Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jetstar Offers iPad-based IFE System

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In November 2011, Jetstar, a low-fare airline that serves Australia, New Zealand, and the western rim of the Pacific, introduced an inflight entertainment (IFE) system that displays the latest Hollywood movies, TV shows, music, games, and electronic books and magazines on Apple iPads that passengers rent for $10 to $15 per flight.

The system was developed in partnership with Bluebox Avionics, a British company that developed the wireless hardware and operation software, and Stellar Inflight, a leading provider of inflight content and technical services. Headquartered in Sydney, Australia, Stellar has offices in Los Angeles, Kula Lumpur, and Dubai. Jetstar started with 3,000 iPads, available on the Airbus fleet that serves the airline’s Asia network.

“Doing things first and doing them differently are key to Jetstar’s success,” said Jetstar CEO Bruce Buchanan. “We’ve listened to our customers and know in-flight entertainment is an important part of their overall travel experience, so we’ve made sure the new iPads offer the very best viewing experience.” 

An alternate, and even more cost effective, approach to Wi-Fi IFE deployment is available from ASIG. Recognizing that more than 80% of the flying public, whether business or leisure traveler, already carry their own web enabled device such as a laptop, smartphone, etc. in their on-board luggage. Their approach is to defer the expenses associated with acquiring, accounting for, and maintaining a fleet of rental iPads or other tablet devices and deploy a stand-alone content distribution technology which support all industry standards including HTML/HTML5, MP3 and H.264 video streaming to name just a few. The OnBoard Server delivers a Wi-Fi buffet of AVOD (Audio/Video On-Demand) content to them and was certified in 2010 for a customer’s Boeing 737 NG. Users access the aircraft IFE system from their personal devices in a way that they are most accustomed to, intact with their personally customized content settings.

image13Powered by Avionica equipment and integrated with the satLINK satcom system, the OnBoard terminal measures 10.5-by-7.2-by-1.65-inches. Easily removable, it is securely mounted in a lockable dock; combined, the server and mount weigh 9 pounds. Keeping pace with new technology is simply a matter of remotely and wirelessly pushing content updates or plugging a freshly updated server into the dock. OnBoard can also reduce the time and money it takes to keep an aircraft mission ready by storing all the necessary manuals, databases, LRU operating software, and other data.

Combining an OnBoard system with ASIG’s EmPower In-Seat Power Supply system (LRU’s by Astronics AES) will keep the passengers’ personal electronic devices operating at full capacity throughout the flight. The system delivers filtered power that eliminates the hazards of improper charging, eliminating hazards to the aircraft, passengers and crew. It is a unified system that will make your passengers’ travel experience rewarding and your company memorable.

 Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Waiting for NextGen: Possible Progress

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When it comes to developing and implementing the Next Generation Air Transportation System, there is no chicken or egg quandary when listing the impediments it must overcome. Technical challenges and industry acceptance and integration follow the political process that allocates the funds that make the project possible.

Congress has punted the long-term FAA reauthorization bill nearly two dozen times, stalling NextGen progress. But that could change by Christmas, reported the Daytona Beach News-Journal. John Mica, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure predicted that a long-term FAA funding bill would be under the tree, ready for the president’s signature.

NextGen Testbed OpeningMica and his committee met at the Daytona Beach of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in mid-November to open the renovated NextGen Test Bed. One of three such facilities (the others are the FAA Tech Center in New Jersey and a NASA facility near DFW), it develops and tests NextGen technology. Equipped with ADS-B in 2003, ERAU’s training fleet of 64 aircraft log roughly 65,000 hours a year, enabling real-world end-to-end evaluations of NextGen systems.

Doubling the facility’s space to 10,000 square feet, the renovation prepares the site for its third phase, working toward, among other things, a 300-percent increase in traffic through the use of continuous ascent and descent procedures. Phase II was dedicated to integrating airport surface monitoring and arrivals and departures into SWIM, the system-wide information management system. Phase I, begun in 2008, focused on 4D weather and trajectory display systems for air traffic controllers.

Svc MapDespite the impediment of unpredictable funding, the NextGen team has been making progress with its available resources. Its website presents a map that lists the progress made at airports nationwide. And earlier this year, the FAA and European Union signed an agreement for joint research that ensures NextGen with the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) compatibility and interoperability of avionics, communication protocols and procedures, and operational methods. In other words, seamless air traffic service to aircraft flying between the US and Europe.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

ASIG Establishes Military Advisory Board

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In life and in business, especially in the 21st century, two essential realities are that no one has all the answers and success depends on efficiently and economically meeting a clearly defined real need. To further these principles in products developed for the  Department of Defense projects, ASIG has formed a Military Advisory Board
Composed of five to seven  officers retired from all branches of the military, each will commit to a three-year term to provide continuity. The MAB’s mission is to mentor and provide focused, confidential feedback to ASIG’s management team in a two-step process:
First, ASIG will brief the MAB members on a proposed product development program. Comprehensive and appropriate to the product, it will include everything from notational designs and functional, operational, and software specifications to sales and marketing materials delivered in print and digital mediums, and in-person at trade events.
The MAB will give its feedback through a confidential survey. Based on the members’ vast and varied military experience, each of member will assess how well the product will serve, support, and benefit the intended user and mission. This includes applicable logistics, strategic/tactical employment of technology, ergonomics, durability, ease of maintenance, process improvement, and other appropriate factors. It will also provide similar feedback on the sales and marketing materials.
Retired Air Force Major General James L. Hobson (above) has accepted the chairmanship of ASIG’s Military Advisory Board. A command pilot with more than 6,500 hours in numerous fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, he led the Air Force Special Operations Command until his retirement in 1997. He holds post-graduate degrees in systems management and international studies from USC and the Naval War College, and Harvard University’s senior executive program in national and international security.
Joining him are Colonel Richard Shurtleff and Colonel Len Friedlander, both retired U.S. Air Force, Colonel Kennon Hines, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, and Navy Reserve Captain Steven Schellberg.
Col. Shurtleff is an Air Force Academy grad, a command pilot with experience in materials, logistics, and information technology. Col. Friedlander has dedicated his military and subsequent private sector career to information technology and its management. A former Blue Angel, Col. Hines has extensive experience in aeronautical engineering, R&D, and media relationships. A graduate of and senior flight instructor at the US Navy Test Pilot School, Capt. Schellberg specializes in all aspects of rotary-wing engineering and fight.
Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Power Conditioning Keeps EFBs Cool

Lithium batteries power the portable electronic devices that make life more enjoyable and work more efficient. Just ask any pilot with an iPad Electronic Flight Bag (EFB). But these rechargeable power sources have a dark side. When they lose their cool, a  thermal runaway threatens everything around them. 

