GPS will significantly improve the accuracy of air traffic control, and also provide a platform for the efficient increase of aircraft traffic. It is however somewhat unclear why it has taken so long to implement a technology that has such obvious advantages and that has been in existence for such a long time. Perhaps the time and cost involved was a determining factor. From the current viewpoint, it has become essential to upgrade ATC technology.
Like the ground-based ATC system, the current separations system for aircraft is becoming unviable in terms of the anticipated and current increase in aircraft using airspace. Alternative ways have therefore been investigated to safely handle the increase in aircraft, and also to address the increasing delays that have plagued American airports. The Free Flight concept is one such possible alternative.
According to J.M. Hoekstra (2002), commercial aircraft to date have been operating under the Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). This system allows aircraft to fly in a wide range of weather conditions, including when visibility is low. Air Traffic Control has occurred from gate to gate. Route information is requested and received before flights, while route changes -- including altitude changes - are requested and cleared during flight. Flight crew therefore are obliged to negotiate with the ground before choosing any change for more optimal routes. It is a very involved process, and can often cause costly delays in choosing optimal routes.
Free Flight, on the other hand, moves the task of aircraft separation to the cockpit. Through ADS-B (Airborne Dependent Surveillance -- Broadcast) technology, the position, velocity, and route to be used to ensure both optimal separation and optimal route is broadcast directly to monitoring equipment within the cockpit. Aircraft pilots therefore receive all data from all other aircraft in the area, as displayed on the Cockpit Display of Traffic Information (CDTI) system. This information can then be used by pilots to ensure airborne separation.
The final aim of implementing Free Flight is to completely eliminate ground controlled separation. The advantage of this is real-time self-optimization by pilots. However, it must also be kept in mind that such a system carries significant risks, and that pilots will need thorough training before the system can be entirely implemented. However, it is a promising technology that could significantly improve problems such as flight delays and accidents.
Many of the efficiency and effectiveness problems experienced by the FAA and ATC systems is the fact that the industry is controlled by only one public entity. There is no competition; hence the FAA is not under any obligation to optimize its operations to benefit users. According to Robert W. Poole Jr. (1982), the ATC system is a very complex system that includes people, equipment, facilities and procedures. Many of the facilities and procedures are outdated and no longer serve the FAA's purposes optimally.
In terms of costs and competition, the ATC system is operated by a monopoly, it is paid for taxes, governed by civil service rules, and subject to political control and interference. These factors affect the optimal management of ATC systems. Poole notes that the private sector entails several contrasts to this system. Private sector industries include competition; services are sold directly to users; and they generally to not attract a large amount of political interference. This results in strong incentives for economic efficiency.
Privatizing ATC systems therefore could carry significant advantages in terms of costs and efficiency. A private ATC system would for example be subject to providing the best possible service to users. Users rather than political entities would therefore determine the quality of service provided. The competition created in this way would force the much more rapid development and implementation of technologies such as the GPS system in order to ensure efficiency and minimal flight delays.
Problems such as flight delays and the inefficient use of airspace are the direct result of bureaucratic and political processes that are involved in the public sector. Privatization has the dual advantage of competition and the absence of interference from parties that hinder development and efficiency. The ATC system has a very important role in the airline industry, and should be managed as such.
ADS-B is a new Air Traffic Management system that concerns the process of communications, navigation, and surveillance. It has significant advantages over the traditional radar system. In addition to being a much faster system of communication and navigation, it also entails a much wider paradigm for pilots and air traffic controllers to determine the position of aircraft with more accuracy and over a wider range.
Radar is a system of communication that occurs in a linear way among air traffic control entities. The first signal is sent by the air traffic control tower at the airport of takeoff. The signal then reaches one or more of 22 possible entities that control airspace across the route of the aircraft. This can take up to 36 seconds, which is a significant delay in terms of the speed of aircraft. Finally, the signal is then sent to the destination airport. It is also significant that pilots can only access this information via their contact with air traffic control entities. This causes a further delay of information and a possible hazard in terms of accuracy.
ADS-B on the other hand provides information to both pilots and air traffic controllers. The information is also both instantaneous and highly accurate. There are significant advantages to this system as opposed to radar, in addition to the fact that it is relatively inexpensive.
ADS-B allows more information to be sent instantaneously to multiple recipients, including via cockpit technology to pilots themselves. This allows for greater accuracy and speed in decision-making, entailing a much safer flight experience. Radar can entail costly delays and result in accidents that could have been prevented by means of faster technology.
I therefore believe that ADS-B is the superior technology in terms of speed and accuracy. ADS-B also has the advantage of the more efficient use of airspace, as separation distances can be significantly reduced. The improvement of aircraft technology necessitates the improvement of communications technology as well.