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Senate Votes To Replace Aviation Radar With GPS 457

Posted by timothy
from the secretly-replaced-with-folger's-crystals dept.
plover writes "The US Senate on Monday passed by a 93-0 margin a bill that would implement the FAA's NextGen plan to replace aviation radar with GPS units. It will help pay for the upgrade by increasing aviation fuel taxes on private aircraft. It will require two inspections per year on foreign repair stations that work on US planes. And it will ban pilots from using personal electronics in the cockpit. This just needs to be reconciled with the House version and is expected to become law soon. This was discussed on Slashdot a few years ago."
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Senate Votes To Replace Aviation Radar With GPS

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  • Great... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by T-Bucket (823202) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:16AM (#31581698) Homepage

    While the nextgen plan is a good thing, the rest is crap. We can get legislation to ban laptops, but we can't get the HORRENDOUSLY dangerous rest regulations fixed. How about NOT giving in to the airline lobbyists for once and actually doing something to make air travel SAFER????

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vxice (1690200)
      lobbyists only have sway over issues that people either don't care about or are not informed. Think, if a politician routinely votes against your wishes you don't vote for him right? Then where does his special interest money come from when he can no longer influence policy. Many issues with our government are due to lazy and inept voters. Only vote on an issue if you are well informed and NOT listening to propaganda, we vote these guys in and we can vote them out if they don't do their job.
      • by rsilvergun (571051) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @09:34AM (#31582600)
        You assume people understand what their wishes are. There was a news story of a guy marching against socialized medicine in his Medicare provided scooter.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by vxice (1690200)
          actually I don't assume voters know what they want. I know they clearly don't. Like I said voters are lazy, inept, uninformed, and misinformed this is problem caused by the voters and we are paying for it, voters need to get off their ass (or stay on it so that informed people can influence policy) and remind politicians that they are the ones ultimately in control of their reelection. It is not the medias fault because they wont cram the information down our throats that we need to make informed decision
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BobMcD (601576)

        Many issues with our government are due to lazy and inept voters. Only vote on an issue if you are well informed and NOT listening to propaganda, we vote these guys in and we can vote them out if they don't do their job.

        This is bullshit of the most dangerous sort. You're making the naive assumption that these politicians are ordinary people, capable of making independent choices and casting votes of their own choosing.

        Frankly, you should know better.

    • I think air travel is already extremely safe; I don't think it makes sense to spend a lot of money (resulting in higher ticket prices) for a minor further increase in safety. You will never get 100% safety anyway. (To avoid any doubt: I am talking about the regulations in North America, Europe and a number of other developed countries. Flying is a lot less safe in, e.g., a lot of African countries.)
      • Re:Great... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by AlecC (512609) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @09:41AM (#31582704)

        This is as much about increasing airway capacity as increasing safety, over ocean there is no radar coverage so that aircraft have to be kept very well spaced, which is becoming a bottleneck on busy routes e.g. US North East to Northern Europe. With GPS you can increase density without decreasing safety. And it will probably save money in the long term - the GPS based systems are inherently cheaper, but you have to put up money in front to run both systems in parallel, and you don't get the payback until you can begin switching off radars. So it needs short term funding to cover the spending hump.

        Basically, this is an unsurprising bit of good housekeeping - as shown by the vote. It was a change that would have to be made sometime, and the only real question was exactly when: costs will almost certainly fall if you delay, but that puts off the arrival of benefits as well.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Martin Blank (154261)

          No one is going to switch off radars. The GPS system in question will supplement radars, but will make areas outside of radar coverage more visible. This will mean the eventual elimination of a number of jet routes and allow many planes to fly more directly using GPS navigation because their positions will be reported accurately to ground-based controllers.

          In high-density locations, radars will still be required because a plane that loses power also may stop transmitting its transponder signal and may sto

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheCarp (96830)

      Some things have often bothered me about the way that congress does things. Its actually reading a bit about coding design that really sunk it home. This seems to me like a top down specification of implementation rather than a specification of interface.

      That is, it doesn't say "this is the goal, this is what information we need, this is what you will get". Instead its "This is how you will do it".