Given the battery’s size, how bad could the risk of fire, explosion, and toxic fumes be? Consider the following, and remember that regardless the source—external or internal—heat is heat. 

FAA Fights Lithium Battery Fire
After analyzing the 92 battery incidents of all types that occurred during transport operations between 1991 and 2007, the DOT determined four likely causes. Only one, the second on the list, is a risk for EFB: in-use with improper charging and discharging.

Think of rush-hour commuters heading in opposite directions on the same path at the same time. Outbound power flows from the negative to positive terminal. With a voltage higher than the battery produces, the charge muscle’s its way in, positive to negative. How much power the EFB needs for the selected task complicates this conflict. 

There are two ways to mitigate this risk when bringing iPad EFBs into the cockpit: Go with the battery as the primary power and deal with the FAA limitations on use and power levels. Or connect ASIG’s fixed Power Conditioning Module (PCM) or portable Power Conditioning Unit (PCU) to the airplane’s 28-volt DC bus.

PCMPart of ASIG’s flyTab suite of EFB products, both units employ the same technology. In simple terms, they protect the airplane and EFB by constantly monitoring the in-use charge/discharge power requirements and providing clean, filtered power to an Apple 30-pin connector used with the iPad, iPhone, or iPod.

Beyond intelligent thermal management, the PCM/U weighs less than .5 pounds and employs passive (no fan) cooling. They include GFI circuit protection, over-current and over-voltage protection, and connection load sensing. Soft, backlighted LEDs (to protect night vision)  indicate “power available” and “system status.” 

Designed to military specs, the modules exceed the FAA’s Part 25 design and operating requirements for power supply systems for personal electronic devices. And they satisfy the FAA Order 8900.1 requirements in  Paragraphs 4-1644(E)(3) for secondary EFB power sources and 4-1648(A)(1) for EFB power source airworthiness requirements.

Both are designed and tested to meet RTCA/D0-160 specs for 28 VDC electrical transients operating at full load between –40C and 55C. They also proved themselves as neither victim nor source of EMI or RMI, rapid decompression left them unfazed.

Installing the PCM on N-registered aircraft requires an STC and a separate aircraft-specific installation kit, both of which ASIG can provide. The PCU does not require an STC for use with a Class I EFB. For complete details on the flyTab suite of EFB solutions, contact ASIG and learn how you can reap the iPad EFB rewards and mitigate the risks of its lithium power.

Monday, August 29, 2011

United Issues iPad EFBs to its Pilots

WMAQ-TV Report on United Airlines Use if iPad EFBs

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It seems like every time we turn on TV there’s another story about an airline that has issued the iPad electronic flight bag to it’s pilots. United is the latest, issuing the 1.5-pound tablet to its 11,000 pilots in place of a 40-pound satchel filled with paper. The captain interviewed above says the weight savings will cut 326,000 gallons from United’s annual fuel bill. 

If you want to know what it will take to introduce the iPad EFB to your cockpits, ASIG can provide more than answers. Starting with iPads that have proven their EMI and rapid decompression durability, ASIG can provide power supplies, data connections, and Class II mounts that unleash the iPad’s full capabilities. (For more details, see ASIG Certifies iPad EFB on N-Jet Charter Fleet.)

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Airline Innovations a Growing Presence at EAA AirVenture

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AV11-151General aviation predominates at EAA AirVenture, but the makers of transport category aircraft and their systems are a growing presence at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, event held July 25 to August 1. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner occupied center stage midweek, followed by a Southwest Airlines NextGen 737, complete with its distinctive satellite antenna hump that feeds the airplane’s cabin WiFi system. People formed long lines to tour both jets.

Rockwell Collins debuted its exhibit chalet that promoted its avionics systems for business and transport category aircraft, including the 787. In return for completing a marketing survey that gauged the participant’s knowledge of the company the respondent received a branded straw hat. In opposite corners of the chalet visitors availed themselves of hands-on demonstrations of the avionics capabilities.

AV11-24Absent this year was the FAA’s Washington, D.C., contingent that normally presents updates on programs such as the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Laminated notices stood by empty chairs where FAAers normally sat while answering questions one on one. Randy Babbitt did make it for his annual “Meet the FAA Administrator” session on Thursday. He apologized for the FAA’s absence and said that right now, after aviation safety, getting its 21st temporary funding measure through Congress was the FAA’s first priority, so those furloughed could resume work on everything from airport construction projects to system development. Getting long-term funding was second. Third was the continued implementation of NextGen.

Jeppesen Debuts Mobile FliteDeck & Digital Data

In the hands of participants and exhibitors Apple iPads and tablet computers like them were a dominant presence, as were the mounts that secured them to a pilot’s leg or aircraft. Jeppesen announced its new Mobile FliteDeck app that delivers interactive en route charts, terminal charts, and text, all derived from truly digital data, not memory hungry digital scans. Express JeppView’s space saving vector images vastly expand the coverage area, load quickly, and provide seamless coverage. Updates from Jepp’s global library are available worldwide. 

Jepp Mobile FliteDeck image 3FliteDeck includes own-ship position and route overlay and the ability to view the complete library of charts, diagrams, and Airway Manual Text. The digital data enables pilots to declutter charts, selecting the information they need to see, when they need to see it. A “scrubber” does the same for terminal charts. The “favorites” function provides quick, one-touch access to airport and en route charts.

At the media announcement, the Jepp rep made it clear that the app builds on the success of the Jeppesen Mobile TC for the iPad, and that FliteDeck is available for the general, business, commercial, and military aviation markets. He added that many operators will need FAA approval for in-flight use, a process that includes rapid decompression testing, which ASIG has successfully demonstrated.

