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Senate Votes To Replace Aviation Radar With GPS 457

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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:41AM (#31581966)

    We had a debate. You acted like children. You lost.

  • 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:93-0 margin (Score:3, Informative)

    by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:48AM (#31582024) Homepage Journal
    But he's not a Senator anymore, and he can't vote unless it's a tie.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:50AM (#31582040)

    Radars are very, very reliable nowadays but the backup for air traffic control is to then put all aircraft at different altitudes until they either exit the area with broken radar or land, if things really go awry. There's still plenty of space for aircraft to be at different altitudes if you go below cruise levels, albeit the increased fuel consumption at lower altitudes might then mean that some simply must land. But that's a relatively minor inconvenience in case of radar failure...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @08:57AM (#31582134)

    Sheer foolishness to me. I appreciate the benefits that it has, being a pilot myself, however... There'd be no way to see airplanes without electrical systems (yep, they exist), with failed electrical systems (yep, it happens), or airliners taken over by terrorists that turn the ADS-B transmitters to the "OFF" position. Great idea guys. Then, let's use JUST GPS for navigation when we've already been told that we might not be able to keep the satellite fleet numbers high enough to avoid outages. Oh, and yeah, satellites navigation is much easier to jam by our enemies and can be knocked out by the Sun a lot easier than ground-based. Anyone ever experience RAIM failure? It happens...

    Great idea, horrible implementation... :-(

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @09:15AM (#31582316)

    Short answer no.

  • by ConfusedVorlon ( 657247 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @09:24AM (#31582414) Homepage

    ...and then ...nothing bad happens. The pilot reports a gps failure, air traffic guide her by radar towards the airport. When in range of the airport (assuming the weather is bad enough that the pilot can't see out the window) the pilot lands using the airport's instrument landing beacons.

    There is slight disruption to traffic in the area due to slightly wider berth being given to our troubled aircraft, and the priority landing pattern.

    (precise details made up - broad effect accurate)

  • Re:What about UFO's (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @09:28AM (#31582516)

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

  • Re:sounds risky (Score:5, Informative)

    by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @09:30AM (#31582534) Homepage Journal

    I'm pretty sure we would still have VFR, VOR/VORTAC, NBD/DME, etc.

    Sure, it might be a bit more 'interesting' not running into anyone, but you hardly NEED gps (or radar) to get from A to B.

    Links below, because having [] fifteen times in the middle of the text is irritating. [] [] [] []

  • by AlecC ( 512609 ) <> on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @09:44AM (#31582762)

    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.

  • by GSMacLean ( 1333075 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @10:02AM (#31583020)

    You're missing the point. The idea behind GPS-driven ADS-B is that it REPLACES surveillance radar.

    Here's how it works right now: The ground-based radar sends out a signal; it hits the aircraft and bounces back; ATC now knows which direction and how far away the aircraft is. On top of this, there is a transponder in the aircraft which sends back a coded number assigned by ATC, so that ATC can determine which dot on their radar screen is which aircraft. Additionally, if the transponder has (and has enabled) Mode C (which is required in most congested airspace), it sends back the aircraft's altitude. ATC now has a 3-dimensional fix on the aircraft, with positive verification as to who you are.

    ADS-B gets rid of all of this. Instead, the aircraft has a GPS receiver, which gives itself a 3-dimensional fix in space. It transmits this information along with a unique identifier, when interrogated, to ATC. ATC utilizes this information to identify and track the aircraft in 3 dimensional space, as is now done with conventional radar/Mode C.

    The problem is, what if GPS goes out? What if some pimply 17 year old kid buys a GPS jammer from Mexico and sets it up on his roof? Every aircraft in the area suddenly loses their ability to receive GPS signals, and all of a sudden ATC has no idea where any of the aircraft are. There is no backup system, because part of NexGen is the decommissioning of all primary surveillance radar.

    THAT is the issue.

  • by icebrain ( 944107 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @10:29AM (#31583412)

    GPS is more accurate, updates faster, and provides coverage in places radar doesn't, like open ocean, mountain ranges, Alaska, Siberia, etc. It also gives better data to other aircraft than current systems. Current transponder-based radar systems (which also require aircraft to actively respond) will be retained in parallel for a long time to support older aircraft and serve as a backup; traditional "skin-paint" radar that works on passive or hostile aircraft will always be present too, just for those situations you speak of.

    ADS-B (the GPS-based technology) significantly increases safety and provides a little workload reduction over the current system. It's being used to great effect already in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

  • 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

  • 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....

