The FAA’s $550 million system-wide information management (Swim) program to fashion a unified information management system from the various flight data, weather and advisory systems used in the National Airspace System calls to mind a hub-and-spoke computer network exchanging digital signals with the big iron in the sky. But thanks to the seemingly never-ending utility of tablet computers such as the Apple iPad, GA pilots operating closer to earth could realize the benefits of Swim.
That’s the premise of a recent Harris white paper, “Aircraft Access to Swim for General Aviation,” which describes a basic method by which GA operators might access Swim services when they become available later this decade using low-cost computing devices. The paper posits that GA aircraft could tap into the Swim information pool using a datalink radio and wireless router to transmit received information such as real-time airport status or meteorological data to an electronic flight (EFB) bag or mobile device. The device runs an application for a service provided by a third party “acting as a go-between” to Swim’s service-oriented architecture. The aircraft itself need not be fully Swim compliant.
“What has not been documented to date are the capabilities that Swim data could provide to legacy small GA aircraft that are not equipped with an FMS and are likely to fly only under” Part 91 or at most Part 135, the paper states. “It is in this low-end case that an affordable display (especially for legacy GA aircraft) is needed. In large transport aircraft, purchase [of] new Swim-capable avionics [represents] only a small percentage of the overall value of the aircraft; however, equipage cost to update legacy, smaller Part 23 GA aircraft could approach 100 percent of their hull value.”
Building blocks toward a Swim solution for GA already exist. The paper cites as an example the SkyRadar receiver and software offered by Radenna of Revere, Mass. The 978-MHz receiver is tuned to receive the free Flight Information Services-Broadcast (FIS-B) stream as well as traffic data coming from the FAA’s automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) ground stations. The receiver has an integrated GPS module and a Wi-Fi module that transmits data to an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. The SkyRadar software application running on a mobile device displays weather information, including Nexrad, TAF and Metar reports, notams and local air traffic overlaid on a moving map.
Another example of leveraging mobile devices in the cockpit is the Aspen Avionics Connected Panel system, introduced last July at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, which provides wireless, Bluetooth and USB connectivity between installed panel avionics and the iPad initially, to be followed by other devices. Already available software applications for Apple devices such as WingX, ForeFlight and FlightGuide potentially could be infused with Swim data in flight, the paper suggests.
The question arises: what will Swim provide that is not already available to GA pilots, or will be soon? “Several software providers already integrate special activity airspace [and] meteorological data, which is overlaid on the moving-map display,” study author Arthur Ahrens said in response to an AIN query. “One difference, though, is that the pilot will have access to real-time updates to airspace information and meteorological updates during the flight instead of taking along the most recent download obtained during the preflight briefing.”
Ahrens added that “the FAA is interested in providing real-time access to aeronautical information, especially with the ability to graphically show real-time pop-up TFRs (temporary flight restrictions) that would occur during a Presidential bus tour. Notams would be graphically represented on [the pilot’s] electronic chart. Real-time obstructions would be displayed, which is a valuable service for low-altitude helicopter services.”
Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris has demonstrated iPad and Windows-based PC connectivity with an Aeronautical Mobile Aircraft Communication System (AeroMacs) subscriber station. AeroMacs is an airport surface datalink that is capable of providing Swim services. GA aircraft could tap into the system using a “dongle,” or electronic key that plugs into an EFB or mobile device to activate a software application. One of the applications envisioned is “baseline synchronization” or uploading of the most recent aviation databases to an EFB, such as 28-day chart updates.
Ahrens said AeroMacs has been implemented at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and at Daytona Beach International Airport as a part of the Florida NextGen Testbed.
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