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率先使用GPS系统 改变航空界的斐济

更新时间:2019/3/30 11:08:07 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

How Fiji changed the way we travel
率先使用GPS系统 改变航空界的斐济

The descent into Fiji’s Nadi International Airport en route from Sydney is a spectacular one. After hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres of nothing but water, a string of barrier reefs announce themselves, made visible by the waves breaking against them. Then, the volcanic islands beyond them, mountainous and green and rocky all at once. Up ahead is Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu looms, too big to take in completely, even from this distance. Twin senses of vastness and remoteness mark this first impression.

由悉尼飞往南太平洋岛国斐济,准备降落在楠迪国际机场(Nadi International Airport)之时,眼前的景色十分壮观。在几千公里的航程中,无际的汪洋大海,看到的除了海水,还是海水,现在有了一排堡礁映入眼帘,巨浪正拍打着礁石。接着,远处的火山岛闯入视线,重峦叠嶂,有的郁郁葱葱,有的山石嶙峋。再往前,斐济最大的岛屿维提岛(Viti Levu)若隐若现,地幅广阔,即使从空中俯瞰,也无法一览全貌。地处偏远,又浩瀚无垠,这便是我对这个南太平洋岛国的第一印象。

It’s a remarkable landscape, and it’s made even more so by the fact that it ushered aviation into the 21st Century. The airspace above the islands was the first to incorporate the Global Positioning System, or as we all commonly know it, GPS, into its aviation system. In doing so, Fiji changed forever the way we get from Point A to distant Point B.

斐济风光本已美得令人难忘。而且斐济对人类航空事业步入21世纪也起到了带头引领的作用,这使得斐济之美更胜一筹。全球卫星定位系统,也就是我们常说的GPS,是斐济这个岛国的领空率先投入使用,以此作为飞行导航。此举彻底改变了人类从世界的一端到达遥远另一端的旅程方式。

GPS was developed by the United States military in the 1970s with the intention of improving upon existing navigation procedures. At the time, flight navigation relied largely on radar and visual routing. Since the 1940s, pilots had followed routes determined by land-based ‘beacons’, either in the form of radio signals or visual markers. It was an imperfect system. In Fiji, for example, only five control towers were equipped with a radio beacon, meaning that in 80% of the country’s huge airspace, pilots had no radar to rely on.

GPS是20世纪70年代美国三军联合研制的卫星导航定位系统,主要目的是为陆、海、空三大领域提供更全面的导航服务。当时,飞行员主要依靠雷达和视觉辅助技术来进行导航。自20世纪40年代起,飞行员以地面固定目标为参考地物,在航路上接收无线电导航信号,或采用基于单个点地标被动观测的技术。这套系统并不理想。例如,斐济拥有广阔的领空,只有五座指挥塔装设无线电设备,这意味着在80%的领空内,飞行员无法依靠雷达来进行导航。

Things were trickiest over large bodies of water. With no radio beacons at all, pilots used dead reckoning, a navigational technique that uses the last known location to estimate the current location; and celestial navigation, which references the positions of celestial bodies like the sun, moon or a planet, as they measure up with the visible horizon. Until the second half of the 20th Century, the flight crew on trans-oceanic flights often included what was known as a flight navigator, who relieved the pilot of the considerable burden of navigation.

飞行员在汪洋大海上空执行任务时,情况最麻烦。海上没有任何无线电信号,飞行员采用航位推算法,这种方法是指在已知当下时刻位置的情况下,推算下一时刻的位置;还有天文导航法,飞行员通过观测太阳、月球和行星等天体的位置,记录其高度和方位,以此来确定航线。直到20世纪下叶,在越洋航线上,机组人员中往往有一名所谓的飞机领航员,以减轻飞行员在导航方面的很大负担。

With GPS, an aircraft’s location could be continually and precisely updated by triangulating data between the satellites and its location on Earth. In 1978, the first of an eventual 24 satellites that would complete the GPS system went into orbit, kicking off a 15-year launch project.

GPS的原理是三角测量法,只需最少三颗卫星即可确定地球上的一个位置坐标,借助这项技术,人们可以对飞行器所处的位置进行全天候实时监测。第一颗GPS卫星于1978年发射,组网计划正式启动,该计划历时15年,整个系统由24颗工作卫星组成。

Initially, the US Department of Defense considered charging the public to use its GPS system. But after a Korean airliner flew off course in 1983 and was shot down over the USSR – at the time, Soviet airspace was restricted – President Reagan announced that GPS would be made openly available with the hope of avoiding such mishaps in the future. This decision paved the way for companies to develop equipment for civilian use.

