On 20-01-2012, in The future is now, by steve
I was talking to an old time, well respected colleague the other day discussing his view that instead of forcing the industry to implement yet another expensive capability, full use should be made of what was already there… Once the benefits start to accrue, airspace users would be much more inclined to take the extra steps and accept the costs associated with the extra functionality (assuming of course that there was a business case for it). This discussion was in the context of basic PBN and the addition or not of things like Constant Radius Turns in en-route airspace.
Although I have always preferred a more all-out approach, his pragmatic views make perfect sense and is also something airline bean-counters are likely to accept more readily. Investing in speculative functionality when the existing stuff sits idle most of the time is difficult to justify. Of course focusing mainly on use-what-is-already-there-first will not speed up progress but will make the simpler things happen with a higher degree of probability. Aim for too much, and nothing happens. I hate to admit it, but he is right…
Having given credit where credit is due, my incorrigible drive for wanting the whole thing kept chewing my soul. There was something here that we could turn to our advantage. But what was it exactly?
Then I remembered… The thousands of A320NEOs and Boeing 737MAXs. Airlines have ordered these more fuel efficient versions of the old favorites to basically replace a large part of their fleets almost overnight. Now if only those new babies could come with all kinds of goodies fitted right from the start…
What are we talking about? From an air traffic management perspective, there are three items that I would have on my wish list: air/ground digital link and CPDLC, ADS-B in and out and a full set of PBN capabilities.
I can almost hear opponents shouting: with those new versions not due for another three years or so, what technology should the manufacturers use for ADS-B for instance? Stay with Mode S Extended Squitter or go for something else? But what? Would it not be better to wait until the technology debate settles? We have of course heard this in the past. Waiting is equivalent to doing nothing and missing the boat. We have also seen that in the past… and suffer the consequences in the present day.
No Sire, this time we should be smarter.
For ADS-B and air/ground digital link we do have mature technologies in the form of Mode-S Extended Squitter and VDL Mode 2. The PBN package is there, almost complete… Possibly they are not the best and for the longer term we will definitely need something better. But if we consider how many years (decades…) it took to settle on these two imperfect technologies we have to stop for a moment and think about how long it would take to come up with better replacements. Will they be there by around 2015 when the re-engined aircraft start to fly? There is no real reason to believe that getting to a new, approved system would take less in the future than it did in the past, the industry must ponder the question: is it not the best bet (and commercially also the most acceptable) decision to request that the new Airbus and Boeing replacements be equipped with ADS-B in/out and air/ground digital link using Mode S Extended Squitter and VDL Mode 2 and CPDLC as we know them to-day (or rather, as they may evolve in the next two years) so that they come from the factory with these capabilities as standard. Sure, this would affect the price-tag but forward fit, especially if done at manufacture and compared to the total price of the aircraft, is relatively modest. The extra cost could also be kept low in view of the very large number of aircraft to be outfitted, a truly unique opportunity.
So what would such a bold step bring us?
Almost overnight, a very substantial part of the medium-haul fleet would be equipped to do most of what the future ATM system will want and equipping the rest of the fleet would be much less of a daunting task.
In this scenario, both my colleague and I would see our respective approaches come to fruition and without breaking the bank too.
In 5 years’ time we could advise without hesitation: first use what is already on the plane!