Next-Generation (Data-based communcations)

Data-based communications is the future for aircraft and maintenance technicians

We in aviation technical fields are used to change and do diligence to anticipate the impact they may have on our profession. By many accounts our ranks are dwindling and the intrigue with aviation as a career has waned. The good news: today’s aircraft are state of the art when it comes to electronics and most young people today don’t understand life without electronic stimulation.

Today’s avionics includes high definition video systems, rock ’n digital audio systems, XM Entertainment and broadband connectivity and that doesn’t even touch on “fly by wire” or “automatic thrust control.” Maintenance interaction with digital aircraft systems includes mastering many skills associated with a PC and is now no longer limited to connecting a cable when the aircraft is on the ground. Yes, it is possible to monitor and even diagnose problems when an aircraft is in flight. Even documentation has evolved from paper to electronic media.

Next Generation in this case does not specifically address passing the wrench to those maintaining aircraft in future years. It does deal with the way we control air traffic.

In the United States, the air traffic control (ATC) network has been in play without significant change since the end of World War II. The plan for the future includes more of an air traffic management concept utilizing airborne rather than ground-based equipment.

NextGen will open skies to continued growth and increased safety while reducing aviation’s environmental impact. These goals will be accomplished through the enhancement of widely used technologies, such as the global positioning system (GPS) and innovations in weather forecasting, data networking, and digital communications. New airport infrastructure and procedures will be coupled with certain decision-making responsibility from the ground to the cockpit.

NextGen will allow more aircraft to safely fly closer together on more direct routes, reducing delays, and providing benefits for the environment and the economy through reductions in fuel consumption and noise. The NextGen Nucleus consists of both systems and procedural transformations including:

ADS-B and more

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is FAA’s satellite-based successor to radar. ADS-B makes use of GPS technology to determine and share precise aircraft location information, and streams additional flight information to the cockpits of properly equipped aircraft.

Transitioning from a terrestrial based air traffic control system to a celestial concept is a significant undertaking. Transponders as we know them will be true digital communications devices.

ADS-B, which consists of two different services ADS–B Out and ADS–B In, will be replacing radar as the primary surveillance method for controlling aircraft worldwide. In the United States, ADS-B is an integral component of the NextGen National Airspace strategy for upgrading/enhancing aviation infrastructure and operations. The ADS-B system will provide traffic and government generated graphical weather information through Flight Information Service - Broadcast (FIS-B), Traffic Information Service - Broadcast (TIS-B) applications. ADS-B enhances safety by making an aircraft visible, real time, to ATC and to other appropriately equipped ADS-B aircraft with position and velocity data transmitted every second. ADS-B data can be recorded and downloaded for post flight analysis. ADS-B also provides the data infrastructure for inexpensive flight tracking, planning, and dispatch.

The system relies on two avionics components — a high-integrity GPS navigation source and a datalink (ADS-B unit). There are several types of certified ADS-B data links, but the most common ones operate at 1,090 MHz, essentially a modified Mode S transponder, or at 978 MHz (USA only). The FAA would like to see aircraft that operate below 18,000 feet use the 978 MHz link since this will help alleviate further congestion of the 1,090 MHz frequency. To obtain ADS-B capability at 1,090 MHz, requires a new transponder or modified device (if the manufacturer offers an ADS-B upgrade). A certified GPS will also be required.

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