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House Appropriations Subcommittee Approves $140 Million for Contract Towers

The contract towers look like they will be getting funding for at least another year.  The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation approved $140 million intended to help fund these vital towers through the next fiscal year once the current stopgap measure expires later this year.

I don’t claim to know much about the way government works, though to be totally honest I’m not sure the people in government really know how it works either, but I really don’t understand why this whole tower issue has become such a problem.  I agree that there are some of these towers that need to be closed because they just don’t have the traffic to support a tower, but many of these towers provide critical support to larger airports.

It is clear that many of these politicians have no idea how the National Air Traffic System works.  It is not just the tower at one airport that affects its traffic.  Every tower in the area affects every other tower’s operation.  You start eliminating some of these towers, and they will see how adversely impacted the entire system will be.

The measure still has to get through the full House and the Senate, so lets hope that somehow they will get past the politics and make this funding a reality.

June 19, 2013 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Utah Valley University Bidding to Become UAS Test Facility

Unmanned aerial systems(UAS), unmanned aerial vehicles(UAV), remotely piloted aircraft(RPA), drones…whatever you want to call them, I’ll go with RPAs, are one of the biggest topics of discussion in aviation these days.  Whether you like them or not, they are rapidly becoming more common all over the country, and in ways that we may not have previously considered.

I’ve recently posted about the Boeing Phantom Eye that is designed to provide long periods of surveillance, likely for military and civilian use.  There are the well documented Predators and Reapers that can provide surveillance as well as weapons employment, which was the topic of Rand Paul’s filibuster last week, wasting half a day of work for Congress.  These three are only an incredibly small sampling of all the RPA’s out there, and the list just continues to grow.

With the rapid growth of RPAs it is becoming increasingly important for the FAA to create rules and regulations to govern their use, and how they will fit into the National Airspace System (NAS).  Some would say it is as simple as making them all fly under instrument flight rules, but with a system that relies heavily on a “see and avoid” mindset, it really can’t be that simple.  Though it doesn’t need to be super difficult either.

Whatever the FAA decides to do with regulation, they are asking institutions to put in bids to become one of six sites across the nation that will conduct tests to aid in the development of future regulations as RPAs get integrated into the NAS.  From what I have read recently, many of the groups applying are based around universities, which makes a whole lot of sense.  Today I read about one such university that I think would be a perfect fit.

Utah Valley University(UVU) is leading an alliance of universities, and private companies that are involved in research and development of RPAs.  The name of their alliance is the Mountain West Unmanned Systems Alliance or MWUSA.  UVU supports a well-respected aviation program, that is rapidly growing along with the university.

With their campus in Provo, Utah, they are in a great position to conduct all kinds of different research into RPA’s and how they will interact with other aircraft in the NAS.  Provo itself has only a small airport which will be good when it comes to basic testing of atc and other radio communications.

However, Provo is only a short distance from Salt Lake International Airport which is a relatively busy airport, being one of Delta’s larger hubs.  This would allow researchers to interact with relatively busy airspace, while not interfering with the major operations that would be going on at LAX, O’Hare, or Atlanta.  Ultimately, the major hubs will have to be included, but initially I would think researchers would rather have busy, but not overwhelming airports to conduct their research.

The other great feature that UVU has at their fingertips is the geography of the State of Utah.  There are not many places that have mountains climbing up to over 10,000 feet(Wasatch Mountains) within 20-30 miles of some of the flattest ground in the world(Bonneville Salt Flats).  As an Air Force aviator, terrain is something that we talk about on every single flight, so I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be a major factor in understanding how RPAs will interact with the current system.

The FAA isn’t planning on naming the sites until later this summer, but whoever gets the nod will certainly have their work cut out for them.  The FAA is under a mandate from Congress to integrate RPAs into the NAS by 2018.  5 years may seem like a long time, but with as fast as technology is changing, and as slow as government agencies generally work, I think they will need all of the time they can get.

March 14, 2013 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Shared Virtual Sky: Leading the Way Toward Enhanced European Air Traffic Management

One of the most challenging aspects of learning to fly is getting used to the radio communications.  Even as an experienced aviator going to a new area where they have different procedures, or even just a different lingo can be difficult.  I have long wondered why there are not more intertwined systems to help pilots, and air traffic controllers practice this more.

