from property owners along the new, narrow flight tracks. The harm caused by concentrated noise is not a harm to a metro area; it’s harm to specific people who can be identified, and if necessary, compensated.

» return to top

Low-Cost ADS-B for GA, Gliders, and Drones?

Several friends who read this newsletter are glider pilots, and they are concerned about their aircraft being electronically invisible to airliners, air traffic control, etc. They don’t have transponders (too heavy, too expensive, too much power required), but some glider pilots would love to have small, affordable ADS-B. One recently emailed me the following:

“There are [airspace] conflicts like this happening throughout the U.S. on a daily basis The bottom line is that the only solution is for all aircraft (including balloons, gliders, etc.) to be ADS-B equipped, so that everyone can see everyone else. The only reason this isn’t happening is the price of the equipment, which is 5X higher than it needs to be, purely because of the absurd FAA certification requirements.”

When I had lunch in Washington, DC recently with Mark Swan of the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority, he told me about their project under way to develop and certify such devices. They call the general concept “electronic conspicuity,” meaning that it would rely on electronics rather than the traditional see-and-avoid principle that is used in non-controlled airspace (Class G in the U.K.). In 2014 the CAA established an Electronic Conspicuity Working Group (ECWG), with members including AOPA, the British Balloon and Airship Club, the British Gliding association, the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, the British Microlight Aircraft Association, the Light Aircraft Association, and NATS, the UK’s ANSP.

In a follow-up email, Swan explained that, “Electronic conspicuity is expected to be an enabler for a future airspace model based on integration—not segregation—of all airspace users, including autonomous vehicles such as drones.” The aim is to enable mutual awareness of all aircraft. The current effort is focused on using the current 1090MHz frequency, but given the possibility of saturation, it is also considering a different frequency under which drones could self-separate.

The good news is that there is more than just talk and study. A trial program is already under way in the Scottish Highlands and Islands area. A separate trial is being prepared that would use ADS-B-only receivers to provide real-time traffic data to general aviation airports, to take place this summer. In another trial, beginning this month, NATS is exploring how electronic conspicuity can address the problem of infringements of controlled airspace, and will be focused on a local airport. A report on the overall project, CAP 1391, Electronic Conspicuity Devices, is available online.

My guess is that low-cost, light-weight, low-power ADS-B devices for light aircraft, gliders, balloons, and even drones will start being certified in the UK within the next year or two. If that sounds unbelievable, recall that the CAA has undergone a major reform in the past decade. MITRE Corporation summarized the reforms in a 2015 report commissioned by the FAA on changes to aviation safety regulation in countries that had reformed the provision of air traffic services. CAA sees itself as a performance-based regulator, working with industry partners to streamline regulation and certification, with “a culture that proactively addresses a better regulation agenda.” Our own FAA could learn a lot from studying the transformation of the CAA.

» return to top

Feedback on Wide-Area Multilateration (WAM)

Last month’s article on the potential of wide-area multilateration to replace secondary surveillance radar brought several responses from readers. Two were from recent retirees from successfully corporatized ANSPs—Airservices Australia and Nav Canada.

Among the Nav Canada correspondent’s thoughts were the following.

“A minimum of three, and preferably four, WAM sites must see a target. That means a lot of sites, and the geometry of the sites seeing the target matters (e.g., they can’t be in a line). One would need to look at the cost of not only WAM equipment but also communications and location (rent) costs—and compare that to the incremental cost of replacing secondary surveillance . . . to know if WAM is the more cost-effective approach.”

That sounds to me like a sensible approach.

In a follow-up communication, the same person added some context about several of the countries that are replacing secondary radars with WAM:

“Denmark is small and flat, with dense infrastructure, so relatively few stations would suffice. They would be near power and communications. Austria started by putting stations just in mountainous areas where radar coverage was problematic; then found that it could extend the system for country-wide coverage fairly easily. New Zealand has spotty radar coverage and difficult terrain, [so] it would be difficult to establish radar sites where needed for coverage. [By contrast,] the situation in the U.S. is that there is already [SSR] coverage, so that facilities, power, and coverage are already established. Only the incremental cost of upgrades [replacement] would be incurred.”

My Airservices correspondent first explained that Australia has implemented nationwide ADS-B coverage, where much of the country had no radar surveillance, and has begun decommissioning radars “in lieu of ADS-B.” They have also begun decommissioning ground-based navaids. They are retaining some navaids and radars in case of GPS problems. Regarding WAM, he had the following observations:

“It is significantly more-costly than ADS-B alone and brings a big resource requirement to manage the multiple sites (land leases, lawyers, data coms complexity, etc.). In some cases, the total cost can approach the cost of radar. Manufacturers make claims about [WAM] being lower-cost. It is lower-cost to acquire the equipment compared to radar, but the other non-supplier costs can make the total lifetime cost of ownership much higher than expected.”