Aspen’s Connected Panel Integrates Mobile Devices

Aspen Connected panelAspen Avionics demonstrated its new patent-pending line of Connected Panel hardware, software, and apps that employ two-way WiFi communication to seamlessly integrate aviation data from personal electronic devices with certificated avionics installed in the aircraft. This technology is enabled by Aspen’s Evolution Flight Displays, and it will be available at the end of 2011 through Aspen dealers.

The initial apps are in development for Apple iOS and Android platforms. They are based on an open hardware architecture and application programming interface. Connected Panel developers will have access to an open API with no licensing or royalty fees.

The Connected Panel hardware is a small, blind-mounted box, the CG100. It contains wireless, Bluetooth, and USB connections and flash memory storage. Employing commercially available technology, it features standard protocol ports and communication slots that will allow developers to add peripheral hardware to the CG100 as needed for their own applications.

Aspen Connected Pilot iPad app tuning w iPadConnected Pilot is the initial Connected Panel product. It includes the ability to tune radios and cross-fill flight plans from the iPad to the Bendix-King KSN 770, a GPS nav-com currently being developed by Honeywell and Aspen Avionics. ForeFlight will release a new version of ForeFlight Mobile with Connected Pilot capability that will enable pilots to plan flights on the iPad and load it into the KSN 770.

Aspen has been actively cultivating partnerships with those who will employ Connected Panel technology in new products of their own. They include AvConnect, Jeppesen, JP Instruments, Parrot, Pinnacle Aerospace, PS Engineering, Seattle Avionics, and Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

Avidyne Launches Plug & Play Touch-Screen Avionics

Avidyne touch screenAvidyne Corporation, long known for its glass panels, has launched a full-line of general aviation avionics. Available in 2012, they are plug & play replacements for other brands. Standing out is the IFD540 touch-screen FMS/GPS nav-com. The FMS meets TSO-C146c for full SBAS/LPV approach guidance and features one-touch airway and jet route navigation. Looking forward to the 2020 deadline imposed by NextGen, Avidyne’s new AXP340 Mode S plug & play transponder with extended squitter meets the NextGen ADS-B Out requirements. The transponder combines with the ADS-B In capable TAS600A Series Traffic Advisory System to complete NextGen capabilities.

HondaJet Natural Laminar Flow Wing

AV11-40In the Honda chalet was a huge metal panel obviously the product of a CNC mill. Covering its jeweled slightly concave surface was a grid of integral stiffeners. Milled from a single 2,500-pound billet of aluminum alloy, it was the top skin of the HondaJet’s natural laminar flow wing (NLF). With the ribs as part of the skin, the upper and lower panels essentially bolt to the spar, seriously reducing the parts count. With the rigid, smooth surface, Honda said the NLF delivers a high maximum lift coefficient, low profile drag, and reduced performance penalties due to leading edge bug contamination, a problem with conventional laminar flow airfoils.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Paris Airshow Review: Buy New & Wait

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All told, operators worldwide bought more than $100 billon worth of new airplanes from Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, and Bombardier at the 49th International Paris Air Show, held  June 20-26 at Le Bourget. The 660 orders for the single-aisle Airbus A320NEO (new engine option) fueled  speculation on whether Boeing would build new or re-engine its venerable 737.

Paris 49These sales reports surely result in  sleepless nights for those who operate late model and legacy transport category aircraft. So that you’ll sleep better, note that the news never fully addressed one aspect of buying new: delivery positions, and how many years operators had to wait for their new airplanes. Nor did reports mention inevitable delays and cost overruns.

When you get right down to it, operators buying new airplanes are really after just two things, efficient powerplants and modern avionics. Avionics is a supporting player at Paris, but L-3 Aviation Communication & Surveillance Systems announced a contract for its commercial NextGen/SESAR products in the new US Air Force’s Boeing 767 tanker.

In the flurry order-count reports, International Lease Finance  CEO Henri Courpron was the voice of pragmatic reason: “Does a child want a new toy? Of course. Everybody wants a new airplane, but there comes a time to ask the parental, adult questions [such as], ‘How much will it cost?’ and ‘Do we need it?’”

Given all this, ask yourself, “Why buy new and wait—and pay extra for the airframe you really don’t need—when ASIG can deliver what you want now?”  Avionics, IFE or other sensors and controls, it can meet your needs on your schedule at a cost far below that of new. By upgrading what you need now, you’ll reap the savings while others are awaiting for their number to come down the production line.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Adopting Technology: Three Takes on COTS Electronic Flight Bags

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[EFB-PR2[4].jpg]The benefits of using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) tablets like the Apple iPad as electronic flight bags (EFBs) are easy to grasp. A typical pilot’s flight bag, filled with all the necessary manuals, charts, and other required documents weighs between 35 and 50 pounds, depending on each airline’s requirements.

An iPad or similar device holds all of it, and it weighs roughly 1.5 pounds. That translates to millions saved in fuel, paper, printing, distribution, revision time, and healthcare costs related to the contortions required to maneuver heavy flight bags in tight cockpits.

The challenge is how to adopt this new technology and integrate its use in an airline’s operations. It is not a one-size-fits all, as the paths taken by Alaska, American, and Southwest will show. As discussed in a previous issue of Wired, N-Jets, a Part-135 carrier, chose another route, in which ASIG guided it to the industry’s inaugural A061 iPad EFB approval in 2010

American is a cautious early adopter. According to the company, it was the first Part-121 carrier the FAA authorized to use iPad EFBs. By meeting the requirements collected in FAA InFO 11011, dated May 13, 2011, American can use the Class I EFB, which runs Jeppesen software and data and provides operational and navigation and approach information in all phases of flight.

With this approval, American started a test program with select crews. Boeing 777 pilots based at LAX are conducting the final testing of iPad as Class I EFBs. Upon satisfactory completion of these tests that prove the unit’s full operational and navigation capabilities, American will make the final decision on its integration, whether it will assign iPad EFBs to each pilot or each aircraft in its fleet.