Apparently I was not the only one thinking this as Airbus’ ProSky is in the process of developing just such a system.  The full details can be found in the press release below.

It is amazing how much of an impact this could have on the quality of training.

For example, I spent about a year going through military flight training and became quite adept at communicating over the radios.  I then followed that up with about four months in simulators where the only radio chatter was from our crew and the instructors.  When I returned to the flight line to resume real flying it took me at least a week of flights to get back to where I felt comfortable with the radio communications again.

They obviously have much bigger plans than just to practice communications with this system, but if it does nothing more than make the training more realistic, then I think it is worth the cost.

Airbus ProSky is taking a high-profile role in developing Europe’s first airspace simulation platform that will be available to the aviation sector – which is called Shared Virtual Sky, and allows for accelerated innovation as well as the ability to test new air navigation concepts for improved safety and fluidity.

20 February 2013 Shared Virtual Sky is an innovative response to challenges facing the aviation sector. It enables multiple participants to connect their simulators to a completely realistic real-time environment, where test pilots and air traffic controllers can work together – while each are based in their respective cockpits or control towers.

Airbus ProSky – the air traffic management subsidiary of Airbus – and Paris-based Steria signed an agreement with nine additional partners for the system’s advancement, following completion of a collaborative research & development project. The nine other partners include: Aerospace Valley, Airbus, DSNA, ENAC, Thales, Oktal SAS, CGX AERO, Alticode and Intespace.

Under terms of the accord, Airbus ProSky will handle the promotion and marketing of Shared Virtual Sky – which has its origins in the Gaia Virtual Sky project launched by Aerospace Valley in 2007; while Steria will be responsible for operating it as a software service.

This solution supports the European Commission’s efforts to modernise air traffic management systems through its Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) project, which seeks to develop a world-class integrated air traffic navigation system. Ten industry leaders currently are conducting experiments as part of the SESAR project, and five participants are negotiating to join the SVS platform in 2013 to validate their new ideas.

The Shared Virtual Sky technology also can be adapted to other industries that face similar challenges with respect to interconnection and interoperability of systems.

February 20, 2013 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Boeing and Airbus Working Together to Make NextGen ATC a Reality

If you browse through this blog at all it will become apparent rather quickly that I am a huge proponent of NextGen ATC technology.  Call me crazy, but when it has been proven that there is a system that exists to replace decades old technology to make something more efficient, effective, and safe, I think we should act quickly to implement it.

While it is not happening as quickly as some people would like to see, it is happening.  Just last week Qatar Airways flew a RNP-AR approach into Nepal.  This week Frontier Airlines received certification from the FAA to fly the same types of approaches in the US.

I find it interesting that both of these events share a common trait.  They are both heavily impacted by high terrain.  Nepal is one of the most mountainous countries in the world, and Frontier does a huge amount of business through Denver which is nestled high in the mountains of Colorado.

These applications are where the safety impact of NextGen becomes so apparent.  Navigational aids are all based on line of sight, which makes it incredibly difficult for ground-based navigational aids to be effective in mountainous regions.  While GPS still requires line of sight with satellites, it is much easier to achieve that with the satellites positioned overhead as opposed to the being on the ground where they can easily be blocked by mountains.

While both of these press releases come from Airbus, it is important to note that both Airbus and Boeing are actually working together to make this new system a reality.  On Airbus’s ProSky website, which is essentially their ATC arm, they have a long description of how the two airlines are cooperating to improve the whole system.

Boeing and Airbus are two of the biggest corporate competitors in the world, so to see them work together on something says a lot about its importance.

For those who may not really understand what exactly NextGen is, Boeing has an article that does a great job of explaining some of the most important technology, namely the ADS-B and how it works to improve air travel for everyone involved.

February 5, 2013 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

The United Arab Emirates Selects Airbus ProSky for Airspace Restructuring Study

Airspace utilization is becoming increasingly more important all over the world as flying becomes more popular.  One of the fastest growing areas is the Middle East where there is a lot of money from oil, and a continued effort to diversify their economy, especially in areas like tourism.

As part of their efforts to more efficiently use their airspace, United Arab Emirates'(UAE) General Civil Aviation Authority has hired Airbus ProSky. (Full details in the press release below.)  Airbus ProSky will create a report to make suggestions to enhance UAE airspace.

