Air Transport World

Satellites seen as important in 21st century ATC system.

Satellites will handle nearly all aviation communication, navigation and surveillance duties early in the 21st century if the predictions of two largely independent U.S. studies become reality.

The two studies--one by FAA, the other by a Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics group--came to nearly identical conclusions because they both started with one key assumption. That assumption is that a post-2010 aviation system should be designed to provide communications, navigation and surveillance service worldwide, from the surface to 70,000 ft. The only way such broad coverage can be provided, both reports say, is with satellite-based systems. The importance of the FAA report was increased significantly when Administrator Donald Engen recently decided to adopt it as agency policy.

The RTCA report is the interim product of the Operations Working Group (OWG) of Special Committee 155, a major undertaking started at the request of FAA. The agency asked RTCA to look at user needs in the period immediately following that outlined by former Administrator J. Lynn Helms when he authored the National Airspace System Plan (NASP). In preparing the NASP, which is the blueprint for the U.S. air traffic control system through the turn of the century, Helms found too many uncertainties in the development and use of space-based systems to include such technology in the near-term plans he was making. Rather than ignore the potential benefits of space systems in a longer term, Helms went to the RTCA for help.

Repeat effort

In the 1940s RTCA's SC-31 wrote a report that became a guide for the development of the air traffic control system that exists today. Helms asked RTCA to repeat that effort for the post-NASP period, with an emphasis on the roles that might be played by space-based systems.

The work of the entire committee is not expected to be completed until November, but a major step was the development of the OWG report, a "wish list," so to speak, of what the aviation user and vendor communities wanted. The OWG chose "the clean sheet of paper" approach to its work to avoid getting tangled in attempts to develop Bandaids for shortcomings in existing systems, the report said. "The user needs set forth...are conceived almost unhampered by concerns of technical and fiscal limitations. 'Almost' because the group was sensitized to costs, and because the members of the group could not completely detach themselves from the technical means by which CNS (communications, navigation and surveillance) services could feasibly be provided," the report stated. …

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