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NextGen is Now for General AviationJune 11– Federal Aviation Administrator Michael P. Huerta today delivered good news to the House Small Business Committee – NextGen is now for general aviation. The FAA recently completed installation of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) infrastructure, which provides nationwide services to GA pilots flying properly equipped aircraft.  With the technology, pilots can look at their cockpit displays to see – for free – bad weather, where they are in relation to other aircraft, as well as flight information such as temporary flight restrictions.

At the committee hearing focused on the benefits available to general aviation through the FAA’s NextGen air traffic modernization program, Huerta encouraged GA pilots to equip before the Jan. 1, 2020 mandate, the date by which all aircraft flying in controlled airspace in the U.S. must be equipped with ADS-B avionics.  Huerta explained that many GA pilots are already equipping their aircraft to take advantage of the safety and efficiency benefits.

In addition, the FAA continues to roll out the capability to provide air traffic controllers with real-time ADS-B position information that is more accurate than the information available with current radar-based systems.

The GA community in Alaska was the first place the FAA unveiled ADS-B more than 10 years ago. That community was selected because GA aircraft play critical roles – as ambulances, school buses, ferrying supplies, etc. – in serving remote, mountainous communities that lack radar coverage and are often only accessible by air. The benefits delivered from the significantly improved situational awareness for pilots, especially in bad weather, were dramatic: the accident rate for ADS-B-equipped aircraft was reduced by nearly half in Southwest Alaska.

ADS-B is not the only GPS-based, NextGen technology available to GA pilots. For more than a decade, the FAA has been publishing Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) approach procedures at airports that do not have ground-based navigational aids. This means GA pilots may fly into airports in poor weather conditions with minimums as low as 200 feet – a significant safety and efficiency benefit, particularly for medical aircraft or those low on fuel. There are now 3,404 WAAS approach procedures – more than twice the number of ground-based, instrument landing system glide slopes – serving 1,676 airports. The agency expects to develop 400 more WAAS procedures over the next three years, at which point GA pilots will be able to fly a WAAS approach at every qualified runway in the country.

As a stepping stone to ADS-B, the FAA and the State of Colorado rolled out a surveillance system almost five years ago that allows air traffic controllers to track aircraft not covered by radar in remote, mountainous regions. The system, called Wide-Area Multilateration, uses existing avionics on aircraft to greatly improve the safety and efficiency of flights that previously disappeared from controller screens once they flew out of radar coverage behind mountains. The resulting flight limitations were further compounded by seasonal bad weather, which caused flight delays and cancellations. GA pilots now enjoy the benefits of WAM at Craig, Hayden, Steamboat Springs, Rifle, Durango, Gunnison and Telluride.