      "This is the information you will send to the tower, this is the format it will be in, these are the tolerance

    • Re:Great... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dgatwood (11270) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @01:10PM (#31585938) Journal

      We can get legislation to ban laptops, but we can't get the HORRENDOUSLY dangerous rest regulations fixed.

      One plane harmlessly overshot its target because somebody was paying attention to a laptop, and now all personal electronics are a threat to our safety and national security. The stewards/stewardesses noticed that they were later than expected, asked the pilots what was up, and they realized their mistake and corrected it. No one was ever in any real danger because we already have safety rules to ensure that there are enough people on the plane to limit the danger posed by these sorts of mistakes. The system worked. But Congress just isn't capable of understanding that. They need someone to blame because the incident got media attention.

      Unfortunately, Congress really is that simple-minded. Whenever something bad happens, their primary goal is to find someone or something to blame, then try to come up with a change to the law that will at least appear to thwart whatever scapegoat they chose, all while failing to address any of the real problems, simply because they aren't sufficiently aware of what those problems are to be making these sorts of policy decisions.

      The FAA should be making these rules, not Congress. That's why we have federal regulatory agencies. If they aren't making the right rules, Congress should ask the President to replace the head of the agency with someone else. As soon as Congress gets into the regulatory business, we all get screwed. The only role Congress should be playing in this is approving the budget for the new equipment if it was requested by the FAA. If it wasn't requested by the FAA, then the whole bill is crap. Either way, the rest of it is crap.

      • Re:Great... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dgatwood (11270) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @01:14PM (#31586020) Journal

        The worst part about this law? Personal electronics in the cockpits of small planes make then safer when used for flight-related purposes, and using personal electronics for purposes unrelated to flying is already against the rules, so this law can't possibly do anything but cause harm. I can't tell you how many stories I've heard about:

        • pilots using cell phones/PDAs to check weather.com or wunderground.com or whatever so they can actually see the weather system
        • pilots using cell phones to talk to the tower after a radio failure
        • pilots using laptops for various flight operations calculations or to more rapidly search the operator manuals for an esoteric problem or...

        Might as well provide a link to professional pilot discussion [pprune.org] on the subject. To sum up the thread, they mostly think our Congress are a bunch of morons. Usually if the people you are regulating think you are utterly incompetent, that's a clear sign that you should take a step back, pull your head out of your backside, and rethink your position.

        Sadly, Congress in their infinite ineptitude, will almost certainly blaze ahead and pass this law, thus dooming some flight a few years from now that could have been saved with personal electronics in the cockpit. And, of course, they'll never know that the flight could have been saved because they aren't smart enough to recognize the hundreds of times this has already happened.

        I think we need a constitutional "cooling off period" amendment that says that with the exception of laws to provide financial relief, no law may be passed in response to any accident, catastrophe, or other incident, whether of natural or human cause, for a minimum of one year (or even two) after the incident in question. Such a law would have prevented so many of Congress's worst screw-ups. Hmm. I think I've said this before.

  • by PhilHibbs (4537) <snarks@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:19AM (#31581718) Homepage Journal

    This just adds to the consequences of the inevitable solar flare that will knock out all our satellites.

    • by T Murphy (1054674) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:28AM (#31581804) Journal
      Senator 1: "Isn't there some saying about putting all your eggs in one basket?"
      Senator 2: "Hey! Good idea!"
      • by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @10:06AM (#31583076) Homepage Journal

        Well lets look at the benefits.
        1. More accurate. GPS can produce a more accurate position fixes than radar can.
        2. More reliable. The ATC radar system is big expensive and is a point of failure. With GPS transponders you can replace the radar with a few simple and redundant data links.
        3. Can provide more coverage. Every aircraft in the system can transit it's location even when out of radar range. Radar is limited by line of site. "ATC radar we will not get into back scatter systems as they are not used for ATC"
        Downsides.
        1. If the GPS system goes down we are in a world of hurt. To be honest if the GPS system goes down we are already in a world of hurt.
        2. If you turn of your GPS beacon you are invisible. Not that big of a change really. If you turn your transponder off you may also be invisible to some ATCs
        3, Dangers from jamming, How hard will it be to jam the GPS signal or worse spoof it near an airport?