Alaska Airline EFB Video from USA Today

Rather than phase in a fully capable EFB, Alaska Airlines has issued iPads with limited capabilities to all of its pilots. “The initial iPad deployment provides 20 company manuals, two checklists, and other pilot information files,” said Sarah Dalton, Alaska director of airspace and technology. Good Reader displays the documents. Pilots also have access to company websites and e-mail outside the aircraft.

Pilots now have access to information on and off the aircraft, she continued. They update this data through a secure company portal accessible from any WiFi Internet connection, and “a time-date stamp will appear next to the file when the synchronization process is complete.” This cost-effective technology saves the time and money associated with  about 2.4 million pieces of paper.

A Class I device is not approved for all phases of flight, Alaska crews must power down below 10,000 feet. To provide operational and navigation information during these phases of flight “We will be putting paper aeronautical charts on the aircraft directly rather than issuing them to each pilot,” said Dalton.

With the paper flight bag as the primary information source, the initial iPad deployment required no changes in the airline’s operating specifications, she said. “Ultimately we want to stop carrying paper and will need an operation specification to do that. To get to that point, all the pilots will need to be proficient on the iPad and the company updating process must function reliably . We anticipate that the operation specification will be in place in the late summer/early fall time frame.”

Once the iPad proves itself in this arena, Alaska will take the next step, either installing a Class II mount for the iPad and certifying it for full operational and navigational use in all phases of flight or integrating it with a traditional EFB.

Share the Spirit LogoSouthwest Airlines operates with “paper flight bags that are aircraft-centric, not pilot-centric,” said Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven. Because pilots vastly outnumber airplanes, this efficiently reduces the pages it must create, distribute, and revise. Southwest has been studying and evaluating iPad technology as it matures, but it does not now have an active EFB program.

The pluses are clear, he said, but so are the minuses. “I’m not sure that the process is reliable, and you’ve got the investment in technology that needs to be on the airplane, and whether it would be with the pilot or the airplane.” Pilots often need several documents at the same time, which means they would have to flip to them because the iPad cannot display more than one readable document at a time.

Given these nuances, the iPad “is an interesting and advancing piece of technology,” said Van de Ven, but “I’m not sure that at this stage of development that it produces a substantial improvement over the way we operate today.” But he clearly recognizes that “the technology is moving so fast in that area that what I say today may or may not be true a year and half from today, or even next month.”

In other words, the imperative is that airlines need to keep current with the latest developments in all aspects of aviation technology to fully evaluate how they may benefit their operations. That includes putting the technology to work. As ASIG learned with N-jets certification effort, stepping up required the development and integration of FAA-compliant, thermal mitigating, iPad-compliant external power supplies, Class II mounting solutions, and custom software apps that meet the operator’s needs.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Monday, June 20, 2011

3 Miles & 5 Years = SWA’s RNP ROI

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Southwest Share the Spirit Logo.When it comes to their preparations for the Next Generation Air Transportation System, the headline of a recent MarketWatch story summarizes the situation, Airlines Uneasy Over Costly Bid to Replace Radar, and the subhead explains why: Slow US moves to satellite plan have carriers questioning their investment. And then there’s Southwest, the nation’s most consistently successful airline.

As we reported earlier this year, Southwest Airlines stepped up to one component of the NextGen challenge and invested four years and, according to the MarketWatch story, $175 million to equip its 345 Boeing 737-700s for required navigation performance (RNP) and train the crews who fly them. The news focused on results, increased safety and fuel economy,  an estimated $16 million a year based on RNP approaches at 11 of its destinations, and $60 million saved when RNP approaches feed all of them. 

michael_van_de_venCurious about motive, we contacted Southwest, which led to a genial, half-hour conversation with Mike Van de Ven,  executive vice president and chief operating officer. A member of the Southwest family since 1993, he’s worked his way up in the areas now his responsibility including operations, planning, analysis, and finance. “We’ve seen a nice return on our fuel burn estimates by flying as many RNP approaches as possible,” he said.

Southwest based its RNP return on a “3-mile track savings on our arrivals and departures,” he continued. With NextGen in its infancy, “we thought [the 3-mile metric] would be fairly conservative.” Depending on fuel prices, “we’ll probably need about five years to get the return out of that, assuming you can get the RNP procedures at all these airports.” 

Bringing RNP approach capabilities to its 737-700 fleet was part of a larger cockpit enhancement program that included primary flight display/navigational display, GPS, dual flight management computers, auto throttles, and other components that brought the “cockpit automation up to par,” said Van de Ven. Bringing the rest of its fleet, roughly 200 older 737s, up to par is now in the planning and design stage, but before pulling the trigger, “we’re watching the air traffic control and RNP benefits play out.”

Given the scope of the Southwest cockpit upgrade, said Van de Ven, in regards to RNP and NextGen, “we weren’t starting from the same spot as a lot of other carriers. [It was] probably the biggest upgrades we’ve done, in terms of how we fly the airplanes, in the last 10 or 15 years…and it would be hard to parse RNP out of that.” Adding RNP to the airline’s operating specifications and training its pilots was part of the upgrade. “We tried to sync up the equipage on the airplanes with the phase of training with the ops spec approval so that once we were approved to fly the ops spec, that we were able to do that with the [NextGen] fleet,” said Van de Ven. “We started that January 11, 2011.”

Calling RNP “a foundational pillar of the next generation air traffic control system,” it is a logical first step because it provides an immediate return. NextGen, said Van de Ven, “is a complex project. It has equipage ramifications, training ramifications, design ramifications, and political ramifications. No question, it’s a difficult project for the FAA to manage. We’re trying to be the best partner with them as we can and work with them in any way we can to help make sure that these procedures are rolled out, that they are effective, and that we’re getting benefit from them.” 

Teams as Southwest are looking at other NextGen components, such as ADS-B and data communication, but “we’d like to see the benefits of RNP play out more fully across the air traffic control system before we make further commitments and investments in additional NextGen technology.” Once RNP approaches lead to the majority of its destinations, “and air traffic controllers say yes as many times as they can when an RNP route is available…we can see the industry to begin to gain momentum on that, I think you’ll have people rushing to do all the other things needed to roll out the next generation air traffic control system.” 

