|Honeywell Defense and Space
President Mike Madsen
The FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) has dominated the headlines for the commercial side of the air traffic management. The program, which will completely overhaul the country’s airspace system, will have wide-ranging benefits, including cost savings, lower emissions, and more efficient operations, for users of the airspace, including the U.S. military.
Honeywell Defense and Space, a supplier of a wide range of aerospace equipment for the military market, including unmanned aerial systems, electric power systems, auxiliary power units, communication navigation and surveillance equipment and displays, in addition to engines, wheels and brakes, sees the benefits of NextGen and is preparing itself for what is to come. Division President Michael Madsen Madsen, a 20-year Honeywell veteran who was named to his current position in October 2010 from the company’s Air Transport division, spoke to Avionics Magazine about the defense industry’s role in modernizing the airspace.
Question: NextGen relies heavily on the GPS system to modernize the airspace. However, GPS isn’t perfect. Can you describe how the GPS system has evolved and what is needed to prolong its use?
Answer: The GPS systems are ubiquitous. They’ve been around for a while but there are continued evolutions in this space that are starting to pick up speed a little bit. I would say that we’re seeing, particularly in the commercial area, the integration of GPS systems with other systems and protocols to enable higher efficiencies and safer operation of aircraft. A good example of that would be Honeywell’s SmartPath system, which is a ground-based augmentation system that enables GPS to be used for precision landing operations, which has a lot of value, as you can imagine. It enables the airlines to get aircraft in and out faster and safer as well. And why that’s an enhancement to GPS is that it consists of ground-based GPS receivers that are very precisely located as well as communications between aircraft and those GPS receivers on the ground. … Because you can provide such a precise location of that aircraft it can operate more tightly spaced and it can interface with curved approaches and other types of precision landing techniques that really enable the efficiency of the aircraft to be increased. We estimate that on a typical airport that has two ILS runways, the savings can be as much as $400,000 per year for the airport and there’s a commensurate amount of savings that goes along with the operator of the aircraft through fuel savings. So this is the kind of thing we’re seeing with GPS. Even though it’s been installed on aircraft for years we’re finding ways to integrate it with the systems on the ground and the systems on the aircraft for greater utility.
Q: Could GPS be eclipsed by other technologies? Will GPS always be around and in use?
A: Changes doesn’t happen remarkably quick in this space. These systems, once they’re qualified and certified for use on aircraft, tend to have some staying power, which is a good thing. It’s good in terms of cost; you don’t have people changing systems out on a regular basis. We think we’ll see GPS stay around for quite some time. If you go back in history, navigation was through the stars … then the inertial navigation systems technologies came along and that was the standard for many, many years, and then GPS has come along and now you have a combination of inertial and GPS and we think those two systems will continue to be the mainstays for navigation for quite a while into the future. But we do expect that we’ll find new and better ways to use those GPS signals and of course continue to apply inertial navigation technologies in smaller, lighter weight and lower-cost packages.
Q: How is NextGen and SESAR impacting your side of the business and how do you see that going forward?
A: I think the defense segment here is more of a follower rather than a leader in this space for a couple of reasons. First of all, in some cases, in many countries, military aircraft operate in controlled airspace … they kind of have their own rules to play by. So there’s a lot fewer of them flying at any given time. And their priorities are a little different than a commercial air transport operator.
However, it is clear that once these protocols are in place and we start to see the traditional ILS systems replaced … as we start to see procedural airspace, controls over trans-Atlantic replaced by ADS-B In and Out, in-trail procedures, that the military aircraft flying those routes will adopt that technology as well. They’re just not the driver for it based on volume and based on where their priorities are.
Q: Some have expressed frustration in the pace of the implementation of the NextGen. Do you have any thoughts on that?
A: I think we’d all like to see it go faster, but again, these systems don’t change overnight. The ILS systems at airports have been in place for more than 50 years. It’s going to take more than a couple of years to see the changes that we want to see through SESAR and NextGen. But it’s moving along, and certainly as the price of fuel continues to go up the pressure to get these things done is going to increase because it’ll save a lot of money. I think we’d like it to go faster, but the pace is understandable, it’s a big challenge.
Q: What do you see as impediments to the NextGen and SESAR implementation?
A: The biggest challenge is getting the protocols established and getting the equipment into the aircraft. There are a lot of issues on everybody’s plate in the municipalities right now, but we’re seeing more and more airlines adapt the technologies at the airports for their GBAS systems. The mandates have already been put out there for protected mode CPDLC and FANS II A for the in-trail procedures and for ADS-B, so that’s already been established. So really the clock has started and during the next 7 to 10 years these systems are going to be pretty widespread in use. When you think about replacing an ILS system and in some cases procedural navigation process that have been in place for 50 years or more, a 7 to 10 year adoption of a completely new technology is actually relatively fast. … There are thousands of aircraft flying out there and it’ll give us time to sort out the protocols to get the aircraft talking to each other. The airlines have a business to run so they don’t want to have a change that impacts all of their aircraft anyway.