        The ATC system and air navigation system in the US has been in need of an overhaul for a long time.
        VOR/DME systems where very useful in the day but GPS is much more accurate.
        Most communications are still using analog voice systems that have changed very little since the 40s and 50s.
        Of course there is a huge problem with any massive upgrade.
        That is simply cost.
        There are thousands of small Mom and Pop airports and FBOs that are just barley staying in business as it is. They can not afford spending thousands of dollars to get new radios.
        Then you have all the private pilots that also really can not afford the cost of upgrading. It is a myth that all private pilots are rich. A lot of them just have a passion for flying. They tend to be no more rich than must boat owners. That and people tend to forget that General Aviation also provides lots of jobs as well. Not as much as it used to but still a good number.
        I fear that unless these beacons are really cheap we will see a lot of aircraft grounded or restricted to none controlled airports.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by MattskEE (925706)

          3, Dangers from jamming, How hard will it be to jam the GPS signal or worse spoof it near an airport?

          This one depends. They are going to design this system with the antenna's reception pattern mostly between the horizontal plane of the aircraft, and straight up. Which means to get any jamming signal in, you'll need to be at about the same height as the aircraft. At that point jamming is semi-trivial. Spoofing is far more difficult, but it's certainly a possibility. Of course if you throw enough power i

    • by petaflop (682818)
      Absolutely! I'm flabbergasted! The US commercial air fleet could be grounded for days at a time during the next sunspot maximum (probably around 2015).
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by bsDaemon (87307)

        sunspots are a myth perpetrated by climate holocaust deniers

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TheLink (130905)
        Which radar are they talking about?

        I thought the radar on passenger planes is just weather radar?

        e.g. it detects clouds and not other planes.

        OK there's also the "going to hit the ground" detection stuff, but I don't think that's what the story is about.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by AlecC (512609)

          They are talking about replacing the ground radar which generates the "blips" on ATC screens with "secondary" radar that just interrogates the plane's on-board GPS. They already interrogate the plane for ID, bearing and speed - this just adds the position and altitude from the plane. Obviously the GPS receiver and the transponder must be extremely reliable.

  • sounds risky (Score:5, Insightful)

    by seeker_1us (1203072) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:21AM (#31581732)
    what if some big foreign country who has anti satellite weapons decides to blow up our GPS satellites?
    • by vxice (1690200) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:24AM (#31581754)
      and what if evil munchkins land on the wing to sabotage the engine and the only one who sees it is a guy who every one thinks is crazy? what if...
    • Then the entire worlds civilian airline structure falls to shambles. Pretty much every big plane does use GPS now, just as a side tool. Whatever regulations the US makes, all planes flying into and out of the US have to have. In that way, this tech will eventually start working around the world.

    • by KDN (3283)
      Who needs anti satellite weapons? In the second Iraq war, wasn't Iraq using GPS jamming equipment for a while? Heck, last time I was in DC I noticed that my GPS would blink out around the White House. Although direct jamming equipment I don't worry about as much as the possibility of spoofing equipment. Something that could raise the apparent altitude of your airplane on descent in bad weather. Or move your location so you fly into a mountain range. Jamming would be obvious as you would have problems
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Now now, I don't think the EU would go that far to promote its Galileo system (provided they get it up and running, that is)

    • It's a little hard to tell, but one of the advantages listed is that aircraft outside areas with radar coverage will be able to transmit position information. So reading between the lines they expect to continue using radar, but replacing its role in the system with more up to date data broadcast by the aircraft.

      I'm guessing that they will not throw out radar entirely for primary surveillance. They'll need it to track things that don't transmit their position, like aircraft with failed electronics.

      • by Rich0 (548339) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @09:43AM (#31582746) Homepage

        I'm guessing that they will not throw out radar entirely for primary surveillance. They'll need it to track things that don't transmit their position, like aircraft with failed electronics.

