Air Transport World

What WAAS will be. (Wide Area Augmentation System; includes related article on improved accuracy of Global Positioning System)(Airports & Airways)

Contract award clears the way for airlines to reap the benefits of GPS navigation in 1998

What sound you heard last month probably was the final key unlocking the potential for the Global Positioning System to be the navigation technology of choice for the world aviation community. Last year, Federal Aviation Administrator David R. Hinson called this "the single most important advance in the history of navigation." He exhibited no fear of overstatement. With the completion in early 1998 of the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) contract, awarded last month to an industry team led by Wilcox in partnership with Hughes and TRW, GPS will be available to provide all of the en route navigation and Cat. I precision approach guidance as a "primary means" source within North America; elsewhere, as well, if the national regulatory bodies agree, says Joseph F. Dotter, FAA Satellite Navigation Program manager. The system is expected to be cleared for operational use in late 1998 or early 1999.

The accuracy, reliability and availability of GPS navigation is the cornerstone upon which the architecture of the Future Air Navigation System (FANS) is to be built, bringing with it the promise of great leaps of flight efficiency, economy, capacity and safety. Free Flight is a prime example of that efficiency (see related article, page 46).

While FAA and the avionics industry are supremely confident about the WAAS schedule and results, airlines may need a bit more convincing before they jump on the bandwagon with equipment orders.

From an airline's point of view, the basic motivations needed for new equipment orders still are developing: The system is not required; the WAAS operational target date was unrealistic until last month, when it was adjusted to allow for a 4-month delay; the immediate payoffs are not understood clearly; confidence has been low about FAA's ability to manage ATC technology programs; at least two years of software writing -- 150,000 lines of code --lie ahead; and avionics manufacturers are offering initial GPS hardware with the promise that software upgrades and a few more hardware purchases will keep them current, although they are unable to guarantee how far that updating process can go. …

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