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Competition: Where Do You Stand?

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Reading government documents isn’t very much fun sometimes, but it often reveals informative tidbits that pose provocative questions such as the headline of this post. Below is the inspiration for that headline, found  on page 43 of the FAA’s NextGen Implementation Plan of March 2011.

Equip Levels

The Air Transport estimates are based on coordination with operators, meaning the FAA compared the various systems it has approved and did the math with the total number of operating certificates it’s issued. The GA numbers were derived from the annual FAA general aviation and air taxi survey.

The good news is that air transport is way ahead of GA in preparing for NextGen. The bad news is that air transport operators rarely compete head-to-head with GA. They fight it out with other operators like them. So, looking at the list, where do you stand? Are you well on your way or still thinking about a course of action?

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that, with the ADS-B Out requirement in 2020, that you have a lot of time. Nearly all of the NextGen components,—PBN/RNP, ADS-B, and Data Link Communication—are up and running in various parts of the nation. Like rocks of technology strategically dropped into the airspace pool, their rings of operational readiness are growing ever larger.  Most air transport airports will be data-com capable by 2015, and by 2018 the FAA estimates their cumulative operational savings at $23 billion. 

Those savings are and will be reaped by operators whose numbers derive the table’s percentages. This truth will grow even more sharper in the near future as the FAA acts on is promise to serve first those best equipped for NextGen. Everyone else will have to take a number, which is just one line item on the total price of procrastination, which increases rapidly with the mandatory equipage requirements.

Integrating NextGen avionics into a fleet doesn’t happen over night. Southwest Airlines invested four years in getting the majority of its 737 fleet equipped for RNP operations and Jet Blue invested two years in getting its fleet equipped with ADS-B. And they were working with newer aircraft, which make the integration of new capabilities easier, quicker, and less expensive.

NextGen is all about technology that makes air transport quick, efficient, and economical without sacrificing customer convenience. Still, only one airplane at a time can occupy an airport’s operational runways. As an integrator of NextGen avionics in transport category aircraft, ASIG faces similar constraints, so remember, in nearly all endeavors, the spoils of life usually go to prompt planners who act.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Class 2 EFB Changes ROI Equation

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Aviation’s transition to a digital environment has been, for some time, a question of “When?” not “If?” There’s no denying that deciding when to upgrade a fleet for the Next Generation Air Transportation System involves a complex decision-making  equation. An important variable is when NextGen services will come online and start paying a return on the investment.

[EFB-PR2[4].jpg]When a system starts earning its keep is not a variable in stepping up to an electronic flight bag (EFB). As one of ASIG’s clients has proven (see ASIG Certifies iPad EFB on N-Jet Charter Fleet), the return on investment begins almost immediately. Jeppesen is one provider of EFB information. Touting its services in a whitepaper, Airside Services: Simplifying the Transition to Electronic Flight Bags, it estimated that more than 95 percent of globally operating commercial aircraft still rely on paper.

Why? Is it because operators are looking at the EFB extremes?

At the low end are Class 1 units, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)  computers like the Apple iPad that operate independently of aircraft power or data. As a personal electronic device, historically this unit must be turned off during takeoff and landing. This is when pilots have the greatest need for  EFB information, so there’s little or no return on that investment.

Class 3 EFBs are the high end of the spectrum. Hard wired into the airplane’s panel, they are heavy, expensive, and subject to the same requirements as all other installed avionics. Consequently, integrating them in a fleet of aircraft is expensive and time consuming, and time and money are important variables in any ROI evaluation.

So it seems that the Class 2 EFB is just right for any operator looking to balance benefits with time, money, and weight. Like Class 1, its digital heart in a COTS PED like the iPad. Unlike the Class 1, however, its connection to aircraft power and data resolves any issues of possible system interference , which means it provides uninterrupted information from block to block. And its mounting bracket keeps it in constant view of the pilot.

Most are aware of the manifest benefits of an electronic flight bag. All the navigation charts, operation manuals, company procedures, minimum equipment lists, and all the other information pilots must have at their fingertips fill each pilot’s “brain bag” with reams of paper that tip the scales at 50 pounds or more. In electronic form they weight no more than the system that stores and displays the data.

But there are other, equally important benefits, not often recognized. With paper, each pilot is responsible for keeping his flight bag current. Being who they are, pilots devise their own process for executing these critical revisions. And the chances for human error increase with the number of revisions they must make—and the time they have to perform them.

Employing wireless technology and unique radio-frequency identification of each EFB, an operator (with its data provider) can upload a standardized flight bag revision that has been created and verified by a team dedicated to this effort. This not only saves the time and money it takes to print and distribute revisions, it ensures accurate, on-time revisions that enhance the operator’s goals of safety, efficiency, and economy. All pilots have to do is call up the information they need—when they need it—without worrying about its accuracy or currency.

When it comes to Class 2 EFB integrations, ASIG has found that the most pressing question is whether to assign a pair of iPads to each aircraft in an airline’s fleet, or issue one to each pilot. Applying the rule of thumb that there are eight pilots for every aircraft provides a quick count, but the answer depends on the capabilities the operator wishes to employ beyond those needed in flight. With a removable Class 2 EFB’s wireless connection, pilots could use them for related tasks, such as bidding schedules. This is one of the many variables in the EFB investment equation that ASIG can help operators compute—and execute.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

NextGen SWIMs in a Pool of Linked Data

Welcome to Wired!

Data communication—a digital link between pilots, ATC, and an airline’s operations center (AOC)–is  (after PBN and ADS-B) the next building block  in the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Playing an essential role in every phase of flight, data comm is coming soon to airspace near you.

NextGen Phase of FlightIn 2012, the FAA should pick a vendor to  deploy and maintain the VHF data link (VDL) network that will serve aircraft equipped with a Future Air Navigation System(FANS). Towers should offer data comm departures by 2015, with en route centers right behind them, according to the FAA’s 2011 NextGen Implementation Plan.

