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Wide Area Multilateration Improves Safety And Efficiency In Western Colorado
By Bill Goldston

December 4, 2012 - The Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) announced the activation of new NextGen technology that will help pilots address inclement weather around Montrose Regional Airport in western Colorado. 

The technology, known as Wide Area Multilateration (WAM), improves safety and efficiency by allowing air traffic controllers to track aircraft in mountainous areas that are outside radar coverage. 

WAM is an independent, cooperative surveillance technology based on the same time difference of arrival principals that are used on an airport surface.


WAM is a technique where several ground receiving stations listen to signals transmitted from an aircraft and then mathematically calculate its position in three dimensions. This data is transmitted to screens viewed by air traffic controllers for separation of aircraft. It can interface to terminal or en-route automation systems. 

"Safety is our highest priority, and this is an excellent example of state and federal governments working together to not only improve safety and efficiency, but also provide immediate economic benefits," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "The new technology will help local businesses that depend on private and commercial aviation." 

The WAM deployment around Montrose is part of the Colorado Surveillance Project, which is a partnership between the FAA and CDOT, which began providing radar-like service to the mountain communities of Craig, Hayden, Steamboat Springs and Rifle in 2009. The FAA and State of Colorado expect to complete the project by deploying WAM around Durango, Gunnison and Telluride in summer 2013.



"This system will allow pilots to fly search and rescue missions in weather conditions that would have previously kept them grounded," said Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "It also will support Colorado's tourism by enabling pilots to land in conditions that previously caused diversions or flight delays." 

"We are constantly looking for ways to improve efficiencies," said CDOT Aeronautics Division Director David Gordon. "Partnering with the FAA on applying this new and improved surveillance will translate into more efficient flight paths, saved time, reduced fuel burn and enhanced economic benefits to our mountain resort communities and airports." 

WAM is a NextGen technology that tracks aircraft using a network of small sensors deployed in remote areas. Aircraft transponders receive and send back signals to these sensors. System computers immediately analyze those signals and determine the aircraft's precise location. The Colorado Department of Transportation, Division of Aeronautics, paid for the sensor site preparation and the system's equipment, power and telecommunications. The FAA maintains and operates the system. 

The NextGen program uses cutting-edge technology to create a modern, satellite-based air traffic control system, transforming the national airspace to make it even safer and more efficient for the traveling public, airports and operators, resulting in benefits to the U.S. economy. NextGen initiatives underway in major regions across the country are helping to deliver more on-time flights, reduce fuel burn and ensure that the U.S. has the safest aviation system in the world.
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