NextGen is coming of age with benefits for both pilots and ATC

ADS-B Out equipment is available now. It's the key to being in a world aloft of more useful information that will make flying safer for all aircraft in the NAS.

By Glenn Connor
Pres, Discover Technology Intl
ATP. Cessna 425

Diagram above is a "big picture" representation of the evolving NextGen airspace, which will include communications and a network of information exchange between aircraft and air traffic services to enable higher capacity at congested or regional airports.

NextGen airspace is taking shape in the new year of 2014. So I thought I would take a look at what's in store and how it will affect the operations of the professional pilots we serve in Pro Pilot magazine.

First, the ADS-B Out mandate for the US airspace is finally spelled out for implementation. The ADS-B Out rule, FAR 91.225 specifies the airspace where you will need ADS-B Out functionality. And FAR 91.225 also has some companion regulations such as FAR 91.227 that defines the performance requirements needed.

But for those waiting until the last minute to plan or purchase an ADS-B Out capability, access to airspace, as the FAA states, "may be denied." The actual operational date is 2020 for designated required use of ADS-B Out in the NAS (National Airspace), and it affects your flying mostly where a Mode C transponder is currently required such as Class A, B, and C. For Class E airspace within the 48 contiguous states the general requirement is from 2500 ft up to 10,000 ft MSL.

Datacom and CPDLC

Datacom is another area that is fast becoming necessary in your cockpit. Datacom, a generic term that includes CPDLC (Controller to Pilot Data Link Communication) is another name for texting clearances and an alternate means of communication with ATC. Most all aircraft and avionics manufactures are now in full swing providing the ability for you to type and text rather than talk as well as provide automatically details concerning your aircraft.

But unlike the early struggle of operators coming to grips with RVSM (Reduced Vertical Separation Minimums) equipage, the difference this time is that most pilots today have a grasp of the required upgrades and benefits in the airspace. The user interface issue today, though, is the FMS, which makes this procedure klunky.

Typing on a keyboard that is a legacy standard of the 70s and not QWERTY type is time consuming. And the location of the FMS in the cockpit requires constant head-down operation. Depending upon the type of FMS and avionics, the connecting process to each ATC area facility can be painfully slow.

And the actual exchange of data and confirmation is to any computer-savvy teenager only one level above smoke signals. But it's a start and will enable controllers and pilots to communicate clearances and other requests rather than fight for air time for voice broadcasting on the radio.

Back in the day—or if you have only owned an iPhone

Rockwell Collins simulation of traffic and navigation in NextGen airspace shows aircraft and track data as part of the overall traffic information system.

Back in the early days of air traffic you reported your position by radio based on a point on the map. The accuracy of the report was based on the quality of your navigation and not being stepped on during the transmission by others talking with the same busy controller. Similarly, guys on the ground moved little models around a board to visualize the traffic and sort out traffic separation.

Later the marvel of radar would enable a fledgling Air Traffic Control service to control as well as monitor the flow of air traffic by use of radar. But the interpretation of "skin painted" targets where often times a controller would ask for a 90° turn for identification was not suited for a busy sky.

So the transponder was invented to provide a discrete 4-number code for each target that could then be followed by the controller as he monitored the "scope" target with referencing a strip of paper with the flight number, airline, type aircraft and destination—all scribbled by a fast writing controller. Then in the late 70s altitude reporting transponders were introduced to enable ATC to see your actual altitude and provide for better traffic separation.

Interesting to note, many in the general aviation world protested and did not like the ability of ATC to see their position let alone know their altitude. Also during this point in time you may recall that airspace began to change with new airspace requirements, and that meant if you were not equipped with a Mode C transponder you didn't get in without delay and some critical conversation.

A topic of hot interest of the day was the coming of transponder technology that would become a tell-all device, communicating your position and other data independently of the radar.

Then a quiet revolution began with commercialization of the Global Positing System or GPS. Names like Tomorrow, NorthStar and Garmin sprang up developing affordable means to not only know your own location but even that of the aircraft flying along with you in your area. Why some of these new companies were even bold enough to show your location on an electronic chart designed for a small single engine aircraft. For many, the complete flightdeck had arrived and these marvels were so great many pilots felt that there could be nothing else of value to invent!


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