        Or drug smugglers, or hijackers, or an incoming air raid, or anybody else who doesn't want to intentionally broadcast their location... Granted, civilian primary radar is not going to help much with an incoming military air raid.

        Overall, however, I think that it is a good way to cut down quite a bit of the cost (potentially) and provide better service.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vtcodger (957785)

      The country doesn't have to be big. There are probably 20 countries that could, in theory, destroy GPS satellites. And they don't even have to destroy them, all they have to do is jam them from orbit. At least 10 countries have launched satellites -- not all of them countries you'd expect. Iraq launched one in the late 1980s. Many more could launch a satellite if they wished. For all we know, the Russians, Chinese, Indians, Japanese already have GPS jammers/spoofers in orbit ready to be turned on shou

  • Security (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The Aethereal (1160051) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:25AM (#31581762)

    So each plane sends its location back to air traffic control? How is this system secured? This will be breached repeatedly. Also, what happens when a solar storm takes out the satellites? I'm sure GPS is a better system under normal circumstances, but circumstances are not always normal.

    • Doesn't ATC already need to know the location of every plane to do their job?
    • Re:Security (Score:5, Interesting)

      by shrtcircuit (936357) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @09:33AM (#31582582)
      Planes already send their location back to ATC using query/response from the ground radar in an easily breached system. We haven't seen the big scary terrorists making fake planes appear on screens yet. In fact the current system is significantly more vulnerable, as it can only handle so many planes in its "view" at a time. Try to imagine loading that up with a few hundred fake transponders that block out real aircraft from showing up - essentially an ATC DoS attack. NextGen would, I hope, be considerably harder to attack in that method. With the current method it isn't unheard of for busy areas to DoS themselves from overload so it's already a weak model.

      Also while I don't think GPS is or could ever be 100% reliable, we pilots do have something called pilotage, paper charts, and good old fashioned flying that we can use to get where we're going. It isn't as cool or convenient as a big moving map on your panel, but is a tried and true way to safely navigate that folks have been using since Jeppesen invented aeronautical charting. Even if some freak solar storm blew out all of the GPS satellites, pilots aren't going to suddenly find themselves completely lost, and planes aren't going just drop out of the sky. GPS receivers and transponders fail in planes from time to time, and we have backup plans to account for that and continue on. It's really not the end of the world. In effect an aircraft could suffer entire avionics failure and still make it down just fine.

      NextGen is not the end of the world, it's a much needed upgrade to a vastly outdated system. It's better than what we have now, and if it breaks there won't be airliners crashing right and left. It's OK.

      My personal beef with it is the "personal electronics" thing. I use my phone to access aviation information (weather, databases, etc) and fail to see why I should stop just because a couple wankers couldn't stop playing Doom in the cockpit or whatever they were doing. Federal Aviation Regs *already* have clauses to deal with pilot stupidity, this is just extra bullshit with literally zero benefit.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by LWATCDR (28044)

        So it this no personal electronics going to effect private pilots as well? What about VFR pilots?
        I know of CAP folks that have used HAM radios to help with disaster relief work? Will you be banned for plugging you mp3 player into the sound system for VFR flight?
        "Before anybody freaks out listening to music while flying VFR is safer than listening to music while driving. When you are flying other planes don't honk their horns and air ambulances don't have sirens." Also any radio transmissions override the mu

      • Re:Security (Score:5, Informative)

        by ktappe (747125) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @10:53AM (#31583752)

        My personal beef with it is the "personal electronics" thing. I use my phone to access aviation information (weather, databases, etc) and fail to see why I should stop just because a couple wankers couldn't stop playing Doom in the cockpit or whatever they were doing. Federal Aviation Regs *already* have clauses to deal with pilot stupidity, this is just extra bullshit with literally zero benefit.

        The /. summary was incorrect (surprise surprise). The actual bill "bans pilots from using wireless devices or laptops in the cockpit that are unrelated to work." So you can still use your weather info. In fact, the MSP pilots were also doing work-related stuff so I don't know what ninny put that clause in as it doesn't even apply in a knee-jerk manner....

    • Re:Security (Score:4, Insightful)

      by vlm (69642) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @09:43AM (#31582744)

      So each plane sends its location back to air traffic control?

