Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Push for Friendlier Skies: Companies, governments urge development of shared-navigation standards for planes

A Global Positioning System IIF-series satellite. U.S. aerospace firms and the government want a worldwide standard for navigation. 

By Andy Pasztor
March 20, 2016 6:35 p.m. ET

U.S. aerospace companies and government officials are pushing to develop new cockpit-equipment standards that eventually would allow aircraft to fully utilize local satellite-navigation systems across Europe, China, Russia and other areas.

Efforts to draft such common technical benchmarks, discussed at an industry meeting in Washington, D.C., last week, aim to enhance safety by permitting airliners and other planes to supplement signals from U.S.-operated Global Positioning Satellites with those broadcast by separate regional or national space constellations or even ground-based technology.

The ultimate goal is more precise and redundant location information worldwide—regardless of airline or aircraft type.

The concept has been discussed in principle for years, but now many industry leaders and regulators increasingly are advocating joint standards leading to functional commonality of airborne computers and flight-management technology.

The GPS constellation remains the gold standard in terms of coverage and reliability. But navigation and safety experts believe augmenting it with signals tailored to local practices and conditions would provide additional flexibility, as well as greater redundancy.

The strategy has been endorsed by plane makers and avionics manufacturers on both sides of the Atlantic, where commonality among various types of equipment is further advanced than in many other parts of the globe.

“There has been a lot of talk over the last year or so about increasing the coordination” between European and U.S. experts who want to devise joint satellite-navigation standards, Anna von Groote of Europe’s standard-setting body said during last week’s session.

Rockwell Collins Inc., Honeywell International Inc. and Garmin International Inc. are among the equipment manufacturers advocating such an approach. It comes as next-gerenation GPS satellites are slated to be updated with additional signals, and the U.S. Air Force continues to have problems with the performance of an upgraded operational control system on the ground.

Officials of RTCA Inc., the Federal Aviation Administration primary technical advisory and standard-setting group, last week also highlighted the effort to reach global consensus standards during their meeting last week.

Christopher Hegarty, chairman of the RTCA’s policy-making Program Management Committee, said “every vendor and user just wants one standard” incorporating various frequencies, and that is also adaptable to multiple constellations.

In all, more than a dozen countries or regions already have installed or committed to deploy primary satellite-navigation or supplemental ground-based systems, according to George Ligler, a veteran member of RTCA’s policy-setting committee. That is why developing common standards “is an imperative need,” he said during the meeting, adding that “it’s compelling logic to do this jointly.”

But expanding the initiative to include China and Russia—which like Europe have their own satellite-navigation networks—poses major diplomatic and technical challenges, experts have warned. India also is pursuing a separate enhanced system.

According to a briefing document prepared for the meeting, RTCA will consider standards encompassing “core constellations” including Russia’s functioning GLONASS network, as well as Europe’s fledgling Galileo constellation and China’s planned BeiDou system. Different standards are scheduled to be published between this fall and 2022.

“Particular attention should be given to meeting [signal] integrity and availability requirements” for all phases of flight, according to the document. Any new standards, the papers said, “should address, to the extent practicable,” potential increases in unintended signal interference.

The standards also should seek to prevent intentional interference or hacking—called “spoofing” of signals—which can end up confusing air-traffic controllers or pilots.

Moreover, the proposals would be coordinated with the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency.

In the U.S., the Air Force operates GPS and is considering options to save money by potentially making future versions of the satellites lighter, according to industry officials. But that is hard to achieve because adding power is one of the main techniques required to make the satellites more resistant to jamming—and that automatically adds weight to the spacecraft.

The broader issue of making all U.S. national-security satellites more resistant to jamming or other hostile acts has been discussed at the “highest levels of the administration,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, told an industry gathering earlier this year.

“We’re facing decisions about what to do next” in terms of replacing current constellations with proposed systems that are intended to be more resilient to any kind of outside interference, he said.

Original article can be found here:  http://www.wsj.com

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