The FAA recently passed a major milestone in the move toward NextGen with the implementation of the 1,000th instrument approach that uses the enhanced GPS wide area augmentation system (WAAS). As of February 14, the FAA had approved 1,028 WAAS approaches at 577 airports, more than half of them general aviation facilities.
“The next generation air traffic control system (NextGen) is vital to the future of aviation in America, but it won’t be complete until 2025 or later,” said AOPA president Phil Boyer. “WAAS is an excellent example of things we are doing now and in the near future to improve the National Airspace System.”
Since WAAS was turned on three-and-a-half years ago, AOPA has been pressing the FAA to implement as many of the satellite-based approaches as possible each year. The association said the agency has diligently done so, implementing more than 300 each year.
While the airlines had originally favored an alternative to WAAS, at least one–Southwest Airlines–has announced plans to equip 200 of its Boeing 737s with WAAS-capable GPS receivers. AOPA has supported WAAS not only as a cost-saving measure, but because it has the potential to make virtually every public-use GA airport in the U.S. accessible as an all-weather airport.
According to AOPA, general aviation pilots and aircraft owners have embraced satellite navigation and the advanced capabilities of WAAS from the outset, with tens of thousands of airplanes already equipped to take advantage of WAAS.
WAAS allows the FAA to develop instrument approach procedures for airports without having to install and maintain expensive radio transmitters. A WAAS approach can cost as much as 20 times less to implement than a traditional ILS, and with the right airport lighting system is as precise as an ILS for GA use. In addition, as the FAA transitions to a NextGen that includes WAAS, the agency will no longer need to pay to maintain costly ground-based infrastructure.
“There is a lot of talk about NextGen, a satellite-based air traffic control system that is envisioned for 20 years down the road,” said Boyer, “but WAAS is an example of what I like to call ‘NowGen’–technologies to improve air traffic that are either here today or will be ready to deploy in the next three to five years.”