      ADS-B

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_dependent_surveillance-broadcast [wikipedia.org]

      How is this system secured? This will be breached repeatedly.

      No technical means what so ever.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_dependent_surveillance-broadcast#Public_Access_to_ADS-B [wikipedia.org]

      No public reports of anyone intentionally messing with the 50 year old transponder system, which basically did "about the same thing" but without GPS. Probably because the military spent enormous amounts of money on gear and training to stop the Russians from doing it effectively, by being able to pinpoint the source, launch HARM missiles at the source, etc. If you can do a better job than a world superpower, then the USAF might be concerned... maybe.

      There is an economic limitation in that the cost of the gear to "mess with the system" would be staggeringly far in excess of the cost of a simple cheap surface to air missile or an explosive in a suitcase (or shoe). And when all is said and done, you've knocked out air surveillance, something that happens on occasion right now due to equipment failure and its "no big deal".

      Also, what happens when a solar storm takes out the satellites?

      GPS sats are pretty tough, vaguely EMP proof. They were built and launched by the military for the military, you know.

      Note that plenty of small planes fly with no transponders or IFR gear, today... You won't get 3 landings per minute at ohare and IFR would seem to be borderline impossible, but by no means do you have to "shut down ALL traffic" or all airplanes will magically fall out of the sky.

      The cheapest/simplest solution might be to scramble the AWACS planes temporarily, until you can hotwire some patriot missile radars into the civilian facilities.

      It would be an expensive and annoying PITA, but far less severe than the first couple days post-9/11

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by harl (84412)

      So what? The current system is breached repeatedly. All you had to do was turn off your transponder.

  • Inquiring minds... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Genda (560240) <mariet@@@got...net> on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:25AM (#31581772) Journal

    So exactly how prone will this system be to;

    1. Solar storms and sunspots?
    2. Terrorism foreign or domestic?
    3. Hacking or cracking?
    4. The problems surrounding an aging satellite service?

    Don't get me wrong, this has a lot of upside, it's just important we have a good idea what the down side is, how significant it is, and what the expected impact on American business and transportation will be.

    • "Sat-nav is too easy to attack"

      "A UK GOVERNMENT BOFFIN has warned that it is too easy to jam GPS signals with cheap gear.

      An engineer at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington warned that jamming sat-nav equipment with noise signals was on the rise and more sophisticated methods even allow hackers to program what GPS receivers display.

      Speaking to the BBC, David Last, a consultant engineer and former president of the Royal Institute of Navigation said that GPS gives us transportation, distribution ind

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jonwil (467024)

      Should the GPS fail for whatever reason, there are plenty of backup systems that will keep things going.

      Airplanes (at least the big ones) have various collision avoidance systems that will sound an alarm anytime one flies too close to an obstacle (be it mountains, tall buildings, other airplanes or whatever) and will allow the pilot to navigate around the obstacle.

      There are many layers of backup systems that would allow a pilot to safety navigate and land (either at the intended destination or at the closes

  • US Senate on Monday passed by a 93-0 margin

    And what were the other 7 senators doing that day? Biden (the VP) is technically part of the senate, but I'll give him a pass on this. I'll be checking to see if my senator(s) were busy sleeping in that day.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      US Senate on Monday passed by a 93-0 margin

      And what were the other 7 senators doing that day? Biden (the VP) is technically part of the senate, but I'll give him a pass on this. I'll be checking to see if my senator(s) were busy sleeping in that day.

      Uh, the VP only votes in case of a tie.

    • If it passed by a 93-0 margin, it's conceivable your senate's vote wasn't needed.

      Washington operated on a mix of reality, image, and rumor. Occasionally there's some morality thrown in. (To be fair, there is a lot of morality if you look in the right offices, but they usually aren't in the capitol building.) It's not so much because people are immoral as because they're busy and one misstatement costs them their career. It's hard to say anything when that's true, so you get very good at saying nothing.