So I conclude, as I learned at MIT many years ago, that it all depends on the numbers. There is no substitute for good quantitative analysis, based on data and on making careful, well-justified assumptions to carry out the analysis.

» return to top

News Notes

FAA’s 30th Reauthorization Action in 30 Years. An aviation colleague pointed out that since an FAA authorization expired on Sept. 30, 2007, there have been 29 reauthorizations or extensions of authorizations, including the extension that Congress agreed to in September 2017. With the additional upcoming extension, that will make 30 such actions in a bit more than a decade—an average of three per year. Not exactly steady and predictable funding.

Space-Based ADS-B Service Nears Debut. A feature story in Aviation Week (Feb. 26, 2018) reports that Aireon is on track to begin global space-based ADS-B surveillance to subscribing ANSPs.  The next launch of 10 more Iridium Next satellites is scheduled for late March, which will bring the constellation to 50 of the planned 66 (plus on-orbit spares). Aireon has signed service agreements with 11 ANSPs thus far, and has Memoranda of Agreement with 19 other ANSPs and four systems integrators, exploring the business case for service in 22 additional countries’ airspace. In addition, Aireon and FlightAware have partnered on a web-based real-time aircraft tracking Dashboard called Global Beacon. Aireon will also offer Aireon Alert, an aircraft locating and emergency response tracking service. And, as recommended by the NextGen Advisory Council, the FAA is studying the case for it to become an Aireon subscriber.

Tower Costs Are Confidential? Former Eno Center for Transportation analyst Rui Neiva, now working for a new employer in Europe, asked me about obtaining FAA data on the cost of individual FAA control towers. I asked a contact at the DOT Office of Inspector General, and he put the question to FAA. Alas for research, the answer came back as follows: “FAA does not make the costs for individual towers public. If someone wants this information, they have to go through the formal FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request process to get it.” Let’s hear it for transparency from our tax-supported public servants.

Inspecting Navaid Performance via Drone. While the FAA and NASA grapple with the problem of how to keep drones safely separated from airports and controlled airspace, a pair of German companies has announced NavAid Drone. It’s a drone designed specifically to check the performance of ground-based navigation aids. The companies are LS Telecom’s Colibrex teamed with FCS Flight Calibration Services. Using drones for this flight inspection function would reduce or eliminate the need for FAA and other ANSPs to maintain and operate fleets of manned aircraft for this purpose—potentially a very large ongoing cost saving.

Increased Productivity at Spain’s ENAIRE. Last decade, the Spanish ANSP was one of the highest-cost providers in Europe, with controllers often making double their basic salary thanks to overtime. That was before a major reform that separated the ATC function from the national airport monopoly AENA and led to changes in work rules and technology in the renamed ENAIRE. The Quarter 4 2017 issue of Air Traffic Management laid out ENAIRE’s ambitious Flight Plan 2020 that will continue investing in new technology and procedures. At the World ATM Congress in Madrid earlier this month, ENAIRE announced reductions in air service charges of 3% this year 4% in 2019, and 5% in 2020, aiming to become one of the lowest-cost ANSPs in Europe.

A$1.2 Billion Contract for Australia’s OneSky. Airservice Australia’s joint project with Australia’s Defense Department reached a major milestone in February with the signing of a US$946 million contract with Thales to develop and implement the system. Airservices is responsible for 11% of global airspace. OneSky will provide a single system used for both civil and military ATC. Aviation Daily reports that the system could be operation at initial sites in 2020 with full deployment completed by 2022-23. It will be installed in Airservices’ four centers and 12 military ones.

A Growing Market in Controller Training. The ATM Policy Institute has released an introduction to the emerging market for free-standing air traffic controller training providers. “The Importance of the Market for ATCO Training” explains that smaller ANSPs, in particular, can benefit from the economies of scale in larger, specialized controller training institutions. And it provides examples, including some ANSPs offering controller training to smaller ones, as well as newer free-standing training ventures such as Entry Point North, with facilities in Ireland and Sweden. It also explains the benefits of Europe-wide controller-training certification recently authorized by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

RECAT-EU Wins IHS Jane’s ATC Award. During the World ATM Congress in Madrid earlier this month, the European wake vortex recategorization (RECAT EU) project implemented by DSNA, the French ANSP, won the Jane’s ATC award in the Environment category. The RECAT standards were developed by Eurocontrol and implemented by DSNA in the Paris-CDG Terminal Area. Controllers there have been able to reduce arrival spacing between planes by up to 30%, reducing delays and fuel consumption. The system will soon be expanded to departures.

San Jose Newspaper Calls for Action on Runway Near-Misses. Citing five incidents within 14 months of airliners lined up to land on an occupied runway or taxiway at SFO, the San Jose Mercury News in a March 2nd editorial called for federal policy changes by FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board. One of those would be to require the preservation of cockpit voice recorder data from every such incident, to help identify the cause(s) and hence devise measures to prevent such situations.