起初,美国国防部考虑对民用GPS采取收费制。1983年,一架大韩航空的客机偏离航道,飞入了前苏联的领空(当时苏联空域对外是禁区),因而被击落。于是,里根总统宣布,GPS对民用开放,不收取费用,希望今后能够避免此类事故发生。这项决定为企业研制民用导航设备铺平了道路。

By the end of 1990, 16 GPS satellites were in place and functional, enough for GPS to work in most cases around the world. Individual receivers were now available to the general public from companies like Trimble Navigation. They proved helpful in a military capacity during the Persian Gulf War, and commercial pilots here and there were also using them unofficially. The potential of GPS was becoming apparent. But on the wider platform of commercial aviation, it needed to be tested in a controlled environment before widespread adoption could be on the table.

到1990年底,美国已经成功发射16颗GPS卫星,运行能力良好,此导航系统已经能够满足全世界多领域的需要。如今,大众可以从Trimble导航公司等处购买商用GPS接收机。海湾战争中,GPS系统有效地帮助了美国的军事行动。民航客货机的飞行员也私下在机上使用GPS接收机。GPS的潜力正在显现。但在更广泛的民航导航方面,必须在可控环境中先做试验才可以广泛推广。

Enter Fiji. With its growing tourism industry increasing demand for flights within its borders, the small island nation was eager to improve its navigation system. As Norman Yee, former Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji (CAAF) chief executive officer, recalls in his memoir, Catching the Wind, a flight operations officer named Jack Snow came to work in Fiji from New Zealand around this time, bringing with him an enthusiasm for the new GPS technology. For the price of equipping just one airport with a radar-based ‘beacon’, it was estimated Fiji would be able to give every aircraft in its domestic fleet a GPS receiver.

这时候,斐济登场了。随着旅游业不断发展,离境和入境的班次也随之增加,斐济急于改善其飞行导航系统。斐济民航局前首席执行官Norman Yee在其回忆录《乘风翱翔》(Catching the Wind)中提及往事,当时,有一位来自新西兰的机场操作员调到斐济工作,名叫斯诺(Jack Snow),他对新一代的GPS应用技术十分着迷。据估计,人们给一个机场装设一处雷达定位系统所花的钱,可为斐济所有国内班机配备一台GPS接收机。

And Fiji was well positioned to be the pioneer. For a small nation, its domestic aviation industry was well developed, with 19 commercial airfields, plus seven private airports. And with more than 300 islands spread over more than 500,000 sq km of ocean, testing could span land, sea, mountains, intense tropical weather patterns and long flight routes, all within a single airspace.

斐济具备有利条件可在飞机导航方面走在世界前列。斐济虽然是小国,但国内航空业十分发达,拥有19个小型民用机场,外加7个私人空港。斐济由300多个岛屿组成,分布在超过50万平方公里的海域上,因此可在一国的领空内,测试GPS导航系统在陆地、海上、高山上空飞行,和热带气候飞行等多种模式,以及长途航线的定位效果。

Fiji approached the US and its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to volunteer as the testing ground for GPS navigation. The FAA agreed to fund the upgrade, supplying equipment and technical support in return for the knowledge it could take away from the trial. It would take well over a year to get the system ready; in addition to the installation of the equipment, new flight routes had to be charted, manuals developed and pilots and crew trained.

斐济与美国联邦航空管理局取得联系,主动提出愿做其卫星导航系统的试验田。美国联邦航空管理局同意出资为斐济航空业的导航设备提档升级,为其提供专业产品和技术支持以换取试验所获得的资料。设备安装起码要花一年以上,除此之外,还要为斐济航空业制定新航道,编写手册,培训飞行员和机组人员。

Ilaitia Tabakaucoro was an air traffic controller at the Nadi Airport when the GPS technology was put into place. During my visit to Fiji, I met with him at the airport, where CAAF’s headquarters are located. The main office sits next to the airport’s traffic control tower, perhaps the first in the world to handle commercial aircraft relying on GPS.

当斐济航空业的GPS导航系统安装就绪之时,塔巴凯科罗(Ilaitia Tabakaucoro)是楠迪机场的空中交通管制员。我此次来到斐济,在楠迪机场见到了塔巴凯科罗。斐济民航局的总部就设在这个机场,办公大楼在空中交通控制塔的旁边,或许这个机场控制塔就是全球最先使用GPS调度管制民航机的起降。

He remembers the first time he flew in a plane with GPS, with a couple of pilot friends heading from Nadi to a smaller island to the north-east. The plane had recently been equipped with GPS, but no-one was using it yet. They took off and followed the northern shore of Viti Levu until they reached the town of Volivoli – a visual beacon – at which point they veered left over the ocean. They waited to spot their destination island. But something was unusual with the winds that day and the plane was blown further north than expected. It became clear that they were lost up in the air. That’s when Tabakaucoro remembered the GPS receiver and switched it on. Within minutes, they were back on track. This was a revelatory experience for a group accustomed to the old ways of navigating the skies.

