Author: Student Blogger, William Freidank
By 2020, all aircraft flying through controlled airspaces (Class A, B, C, and altitudes above 10,000 MSL) will be required to be fitted with the NextGen air traffic system. This new network is bringing state-of-the-art traffic management to pilots with huge upgrades over the traditional radar. For example, traditional systems take somewhere between 4 and 12 seconds to update aircraft position data, whereas the new NextGen system, called ADS-B, refreshes every second. This will mean safer aircraft separation since the data sent to both pilots and air traffic controllers will be more real-time. I’ve certainly had my close encounters with other aircraft in my adventures. On one occasion, my instructor and I pulled the airplane upwards at the same time, both of us seeing the traffic below in the same instant. We laughed the incident off, but silently reminded ourselves that keeping keen vision outside the cockpit saved us from an unpleasant encounter. Having the added buffer of safety offered by the ADS-B would have prevented me and my instructor from having to make the sudden change in altitude since we would have been alerted in real-time about the nearby traffic; a huge step forward in aviation. Furthermore, ADS-B will provide pilots with weather service for a one-time fee. Currently, there is really no other choice than costly subscriptions for those who can’t afford onboard weather radar.
However, the NextGen air traffic system also has its pitfalls. Firstly, it’s a hit to the wallet for any general aviation pilot at $6,000 dollars for a full installation, according to Aviation Marketing. For a middle-aged Cessna 172 at $40,000, the ADS-B alone would cost more than a sixth of the net value of the airplane. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is lobbying the FAA for a cheaper solution, and even the Air Force reports they “will not be compliant with the requirement to have ADS-B position reporting equipment onboard until shortly after 2020,” according to AOPA.
The troubles don’t stop at the price tag. The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in 2015 regarding the security of ADS-B. They noted that, although the FAA has been working slowly to protect the system from cyber threats, “significant security control weaknesses remain that threaten the safe and uninterrupted operation of the national airspace system.” ADS-B partakes in a network that has direct access to aircraft avionics. Should a breach occur, pilots of more modern aircrafts could be left with unresponsive controls – a devastating emergency without many recovery options. Similarly, an attack originating from within an aircraft could distort vital traffic data across the network, causing havoc in the airspace and a loss of reliable information for air traffic controllers. According to GAO’s report, one of the larger contributing factors to this issue is the FAA’s failure to create an organized list of possible hazards. Unfortunately, the FAA still hasn’t come up with a comprehensive approach to the problem.
In the meantime, the law is the law, and the system will have to be fully implemented for most pilots within the next three years. Until then, we get to choose. For me, despite its flaws, the scheme has formidable advantages that really, for any pilot, make the upgrade worth it. I know for certain that, in the near future, I will be getting the aircraft that I train, in ADS-B equipped.
About our Student Blogger
When I was nine years old, I was given the opportunity to learn to fly; to meander around the clouds and glide through the sky. Ever since, aviation has been a passion that burns within me, waiting to be let free once I reach the financial, mental, and physical demands flight training requires. To share my passion, I founded the Community of Young Aspiring Aviators to inspire others with a similar sensation, foster a mindset of safety is the first priority, and open the eyes of others to the adventures this career and hobby provides.