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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014

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Newark-LAAS-inspection

FAA automated flight inspection system and mission specialists conduct the Newark LAAS flight inspection

Photographer: Mike DiBenedetto

Newark-LAAS-inspection

One of four GPS reference receiver antennas installed as part of the LAAS ground facility at the Newark Liberty International Airport

Photographer: Mike DiBenedetto

Newark-LAAS-inspection

FAA mission specialists discuss flight inspection results during the Newark LAAS flight inspection

Photographer: Mike DiBenedetto

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New Avionics Engineering Center system improves navigation safety, efficiency

LAAS makes landing errors less likely


If you’re a passenger on an airplane approaching the airport on a foggy night, you might understandably worry about how the pilot will ever find the runway.

Current landing technologies, while good, have gotten even better with a new landing system developed in part at Ohio University’s Avionics Engineering Center, part of the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology.

The local area augmentation system (LAAS) is a new ground-based
augmentation to global positioning system (GPS) satellites that uses a fixed receiver combined with mathematical computations to correct any errors in the positions calculated from satellite signals.

“The number one function of the LAAS is to remove errors safely,” says Dean Bruckner, assistant director, technical, of the Avionics
Engineering Center. “It’s basically the eyes and the ears of the FAA on the GPS system for airplanes that are using it for high-precision
approach and landing.” The chance of a plane missing the runway due to faulty navigation input from LAAS? “One in a billion.”

The corresponding LAAS equipment in the aircraft uses the satellite-to-user range corrections provided from the ground-based system to guide the aircraft safely to the runway.

The first FAA-approved LAAS system is active in Newark, N.J., based on the prototype developed at Ohio University. Others are coming online in 2010. LAAS systems are intended to replace the current instrument landing system (ILS), which is specific to not only every airport, but every runway end.

“If you have four runways, as in a large airport, you may have up to
eight ILS installations. These are expensive,” Bruckner says. “One LAAS can serve the entire airport. It does have an economy of scale.”

These cost savings are one priority of the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, along with improved safety and
volume capacity. NextGen is ushering in a satellite-based system of air traffic management, from the current ground-based system, so the LAAS system is the first step in an entire transformation of how the FAA manages air traffic safety.

NextGen goals also include reducing emissions while increasing air
traffic volume. Another FAA adaptation of GPS helps with this, too.
Currently, air traffic controllers stair-step the altitude of arriving planes into airports; using a few stages of constant altitude and speed makes it easier to control multiple planes in densely packed airspace.

The Automated Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) system – in which airplanes use GPS to report their location and trajectory in relation to another – will allow controllers extra leeway to permit
smooth, continuous descents into airports, which in turn conserves fuel, limits emissions and reduces noise pollution.

The Avionics Engineering Center has been partnering with the FAA since the 1960s, when the ground-based instrument landing system was the newest technology.

“We still have a role in supporting the ILS and other ground-based
navigation aids as well as helping them move toward this Next Generation Air Transportation System,” said Mike DiBenedetto, senior research program engineer for the Avionics Engineering Center.

DiBenedetto and his colleague Rob Thomas manage the Center’s
participation in the FAA’s ADS-B program. This long-standing relationship is based on the center’s unique facility that has on hand test aircraft to evaluate prototypes developed by faculty and staff.

“We have a good fundamental understanding of navigation and landing systems and, obviously, interest in new technology,” DiBenedetto said, “We’re always interested in learning more to help the FAA sustain what they have and to bring new technologies into existence.”

The Avionics LAAS program has received more than $14 million in funding from the FAA since 1997. 

One of the center’s most recent grants in addition to the ADS-B project is a five-year contract with a ceiling of $9.5 million, to continue supporting the FAA’s navigation services office on projects similar to NextGen. 

Center researchers are already at work analyzing the safety of antenna structures alongside runways, to ensure they collapse safely in the event of a collision, thereby reducing the likelihood of damage to aircraft or injury to passenger risks.