General Dynamics to improve aviation safety

General Dynamics Corp. has won a contract worth almost $2 million from the Federal Aviation Administration's to test and evaluate satellite-based technology that the FAA hopes will improve the effectiveness of its ground-based Alaska Capstone Communications Control System.

The FAA started the Capstone program to better aviation safety in Alaska through global positioning system-based avionics and other communications. Technology developed in the Capstone program may eventually be deployed worldwide to fill gaps in traditional radar coverage.

Instead of conventional radar, the Capstone program uses automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) technology, which provides a digital link that can broadcast an aircraft's position, speed, altitude and other information.

ADS-B is effective in remote or mountainous areas where there is little or no radar coverage. It also works at low altitudes and on the ground so it can be used to monitor traffic on airport taxiways and runways.

The program first implemented ADS-B technology in 2001.

Today, Capstone's ADS-B ground-based terminals still do not provide coverage in certain locations of Alaska because of terrain conditions and extreme weather.

Falls Church, Va.-based General Dynamics will use its Iridium satellite system to communicate with aircrafts where current Capstone technology cannot reach.

"This contract award underlines the importance that the FAA places on improving aviation safety," said Ron Taylor, General Dynamics vice president, in a statement. "Basic Capstone technology has been demonstrated to improve air safety by more than 35 percent in places such as Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta area, and this satellite complement will allow this benefit to be spread over a much wider geographic area."

In March 2002, General Dynamics demonstrated how its Iridium satellite system could enhance coverage of Capstone's ADS-B technology. An aircraft equipped with a handheld satellite phone was able to transmit its position over the Iridium system, even when the aircraft left the range of the nearest ground-based terminal.

With 2002 revenue of $13.8 billion, General Dynamics is ranked No. 7 on Washington Technology's 2003 Top 100 list, which measures federal contracting revenue.

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