塔巴凯科罗回忆首次使用GPS飞行的往事,那次他和两位飞行员同事从楠迪机场飞往斐济东北方向的一座小岛。GPS导航设备不久前刚刚装好,但大家还没用过。起飞后,飞机沿着维提岛的北岸航行,一直飞到拉奇拉奇镇,这是一处地标,从此处转向西行,飞到太平洋上空。他们期望能看见目的地的小岛。但当时天气候反常,风力强劲,飞机顺着风势,往偏北的方向飞去,偏离了预定航线。很明显,飞机在空中迷失了方向。这时候,塔巴凯科罗想起机上配有GPS接收机,立刻启用。不出几分钟,飞机重新回到航线上。这次事件让惯于传统飞行定位方式的机组人员见识到了GPS的强大之处。

The 24th and final satellite came online in late 1993, and in April 1994, Fiji officially became the first country in the world to incorporate GPS into its navigation system. It immediately served the small nation well. “We were quite excited about what we achieved,” Yee told me. “It put us right among the big boys as far as aviation is concerned.” It was a boon to the country’s flourishing tourism industry, as well.

1993年12月,第24颗卫星,也即是GPS定位的最后一个卫星发射升空,GPS完成卫星组网。然后在1994年4月,斐济正式成为第一个运用全球定位系统进行飞机导航的国家。GPS对这个岛国的航空业的帮助立竿见影。Yee告诉我:"我们取得了很大的成就,对此感到很激动。这使我国的航空业达到了大国的水平。" 这对蓬勃发展的斐济旅游业也有进一步的带动作用。

Fiji proved that GPS could improve aviation in myriad ways, making it faster, more efficient and safer. In the quarter century since Fiji adopted GPS navigation for its domestic flights, the technology has been adopted around the globe, often with the direct help of Fiji’s new experts. There are also 31 satellites, with most of the original 24 having been retired and replaced.

斐济的经验表明,GPS在多种方面推动了航空业的发展,使飞行变得更快、更有效和更安全。在斐济的国内航线采用GPS导航服务的25年里,全球各地都陆续开始使用这项技术为飞机导航,常常获得斐济在这个新领域的专家团队直接的技术指导。在这25年已有31颗全球定位系统卫星退役,其中包括第一代GPS定位系统24颗卫星的大部份,其工作由新发射卫星取代。

Weather is no longer the hindrance it once was. “Before, the tendency was to return [to the originating airport] when you hit bad weather,” Tabakaucoro said. “GPS ensured you’d get to the destination.” Even in a storm. Even with terrible visibility.

过去,天气问题是个麻烦,如今有了GPS,已不成问题。塔巴凯科罗说:“以前,我们碰到恶劣的天气时,往往会返航,回到始发机场。GPS能保证我们飞抵目的地机场。”即使遭遇暴风雨,能见度很差,也依然如此。

Planes can now fly for hours over ocean with precise navigation, and more aircraft can safely be in the air at any given time. Instead of 100 miles between any two aircraft flying in the same direction, the officials at CAAF told me, international regulations now require just 23. A plane once had to fly 18 minutes behind the plane ahead of it. Today, that number has been reduced to 10. In addition, flight times have shortened since planes can now fly directly to a destination rather than from beacon to beacon.

如今,在海域上空进行数小时长途飞行时,飞机可以有很精确的导航信息,而且在任何时段多架飞机的飞行均有安全保障。斐济民航局的官员告诉我,过去,两架飞机同向而行,间距应为100英里,如今,国际规定的间距已降到仅为23英里。过去,两架飞机的起飞时间应相差至少18分钟,而今,间隔的时间已缩短为10分钟。此外,如今的飞机不再沿着地标飞行,而是直接飞抵目的地机场,因此飞行时间也有缩短。

Before GPS, aircraft were required to fly with enough fuel for a return trip in the event of being unable to land at their destination. After GPS made such a precaution unnecessary, they were able to lose that extra load. A UN report from 1996 concluded that the increased fuel efficiency meant that the GPS receivers in Fiji paid for themselves in just three months.

在启用GPS导航之前,考虑到飞机可能无法降落在目的地机场,因此需要携带充足的燃油以备返航。有了GPS,无需做此类准备,这就可以为飞机减负。1996年,联合国的一份报告得出结论,燃油效能有所提升,这意味着仅仅三个月内斐济航空安装的GPS接收机便赚回了本钱。

For all of our complaints about contemporary airports and flying, it might be a comfort to remember that thanks to the little Pacific island nation of Fiji, we are actually getting to our destinations faster and more safely than ever before.

对于如今的机场和乘机体验,尽管我们有诸多抱怨,但也多亏了斐济这个太平洋岛国,我们飞抵目的地已变得更快更安全,想到这一点,或许会让我们心里又感宽慰不少。

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