This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

September 24, 2014

Airlines Adjusting to the New Normal

In the Herman Trend Alert last February, we wrote, "We will all eventually adjust to this new normal---all kinds of more extreme and (for now) unexpected weather." Interestingly, it is technological advancements in satellite and onboard that are facilitating this shift.

The other day we had the opportunity to interview American Airlines First Officer Hank Brandt. After that one-on-one, we spent some time researching the systems on the Internet. This Herman Trend Alert is the result of that inquiry.

As forecast in February, airlines are adjusting to the "New Normal" of increasingly bad weather. With the enhanced autopilot system and other more sophisticated onboard equipment, aircraft may now land in increasingly bad weather. In fact, they may now literally touch down in what is called a "Zero-Zero" condition, referring to zero ceiling and zero visibility. Actually, the ceiling is 300-feet, however that number still represents a very small margin.

Moreover, "the global airspace system is transitioning from a Ground Radar based air traffic management (ATM) [system] to Satellite- or Space-Based ATM. The FreeFlight Family of WAAS GPS [Wide Area Augmentation System Global Positioning Systems] receivers provide all of the data that aircraft need to operate in these new air traffic environments.

What is really happening is that the totally ground-based, point-to-point navigation antenna system is being replaced with a hybrid system. Assisted by satellites and the onboard computer, this new Area Navigation (RNAV) system permits aircraft to fly a precise track over the ground. Combining the improved quality of onboard computers with this upgraded system, we now have a much higher confidence level for the exact location of the aircraft. This precision is now sufficient to allow much closer spacing between aircraft. Thus at any given time, we may now safely "pack" more aircraft in the skies at the same time.

With these developments, we may expect a continuing a battle between competing technologies. We will move further and further away from the use of ground-based antennas. And ultimately, aircraft will be completely sequenced in before takeoff. This sequencing means that pilots will know the entire flight path, prior to departure, allowing for even greater use of the airspace and increased volume---good news for airlines and passenger alike.


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