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by Hadlock (143607)

        If we're going to pay my senator $174,000 a year [wikipedia.org] for 4 year term, plus lifetime pension and health benefits, plus other expenses*, I damn well expect them to be there every day. They already get plenty of days off [thecapitol.net], in addition to federal holidays. Maybe you make more than $174,000 a year, but I promise you, I don't. Considering it's an honor to serve your country, maybe they should rethink their payscale [answers.com].

        *Senators have free access to military jets [wsj.com], which cost anywhere from $500 to $5000 an hour depe

    • Re:93-0 margin (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Saint Fnordius (456567) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @09:27AM (#31582500) Homepage Journal

      Well, there are a couple of senators who are sick and cannot attend, and if it wasn't for the amendment to the health care reform bill, many of them would have been off on junkets or in committee meetings. 93 is actually a high number for such an uncontroversial bill.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MightyYar (622222)

      Here's the list [senate.gov], by the way.

  • If the batteries in my Garmin go out, I can just use any 747 to go geocaching!

  • by Drethon (1445051) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:32AM (#31581854)
    If this appropriately meets FAA guidelines than this is fine.

    In cockpit systems a standby attitude device must be installed in the cockpit as a fallback system unless the existing cockpit systems have dual redundancy.

    Along the same token the GPS DAMN WELL better have a backup system of some sort. This backup may be a radar system or it may be an INS system combined with altitude sensors or use of VOR/TACAN systems. There just has to be something there.
  • Sexy female voice in the cockpit: "Now come to a heading of 329."
    Pilot: "Wait... WTF ? Who put that mountain there ?...."

  • What about UFO's (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rossdee (243626) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:40AM (#31581954)

    In the literal sense, light aircraft not equiped with GPS, (Drug or people smugglers), and of course aircraft that have been hijacked and their transponders disabled.

    Or some kid in a baloon (hoax or not, its probably not going to do an engine any good if it sucks it in...

    And if the pilots are too busy playing with their laptops to even look out of the window...

    It doesnt sound safe to me, especially in a post 911 world.

    • Re:What about UFO's (Score:4, Informative)

      by jittles (1613415) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:46AM (#31582006)
      Right now the Gen AV radar system is actually based upon transponders reporting their altitude, position, speed and bearing. The only people that use active radar these days are the kinds of guys that work at NORAD or on an AWACS.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Most non-military aviation uses Mode C transponders which only report altitude and an identifier code. Radar still tracks bearing and position.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transponder_%28aviation%29

    • by mooglez (795643)

      In the literal sense, light aircraft not equiped with GPS, (Drug or people smugglers), and of course aircraft that have been hijacked and their transponders disabled.

      Or some kid in a baloon (hoax or not, its probably not going to do an engine any good if it sucks it in...

      And if the pilots are too busy playing with their laptops to even look out of the window...

      It doesnt sound safe to me, especially in a post 911 world.

      Does it matter? GPS is passive, it only figures out its current location via the satellite signals, it does not broadcast it onwards.

      To replace radars on the ground for tracking aircraft, you need something in addition to the GPS (what is that, it's not mentioned in the summary?)

    • by Angst Badger (8636) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @10:55AM (#31583766)

      It doesnt sound safe to me, especially in a post 911 world.

      Well, of course not. If you're one of those people who uses the phrase "post-9/11 world" without (conscious) irony, you're never going to feel safe. Just be thankful you have the specter of terrorism to focus your fear on, instead of the countless vague fears that preyed on your mind in the long and dreadful period between the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of al Qaeda.

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:43AM (#31581992)
    Didn't they delay a shuttle launchto avoid a GPS clock rollover? Will they ground all the world's aircraft for the next one?
  • GPS (Score:2, Interesting)

    by teuluPaul (731293)
    This is intesting on several levels:

    1. In the UK NOTAMs ( Notice to airmen) are issued on a regular basis for GPS jamming trials. They take place over several weeks, and are, I believe, carried out by the army. I am not sure if their intention is to remove the possibility of soldiers on exercise using GPS rather than other means to navigate, or for some other reason.

