Getting There

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WAAS Hardware Arrives...

The Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), the FAA’s oft-delayed augmentation system for GPS, might not quite be ready for prime time yet, but UPS Aviation Technology (UPSAT) announced last week that it has certified the world’s first WAAS receiver. Although this development represents a technical milestone, it doesn’t necessarily mean UPSAT is ready to market WAAS for light general aviation aircraft just yet. UPSAT obtained the FAA blessing for the AT9000-series ADS-B Link and Display Processing Unit (LDPU). Sounds complex ... and it is. This technology will serve as the engine for future GPS technology that will lead to WAAS-approved receivers for light aircraft. The LDPU will find application first in transport-category aircraft as part of multi-sensor nav systems but will eventually trickle down to smaller aircraft. Although UPSAT isn’t saying as much, it's about due for new product introductions in the GA market, probably sometime in 2003. The new WAAS-approved device will likely appear in those products. The FAA says WAAS is to receive initial operating certification no later than December 2003, but many in the industry think it will happen ... sooner.

...A LAAS Cause?

And while the WAAS concept seems to be moving forward, a parallel system for approach and landing phases of flight is not meeting expectations. The Local Area Augmentation System (LAAS) is "not yet working reliably 100 percent of the time and the cost is skyrocketing," David Barnes, a spokesman for the Transportation Department's Office of Inspector General, told the Chicago Tribune. Where WAAS relies entirely on satellite-based augmentation, LAAS transmits differential GPS corrections to aircraft via radio links from ground-based stations. Theoretically, it's more accurate than WAAS, especially in the vertical dimension, and thus is more suitable for precision approaches. It's not only budget and technical concerns that have affected the system's deployment, however. The system was intended to replace ground-based radar-control systems and ILSs but fears that terrorists could disrupt GPS transmissions have nixed that plan. The FAA is now trying to figure out a role for LAAS. "We are restructuring the contract to reduce technical risk and minimize cost," the agency said in a news release.