I stood there in astonishment as I watched the radarscope at Daytona Beach control tower. “As you can see, the targets update every second rather than the typical 5-7 seconds in terminal or 12-15 seconds in enroute facilities,” said Scott Forrest, a controller at Daytona tower. “We’re one of the first facilities in the country to feature this new radar scope.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes; from what I learned and practiced in my air traffic courses, radar targets don’t update every second. Why are these targets updating every second?
The answer was simple but completely unexpected to me: NextGEN. The “Next Generation Air Transportation System” is finally being phased into the air traffic system in the U.S.
Many regard NextGEN as the “Big Foot” of the aviation industry, but progress is being made to integrate the new satellite-based system into the current ground-based radar system that has been in place since the end of World War II.
Forrest explained to me that the new radarscope integrates secondary radar targets—transponder beacons from the “old” system—and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) data for real-time positioning reports on every aircraft equipped with ADS-B.
“ADS-B works where radar often doesn’t,” according to Garmin ADS-B Academy online, “even in remote areas or mountainous terrain. It can function at low altitudes and on the ground. It can also be used to monitor traffic on airport taxiways and runways.”
Pilots—even military and airline pilots—are now flying with portable ADS-B receivers, which allow them to see aircraft equipped with ADS-B transmitters on their tablets and receive subscription-free weather services. “What was once a nice-to-have gadget has become an essential part of risk management,” according to Sporty’s Pilot Shop.
Some of the hand-held devices also offer additional services beyond weather and traffic. The Stratus 2, one of the leading brands of hand-held ADS-B devices, features a built-in flight data recorder, terrain and collision avoidance and a complete Attitude Heading Reference System (AHRS) for backup attitude information in the cockpit.
In 2010, the FAA mandated that all aircraft must be enabled with ADS-B out transmitting capabilities by 2020 in order to fly in most controlled airspaces.
Private Pilot Jim Pantas has yet to invest in an ADS-B out transmitter for his Mooney. “I’ll wait until the price drops, which I assume will happen sometime in 2021…so until then I’ll avoid controlled airspace,” he said. But he’s excited about where ADS-B technology is heading. “I think we’ll see large advances in the next few years. The demand will only drive prices down,” said Pantas.
With ADS-B becoming mandated, many pilots will take the initiative to make their aircraft compliant, despite the potential financial investment of up to $5000 or more. The new ATC system in conjunction with ADS-B and other NextGEN technologies will make pilots more aware of their surrounding traffic and weather and will allow controllers a better view their traffic – subsequently making the skies safer for all that travel them.