back to article Flying car & roboplane-worthy air traffic digi-net go for 2025

Moves to replace conventional air-traffic infrastructure - at present reliant on slow and inaccurate radar and voice comms - with modern satnav and digital networking tech are reportedly "on the right track". Present-day air traffic is handled primarily by ground controllers using radar, either primary (where the pulse from …


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  1. Asgard
    Black Helicopters

    "digi-net go for 2025"

    In that case, I better make a note to avoid flying between 2020 to 2030 so someone else can debug this system.

    flying warning Icon :)

  2. SonofRojBlake

    Personal air vehicles

    What's not often considered is that there are already thousands of people, (e.g. me) already in possession of "personal air vehicles", i.e. paragliders and hang gliders. Right now we're not allowed in certain areas of restricted airspace mostly around airports because we don't, and indeed can't, carry transponders. (No battery powered portable transponder exists.)

    If this sort of system goes ahead, the whole country becomes restricted airspace instantly, and free flying ends, at least legally.

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    collision avoidance is the one thing they have yet to master.

    Well, yes... but going by the number of times the M1 has wreckage at the side of it, I'm not convinced that ground car guidance systems have got that sorted out yet either.

    Helicopter seems an apposite icon...

  4. Steve Foster


    Not so sure - it sounds like the technology required could land up being the size of a mobile phone (since phone hardware apparently has much of the necessary capability). How hard would it be to carry something like that on a hang-glider (you probably already do)?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Steve Foster

    Yeah, the size of a mobile and about £50k to buy.

    These sorts of systems are essentially annexing the UKs airspace solely for commercial aviation, ignoring entirely the much larger number of private aviators.

  6. davtom

    Learn to fly = problem?

    Why would it be troublesome to learn to fly in order to use a personal air vehicle? After all, one is required to learn to drive before using a personal ground vehicle.

  7. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    @Steve Foster

    Don't mention mode-S transponders to FLPA pilots... we hates them, precious, we do...

    Mind you, you'd thing thirty square metres of brightly coloured fabric would be quite easy to miss, but I know of at least a couple of collisions this year; one at least sadly fatal.

  8. David Cherry 1


    It is estimated that 1 in 20 drivers in the UK do not have valid insurance (Greenaway 2004), and a similar proportion – around 1.5 million drivers - drive without valid licences (Silcock et al 1999).

  9. Boris

    Is there a Plan B?

    So if Civil Aviation goes over to this wholesale and there is a catastrophic failure of the SatNav element (for instance a really big solar flare knocks out the system) then what happens with tens of thousands of aircraft suddenly not knowing where they are and (more importantly) where everyone else is?

  10. Sillyfellow


    .. yes, you heard me correctly.. hehe.

  11. -tim


    The current system doesn't use radar and slow computers as a primary system, it uses little bits of cardboard moved around and the radar and radio and slow computers just help cross check that system. The old system works very well in the event of a breakdown which happens far more often than the people sitting in cattle class would like to think. Most attempts to fix this will result in a huge mess.

  12. Mike Forsyth


    Non transponder aircraft can fly eveywhere within the UK at present (apart from Stansted which is now a transponder mandatory zone) provided they have radio. Transponders are not mandatory in all of the other Control Zone space - but they do cut down the amount of info the pilot has to send to ATC (who do a fantastic job separating aircraft using cardboard). I fly in an area that is stuffed full of RAF so I am getting one at the thrilling cost of 1500 quid to help the boys in blue miss me

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cost in Aviation

    "As most Reg readers will be well aware, the cost of NextGen equipment could be insignificant in the context of aviation"

    I used to work for a company that supplied equipment to the air traffic market. Most ATC's screens were Sony DDM monitors, huge beasts with a square 2048x2048 resolution. Dedicated ATC graphics cards at the time cost a fortune (>£2000) but we found out that a plain old Matrox G400 could quite happily drive 2048x2048 due to it's not too shabby RAMDAC.

    We used to buy G400's for £40, scrub off the chip ID's off with emery paper and then sell them for £800.

    ATM companies will pay silly prices for low end tech, as long as you present it correctly ;-)

  14. SImon Hobson

    WTF !

    How the hell do you get from "any modern smartphone already contains hardware capable of the job" to "As most Reg readers will be well aware, the cost of NextGen equipment could be insignificant in the context of aviation" ?

    There is only one guarantee in aviation - whatever standards arrive, consumer electronics at consumer electronics prices will NOT be allowed. Just getting Mode-S for a light aircraft is non-trivial in cost terms - and just to top it off, the regulators (CAA in our case) then charge you for the privilege of being allowed to do it (this cost alone can be into four figures if it's not classed as a 'minor mod').

    And while other parts of the world are busy installing modern systems to use the new capabilities - here in the UK, I understand there are no plans to provide any data whatsoever that might provide some justification for fitting the gear. The result is that in the US where Mode-S is not mandatory there are queues at avionics shops to get new kit installed (note - the US actually use the uplink capability to provide information such as weather), but over here where it's already mandatory for many aircraft we are busy trying to fight the imposition of costs which benefit only the commercial sector who then complain and try to claim that they are subsidising the small guys.

  15. Lukin Brewer

    Ye cannae change the laws of aerodynamics

    I thought the cast iron limiting factor on takeoff and landing intervals was aircraft-generated turbulence. The vortices generated by an airliner in flight can take over a minute to dissipate, and would make final approach a rather hairy experience for all concerned.

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