Capstone Goes Mainstream

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Lessons learned in the wilds of Alaska may soon be applied at an airport near you. The FAA has announced that the experimental Capstone program, which implemented automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) service in some of the most challenging flying environments on earth, will be rolled into the national program to exploit the technology in the Lower 48. But the FAA says Alaskans need not fear the advances in safety and convenience they’ve pioneered will be somehow diluted as they join the national effort. In a Dec. 22 news release, the FAA promises that combining the programs “will advance the national ADS-B deployment while it accelerates safety improvements in Alaska.” Capstone was initiated in Alaska to help quell a disturbing accident rate. It was implemented in the YK Delta and Southeast Alaska where terrain and remoteness make establishing a radar network virtually impossible. The Capstone ADS-B, which uses ground stations and transponders to give pilots and ground personnel a radar-like picture of air traffic in the area, is credited with significantly reducing the accident rate in those areas of Alaska. The FAA has identified ADS-B as one of the front-line technologies for modernization and capacity expansion of the National Airspace System, but the catch is that all aircraft have to be equipped with the transponders for it to work. The FAA paid for the aircraft gear in the Capstone experiment, but whether that generous spirit will be maintained under the national program was not spelled out in the news release.