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Challenges Of Aging Air Traffic System

By Expert Author: Steve Robinson

Travelers who embrace cheap travel options, such as cheap airplane tickets, cheap vacation packages, and discount travel deals, will be pleased to learn that the U.S. air traffic control system is being updated to accommodate an anticipated surge in air travel, reduce fuel consumption and improve safety and efficiency.

Unfortunately after a decade of work and billions of dollars spent the ambitious update being called “NextGen” has encountered a series of unforeseen difficulties.

The new approach to air traffic control was supposed to handle three times as many planes with 50 percent fewer air traffic controllers by 2025. Planes would be able to fly more directly to their destinations using GPS technology instead of flying indirect routes in order to stay within the range of ground radar stations.

For the first time ever pilots were going to be able to see on cockpit displays where they were in relation to other planes which in turn would allow planes to fly safely closer together. Some of the responsibility for maintaining a safe separation of planes was going to shift from controllers to pilots.

A series of unexpected events have occurred:

• Anticipated increased demand for air space has not materialized. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prediction of one billion passengers flying annually by 2014 has now been pushed back to 2027.

• Air traffic operations, including takeoffs, landings, and other procedures have fallen 26 percent from their peak in 2,000 even as chronic congestions at some large airports continues to slow flights across the country.

• New landing procedures are impossible for some planes to follow. Aircraft tracing software has misidentified planes.

Key initiatives continue to experience unanticipated delays.

The FAA lacks “an executable plan” for bringing NextGen fully online, according to a government watchdog.

Airlines, frustrated that they have yet to see promised money saving benefits, want better results before spending more to equip their planes to use NextGen.

With the government facing automatic spending cuts, many fear that the program may face funding cuts.

Recently a government industry advisory committee recommended that the FAA should concentrate on just 11 NextGen initiatives that are ready or nearly ready to come online. This group suggested that the rest of the 150 NextGen initiatives be placed on hold.

Originally NextGen was expected to cost $40 billion that would be funded between the government and the industry and be completed by 2025. Now there is an internal FAA report that forecasts NextGen will cost three times the original estimate and take 10 years longer to complete.
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