Group Questions FAA’s Commitment to ADS-B Start-up

 - March 24, 2014, 2:25 PM

Despite the news that air traffic surveillance group Aireon now has most of the key elements in place to create a functioning ADS-B system, the FAA has still not committed to the project for updating its oceanic air traffic management operations. And according to libertarian think-tank The Reason Foundation, the U.S. government might not view this important commitment as a priority.

“In recent years, the facilities, equipment and operating costs of the FAA’s oceanic operations accounted for only a bit over one percent of the air traffic organization [ATO] total budget,” said Reason Foundation director of transportation policy Bob Poole in the group’s latest newsletter. “The FAA points out that international flights in FAA-controlled airspace are only 8.3 percent of total flights handled [according to 2011 data].”

Poole argued that looking at ADS-B from a simple numbers standpoint, however, is shortsighted. “The potential near-term benefits to flights in oceanic airspace from space-based ADS-B dwarf those from ADS-B in domestic airspace. Since there is no radar coverage of oceanic airspace, ATC separation over that 70 percent of the earth’s surface is procedural, meaning huge [air traffic] buffer zones both laterally and track wise,” he said.

According to Poole, the FAA’s cumbersome procurement processes, inwardly focused culture and the difficulty of convincing federal bureaucrats of the program’s ability to save the air traffic organization any money, constitute the main factors stymying ATC system progress.

Aireon, a joint venture between Iridium and Nav Canada, will use spare satphone satellite capacity to carry ADS-B receivers on its constellation of 66 new satellites set to begin launching next year. ADS-B will bring radar-like ATC services to nearly all the airspace on earth.