SWIM, the System Wide Information Management system, unites the data pool. Sharing information from all sources, it gives everyone connected a common situational awareness, real-time information on airspace and terminal constraints, from congestion to weather, and ATC’s mitigation strategy.

Last year, the Corridor Integrated Weather System was the first ATC component connected to SWIM, followed by the Integrated Terminal Weather System in January 2011. Airport surface information is set for 2012, and all seven ATC systems should be in the SWIM by 2015. 

Data comm is not new. In 1978, ARINC introduced the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS).  An ICAO air traffic management (ATM) improvement committee, formed in 1983, took the next step. Seeing the capabilities of satellite-based digital communication, navigation, and surveillance (CNS), it conceived the data-linked FANS. 

Boeing unveiled FANS-1 in the early 1990s. Airbus followed with its FANS-A. Most airliners built since then are equipped with FANS-1/A, the ATM system for oceanic airspace. Adding a VDL module provides the FANS-1/A+ capabilities necessary for congested U.S. airspace. (ITA approaches are another benefit.)

The FAA demonstrated part of the system at Memphis in 2009. Working with FedEx, the Collaborative Departure Queue Management (CDQM) system shares real-time aircraft position data with controllers, pilots, airline operation centers, airport operators, and the ATC System Command Center. Instead of making a fuel sucking stop-and-go taxiway creep, flights hold at the gate until its their turn to make the nonstop trip for takeoff.

Last year, a version of this system kept things moving during the four-month improvement of JFK’s longest runway and its adjoining taxiways. And at Boston Logan, a one-month test of N-Control, the NextGen component that determines the maximum number of aircraft to push-back into the active movement area without slowing the constant flow departing aircraft, saved operators 18 hours of taxi-out time and 5,100 gallons of fuel.

VDL/FANS-1A+ enables departure clearances and airborne reroutes. As push-back time nears, data comm delivers the clearance. If necessary the pilots can negotiate changes with ATC before accepting the clearance, which feeds it to the plane’s flight management system. Reroutes work in a similar manner. ATC will assign reroutes as offsets. Tailored to each flight, the FAA says these offsets turn a single published route “into a multilane highway in the sky.”

imageThe Aeronautical Telecommunications Network (ATN) is a newer data comm system. Developed through ICAO, Europe is implementing Baseline 1, which can be integrated without modifying the navigation system on most aircraft. The FAA plans to implement ATN Baseline 2, which provides many more operational capabilities. ATN Baseline 3, which is now in development and undergoing international harmonization, will enable full implementation of NextGen’s long-term capabilities.

Data comm now provides routine and strategic information and will shortly automate a number of prosaic pilot and controller tasks. It will identify flight path conflicts, such as traffic or bad weather, and recommend a change in trajectory or speed to eliminate it. Using real-time flight data it will calculate and communicate safe, efficient, arrival details right down to gate assignment.

If necessary, pilots and ATC negotiate changes in FMS-ready data messages, which precisely and accurately convey more details in less time than it takes to talk about it. This reduces not only voice frequency congestion but miscommunications and fat-finger data entry errors. And it preserves voice channels for the most critical exchange of information.

Perhaps the most important aspect of data comm given in its 2011 NextGen Implementation is this: “The FAA is evaluating potential scenarios for best-equipped, best-served in which aircraft with this capability may receive more rapid or efficient reroutes during inclement weather.” Clearly, it is a case of sink or swim in a pool of data, and ASIG can get your fleet ready to dive in and move out.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

NextGen Now & Just Ahead

Welcome to Wired!

In March 2011 the FAA updated its NextGen Implementation Plan. Filling 100 pages, it gives the status of the agency’s transition to the 21st century international airspace system, noting what it has accomplished and what’s next on the agenda.

ADS-B MapDeployment of ADS-B ground infrastructure is on time and budget. Already in operation at numerous locations, it has been integrated in all four ATC automation platforms, setting the stage for its integration and staff training at ATC facilities nationwide. As required by the 2010 final rule, by 2020 aircraft must have ADS-B out to operate in most controlled airspace.

This fall the ADS-B In Aviation Rulemaking Committee should submit its final recommendations on the technology that displays information in the cockpit. These recommendations will ensure compatibility with ADS-B Out avionics.

Taking traffic and fuel prices into consideration, the FAA estimates that by 2018 NextGen will reduce ground and flight delays by roughly 35 percent. The FAA estimates that this will save operators, travelers, and the FAA $23 billion, and 1.4 billion gallons of fuel during this period. 

Demonstrations and trials of NextGen capabilities have proven successful and their test sites, usually hub airports. At the international gateways of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami OPDs (optimized profile descents), which reduce step-downs, and ITAs (initial tailored arrivals), an OPD variation usually employed by international flights, are transitioning from demonstrations to operational use.

An ITA is a pre-negotiated arrival path through the airspace of multiple ATC facilities that limits vectoring and altitude step-downs. Pilots request an ITA while in cruise and, if available, the controller transmits clearance data, which includes a descent profile with speed and altitude parameters, to the aircraft. This requires the aircraft to be equipped with FANS (future air navigation system) avionics, which includes the necessary data link. Once received, the pilots load the ITA into the FMS before descent. 

RNP MapIn 2010 the FAA exceeded its PBN  (performance based navigation) goal, publishing 51 high-altitude and 90 arrival-and-departure routes. In 2011, the FAA is focusing on streamlining arrivals and departures at clustered metroplex airports in North Texas. By 2016 this effort will “deconflict” arrivals and departures at 21 such areas. Next up are Atlanta, Houston, Southern California, Northern California, and Charlotte. This should be a heads-up to operators who fly there. Equipping aircraft now will pay an early return on the investment.

The FAA also published 59 RNP-AR (required navigation performance-authorization required) approach procedures. More are in the works at airports where they will provide the greatest benefit. It also published another 500 WAAS LPV approaches, bringing the nationwide total to more than 2,300.

After ADS-B and PBN, data communications is the next essential component. Replacing many ATC voice communications, data comm plays a central role in every phase of flight from block to block. Data comm is coming online and initial tower capabilities are expected by 2015. Efforts are underway to integrate other NAS systems into the SWIM (system wide information management) network. 