In what is a very wise move, they will base their findings on what they learn from current airport and airspace users, navigation service providers, as well as historical data.  It is all well and good to make changes to the system, but if they aren’t providing the improvements that are wanted, and needed, then it is just a waste of money.

The report will be released this summer, but it will obviously take much longer to implement any changes.  Hopefully, it will be more efficient than the US efforts to implement NextGen.

That has always been one of my biggest gripes about reports like this.  Studies are done to determine needs, but then not enough is done to implement those changes.  An old leader of mine always used to say, “After everything is said and done, a whole lot more is said than done.”

We have been talking about implementing NextGen for at least a decade, but we are still creeping along in the process.  Everyone knows what the benefits are, and what it will take to make it happen, but the politics of it all makes it take forever to implement.

Maybe someday we will be able to get past the politics of life to actually make things happen, and maybe it will take some of these other developing countries advancing ahead of us to make it happen.

Press Release

Airbus ProSky will take an important role in wide-ranging enhancements to United Arab Emirates airspace with its selection by the nation’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) for a restructuring study – which will lead the way for improved air traffic management, navigation procedures, aircraft technologies and more.

28 January 2013 The agreement was signed today at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Air Navigation Center. Under terms of this contract, Airbus ProSky – which is Airbus’ air traffic management subsidiary – will provide a comprehensive report based on its interaction with all airspace users, navigation service provides and United Arab Emirates airports, as well as on historical data.
Working in close coordination with the GCAA, Airbus ProSky will deliver the study and its proposed airspace enhancements this summer.

“It is very important to seek continuous enhancement of [United Arab Emirates’] airspace to better serve the increasing air traffic movement and to be at the forefront of air navigation services providers internationally,” said Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director General of the GCAA.

“We are pleased to announce this partnership with Airbus ProSky, known for its expertise in providing solutions to improve and accelerate ATM performance and providing a comprehensive look into the future,” added GCAA Executive Director of Air Navigation Services Ahmed Al Jallaf. “Their experience in flow management, Performance-Based Navigation, innovation and aircraft technologies make them a true partner to the GCAA for our future development.”

The Airbus ProSky subsidiary – which includes the Metron Aviation, Quovadis and ATRiCs companies – is committed to working side-by-side with air navigation service providers, aircraft operators and airport authorities to build a truly collaborative system with greater capacity, better performance and environmental sustainability for all stakeholders.

January 29, 2013 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Qatar Airways Flies New Navigational Approach into Tribhuvan International Airport in Nepal

Aviation is a very interesting industry.  Aircraft contain some of the most advanced technology in the world.  Most of the new planes could quite literally land themselves in many cases.  Many aircraft now use fly-by-wire technology where the pilot uses a joystick that sends electronic commands to manipulate the plane’s control surfaces.

It is all absolutely amazing stuff, and a far cry from the wood and canvas Wright Flyer that started it all.  Yet with all of this new technology, most of the airways in the world are directed using decades old equipment.

VORs, TACANs, VORTACs, and even NDBs in some cases, are still used all over the world as radio navigation aids for these multi-million dollar jets.  Despite their age they still do an amazing job keeping the airways safe.  In tandem with air traffic controllers, they keep flying as the safest way to travel period.

Safety is of course at the top of the priority list, but creeping increasingly closer is money, and these old navigational aids don’t offer a whole lot to make flying more efficient.

Enter GPS.

GPS has been around for quite a while, and is already used in diverse ways in aviation.  However, it is not being used to its full capacity, and it is costing everyone money.

GPS has the ability to improve aircraft navigation in ways that will not only make flying more efficient, but make it safer for everyone involved.  Qatar Airways recently flew the first approach into Kathmandu’s airport in Nepal using a RNP-AR (Required Navigation Performance – Authorisation Required) approach in an Airbus A320.  (Airbus’s press release of the occasion can be found below.)

The unique mountainous terrain of the region has always required complex, difficult approaches that can challenge even the most seasoned pilot.  Using this new approach pilots are able to reduce their workload leading to a much safer, and more efficient approach.  The increased efficiency is what makes this approach so valuable for every single airport out there.

