Free Flight: To make it a reality: communication, navigation, and surveillance

To make it a reality: communication, navigation, and surveillance By Jim Sparks This free flight version is not to be confused with what you get from the airlines after paying for so many flight segments. In this case free flight is a...


The other issue is the refined use of the aircraft Minimum Equipment List. The operational status of navigation equipment will determine if the aircraft will qualify for flight in RNP or RVSM airspace. One of the requirements for RVSM approval is that the aircraft have two static systems. Many machines utilize two air data computers to interpret the static sensing and provide a correction factor based on airframe design and construction. Where under typical conditions the aircraft could dispatch with one of these air data computers not operating, flight in RVSM airspace would be prohibited.

What will it take to qualify an aircraft for the ultimate free flight? The first thing is a navigation system that has the ability to send digital information, secondly there has to be an onboard communication device such as a specialized transponder that can communicate this data to other aircraft as well as to the ground stations. In addition there has to be a flight deck display where the flight crew can retrieve information about other aircraft or even specific messages from air traffic control. This data display is planned to replace frequent air to ground and ground to air radio messages.

In other words air traffic management would become more automated and the aircraft computers would be communicating directly with the ground-based air traffic computers allowing the flight crews to receive word messages instead of voice communications. One of the main concerns about such a new system is flight crew complacency. This new technology which will be a labor-saving device for flight crews may need to promote an entirely new attitude when it comes to situational awareness. Following an automation failure, time for recovery may be increased and having a high-performance aircraft operating in high-density airspace could have detrimental results.

Everybody from airlines to governments all agree that the free flight concept is a great idea and will reduce air traffic control related delays. With shorter point to point routes, the participants will realize a significant cost savings. And current digital technology will also enable most modern aircraft to include this onboard equipment at a relatively low cost. Unfortunately it has not yet been determined exactly how to begin. This plan will require a complete overhaul of the existing ATC system and require billions of dollars. Where governments and money are concerned, no one could possibly guess the outcome. Nevertheless free flight still has a tone of inevitability.

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