Exelis: ADS-B Network in Continental U.S. Nearly Complete

 - March 4, 2014, 1:17 PM
Exelis provided this graphic, showing the location of ADS-B ground stations. (Courtesy: Exelis)

The company the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration chose in August 2007 to install the ground infrastructure needed to track aircraft by automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) plans to complete that network in the continental U.S. this month. McLean, Va.-based Exelis, which was called ITT when the FAA awarded it the ADS-B contract, said 658 of the 660 planned ADS-B ground radio stations will enter service this year, including all 601 the company is installing in the lower 48 states.

Thirty-eight of 40 planned ground radio stations in Alaska will begin operating this year; the remaining two will join the network in 2015. Thirteen planned stations in Hawaii, two in Puerto Rico and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands will also join the network this year. Two stations in Guam and one station in Saipan are already on the network, according to Exelis.

The Exelis network deployment is measured in service volumes, which have a certain number of ground radio stations associated with them. All continental U.S. service volumes will undergo FAA implementation service acceptance testing by this month, the company said.

“We’re very [much] nearing the completion of deployment. For the most part we’ll be complete in March,” John Kefaliotis, Exelis vice president of international strategy and business development, told AIN. “The system is operational, it’s delivering outstanding service and is a Next Generation Air Transportation System success.”

The FAA has mandated that operators in the U.S. equip their aircraft for ADS-B Out, the capability to regularly broadcast an aircraft’s GPS-derived position to ground stations and other nearby ADS-B equipped aircraft, by 2020. This requires a GPS receiver as the position source and a mode-S datalink transponder to transmit the position information. ADS-B In, which the FAA thus far has not mandated, is the capability to display nearby air traffic in the cockpit for pilots’ situational awareness.

As prime contractor, Exelis is providing three elements of the ADS-B ground network: the radio stations; three major processing stations in Ashburn, Va., Dallas and Redwood City, Calif.; and “service delivery points,” or racks of equipment the company installs at government ATC facilities to receive ADS-B data. There the data is fused with the FAA’s primary and secondary surveillance radar inputs for target validation; it is also used to generate traffic information services-broadcast (TIS-B) reports that are uplinked to ADS-B equipped aircraft. All of the 202 planned service delivery points will be installed this year, Exelis said. Under terms of the contract, the FAA owns the surveillance data that is generated by the system and piped to its ATC facilities; Exelis owns the ground-station infrastructure.

When the FAA originally awarded Exelis the ADS-B contract, the parties targeted completion of the ground network by the end of 2013. “All of the critical program milestones were achieved on schedule,” Kefaliotis said, explaining the system’s later completion date. “The total deployment profile was something that was a work in progress between us and the FAA. We finalized sometime after the creation of that a deployment schedule that was well coordinated with the FAA and was consistent with the FAA funding profile for the program.”

Exelis also has the right to sell some ADS-B surveillance data commercially. At the World ATM Congress in Madrid this week, the company announced that Spirit Airlines is the first airline to implement its web-based “Symphony OpsVue” application suite, which draws from multiple surveillance sources, including ADS-B, to track aircraft on airport surfaces. Spirit mans the system from its airline operations center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Eleven airports now use Symphony OpsVue.

Exelis’s Symphony OpsVue announcement revealed that Spirit, an Airbus A319/A320/A321 operator, has outfitted that fleet for ADS-B. Responding to a query from AIN regarding its ADS-B equipage, the airline provided the following statement: “We [Spirit] do not have the hardware/software configuration to support full ADS-B; our transponders are ADS-B capable. The system is required by 2020 and we are actively planning for the appropriate upgrades and eventual implementation.”