Which leads to a bigger question: Is it worth the cost ($20,000) of getting a traffic avoidance system in the near future if traffic data may become available by uplink?
That is a great $20,000 question! When we were at AOPA, I had a discussion with one of AOPA staff members regarding Capstone. As you may have seen, they had a live display on an MX20 MFD, showing live (real, not simulated) traffic in the FDK area. Apparently there are two potential ways to display traffic in the capstone system. The one that’s written about more, but will take a long time to achieve, is the system in which each aircraft transmits its GPS position to all nearby aircraft. (It’ll take a long time, I’m sure, before the majority of planes are transmitting their position like this!)
I hadn’t realized before seeing the demo, but the Capstone project also has a feature in which the FAA radar data (including N-number & type if the plane was IFR or getting flight following, otherwise just mode C data – not sure if primary targets or mode-A only targets are shown) is sent from the FAA to the uplink provider, and then displayed on the MFD. This seems a lot closer to reality.
So I asked the AOPA guy whether he thought this 1st stage would happen within the next 5 years or so… If trafic uplink will be available sooner than that, it might make me think twice about getting the Skywatch system. Anyway, he said to keep an eye out - I guess there’s a decision the FAA needs to make later this year about whether to proceed with expanding the Capstone project. After that decision, we should have a clearer idea how long it will take to materialize.
Normally, this type of answer makes me think that it’ll still be a long time. But the more I think about it, the more it makes me think that it still might happen sooner.
Why? Well, we’ve all probably seen those software programs which can display radar position and N-number of all IFR traffic on your PC (like that http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/fe/index.htmlFlight Explorer program). So, if the FAA is already releasing real-time radar data, it seems like it might be up to private industry to take that data and allow it to be uplinked. Anything that’s up to private industry would likely be realized quicker than most FAA programs, I suspect.
Some questions remain – as you mentioned before, how much delay is there in getting the uplinked data. Also, how useable would the system be if it only shows traffic the FAA radar can see. (i.e. below say 3000 ft, how much of the US is in radar coverage?), and are primary targets shown (that would be an advantage over onboard traffic systems), etc.
But it is certainly enough to make me think that when the Skywatch option DOES come out, I will definitely take a close look at uplink technology before deciding to put down $20,000+ for Skywatch!