NextGen’s primary challenge is akin to rebuilding an aircraft in flight. Each component must be implemented in such a way that it does not adversely affect safety or the operation of legacy equipment. NextGen and operators must make progress together, and the FAA is studying financial and operational incentives to encourage operator participation.

One of them, the NextGen Equipage Fund, came to life with the 2011 FAA reauthorization act. With federal seed money, ITT Corp. and Nexa Capital Partners, an investment banking firm, has created a $1.5 billion loan-guarantee fund to help airlines equip their fleets for NextGen operations. Since 2007 ITT has deployed more than 300 of the 800 NextGen ground stations it is building and managing for the FAA.

The NextGen Equipage Fund says its competitive financing rates and loan guarantees will enable “the retrofit of up to 75 percent of the U.S. commercial air transport fleet.” In addition, payments would be deferred until the specific NextGen services come online, enabling airlines to upgrade without a large cash outlay or additional debt.

It seems clear that the implementation and operational use of NextGen is accelerating. For operators who like to take things one step at a time, now might be the time to add data comm to your  fleet upgrade list, right after ADS-B and performance based navigation system. If you have questions, give ASIG a call.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ATC Global Updates SESAR Progress

Welcome to Wired!

Following up on “NextGen + SESAR = Air Traffic Harmony,” ASIG wanted to share some of the information presented at ATC Global 2011, held March 8-10, in Amsterdam. Even if you don’t operate in Europe, what is going on there matters to everyone, even those who never wing their way out of US airspace. 

Before ATC Global began, the FAA and European Union signed a formal Memorandum of Cooperation. Befitting aviation’s worldwide reach, they signed the document in Budapest, Hungry. A research agreement that encourages industry participation, the memo focuses on the interoperability of avionics, communication protocols, procedures, and operational methods between America’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) and the EU’s Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR).

It seems that in some areas, SESAR has a slight lead on NextGen. In ATC Global’s opening presentations, Florian Guillermet, chief program officer of SESAR Joint Undertaking, reported that 75 percent of the SESAR “factory” is in place.   That “factory” covers more than 300 projects, many directly involving those who use the airspace. Those projects are now starting to deliver.

Much of what was presented at ATC Global is now online. Rather than an in-depth report on it, a synopsis, with links to the source material, seemed more efficient.

SESAR Forum: SESAR is making the jump from development to deployment in 2011. This forum provided background and details, including key milestones for 2011 and 2012. There are 16 operational focus areas and 29 validation exercises set for 2011. This includes flight trials of air and ground data link services that support the initial 4D (i4D) traffic synchronization of computed and predicted controlled time arrival of aircraft.

[SESAR-LOGO2.jpg]Other 2011 SESAR deliverables include Point Merge procedures in complex terminal control areas (see Now is the Time to Invest in NextGen RNP.) These procedures better exploit flight management system capabilities, including continuous descent arrival procedures. SESAR will be validated all over Europe in 2012.

SESAR Interoperability Symposium Part I & II:  Global harmonization depends on universal technical standards defined by ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and coordinated industry standards. There are significant differences in how various parts of the world organize Air Traffic Management, so one solution doesn’t meet the needs of all nations and regions. Global interoperability, therefore, depends on common technology (systems) and operational procedures that can be equally applied and scaled to meet an area’s needs.

The keynote forum and symposium were followed by a number of Technical Workshops.

Data Mobile Communications Systems: Data link supports all airspace users from airlines and the military to general aviation and unmanned aerial vehicles. “Data will be the primary mode of future operations” with voice communications for emergency situations. It uses a multi-link approach of C-band for airport surface, L-band for general terrestrial, and satellite for oceanic and continental routes.

Green ATM: SESAR meets growing mobility needs while protecting the environment. Of particular interest to operators are efficiencies that predict 10-percent fuel savings per flight. This includes AIRE, Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions. Objectives for 2012 includes operational validation of i4D trajectory supported by satellite-based technology.

Avionics: This workshop covered avionics progress within the SESAR program, from 4D trajectory and airport navigation functions to ASAS (airborne separation assistance system) tools for pilots (including ADS-B and TCAS), and combined vision systems that include the detection of wake vortex. Four key development areas—4D Trajectory Management, Information Management, Collaborative Network Planning, and Enhanced Automation Support—are integrated across Airborne, En-Route & Terminal, Airports, Airline Operations, Military Operations, and CNS Infrastructure (including space).

SWIM: System Wide Information Management is ATM’s air-to-ground and ground-to-ground intranet. Automation handles most of the routine tasks, allowing controllers to concentrate on high value-added tasks. It includes a Registry, a complete and consolidated source of reference and service information.

It is clear that the systems and procedures required to operate in 21st century airspace are quickly coming on line with building-block functionality. Now is the time to for operators to make the transition from planning for these realities to acting on them. ASIG stands ready to help operators implement them in a phased effort that will keep you on pace with the future.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Monday, March 7, 2011

MROs: ASIG is Your EWIS Specialist

Welcome to Wired!

March 10, 2011 is a date organizations dedicated to the maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) of transport category aircraft should be aware of it because thereafter they will likely see a growing number of tasks that may now be beyond their core competencies. It is the deadline for operators of these aircraft to incorporate in their maintenance programs OEM-dictated inspections and procedures for electrical wiring interconnection systems (EWIS).

For operators and MROs alike, EWIS is a paradigm shift in thinking. Before its creation 39 months ago,  thinking of wiring as a system within a system was an alien concept because it includes everything from cables and  harnesses to connectors and clips, ties, mounts, and trays that physically integrate it with the airplane. (For more information, see EWIS Maintenance Program Deadline and EWIS, EZAP & ICA: What’s It all Mean?)

Where MROs may encounter EWIS maintenance program requirements depends on the job, but they stand out in scheduled heavy inspections, especially Cs and Ds. Depending on the operator’s program, it could be a combination of general and detailed visual inspections that seek out moisture or abrasive accumulations of dirt by specific zones, followed by prescribed  cleaning procedures and/or repair methods for wiring, connections, and physical integration.

