In my pocket I carry a small mobile device that can connect me to the internet and enable communications with almost anyone throughout the globe.  It has read and write capabilities, and it can perform a myriad of calculations at least as complex as those required to place a man on the moon.  Without such capability, my options would be severely restrained. Technology has changed what I feel is necessary to support my business and personal life, and it has also changed aviation.

Unlike my mobile device, which I can upgrade easily and relatively inexpensively, fitting the company’s  business aircraft with the latest in technical capabilities requires a lot more planning, understanding and dollars.  New equipment facilitate more efficient operations, which obviously impact a flight department’s budget and cost-effectiveness. Determining when added investments in technology result in measurable benefits, however, is a challenging task.

Perhaps the biggest area where technology is impacting aviation is in avionics. High tech communication, navigation and surveillance (CNS) equipment is being driven by the desire for increased efficiency and safety that can be derived from both the presentation of precise position information and by reduced pilot workload in critical phases of flight. Avionics incorporating advanced CNS technologies is also being forced, albeit more slowly, by regulatory initiatives designed to assure that all aircraft eventually are equipped to fly in an advanced air traffic control system.

Much like my phone has a glass screen capable of portraying information tailored to what I ask of it, so does the modern aircraft have a “glass cockpit.” Two to five computer screens have replaced dozens of round gages.  Troubleshooting and repairing gages has been replaced by built-in tests and easily replaceable components.  If the unit in a modern cockpit doesn’t work, swap it out in a few minutes and ship the faulty one back to the factory. These modern cockpit electronics, while expensive, fail far less often than their hydro-mechanical counterparts and thus offer cost advantages.

NextGen:  Aircraft with gages and older technology radios, along with many first and second-generation glass cockpits, are facing forced obsolescence as advancing air navigation requirements mandate newer equipment. Here in the USA, the Federal Aviation Administration has a year 2020 goal for modernizing our methods of air navigation and air traffic control. The Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen as it is known, seeks to increase the number of aircraft that can be in the airspace at any one time, while maintaining if not enhancing the system’s already high level of safety.

Part of the NextGen plan, which dates back to President Clinton’s administration, requires increased accuracy and reporting from aircraft in the system. It comes down to this:  our ground based ATC can safely handle 1,100 aircraft at any one time. NextGen aims to increase this number to 1,900 aircraft with improved safety.

A key element of NextGen is Automatic Dependent Surveillance- Broadcast mode (ADS-B). This technology, which includes the use of satellites, offers two basic modes known as ADS-B out and ADS-B in.  ADS-B out provides position information similar to what air traffic controllers obtain now using ground-based radar and will be required essentially for all business aircraft by January 1, 2020.  ADS-B in, which is not mandated, provides aids such as weather and support information transmitted directly to the cockpit of equipped aircraft.

Other NextGen Technologies:  Area Navigation (RNAV) and Required Navigation Performance (RNP) are position calculation requirements that will allow for aircraft to operate safely in closer proximity. RNP requirements are already being seen for trans-oceanic flying and will make their way into airport approaches.

The Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) uses satellites to enhance the accuracy and coverage of GPS in North America. WAAS allows for more precise navigation and more fuel-efficient routes into and out of airports.

A global effort, sponsored by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is called FANS – Future Air Navigation System. FANS’ goal is to develop the future of air traffic management and navigation through the use of advanced datalink communication technology, GPS and ground-based surveillance.

NextGen requirements will have a significant impact on older generation turbine aircraft . Necessary upgrades are much more extensive than just a software change. Costs will vary considerably from model to model and can be upwards of $1 million dollars in some situations. Given the costs involved and the value of older business jets, upgrading may or may not be the best financial alternative.

The year 2020 may seem like there is plenty of time to make decisions and perform necessary upgrades.  And the 2020 deadline may be delayed, although the government seems committed to that date. Regardless, the time for planning is now. Everyone can’t upgrade in the fall of 2019.  If selling your older business jet is the best option, planning needs to start now. Check with your aviation manager about your older business jet and evaluate the options as soon as possible.