Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Long-Term FAA Funding Accelerates NextGen Work, Allows Airline Planning

Welcome to Wired!

For the last eight years, commercial aviation has been doing its best to get ready for the Next Generation Air Transportation system. It’s not been easy for anyone. NextGen is a complex system complicated by the uncertainty of long-term FAA funding.

NextGen LogoBickering over ancillary ideology, Congress has hamstrung NextGen since 2007, when the last long-term FAA authorization expired. While politicians argued, the industry did its best with 23 temporary funding bills and one partial shutdown of the FAA.

Those days are over until 2015. Congress passed a $63 billion funding bill that will support the FAA until then, and President Obama signed it on Valentine’s Day. The bill creates the FAA Chief NextGen Officer, who will work to an accelerated schedule, providing annual reports on progress. With deadlines anchored to February 14:

The FAA has six months to consult with industry reps and issue a report on RNP/RNAV airport ops and 18 months to schedule the implementation of RNP/RNAV procedures at 30% of the 35 operational evaluation partnership (OEP) airports. It must cover 60% in 36 months and 100% by June 30, 2015. It has 18 months for 25% of non-OEP airports, 36 months for 50%, with all airports covered by June 30, 2016.

The FAA has a year to submit its plan and timetable bringing the nationwide Data Communication System on line.  It also has prescribed deadlines for NextGen’s surface systems, such as Airport Surface Detection Equipment-Model X program.

Despite eight years of uncertain funding, the FAA has been making progress. Take ADS-B. The new AC 90-114 gives an overview of the system and guidance on how to comply with the ADS-B Out requirements. In this bill, Congress extended its previous the deadline five years, to January 1, 2020.

In late January, the FAA announced that free ADS-B In-cockpit traffic and weather information services are now available at 51 terminal areas, and that free en route ADS-B In traffic and weather services are now available in service areas centered on Houston, Texas, and a good portion of Alaska.

Aircraft equipped with the 978MHz Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) can receive both traffic and flight (weather) information. Those equipped with 1090 MHz Extended Squitter (1090 ES), required for flight above Flight Level 180, receive only traffic info.

The future of ADS-B In is not yet carved in regulatory stone. Flightglobal reports that the long-term funding bill directs the FAA to initiate rulemaking in the next year that mandates ADS-B In for aircraft flying in “capacity constrained airspace” or at “capacity constrained airports.” 

This requirement contradicts the recommendations from an FAA aviation rulemaking committee evaluating this technology. In November 2011, it said that “In’s” applications had not yet matured.

But Congress did nod at the ARC’s recommendation. The new NextGen officer must verify that the ADS-B ground network is “installed and functioning” before issuing any interim or final equipment rules.

ADS-B In seems to be the only major NextGen component with an uncertain future. With FAA funding and deadlines in place through 2015, operators of transport category aircraft can start finalizing their plans to equip their fleets for NextGen.

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

flyTab Connects iPad to Larger World

Welcome to Wired!

AIMBy itself, the flyTab Class II iPad EFB is economical technology that makes airline operations more cost efficient and economical. ASIG and its partner, Shadin Avionics, are taking it to the next level with the flyTab Avionics Interface Module (AIM).

Simply put, the AIM translates data communicated via ARINC 429 , MIL-STD 1553, RS232, A410 discrete inputs as well as other data buses and video into the digital language spoken by the iPad operating system. A passive (read-only) interface, the AIM completed its initial functional milestones and stability testing in early January 2012. Up next are red label units for laboratory evaluations and demonstrations.

flyTab is developing a library of application programming interfaces (API) that it will license to those developing iPad apps that would benefit from specific data from the avionics network. The initial interfaces provide 3D position and airspeed. Weather and traffic interfaces are in development and are now undergoing latency testing to ensure the display is keeping up with the data. flyTab will develop additional interfaces as customers demand.

Looking forward, as the iPad EFB proves its usefulness—and reliability—it will surely become cornerstone technology for the Next Generation Air Transportation System. One day in the future it may well allow pilots and/or dispatchers to plan every aspect of a trip. And when the pilot docks the EFB in its Class II mount, it could even burst program the applicable avionics systems and verify every setting. 

This day is still in the future, but the capabilities of flyTab’s passive Avionics Interface Module are an important step toward that future, a step that offers substantial benefits today. With it the instrument procedure charts displayed on a pilot’s EFB could include 3D position and speed, traffic, and weather.

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