    I fly gliders and have a GPS unit on board which is used as a navigation aid. I also carry a chart (as required by air law) which serves a

  • by Obyron (615547) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:51AM (#31582050)
    This is just a parliamentary tactic the Democrats are using to ram this unpopular legislation down the throats of ordinary, hard-working Americans. They're trying to pass this bill in the dead of night, under the old bridge down town, dressed as hobos and reeking of urine. Write your Congressman, radio your Precinct Boss, phone your local librarian. We need all hands on deck to kill this bill and show the Washington fatcats that we're not going to stand for this. I don't care if it's just to buy toilet paper, but getting a bill through our Congress should take a supermajority, the way God intended! Email Barack Hussein Obama and tell him you don't want socialist aviation!
  • Why not have both? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by moxley (895517) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:52AM (#31582060)

    WHy not have both. Redundancy is a good thing when it comes to this sort of stuff.

  • Security issue... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SaberCat (1391411) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:52AM (#31582062)
    Point one: GPS, since the plane's antenna is semi-omnidirectional, is easily jammed. GPS signal strengths are weak. Point Two: Radar is not easily jammed. A jammer can only jam one radial -- and he gives away his angular position when he does. Point Three: Radar can skin track a plane even when the plane's transponder is turned off.
    • Re:Security issue... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @10:19AM (#31583274)

      GPS, since the plane's antenna is semi-omnidirectional, is easily jammed.

      The problem is, the semi-direction, as you call it, is pointed up. Most GPS satellites are up there rather than down here. And most/all jammers will be down here, where it isn't pointing. You're going to need about 20 dB more power just for that alone.

      A weak signal can't interfere far away. So, just fly on for a mile, and its all good again.

      A strong signal can be easily detected/pinpointed/eliminated by military ECM/ECCM aircraft.

      Its unlikely a ground based jammer could be effective for more than a couple hours.

  • What? Where did that come from? The link in the summary points to the slashdot posting about the airliner that overflew its destination by a bit. THAT summary talks about the crew using their laptops during the flight. However, I am not sure that's the case. In fact, I am led to believe that they had both nodded off. So, while removing personal electronics from the flight deck might be attractive to people who want to remove distractions, in reality it's often useful to have a distraction to keep one a
    • by Scutter (18425)

      Not to mention the question of what qualifies as "personal electronics". A computerized E6B? A handheld GPS? How about a laptop with your Jeppesen FBO maps? It's a dumb thing to regulate.

    • What? Where did that come from? The link in the summary points to the slashdot posting about the airliner that overflew its destination by a bit. THAT summary talks about the crew using their laptops during the flight. However, I am not sure that's the case. In fact, I am led to believe that they had both nodded off.

      They did not nod off, they were distracted by their laptops. Read the NTSB report [ntsb.gov].

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:56AM (#31582122)
    I mean from what I understand you use GPS to find out where you are and then have to radio that to air control. Besides it being hacked what happens in the simple case that a GPS unit on a certain plane is broken and reports the wrong location? (I'm guessing there's some sort of "checksum" to prevent this but then again I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't any either.
  • Really guys? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by drumcat (1659893)
    I love how everyone here just damn well knows what's better for the FAA. All the OMG they better have a backup, as if it's Windows Me or something. Look; pilots are very smart people. They aren't going to get in a plane that doesn't have some sort of backup nav. That said, you guys worry about things way too much. I know one-engine props crash more than passenger airliners, but how many of you have been on a dual turbo-prop? They say the other engine will get you all the way to the crash site... And
  • GPS will tell you where you are... if you have a GPS.

    Radar will tell you what's out there... as long as it reflects RADAR waves.

    I'd say RADAR is a whole lot more useful than GPS in avoiding collisions. Do you think that flock of birds has a GPS? How about that meteor?

  • It is an astoundingly bad idea to replace the radar network. GPS is not a remote-sensing technology that can be used for aircraft detection. Presumably a transponder will be used in conjunction with GPS locating. Disconnecting the transponder would allow a plane to fly unseen through US airspace. With radar this would only be possible for a stealth or very low-flying aircraft. There is a huge difference between active (radar) and passive (gps transponder) detection systems.

