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Global Positioning Systems And Air Cargo

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This paper describes the concept of the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and how they improve the Air Cargo industry. In this paper we will discuss how GPS came to be and how it is used in every day air travel. The paper will also explain how the GPS systems improve the Air Cargo industry in tracking the shipment from one hub to another.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a system of navigation based on the integration of 24 satellites, 21 working systems and 3 backups, that relay information regarding craft position and velocity to users (Colborn, 1992). First initiated as a program by the US Department of Defense through their Navstar system, GPS was deployed and fully operational in 1994 and speculations of the utility of this system immediately came into view in a number of industries. At the time of its deployment, one third of the $100 million contracts for GPS were set aside for civilian applications. It is not surprising, then, that GPS has become a prevalent process in the development of air and land and sea based operations requiring the tracking of civilian air, land and sea craft. As a result GPS has increased the reliability of mapping systems (Colborn,1992). As a result, this system has become an invaluable tool for the air cargo industry, based in their heavy reliance on effective aircraft control systems.

A number of air cargo companies, including UPS and FedEx, have determined a focus on the use of GPS systems to support a number of operational components, including tracking of aircraft, precision landing and support for problems like terrain evaluation and hijacking issues. In order to understand how GPS has been incorporated into the air cargo system, it is necessary to consider the progression of the GPS process in air cargo and air passenger systems in general and then evaluate the emerging use of GPS specifically for the development of support systems and corresponding protocols in the air cargo industry.

As early as 1992, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) began their first evaluations of global positioning satellites, in order to determine if these satellites could be an effective means of directing the precision landings of airliners (Moxon, 1992). At the time, microwave landing systems, or MLS, were due to replace instrument landing systems, and theorists recognized the possible benefits that could be attained from implementing controls through the GPS systems (Moxon, 1992). Because of the relative cost-effectiveness of these systems and the fact that satellite positioning systems allowed for a greater degree of flexibility in navigational assistance, it was believed that GPS could aid in precision landings (Moxon, 1992).

Furniss (1992) recognized that theorists predicted that GPS satellites could be used to provide air traffic control surveillance and communications as well as navigational support and reduce traffic management costs by reducing the need for costly and inefficient ground-based systems. This projection has come into view in recent years and has begun to shape the progress in specific air-service-based industries, including the air cargo industry.

In 1994, the Federal Aviation Administration, working in cooperation with NASA, concluded a process of testing which underscored the belief in the possibility of using GPS satellites to navigate commercial airliners, especially during the approach and landing segments, in order to improve efficiency as well as operational safety. GPS satellites assist ground-based personnel by providing them with a more accurate view of the positioning of aircraft and by adding an additional dimension to the view already afforded by standard systems, which includes a view of the movement of the aircraft and velocity at which the aircraft travels (Burgess, 1994). It was also believed that the use of GPS in navigation would improve the accident rate for aircraft considerably, and as a result, an industry-wide directive for the use of GPS came into view as a part of this process (Phillips, 1994).

In order to determine the efficacy of the GPS precision landing systems with air cargo aircraft, the FAA conducted a number of tests utilizing a United Parcel Service Boeing 757-200PF, and found that the system was as beneficial with air cargo planes as with the air passenger planes from companies like United Airlines (Hughes, 1994). GPS was viewed as a means of improvement over ground-based systems in directing the precision landing process for cargo planes, but this is only one area of application and in the past few years, researchers have considered other ways that GPS can be employed to increase the efficiency and safety of air transport systems in general.

For example, accidents that have occurred related to flight control, including accidents that fall "into the category of controlled flight into terrain," have been effectively addressed through the use of GPS systems (Donoghue, 1997, p. 5). Controlled flight into terrain is a category of flight accidents in which aircraft are forced by mechanical or environmental problems to fly into areas of unfamiliar terrain and navigate through, and accidents often occur because ground-proximity-warning systems do not warm crew of the problem of steep terrain in mountainous areas (Donoghue,



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