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GPS Transponders Will Be Added to All Commercial Aircraft by 2020

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U.S. airlines will all meet a January 1 deadline to have Global Positioning Systems transponders on every plane, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

GPS gives air traffic controllers a far greater ability to track airplanes during flights than traditional radar.

Through the addition of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B, it will be far easier to monitor flights – a problem in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which literally fell off the radar in March of 2014 and still hasn’t been found, though what appears to be bits and pieces of the Boeing aircraft have been found over the years washed up on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

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No bodies have been recovered.

But the Flight 370 tragedy was not the impetus for the change. The FAA’s move from radar to the ADS-B system is part of the $22 billion NextGen modernization the FAA has been undertaking since 2007.

“Having the equipment universally in place is absolutely essential for us to provide additional safety and efficiency benefits to people who fly every day,” David Gray, the FAA’s acting deputy director for surveillance services, told TravelWeekly.

John Maffei, the FAA’s deputy director of NextGen Portfolio Management & Technology Directorate, told TravelWeekly that as of Dec. 1, 97% of mainline U.S. aircraft had been equipped with the soon-to-be-required ADS-B transponders. In addition, 95% of regional aircraft had been fitted with the devices.

Aircraft equipped with ADS-B outbound transponders can be tracked by controllers on a second-by-second basis, Gray said. In contrast, the FAA’s current radar stations can only track a plane’s location somewhere between every four to 12 seconds.

“That makes a real big difference for controllers when they are working busy airspace in particular,” Gray said.

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