Topic of the Week: JetBlue’s GPS


The feds have decided to let JetBlue throw a few Garmins on an airplane and use GPS instead of radar. Ok, so maybe it’s not that dramatic, but JetBlue will be installing GPS to test out the NextGen air traffic control system that has been talked about for years. Is this a good thing? Do you trust the technology? Will it really help gridlock in the end?

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14 comments on “Topic of the Week: JetBlue’s GPS

  1. Speaking of Garmins…

    I used to work on the general aviation ramp at a major international airport. Aeroflot would occasionally fly in their heads of state on an IL62. I got to poke my head in the cockpit, and it was OLD. There were five crew positions, everything was written in Cyrillic, and the only piece of equipment I could recognize was the hand-held Garmin III GPS. No joke. The punch-line for the non-pilots here is that a hand-held GPS is not certified for IFR use…

    Oh, and the IL62 always needed the water cart standing by… not to refill the potable water, but to cool the breaks off from overheating.

  2. In general it is a good idea. GPS, as the name implies, provides you with better positional information on your aircraft. Theoretically it should give you a better feel of where your at, rather than taking a bunch of different information sources and having to synthesize your location. GPS is a heck of a lot faster and easier than dead or otherwise reckoning.

    Having said that, GPS doesn’t tell you what is in front of you, weather, objects or otherwise. My experience in avionics tells me that GPS in the cockpits will be a welcome complimentary asset to the suite. Furthermore, over time the industry will develop confidence in the more precise location information to tighten up spacing and number of aircraft in the flow.The question how long will it take?

  3. I dont trust the GPS in my car. I don’t have a good feeling coming into JFK with directions coming from a GPS. Hopefully they are using a VERY advanced and souped up model.

  4. We really need to arrive at the promise of “free flight”. Flying between VORs on V and H airways and using radio based IFR is ancient technology. These high altitude jets are sophisticated enough to watch out for each other on the remote chance they get close on free flight.

    Perhaps this can also increase runway capacities, allowing for more flights when people want them.

  5. We use it up here in Alaska… which was the test bed. The ADS-B system has saved COUNTLESS lives as the number of CFIT’s (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) have plummeted and also made ATC much easier and more “controlled” per se, especially in places like where I live (Juneau) were traditional radar just won’t work because of the mountains.

    Do a google search on the Capstone Chelton system and this is ONE amazing system… allows many airlines to operate in weather that would otherwise shut them down.

    Alaska Air can even land in almost zero-zero visibility here.

  6. Wow, beyond the fact that this is JetBlue, this story could’ve run twenty years ago.

    The FAA has been modernizing the air traffic control system forever. Its realistically time that we declare the FAA incompetent and unable to do modernize our airspace, and follow the Canadian’s lead and spin this off to a non-profit corporation that is regulated by the FAA. (The fact that the FAA currently regulates themselves in for air traffic control is also another problem.)

    This non-profit should be mandated to do the following within five years:
    1. Continuous descent approaches.
    2. Point to point flights
    3. Text based in cockpit transmissions. Given how structured most air traffic communication is the fact that we still use voice for this is appalling.
    4. Tracking planes on the ground using systems other than hand written tiles and 1950s radar screens.

    This is ambitious, but quite doable with qualified professionals and the ability to be freed of government procurement inefficiencies.

    1. Nicholas,

      ADS-B will alleviate some of the issues you mention. You can’t really do #1 without ADS-B as it gives you LIVE, up to the second information on the plane. At one airline, the ‘radar’ system even allows you to zoom in on the plane and circle it, just like you do in Flight Simulator (the game). You can watch the plane from every angle and see what’s ahead for it, including other aircraft. There’s a reason that Alaska Airlines and Seattle are the test-bed for these approaches, and that’s because all of Alaska Air’s planes already has ADS-B. This is like TCAS on steriods… in the cockpit of each plane, such as the Chelton system, pilots get live data on the other planes altitude, speed, direction, etc.

      Point to point flights will be more easily conducted under a full ADS-B system

      text based cockpit transmissions – not quite there, but ACARS is close. I can’t see this ever happening

      4. – ADS-B also cuts out this need as each plane plane comes up by tail number. the tiles are used as tracking systems so you know what each ‘squawk” is.

      Here’s 2 pictures of how ADS-B looks on CRABS, which is the system used by Chelton/Capstone – 2nd one is better.

      1. Travelnate,
        My point is more about getting the air traffic control system out of the FAA’s hands, not quite the details of what it should do. The FAA has been talking about the NextGen air traffic control system for probably 20 years. What has been implemented that _isn’t_ a test? Why are flights still sequenced with cardboard slips? I mean come on, really?

        1. This is a funding issue. I don’t see how turning it over to a non-profit would help. Presumably they would still get funding from the same sources. The non-profit scenario would actually cost more, because you would still have to fund the FAA for its oversight and because non-government employees are usually paid more than government employees. Remember the tax rates in Canada are significantly higher, especially aviation taxes and fees.

          1. Is it a funding issue or a project management issue? NextGen has been slightly legendary for its budget overruns, so it doesn’t quite seem to be a funding issue.

            Also, given the recent backlash against government employee salaries “non-government employees are usually paid more than government employees” rings hollow.

  7. This is more about surveillance rather than navigation. Evene though they will be using ADS B they will still paint on primary radar and would still have transponders for SSR.Its actually a big article about nothing other than what the rest of the world is already doing.

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