Ensuring room in future airspace

By Kevin Psutka


In my October column I addressed the recent decision by Nav Canada to introduce Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) technology to fill a gap in radar coverage around Hudson Bay, and eventually replace radar across Canada with this technology. Hot on the heels of this decision is a review of the Air Navigation System Plan, looking out for the next five years and beyond for changes to the system.

Nav Canada asked COPA to provide comments on the existing Plan and I submitted my views on some key areas in order to ensure we continue to have affordable access to the airspace and systems with a minimum of restrictions. Here are some of the key areas of concern.

Near term service trends

The current Plan highlights the following trend: “The virtual elimination of the non-precision approach via the use of WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) onboard systems.”

While this in an ideal world seems like a good thing, the reality is, in the three to five year period mentioned in this section, the cost of WAAS avionics will remain high enough and the certification delays at Transport Canada long enough that many smaller operators will not equip. I emphasized that traditional non-precision approaches will continue to be needed for the foreseeable future, certainly at least five years, with a consequent need to have both WAAS and traditional precision and non-precision approaches in place.

Remote communications outlet (RCO) redesign

While there are details provided about what will be changed and why it is being changed, there is no details provided regarding how the customers will be informed. There have already been problems in the Toronto area when some frequencies were changed from 126.7 to the new set of four frequencies (see Aeronautical Information Circular (AIC) 23/05 on Nav Canada’s website).

For such a significant change to the way we communicate for en route information, more education is needed as the transition occurs. A communication plan is required. In order to be effective, it must be more than simply an AIC.

Runway Visual Range (RVR)

Transport Canada is proceeding with the enhanced approach ban regulations. A more detailed plan for RVR should now be developed. The enhanced approach ban has little impact on private IFR flights but equipage of some airports may increase their costs and consequently our landing fees.

Transponder airspace

The current Plan makes a statement about enhancing safety through increased use of transponders (meaning increasing transponder airspace). While it is true increased transponder airspace will have this effect, as the airspace is expanded those who are not equipped will be squeezed into smaller pockets of airspace on the fringes with a consequent increase in the risk of mid-air collisions.

The Plan also hints at an eventual transition to mode S, which will increase the number of users who either cannot or will not re-equip and consequently be forced into the fringes. I reminded Nav Canada that when addressing the desire for increased transponder airspace there must be a balance struck so that achieving one goal does not create another safety issue.

Flight Information Services – Broadcast (FIS-B)

Weather displayed in the cockpit can be a major incentive to transition to ADS-B airborne equipment in smaller aircraft because multi-purpose use of the equipment will help justify its purchase.

In order to help drive users in that direction, I am pushing Nav Canada for provision of data free of charge. In the U.S., COPA’s counterpart is already working with the FAA in considering doing just that in order to provide incentive and consequently reduce the transition time to ADS-B and the cost savings that will be realized by the FAA from moving away from radar.

Nav Canada could save a significant amount of money with an earlier, rather than later move away from radar, but it cannot be a one-way street, with major costs being borne by users. A percentage of this savings should be applied to the provision of free FIS-B rather than relying on third-party providers, in part to offset what will remain a significant equipage cost.

Aviation Weather Website (AWWS) projects

I emphasized that web-based flight planning is an important part of the services provided and it should be enhanced. However, the statement made in the section is stagnant, as opposed to other sections of the document that mention future plans.

Incorporation of flight-planning software with free-basic flight planning and a paid subscription for enhanced flight planning, similar to many U.S. services now available, is just one of the areas that should be investigated and could be a revenue source for the company.

Data management integration study

I have personally experienced the shortcomings of non-integrated data management. A change to a flight plan entered into one part of the system is not necessarily passed along to other parts of the system, with potential for search and rescue implications.

Users, particularly infrequent users or ones who have unusual circumstances that do not fit the “normal” situations, such as airline operations, cannot possibly understand all of the ramifications and often assume that the method they use (FIC, ACC, tower or FSS) for notification is sufficient, only to learn later that there was a problem.

In addition to goals of improving efficiency, reducing maintenance and operating costs, a goal should be to simplify for users; a one-stop-shop concept whereby data entered into the system from one source will be reflected in all systems.

There is no doubt that times are changing, driven by technology and cost efficiencies, like no time in our past. COPA’s role is to help Nav Canada understand the implications and impact of these changes on our sector and ultimately to ensure there is room for us in the future airspace.

You can view the current Plan at: English version / French version