One of the most common questions asked about air traffic management (ATM) is, “Who is furthest ahead with modernization?” Equally as popular is this variation: “Why does Country X have a more aggressive deployment schedule than us?”

These questions, often heard in government oversight hearings, are no doubt well-intentioned. After all, they demonstrate that elected officials recognize the importance of modernizing as quickly as possible.

However, as most within the ATM industry would agree, this issue is not as straightforward as it sounds.

Events like the ATC Global conference, being held this week in Amsterdam, provide a timely reminder that all countries have different requirements and operational priorities. This makes its very difficult to apply apples-to-apples comparisons.

Consider Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), for example. The chart at left shows wide variation between the timelines of four of the major programs.

Europe beats the U.S. to an equipage deadline by a few years. However, the U.S. is moving faster on deployment, and is on track to complete a vast nationwide network by the end of 2013. So who is ahead on ADS-B? It depends on how you measure it.

Another example: While ADS-B pioneer Airservices Australia achieved nationwide coverage in 2009, for Japan ADS-B is a much lower priority. It already has an extensive domestic radar network, so is focusing on other technologies and procedures that will yield greater benefits from the investment (see p. 42). Both approaches make sense owing to the two countries' different needs.

This year could be pivotal for some major ADS-B projects. Nav Canada, another early mover, plans to begin operational use of ADS-B stations in Greenland this month. Isavia, meanwhile, is installing a network in Iceland (see p. 45). These efforts will add key pieces in a surveillance corridor that will stretch across the North Atlantic.

Elsewhere, the FAA this year is preparing to bring ADS-B “Out” online at some of its major terminal and en-route ATC facilities, and there is fresh attention being paid to the possibility of an ADS-B “In” mandate for airlines. ADS-B Out provides surveillance data for air traffic control, and ADS-B In brings surveillance and other data to the cockpit.

While the chart compares some of the largest and most advanced ADS-B projects, by some estimates there are more than 25 ADS-B programs in various stages of development or planning worldwide.