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Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), a satellite based tracking system for aircraft (much like a GPS), is supposed to replace radars in NextGen, the Next Generation Air Transportation System (the current plan is to maintain radars as a backup I believe). Yesterday, the FAA issued performance requirements for ADS-B, which most planes must have by… 2020! It’s a fact that pretty much everything related to the overhaul of the national airspace system seems painfully slow [1].

ADS-B is an important technological component of NextGen, as it will allow more people, including the pilots, to have better information about the current state of the system. In fact, commentaries often equate ADS-B with NextGen, although according to the FAA, NextGen is just an “umbrella term for the ongoing, wide-ranging transformation of the National Airspace System (NAS)”. The ultimate goal of NextGen is of course not  simply track aircraft better. Rather, it should improve safety, reduce air traffic congestion and hence result is lower fuel consumed and shorter flight times, etc. To control the National Airspace System, it is clearly beneficial to have better sensors such as the ADS-B system. Ultimately however, this will not be sufficient to improve the performance of the system: better large-scale decision and control algorithms that use this information will need to be accepted and applied by the air traffic controllers and airlines.

[1] J.R. Wilson, “NextGen: A Slow Transformation”, Aerospace America Magazine, May 2010.

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