Step one was to get the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to amend its rules to allow the adaptive AI to share a busy airport unicom frequency. This required first getting the 15 heads at FAA (various internal departments) to agree, without scaring the FCC too much in the process.
Although the FCC amendments took two years, this regulatory breakthrough meant the adaptive system could officially operate right on any airport’s existing unicom frequency, just where pilots need it most, just when they need it most. Even better, operating on Unicom eliminated the two-year paper chase otherwise required for any traditional AWOS to get its required discrete frequency.
The devil finds work for idle minds, so the next regulatory move was to obtain FAA approval for the system’s altimeter information, to officially unlock our airport’s brand spanking new GPS approach. While measuring altimeter was not hard, the real challenge was finding some regulatory precedent for FAA approval. Leaping ahead a year, our Automated Unicom was then anointed an FAA Approved Altimeter Setting Source.
Next came FAA approval of the system’s visibility capability. We knew traditional AWOS systems were a maintenance headache, so we found and integrated a military “tactical weather sensor” onto the Automated Unicom. The system was then defined as an Automated Unicom, requiring no AC power (it recharges off a lighted windsock), requiring no frequency allocation (it operates right on unicom) and automatically greeting pilots on Unicom, provides full-service radio-checks and advisory weather, and offers FAA-approved altimeter and visibility, unlocking any airport to all-weather private and commercial flight operations, 24/7.
In time, FAA asked us downtown for yet another little chat. It seemed that in all the excitement about rolling out GPS approaches, they sort of forgot about providing some form of equally rapidly deployable “approved weather” — necessary for pilots to actually be able to use any of those shiny new GPS approaches.
FAA asked, “Could you please come in and get your Automated Unicom system certified as an AWOS? It should only take about 60-90 days.” In a relative bureaucratic flash (two years) the SuperAWOS was born, an FAA-approved plug-and-play, low-cost, low-maintenance AWOS, that provides any airport with full-service Unicom coverage, available for any airport under the FAA/AIP program.
Believe it or not, there is verifiable evidence that the future for innovation in all aspects of aviation looks brighter than ever. The safety benefits of innovation have already forced FAA to rethink the way it does business. FAA used to deny 99.99 percent of reliable technology because it wasn’t 99.999999 percent reliable; which was silly. The agency finally realized that while there was no harm in striving for perfection, it was unrealistic for FAA to make the industry hold its breath until perfection could be achieved. With trepidation, FAA has developed more realistic standards, providing an equivalent level of safety.
The looming collision between an increasingly overwhelming air traffic workload, unsolvable with any amount of tax dollars, will eventually drive responsibility for basic traffic separation out of the hands of a relatively small number of over-loaded controllers and into the hands (and cockpits) of many pilots; through a variety of traffic detection systems and devices. FAA’s recently announced policy shift moving toward ADS-B is evidence of that inevitable transition. And yes, we have some more exciting tricks up our sleeve on the air traffic front as well.
In all, I’m quite optimistic. Nothing can stand the onslaught of common sense; it always wins in the end. Sometimes it just takes a little while to poke its head through the confusion.
The Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS), an FAA approved, computer-based system, is developed and manufactured by Vaisala, Inc. Designed to allow airports to relay the most accurate weather...
FAA announces dates that funding will cease at the following airports.