Teri Bristol Serving as CANSO Chair. Congratulations to Teri Bristol, Chief Operating Officer of the FAA Air Traffic Organization, who was elected last year to Chair the Executive Committee of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO), the global membership organization for ANSPs.

New Book on Air Traffic Management. Elsevier has published a 286-page book titled Air Traffic Management: Economics, Regulation and Governance. The author is Margaret Arblaster, who is a Teaching Fellow in transport economics at Monash University in Australia. She is a former senior manager at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Her work there included airport and ATC regulation, including the introduction of “light-handed” regulation for the privatized airport sector.

» return to top

Quotable Quotes

“Space-based ADS-B holds the promise of eradicating nearly all surveillance transitions by serving as a truly global surveillance solution. It will largely redefine the way modern air traffic management functions and deliver associated efficiency and emissions reduction advantages. . . . Many ICAO member states that are still in the process of developing or upgrading their core air navigation capabilities now have the option to leapfrog current and legacy surveillance technology, moving directly to a cost-effective space-based ADS-B capability. This will benefit system-wide interoperability, improve the transition to ATFM [air traffic flow management], and [offer] many other advantages expected in the area of search and rescue services. It will also generate cost efficiencies due to decreased reliance on more-expensive and complicated legacy infrastructure.”
—Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, in Bill Carey, “ICAO Council President Endorses Space-Based ADS-B,” Aviation Daily, March 7, 2018

“While it is true that even the air carriers can take years after making an avionics upgrade implementation decision to achieve fleet-wide operational readiness, it is largely the GA customer base that holds the key to NAS modernization. The result of the one-by-one—aircraft by aircraft—avionics changes of the GA fleet is that NAS modernization is held hostage by the late adopters. You can see the snail’s pace transition in ATC modernization all around us: the VOR/DME/ILS infrastructure deployed in the late 1950s and early 1960s is still the backbone of the NAS. The FAA is hostage to that to the point that they become an accomplice in maintaining the infrastructure status quo by extending and/or refreshing the old system. So you shouldn’t be surprised that FAA is currently in the preliminary stages of acquiring new Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) ground stations for delivery after 2020. . . . If [ATC] reorganization is truly motivated by frustration with the pace of infrastructure modernization, then the solution must address aircraft owners’ and air carriers’ intransigence to embrace that modernization.”
—Frank Frisbie, “FAA Reorganization,” The Journal of Air Traffic Control, Winter 2017

“Today, precision approaches are based on ILS, another technology that dates from the 1930s. Each runway end needs its own system. It is costly to maintain and has operational limitations that reduce runway capacity. Nor can it accommodate curved approaches and sequential multiple angle approaches. Both these innovations would increase runway capacity. . . . In the brave new SESAR/NextGen world, ground-based augmentation systems (GBAS) are expected to play a key role in modernizing all-weather operations capability at all airports. . . . [GBAS] has been accepted by ICAO, in Annex 10, for all-weather, down-to-fog-to-the-ground (Cat. III), and its spectrum requirements were allocated by the ITU in 2017 in the L1 band. ICAO has a panel working on procedure design criteria, expected to be completed by the end of this year. In other words, entry into service could be before 2020. Could be, but should not currently be anticipated to actually happen. A number of airlines . . . are committed to the use of GBAS. The ANSPs of Germany, Spain, and Switzerland, and soon Poland, have operational GBAS Cat 1 stations. . . . [But], afraid of upsetting even the smallest and least-progressive airlines or ANSPs, mandates for implementation are delayed and then not enforced. Worse still, the date for turning off the existing technologies can be extended down generational epochs.”
—Andrew Charlton, “Satellite-Based Navigation—Back to the Future, by 2030, Perhaps,” Aviation Intelligence Reporter, March 2018

“The FAA spent ~$1M for each of the 700 [ADS-B] ground stations around the country. Attached is a picture of the ADS-B receiver that I recently put together for about $50. There are now about 10,000 of these amateur receivers around the world feeding FlightAware. Not only can these receivers handle ADS-B traffic, but most of them also support multilateration (MLAT) so that FlightAware can determine the position of non-ADS-B-equipped aircraft. As a result, FlightAware has the technical ability to track aircraft in real time with much better accuracy and coverage than the FAA, including the ability to track aircraft during a GPS outage. All of this is provided at no cost by volunteers providing their own equipment and a simple internet connection.”
—Mike Schumann, email to Robert Poole, December 7, 2017

“It’s a significant milestone for us and for our nation. We see that going forward with civil-military integration is essential for us to manage the growth in air traffic in Australia—60% over the next 15 years. . . . It’s not about increasing restricted airspace; having a civil-military system means we can share the airspace and [the military] can operate seamlessly in civil airspace. Our view, conceptually, is that no longer will we have restricted areas; it will just be shared airspace.”
—Jason Harfield, CEO, Airservices Australia, in Bill Carey, “Thales, Airservices Advance ‘OneSky’ ATC Integration, Aviation Daily, March 8, 2018

Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation.