FAA officials showed a handful of aviation journalists a glimpse of the Next Generation Air Transportation System at EAA AirVenture on Thursday afternoon. Accompanied by FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and Associate Administrator for Safety Nicholas Sabatini, AVweb, along with three other aviation news organizations was given a demonstration aboard the $25 million Bombardier Global 5000 long-range business jet the agency uses as a flying testbed for new technology. In 10 to 15 years' time, all aircraft that do any kind of meaningful cross-country flights will need the gear onboard gear that makes ADS-B work, but the FAA is selling that aspect as a plus for safety and operational convenience. Wilson Felder, director of the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City that is evaluating the system, told reporters that ADS-B is something all pilots should want in their panels. He's flown with it personally for about 60 hours in his Cessna 172 and seen its value firsthand. "It's saved my life at least three times," he said. He noted that ADS-B will be implemented in the GA community first and data gathered on its integration will be used when the agency eventually starts using it as a critical element of the air traffic control system.
ADS-B works by making aircraft an active part of the traffic separation loop. The onboard equipment emits a signal once a second giving position, altitude and identity of the aircraft. Equipped aircraft can "see" each other's signals and those will be overlaid with ground-based signals, giving pilots a clear picture of the traffic around them. Sabatini said the system won't replace radar entirely, and radar data will also be uploaded to the onboard gear. Comprehensive weather information will also be provided continuously. He said the equipment is so accurate that he predicts major reductions in separation requirements and a change in role for air traffic controllers. "They will become airspace managers," he said. First deployment will be in the Gulf of Mexico, and eventually there will be 740 ground-based stations to provide coverage for the Lower 48. ADS-B has been part of the Project Capstone system in Alaska and is credited, along with the navigation gear that supports it, with dramatically reducing the accident rate in the state.