Sunday, October 19, 2014

Federal Aviation Administration, Airlines Agree on Near-Term Plan to Upgrade Air-Traffic Control: Eight Carriers Agree to Invest in Onboard Computer Technology to Replace Traditional Radio Links

The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor

Oct. 17, 2014 7:25 p.m. ET

U.S. regulators and aviation industry leaders issued the most detailed plan yet for implementing air-traffic control upgrades over the next few years, with eight carriers agreeing to invest in onboard computer technology aimed at replacing traditional radio links between pilots and controllers.

The plan released Friday—endorsed by the Federal Aviation Administration and an advisory group featuring prominent airline representatives—caps years of on-again, off-again efforts by both sides to agree on initial priorities and anticipated benefits. The document spells out timetables and budgets through 2019 designed to produce industry savings in terms of fuel and flight time, including more-efficient routes and reduced airport congestion.

Longer-term FAA initiatives to switch to a satellite-based traffic control system depend on the success of such early steps, but so far the industry has balked at committing to big-ticket equipment purchases. Faced with such reluctance and industry doubts about the government’s determination to stay the course, agency officials increasingly are prodding airlines to equip fleets even as the FAA publicly promises to meet its funding and management benchmarks.

Friday’s report represents the culmination of those discussions. The plan calls for pushing ahead with “high priority, high readiness” initiatives that have broad airline support, while also ensuring societal benefits such as less noise and pollution. In drawing up the near-term priority list for NextGen—as the traffic control modernization campaign is called—the advisory group earlier this month said “the record of accomplishment is mixed at best.”

The report, which had been expected, also comes amid heightened debate over potentially privatizing the nation’s air-traffic control network. And last month, a government watchdog issued a report concluding that the initial cost of deploying advanced ground-based navigation equipment has exceeded the quantifiable benefits.

The document includes more specifics about budgets and schedules for other programs than earlier FAA projections. It also highlights the industry’s first unambiguous commitment to install advanced digital communication hardware, so-called data-link systems, on 1,900 airliners flown by eight carriers. Those carriers aren’t identified.

The data-link equipment enables controllers—who typically rely on voice instructions to pilots over radios—to use computer messages to issue predeparture clearances, en route weather updates and eventually, airborne flight-plan revisions. By 2017, more than 50 towers are supposed to start using the simplest elements of the system to transmit route clearances prior to takeoff. Equipping aircraft for more-complex digital links during flights, however, isn’t expected to be completed until 2019, according to the report. Full en route data communication isn’t scheduled to begin until 2022 at the earliest.

This data communication initiative accounts for roughly 95% of the nearly $590 million the FAA has budgeted for top-priority NextGen programs over the next three years. But the report notes that it is the industry’s responsibility to equip “enough aircraft to realize operational benefits” and to promote data-link services “across as many aircraft as feasible.”

The data-link effort has generated the most controversy due to conflicts with different priorities and more-rapid timetables previously developed by European regulators and airlines.

The plan also reiterates that the FAA is slated to permit closer spacing of takeoffs and landings by certain aircraft at 28 airports nationwide, after conducting safety analyses. The work will cover strips at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. In addition, the agency will continue phasing in more-precise, satellite-based routes to and from additional hubs and surrounding airports, including those serving Atlanta, the San Francisco metropolitan area and Charlotte, N.C.

In a speech to an industry group Thursday, FAA chief Michael Huerta underscored the stakes. “The industry needs to come together and rally around what is important” and then “agree on how we’re going to pay for them,” Mr. Huerta said in his prepared remarks. Noting that “there’s a sense among some in the industry that it’s time for structural reform” of how the agency carries out its responsibilities, the FAA chief added “there is simply no way the FAA can implement NextGen” without “making some serious trade-offs” between current services and replacing aging equipment.

Warning against complacency, Mr. Huerta’s prepared remarks emphasized that “if we don’t come up with a concrete plan” for long-term FAA funding and operations, “I’m afraid we will be signing up for more instability and uncertainty.”

- Source:

No comments:

Post a Comment