The airports in the New York/New Jersey region are not exactly troubled with terrain issues, but it is some of the busiest airspace in the world.  By using the increased accuracy that GPS provides, these airports can utilize their airspace more efficiently, and in turn more safely.

Implementing these procedures is not as simple as having everyone turn on their GPS, but it is imperative that the newly confirmed FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta, do everything in his power to get these procedures in place immediately in order to further improve the safety of the industry, while at the same time providing some financial relief to the airlines.

Press Release
21 January 2013 A Qatar Airways-flown A320 has made this carrier the world’s first to operate an aircraft into the Nepalese capital’s Tribhuvan International Airport within the Himalayan mountain range using a new navigation approach.

The milestone flight took place with the Doha-based airline’s A320 performing an RNP-AR (Required Navigation Performance – Authorisation Required) approach to landing.  RNP-AR enables an aircraft to automatically fly accurate trajectories without relying on ground-based navigation aids, while also optimising airspace utilisation and reducing diversions in difficult weather conditions.

Located in Kathmandu, Tribhuvan International Airport has one of the world’s most complicated landing approaches due to surrounding challenging terrain at its location in the Himalayas.  Flying an RNP-AR approach considerably reduces pilots’ workload and allows them to take full benefit of the advanced navigation equipment installed in the Airbus A320 to easily circumnavigate difficult terrain.

Qatar Airways partnered with Quovadis, the Airbus-owned flight operations services company, and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to design and implement the Kathmandu RNP-AR procedure.

Yannick Malinge, Airbus’ Senior Vice President and Chief Product Safety Officer, recognised Qatar Airways on the achievement.

“Airbus always promotes and supports initiatives contributing to improving safety. New technological capabilities like RNP allow aircraft to improve descent trajectory and reduce non-stabilized approaches,” Malinge explained. “Airbus would like to congratulate Qatar Airways and Nepal Authorities for the outstanding results achieved for this RNP-AR project in Kathmandu and we are delighted to have contributed to this major milestone.”

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said safety was the top priority for the airline. “We pride ourselves on adopting the latest technology across our fleet and operation to ensure we maintain our high standards, vital for any business of our nature,” he added.

January 21, 2013 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Contract Towers: Saving Money and Providing Essential Service

With as much as I write about air traffic control you would think I was a controller or something.  The reality is that atc is just the hot topic in aviation these days.  After relatively little change in half a century, we are at a point where drastic changes are happening that will make the whole system for effective and more efficient.

One of the important sectors of the atc world is the contract tower program.  Through this program, smaller airports are able to hire contract air traffic controllers as opposed to those employed by the FAA.  This allows the tower to function at a lower cost, while still providing the essential service of air traffic control.

This is by no means a new service as it has been functioning for 30 years.  Over the last year, the 246 towers that are part of the contract tower program handled 14.8 million operations at a cost of $133 million.  That equates to handling 28% of all tower operations, while only using 14% of the FAA’s budget for tower operations.

In a time when the vast majority of government programs provide less with more, the contract towers are doing the exact opposite.  Despite their efficiency and effectiveness, the program is looking at changes coming from Congress as they look for places to cut costs everywhere.  Hopefully, Congress will see that this is one area that is already operating at a relatively low-cost for the services they provide.

Most people will never know if the controller handling their aircraft is part of the contract tower program, and that is the beauty of it.  These are FAA certified controllers that are getting the job done just as effectively, but at a lower cost.  It is absolutely essential that they be able to continue to provide these services at smaller airports so that safety can be maintained.

 

July 21, 2012 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

NextGen ATC: Creating Highways in the Sky

I have been a big fan of NextGen ever since I first heard about it a decade ago.  It just makes sense that creating more efficient routes would be good for business.  It saves time and money and is better for the environment.

It may not be quite as easy for those that are not familiar with aviation to understand the value of this new technology, but Steve Fulton of GE Aviation wrote a great piece that describes NextGen as creating “highways in the sky”.

It is really so simple that I can’t believe I haven’t seen the comparison before.  By streamlining the system it is unreal the amount of time, money, and fuel that can be saved.  According to Steve’s article, deploying these new routes at 46 regional airports across the country would result in the following savings: 12.9 million gallons of fuel, $65.6 million, 274.6 million pounds of CO2 emissions, and 747 days of time.

