FAA, Pentagon Seeking Airspace Display Ideas

A military air traffic controller looks over the flight line at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California.
Credit: U.S. Marine Corps

The FAA and U.S. Defense Department (DOD) are seeking solutions from industry to display certain special-use airspace areas to comply with congressional direction to make that information available to pilots in real time.

Section 1085 of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act calls upon the FAA and DOD to work together to “enable the automated public dissemination of information on the real-time status of the activation or deactivation of Military Operations Areas (MOA) and Restricted Areas (RA)” in a manner comparable to the way temporary flight restrictions (TFR) are published.

The agencies co-hosted a virtual Industry Day on Special Use Airspace on Aug. 26 to brief interested parties on special-use airspace and the congressional requirement, with the aim of generating proposals for a means of displaying MOAs and RAs in the cockpit. MOAs are established to separate military training activities from IFR traffic. RAs limit aircraft operations to accommodate hazardous activities such as artillery firing, aerial gunnery or missile launches.

“This initiative doesn’t change the frequency with which military airspace becomes available, but it will make information about that airspace more accessible and useful,” said Teri Bristol, FAA Air Traffic Organization chief operating officer. “While traveling in our airspace today, pilots can always ask air traffic controllers if transit through military airspace is available, but they can’t access the information in an automated format that is available NAS (National Airspace System)-wide.”

The FAA and Defense Department have formed a cross-agency “tiger team” to research potential solutions to making MOA and RA data available to all airspace users, said Bristol.

“Many of you in industry have expressed that it would benefit you more to have real-time access while you are flight-planning or operating in the cockpit,” she said. “We don’t have a solution yet, but DOD and the FAA are working side by side. Together, we understand that there is another important step that must run in parallel; once you get the information, you will need a way to use it. While you are counting on us for the data, we’re counting on industry for technical solutions so that you can display and utilize the information easily in the flight deck or elsewhere.”

Pilots and operators “will need the right avionics equipment, application or tool to access the data in real time once we make it available to you,” added Bristol.

The tiger team has identified Flight Information Services-Broadcast (FIS-B) transmissions through the FAA's automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) ground station network as a potential short-term solution to disseminate MOA and RA schedules. FIS-B is a data service the FAA provides over the 978 MHz Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) link—one of two links used for ADS-B broadcasts—but not over the 1090ES (Extended Squitter) link.

According to information the FAA presented, there are roughly 173,000 aircraft now signaling their position by ADS-B Out in the U.S., of which 119,223—or about 69%—have the ability to receive and display ADS-B information in the cockpit, the function called ADS-B In.

Of the ADS-B In fleet, a total of 109,772 aircraft are now capable of receiving FIS-B transmissions: 82,446 aircraft that are equipped with dual-band 1090ES/978 MHZ UAT radios and 27,326 that have UAT transceivers.

The agencies still must devise a way of disseminating the special-use airspace information, however. “I wish the data was something that we could simply upload to the cloud with the push of a button, but it is proving to be a bigger challenge,” said Bristol. “The information is nested in a very complex data architecture system spanning the FAA and DOD, so it’s going to take some time to determine the best way to extract it.”

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, D.C., Bill covers business aviation and advanced air mobility for Aviation Week Network. A former newspaper reporter, he has also covered the airline industry, military aviation, commercial space and unmanned aircraft systems. He is the author of 'Enter The Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America,' published in 2016.