  • by Jhon ( 241832 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @10:54AM (#31583756) Homepage Journal

    You might want to retake your civics classes -- I don't think you understand what a democracy is.

    The USA is a Constitutional Republic, not a democracy.

    The UK is a Constitutional Monarchy (with a parliamentary implementation of executive powers). It's essentially a Republic.

    Switzerland's referendum process makes it more of a democracy. Their current constitution was only adopted in 1999 with direct democracy (through referendums) being a bit over 120 years old or so...

    So, I hardily agree with you. "Lets not confuse pompous pronouncements with facts.".

  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @11:11AM (#31584016)

    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 closest suitable airport depending on the conditions and situation) even if GPS was non functional.
    Landing is going to use runway lights, instrument landing system, primary radar and the pilots eyeballs anyway and not GPS (which doesn't have enough accuracy to reliably tell the difference between the center of the runway and the edge of it, hence the need for ILS and the glide slope)

    There are all kinds of situations where pilots have been able to land airplanes of all kinds with NO electrical power in the aircraft whatsoever. And the response in these situations wont change because of the introduction of GPS.

  • by AgentMagneta ( 1773890 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @11:41AM (#31584500)
    You made a very good point. And it is not like it will replace the backup systems.
    But on the other hand we have had a lot of ships running aground here in my part of Europe. By the failure of the GPS. What is important is that training does include the backup systems.
  • Re:Great... (Score:3, Informative)

    by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @12:00PM (#31584756)

    You're right. I apologize. I'll begin again.

    Where I live, in the United States, we have entities known as Political Parties []. Namely we have two, Republicans [] and Democrats [].

    Going back to your example, let's imagine Joe Republican voted on something that you find absolutely disgusting. You vow to vote for Sally Democrat in the next election, and she wins. Sally votes for the exact same thing. Sally notes that she was against 'X' before she was for it...

    You get mad and vote in Beth Republican, to teach Sally a lesson. Beth wrings her hands and votes for the same thing.




    Not so long as the only two options on the ballot are aligned thus as they presently are.

    And before you imagine that such an issue does not exist let me list out a few [] examples [].

    There's more... Even when they disagree, like the recent unpleasantness, parliamentary tricks [] are employed to force legislation on you that you do not want. Never mind that you voted for the guy you wanted, got him elected, and he voted the right way for once - the people in power turn a blind eye to both (at least half of) the people and the very design of government. They get what they want anyway.

    And they'll do this because they know that their enemy in red, even if swept into Congress as a result of their behavior, will make an even worse mess of things than they did. And the Blues will take the field when it is their turn.

    We saw this once before [], by the way, and it wasn't very pleasant [] while they resolved it. The only reason we saw relative stability after the Civil War was because everyone with a will to disagree was either no longer in Congress or dead.

    Listen, I know you feel like you are a cut above the rest. And I realize that you feel everyone around you is an inferior, intellectually, and your desire is that they all operate within politics at your own level. I get that. I really do. Now that I've understood your point, please, please, please try to understand mine. It is vitally important that people wake up and recognize the color of the handbasket we're in. Blaming all of our problems on the 'ignorant masses' (which may not even actually exist) makes it very convenient for the coming tragedy to continue without interference.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @12:33PM (#31585312)

    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

    No, no, no. With a radar, you won't be INVISIBLE, you will always show up as a blip unless you're a stealth vehicle. All the ACC's depend on radar tracks and all international airports have their own approach radars. It would be folly to eliminate the ground radars and depend solely on GPS transmitted by the planes themselves.

    Ground radars will always be needed, they should not be REPLACED, they should be supplemented by GPS.

  • by MattskEE ( 925706 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @01:53PM (#31586604)

    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 into a jammer it can work even at very poor angles. This is more significant for a small aircraft since they don't have as much width or height blocking a signal from the ground.

    But there are lots of techniques that can be used to alleviate this, anti-jam GPS is hardly a new topic, it's all a matter of money. Since at the airport there will be transponders and radars still, it may not be worth spending a whole lot of money preventing this possibility.

  • by yurtinus ( 1590157 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @02:31PM (#31587324)
    As somebody who knows and works with several private pilots, that statement is utterly false. Private aircraft are certainly not cheap, but they are definitely not out of reach of the middle class.

    Just because *you* don't like them doesn't make those that do wrong. Do you have any statistics on GA fuel usage vs commercial vs automotive that I'm not aware of? I simply don't understand why you're hostile to general aviation. I certainly can agree with you on the over-reliance on commercial air travel. A better utilized rail system would do us some good here-- but private aircraft are most often flown as a hobby by regular people.

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