If those numbers don’t open your eyes to the value of the system, I don’t know what will.  Keep in mind, that is only at 46 airports, not including any of the major ones, and they are the ones that could use improved systems more than anyone else.

As we move forward with the implementation of NextGen and companies start to realize all of these savings, I hope it works to expedite the process even more.  They always say that money talks, and there is no industry where that is more true these days than in aviation.

July 18, 2012 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Hilton Head Airport Finds a Solution In Place of User Fees

The debate over user fees has calmed somewhat since the initial release of the 2013 budget that wants to include them.  While user fees will likely become more of an issue as the actual passage of the budget comes up, it is important to look at what other options there may be in place of user fees.

At the Hilton Head Airport in South Carolina they were able to create a solution to prevent user fees but still increase revenue for the county.  The specific numbers of the deal can be found in this article from IslandPacket.com.  What I like about the situation is that the parties involved were able to get together to find a mutually beneficial solution.

That is the problem that I have with user fees in general: supporters seem to think that user fees are a quick fix for a problem that is much more complicated than just money.  They are not willing to put forth the time and effort to come up with real solutions, they just want more money.

This solution may not work at other airports, but if the airports, FBO’s, and cities/counties would all just sit down and work together they could come up with systems that would provide the necessary funds without overburdening anyone.  Of course we must also consider the FAA and federal government, but they should be no different.  Instead of looking for a quick fix for a long-standing problem, do some work and come up with a solution that everyone can be okay with.

Few will argue that there are not financial concerns when it comes to aviation in general, and air traffic control in particular, which should also mean that people can be reasonable when it comes to developing solutions.  Like most government programs it likely needs to be a tightening of belts along with an increase in revenue, but what we definitely don’t need is a short-term fix for a long-term problem.

March 26, 2012 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Will the FAA Reauthorization Really Speed Up NextGen Implementation?

Like many people, I am very excited that the FAA finally has a stable source of funding, as you may have already read.  Probably the biggest reason that I am excited is that NextGen Air Traffic Control may finally get the funding it needs to get fully implemented.  This is something that has been in development for over a decade, if not longer.

One of the problems with the implementation is that there are two sides to NextGen, and without both sides doing their part the whole thing is just a big waste of money.

The FAA has to develop the system at airports, and throughout the entire air traffic system.  They have to install ground stations and train their controllers on how the whole thing works.  They also have to develop the departures, en route tracks, and arrivals that are supposed to save millions of dollars, and a good amount of time.

The other side is the aircraft owners, mostly the airlines, who must upgrade their aircraft to support the new technology.  That means spending billions of dollars on equipment that right now isn’t even fully functional.  That is a lot to ask of companies that are running on fumes as it is.

The cool thing about the new funding bill is that it included provisions to help move the whole process along.  An article written by Alan Levin of Bloomberg.com discusses a couple of very important aspects of the new bill that will definitely aid in the implementation of the NextGen system.

Like so many things, money is a huge aspect of the whole situation.  NextGen is supposed to lead to huge fuel savings by making routes, and air traffic in general, far more efficient.  But, in order to realize those savings there must be an initial investment.  The new funding bill provides a mechanism where the Department of Transportation can guarantee loans to help with the upgrading of all these aircraft.  While a gift is better than a loan, it is definitely a much better prospect than having to find the funding themselves.

Maybe one of the biggest time savers that the bill offers is the ability to receive a “categorical exclusion” from environmental reviews for flight paths if they save fuel, and reduce noise.  Now I love the environment as much as the next guy.  Many of my fondest memories are from time spent in real wilderness areas.  That being said, it is ridiculous how long many of these environmental studies take, and even then the results are somewhat questionable.

Most people realize that pretty much any data collected can be twisted to suit the needs of whoever wants to use them.  While there is some complaining from environmentalists that this exclusion will become too commonplace I really don’t see what they have to complain about.  It only applies if the new route reduces fuel use and noise, or in other words, if the new route does exactly what the environmentalists want them to do.

The full bill is 375 pages so who knows how many provisions are in there that may help the process along, or how many other points there are that may actually hurt the process.  All I know is that our current system is based on ancient technology, and it needs to be updated.  The technology is there and ready to be used; it is just a matter of getting the whole system set up.  I am extremely happy to see that the new bill is doing its part to speed up the process.

March 1, 2012 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.