  • by Goldenhawk (242867) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @10:33AM (#31583466) Homepage

    I can tell from reading the other comments here that my opinions will be in the minority, but I can personally testify how GOOD this system is.

    I do flight testing of military aircraft, and we did a demo with several planes and helicopters a couple years ago on the "ADS-B" system, which is a component of NextGen. I've played with it inflight myself, and surveyed many pilots who used it. So you know I'm not blowing smoke, I won an award for a paper about this system at the 2006 Society of Flight Test Engineers annual symposium.

    To give you some context about what NextGen and ADS-B do, here's the idea. (I think this description will be useful, since it appears most of the comments here demonstrate a profound lack of knowledge of the system... but this *IS* /. so I'm not surprised.)

    Each plane is equipped with a transponder. It receives GPS position, and broadcasts a packet of data once per second (much more frequently than the usual radar sweep of 10-15 seconds) containing identity, position, aircraft type, speed, heading, altitude, and more.

    With just a few thousand dollars worth of optional equipment, each plane can also recieve these broadcast packets of information DIRECTLY from other aircraft. In other words, an airplane will see what the other nearby airplanes are reporting too. Right now, a pilot has very little idea what is around his own plane - if the controller doesn't warn him, he doesn't know about it. The existing collision avoidance systems only show a rough approximation of what's in front of you at roughly the same altitude, but it's very error-prone (based on WWII-era-technology directional radio beacons), and hard to find the targets in many cases. But this sytem lets you see everything that the airspace controller is seeing, and almost instantly - once per second. We found the pilots experienced a four-fold increase in their ability to identify conflicting traffic in front of them, and for the first time were aware of overtaking traffic too (faster stuff coming up behind them).

    The ground-based system rebroadcasts ALL of its data (including skin-paint targets) on a separate radio frequency, so any airplane (or even ground observers) can learn about everything in the airspace. Along with this data, it also uploads precipitation radar and other weather data, plus airport information. So the pilot has access to a vast amount of new information. And most of the systems have onboard maps with terrain mapping, helping to keep the pilot away from mountains and other dangerous "cumulo-granite" features.

    For the pilot himself, the increase in situational awareness was simply amazing. The immediate and crystal clear presentation of the location of all nearby planes meant that he knew everything going on around him. For the ground controller, the much higher frequency updates combined with the much more detailed information about each plane means improved ability to track and direct those airplanes.

    There ARE a few downsides, but they're vastly outweighed by the improvements. As some comments indicate, it does depend on GPS. Well, duh. But so do the navigation systems already onboard the airplanes... and cars... and commercial trucks... and ships... and trains. If GPS goes down, there will be much worse problems than this system going away. Despite what it sounds like, the radars are not going away - some will, but there will still be enough for "skin paint" and radar transponder tracking if needed (Congress and the FAA are not totally stupid). As to GPS jammers, note that the airplane is receiving the GPS data, and broadcasting its information on a totally separate frequency to the ground and to other aircraft. So any GPS jamming (since it's localized) will only affect a few airplanes, not the whole system. And by the way, all serious aircraft have multiple navigation systems; jamming GPS won't kill any airplanes, despite the alarmists.

    Finally, let's talk about real-world - this system was installed in portions of Alaska around 2000-2001, as a

    • I have mod points today, but there's no "Awesome" modifier, so instead I opted to make a note of it here.

      Great info! Thanks for sharing.

      -FL

  • This is BAD (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Phairdon (1158023) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @10:36AM (#31583524)

    I can tell from comments that not many of you are private pilots. They are paying for this with yet another tax on fuel for private planes. The FAA keeps raising fees on everything associated with having a private plane while giving big breaks to commercial companies. I'm sick of it.

  • Both? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DarthVain (724186) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @11:08AM (#31583984)

    For the sake of safety and security, why don't we use both? It isn't like they are mutually exclusive... Then if there is a failure, you have a, you know, a backup plan? Not to mention we have these new fangled things called computers, that are like, really good at doing calculations really fast... so you could like correlate both systems to each other and increase the accuracy of both likely. I am already assuming that they are going to use base stations to auto correct the positions from known values also. Anyway the more redundancy the better I say.

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