Search This Blog

Monday, July 8, 2013

FAA NextGen GPS upgrade in doubt

Air travel in the future will be faster, cleaner and less expensive if the FAA's $40 billion overhaul of the nation's air control system is completed.

The plan, known as NextGen, replaces outdated radar-based technology with global positioning systems (GPS) and digital communications to modernize the country's air control system. By allowing pilots to fly more direct routes and giving air traffic controllers more accurate information, the system is expected to cut airline delays 41% by 2020, compared with the delays without NextGen, according to a new report by the FAA.

But with the federal sequestration fight in Washington, FAA officials say funding for the seven-year project could be in jeopardy.

The efficiencies in the system are also forecasted to save 1.6 billion gallons of fuel and cut 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, with $38 billion in cumulative benefits to airlines, the public and the FAA, the report said.  The related cost-cutting efforts of the sequester may actually force increases in spending.

A key component of the system is that air traffic controllers using GPS will get more precise information on planes' locations and speeds, allowing controllers to better manage the 7,000 or so planes in the air at any given time, according to the FAA. Because the radar system is slower and less precise, controllers must add a bigger safety cushion of separation between planes.

In a recent speech, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta slammed lawmakers for failing to reach an agreement on future spending plans.

"Because of the financial uncertainty, we can hope for the best, but we have to plan for the worst," he said. "This is not a sustainable course of action, and it's no way to run a government."