Looking Back in Time
At the end of the year I usually have some extra time to clean out my office spaces. 2015 was no different. I pitch out books or catalogs that I have not even looked at for a year, or longer. Dust off the shelves and try, one more time, to organize my life.
Before actually throwing things away, I do look at them to see if it is something that I should keep. I found a real gem this year: An article that I had saved from AVIONICS NEWS, January 1996, twenty years ago. (Do I keep things too long?) The article: The Federal Radio Navigation Plan talked about the future of GPS navigation and the discontinuance of the VOR, NDB, LoranC, and even the ILS. According to the article, all of these would start coming out of service by 2000, and the ILS gone by 2010.
The article was right about the Loran, but not about the date. It actually lasted until 2010. NDB’s are still around, although not as many. As we know now, the VOR’s are coming out of service, but the new plan is to keep many of them for many years to come. ILS is still a very important part of any IFR system. Nowhere in the article did it say anything about ADS-B. I guess the “crystal ball” of that time had not looked that far into the future.
But here we are, 20 years later, living with the predictions that were made then. As I re-read that article, I had to wonder what the next 20 years will bring for us. The year 2020 is the mandate for the ADS-B, now less than 4 years away. It was announced in 2008, and the FAA gave us until 2020 to equip, a pretty long time for technology equipment. The iPad had not even been invented then, and we are already on generation (what?) now. So, by the 2020 mandate for this new technology, the system, the equipment, and the idea may already be obsolete. What then?
Well, we still don’t have a “crystal ball” that will let us see into the future, but it sure is fun to read history, and even more fun to take part in it. We are talking about technology history here, not about World Wars. How many computers have you owned in the last 20 years? If you own a computer that is 5 years old or more, you are considered “out of date.” And software? Let’s not talk about software here…
Panel mounted GPS, and hand held GPS were coming into general use by 2000. In that year, a panel mounted Garmin 430 Nav/Com, before WAAS, would cost you $10,000 to buy, install, and get certified for IFR use. Today that same unit is considered obsolete, and the manufacturer may not support it a few years ahead. Ten years from now? Who knows?
Twenty years have passed and we are still teaching VOR and NDB Navigation and ILS approaches, and the Practical Test Standards haven’t changed much in the last 10 years. Sure, if you are GPS equipped you must demonstrate the use of the technology, but we are still with the “old stuff” and I don’t see that changing as fast as technology does. Maybe the “old stuff” really is reliable, and not as expensive as we thought to manufacture, maintain, and use. The article did say that all of this was subject to change.
To be sure, GPS technology is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. Every device that the government turns off and takes out of service has the tag: to save money. The Loran shut-off was going to save $190 Million over ten years. Meanwhile the installation of new ground based technology for the ADS-B has cost well over $1 Billion. Satellites don’t last forever either, and they are really hard to get to in order to fix them. Eventually they will just fall out and burn up in the atmosphere. And, they are expensive to replace. Never mind that the whole system could be shut down by the government in an emergency, or at their whim.
GPS has changed the way we live. Many new cars come equipped with GPS just as they did with radios decades ago. Truckers use GPS; boats, both inland and at sea, use GPS; and even if you hike in the mountains, a pocket GPS would be a good companion to have along. There is even talk of using drones with GPS to deliver packages to your door.
No doubt that aviation has benefited from GPS technology. Air Traffic Controllers tell us that fewer pilots are getting lost and needing assistance than ever before, but those that do get lost are really lost and harder to help. That brings us back to basics. New student pilots still need to be taught basic navigation skills such as dead reckoning and ground features for navigation. It doesn’t hurt for experienced pilots to practice those skills as well.
Your ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION has offered many free seminars on how to use your iPad with the proper app for navigation. If you have not attended one of these seminars, you might be surprised at how much you can learn in such a short time. Look for the next safety seminar, and don’t forget to “Bring your Wingman.”