NexGen Air Traffic Contol, Will we Ever Move Forward?

Interesting that this article appeared in NextGov describing the FAA hearings.

“Federal Aviation Administration officials faced tough questions from lawmakers on Thursday when they asked for a steep increase in the agency’s budget to replace the nation’s air traffic control system with more advanced technology, a project that has fallen behind schedule.

FAA has requested $1.14 billion for the NextGen program in fiscal 2011, a 32 percent increase from fiscal 2010. NextGen is an ambitious plan to replace the existing radar-based air traffic control system with a satellite-based network by 2020. The agency says the new system will help save lives and reduce air congestion. It estimates the cost of the program will be about $20 billion…..”

“It takes a complex series of programs, a series of inter-related initiatives, not unlike a symphony, to make a full, robust NextGen,” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development subcommittee. “Some of the complexities have proven to be bigger obstacles than forecasted.”

Lawmakers also expressed concern that FAA hasn’t provided estimates for how much it will cost to equip aircraft with Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B), a new data-based position-monitoring system designed to improve communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. Without the projections, panel members said they are unsure how much money will be needed to complete the project.

Babbitt said the equipment for the ADS-B can be inexpensively installed in aircraft, particularly when compared to the ground equipment needed for the current system. “Everybody equipped is everybody best served,” he said. “If more aircraft are equipped, our entire system runs better.

At the same time as all the consternation occurring on Capitol Hill, the Washington Post produced an editorial clearly understanding the “state of play” on NextGen saying:

The global positioning system in your car — even your Wii — is infinitely more advanced than the 1950s-era radar system used to guide planes in and out of the nation’s airports. Those radar blips make it impossible for pilots or air traffic controllers to know the exact location of aircraft — either in the air or on the tarmac. This requires planes to fly at safe distances and take indirect routes to avoid collisions. Satellite equipment in cockpits and control towers that will link up with the NextGen system will give the precise locations of aircraft. The result can be more takeoffs and landings and more direct routes. The reduced congestion, fuel use and pollution will eventually improve air carrier profitability. But this isn’t cheap — between $25 billion and $30 billion, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, including an industry share.

My colleague Bob Poole has written extensively regarding air traffic control reform in his newsletters listed here.

And in an article in December, 2009, he suggested implementingthe reforms for the air traffic control systems as suggested by both the Baliles and Minieta Commissions.

“Implementing the much-needed NextGen paradigm shift will remain high-risk, if the Air Traffic Organization remains embedded in a traditional federal bureaucracy subject to continual micromanagement and unable to tap the capital markets for large-scale investments. The Nav Canada example of user-board governance and a bondable user-charge funding system is the best model for what the ATO should become.”

It seems not much as changed: We are still stuck in the “old way of doing business” and not in a forward thinking mode