Pilots and controllers who participated in ADS-B tests, particularly in Alaska, also point to a steep learning curve for controllers who will use the system. But they add that the system's safety benefits alone are worth it.
In Alaska, where the geography prevents wide use of radar, the FAA equipped 200 general aviation aircraft with ADS-B technology and installed receivers on the ground to intercept the signals. The new system halved the accident rate in five years. Because it gives each aircraft its own identifier, ADS-B also helped rescuers find planes that crashed in remote locations.
ADS-B also prevented accidents in Florida, officials say. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach equipped 65 propeller planes with the system after student pilots repeatedly got too close to one another during training, averaging 10 close calls in the air a month.
"ADS-B provides a high level of comfort because a pilot has a picture of what's around their airplane," said Frank Ayers, chairman of the university's flight training department.
"After we got ADS-B on board, the midair collision reports went down to almost zero," he said.
As part of a test program, helicopter operators and the FAA plan to install the system on helicopters and oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. They hope it will help helicopters ferry workers to oil rigs safely during inclement weather.
Pilots and controllers now rely in large part on spotty radio communications. Officials plan to award a contract to build the ADS-B system, which also will serve high-altitude commercial flights, this year.
"We want to establish what will be like an HOV lane for anybody that is equipped," said Robert Novia, an FAA manager in Houston who is working on the gulf project. "They wouldn't have to be with the rest of the airplanes and incur the kinds of delays and altitude restrictions that everyone else does."
Aircraft at cruise altitudes over the gulf now must be separated by scores of miles because there is no radar coverage to tell controllers where they are.
UPS, the carrier that is trying out the technology in Louisville, is pressing the FAA and legislators to move more quickly to deploy ADS-B nationwide.
"In Kentucky we have a saying 'I'm sitting on the front porch and fixing to do something.' At some point you have to stop fixing and go to the mall," said Capt. Karen Lee, director of flight operations at UPS Airlines.
"Implementation is only a political problem," she added. "The technology is ready to go; we have to get past the resistance to change."
The FAA plans to spend $80 million for the next budget year and a total of $300 million within four years on the new satellite technology.
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