This situation is not unlike the specialization of medicine. Like the family doc, MROs can expertly treat their patients’ everyday structural and circulatory needs. But EWIS is akin to neurology, with a unique set of tools, tooling, and processes. Like family docs, MROs can either invest the time and money needed to add this specialty to their list of capabilities, or they can call in a specialist, which would be ASIG’s FAA Repair Station. 

ASIG developed its EWIS maintenance, repair, and overhaul expertise by working with it every day to connect the systems and equipment the company integrates in a variety of aircraft. This capability, supported by a robust and reliable supply chain, makes ASIG responsive, flexible, efficient, and economical. Adding a new task to the repair station’s list of capabilities begins with an internal audits of ASIG’s facilities, tooling, tech data, and personnel. 

damaged wiresRare would be the task beyond its capabilities. It’s dealt everything from fuel quantity systems that require specific impedance to cleaning and repairing the tape-style ribbon harness for the DC-9’s air stair. Usually, the EWIS comes to ASIG, but its technicians will and do travel. And the repair station opens its doors wide to EWIS still affixed in a component, like the wing of a CRJ. Removed for a skin graft, the MRO asked ASIG to make field repairs on several harnesses permanent. A complex undertaking, it required breaking through and restoring the harnesses’ outer braided shielding, which ASIG easily accomplished before returning the wing for re-skinning.

EWIS overhauls can range from new wiring, wire marking, and new connector terminations in all or just a few strands. It all depends on the EWIS requirements, which may only allow a single repair for multiple defects in the wiring instead of three or four fixes. Another example might be environmentally sealed repairs, which might be good once every 10 feet—until it’s overhaul time, when you must replace all affected wires, conduits, shielding, and anti-abrasion devices as specified.

Like any specialist, ASIG maintains, repairs, and overhauls  complex wiring systems, major harnesses that run well into five figures. A landing gear harness, for example, can cost $7,000, not counting the time and money to remove and re-install it with the interceding logistics shuffle. A quick engine change harness is another example, and any lead time increases the cost that much more. MROs can contain these costs and reduce them by keeping select EWIS on the shelf as replacements and sending the harness needing treatment to ASIG, which returns it shelf-ready. 

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

NextGen + SESAR = Air Traffic Harmony

Welcome to Wired!

In deciding when and how to equip a fleet of transport category aircraft to operate efficiently in 21st century airspace, it’s tempting to put on blinders that extend no further than your  airline’s operational area. But airspace transcends borders, so any transition plan should include international factors.

In March, Amsterdam will host two important convocations, ATC Global 2011, March 8-10,2011, and the second annual Global ATM Operations Conference, held March 10-11 by CANSO, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation. Perusing the rosters of worldwide participants, exhibitors, and workshop topics, it is clear that we fly the same airplanes, use the same equipment, and face the same operational changes that are transforming  air traffic management.

Rapidly reaching the end of its service life, the 2oth century technology of ground-based navigation and radar surveillance does not have the resolution needed to safely accommodate the world’s growing demand for capacity. Two programs are leading the transition to the 21st century’s collaborative satellite-based system. Ultimately, aircraft will report their 4D trajectory (3D + time) to the ATM network, increasing safety, efficiency, and capacity while mitigating economic and environmental factors.

In the United States, the FAA is implementing the Next Generation Air Transportation System, NextGen, and across the Atlantic Eurocontrol is doing the same with the Single European Sky ATM (Air Traffic Management) Research, SESAR. In addition, SESAR is melding the air traffic services (ATS) of its 39 European Union members into a unified operation that will deliver seamless service.

“Future operations, based on the SESAR three core principles of time, trajectory and performance, will transition aviation into a new frontier where efficiency, cost-effectiveness, safety and capacity are all enhanced,” wrote Eurocontrol Director General David McMillan in the Winter 2010 Skyway. “However, this vision can only be achieved through improved and interoperable CNS systems arrived at through common standards and specifications applied throughout Europe and eventually worldwide. This is a huge task involving all players within the aviation community and beyond.”

Under any name, 21st century ATM must provide seamless operation worldwide. To ensure technical, equipment, and operational harmony, the FAA and Eurocontrol are working together and under applicable umbrellas of the ICAO, the International Civil Aviation  Organization, and CANSO, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation.

Sister initiatives, NextGen and SESAR are multi-phase efforts built on required navigational performance (RNP) and ADS-B, what separates them most is terminology (Europe’s “WAAS” is called EGNOS, European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) and timelines. 

SESAR has three phases: Definition, which developed the master plan, ran from 2005 to 2008. Development, 2008 to 2016, produces the new technology defined by the master plan. And Deployment, 2014 to 2020, is the large scale production and implementation of the new ATM infrastructure.

The European ATM Master Plan has three Implementation Packages. IP1 covers systems ready for deployment now with ATM initial operational capability set for 2012. IP2 covers mid-term deployment of ATM services between 2013 to 2019. And IP3 addresses long-term programs that start deploying in 2020.

SESAR LOGOSESAR requires ATC datalink communications for all new aircraft delivered after January 1, 2011, and all aircraft operating in Europe will need the system by 2015. A Eurocontrol NPRM will require all aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B Out by 2015, with an exemption for those that weigh less than 12,500 pounds and cruise at slower than 250 knots. Described as a stepping stone to ADS-B In, the NPRM does not require WAAS/EGNOS and specifies less stringent GPS performance.

NextGen is phasing in ADS-B now, with full ground-station coverage planned for 2013. The FAA is encouraging airlines to take advantage of the system now (See NextGen Update: Time & Money) , it does not mandate the equipment until 2020.

SESAR and NextGen are also taking different routes to RNAV. Europe has been flying to RNAV-5 and RNAV-3 (mile separation) standards since 1998. The US is just now starting to phase it in (See  Now is the Time to Invest in NextGen RNP), the FAA is way ahead of Europe in establishing precision GPS/LPV  approaches at airports nationwide.

Regardless the route taken, operators and air traffic services will ultimately fly in harmonious 21st century airspace. Just as NextGen/SESAR gives operators options on the best trajectory to their destinations, ASIG can provide the guidance and services that will give international operators these capabilities.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!