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Saturday, November 11, 2006

SmartSkies- A Blueprint for the Future

Smart Skies is a national campaign by the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) and its 19 member airlines aimed at modernizing the United States' National Airspace System (NAS), and the system's 35-year-old funding mechanism.

A History of Growth
The Airport and Airway Revenue and Development Acts were signed into law on May 21, 1970, in response to criticism that increasing congestion was caused by the federal government's failure to invest in the nation's airports and air traffic control system. By establishing the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and authorizing an ambitious agenda for airport and air-navigation facility development, the legislation set the course for unprecedented aviation and economic growth. Thirty-five years later, the success of that act in expanding our nation's aviation system is undeniable.

Today's Air Traffic Control System Works For Now
While air traffic volumes continue to increase, the system is limited by outdated technology, such as the overwhelmed analog radio system that pilots use to speak with controllers. Air traffic controllers track aircraft using an extensive network of conventional radar facilities developed in the 1940s. In addition to being expensive to maintain, radar provides an imprecise aircraft location that forces aircraft to be separated by several miles. To navigate across the country, aircraft zigzag from ground beacon to ground beacon in an indirect and inefficient path that wastes time and fuel while generating excess emissions.

Operational and Financial Limits are Quickly Approaching
While the existing air traffic control system has served us well, it is beginning to reveal it limits. Increasing flight delays, caps on flights at certain airports and spiraling costs to operate and maintain antiquated technology are indicators that all is not well. The airspace above major metropolitan areas is already congested and is rapidly approaching saturation. Today's solution, which involves dividing airspace into smaller sectors, is no longer viable � controllers simply can't handoff aircraft from sector to sector fast enough. Further complicating things is the fact that most of FAA's revenue stream is tied to airline ticket prices, not the FAA's cost to provide ATC services. Trust Fund revenue has not kept pace with the investment needed to keep the air traffic control system up-to-date, let alone undertake the modernization needed for the next-generation system.

Today's System Cannot Handle Tomorrow's Demand
Experts are projecting the demand for air traffic control services to triple over the next twenty years. Much of that growth is expected to come from new classes of aircraft such as Very Light Jets and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Even if these aircraft are based at smaller general aviation airports, they will operate in the skies above major metropolitan areas, adding both volume and complexity to an already strained system.

A Blueprint for the Future
We cannot afford to let delays and capacity limits become a permanent part of our future. The time has come for us to set the course for the future of aviation growth, and the steps are clear.

Link Revenues to Costs
The system must employ a sustainable and equitable funding mechanism that ties FAA revenues to their cost to provide ATC services. The mechanism will allocate costs fairly among users and not force one user to subsidize another.

Create a Reliable Revenue Stream
Capacity enhancements are long-term investments. The FAA cannot effectively transform the air traffic control system if its funding is subject to an unpredictable federal budget process.

Invest in Proven Technologies
Much of the technology envisioned for the future system has already been developed and tested. An air traffic control system based on digital voice and data communications, GPS-based navigation and innovative surveillance systems (like ADS-B) will accommodate the growth projected and enable the creation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS.)

Reduce Operating Costs
Spiraling operational costs are consuming money that should be available for investment in new technology. Rationalizing FAA's workforce and labor agreements to reflect the realities of today's environment is an essential component in increasing productivity and reducing costs. Consolidating redundant facilities and decommissioning obsolete equipment will further release funds for capital investments.

The Choice is Ours
Transforming today's air traffic control system into the system needed for tomorrow will be difficult, but not because of a lack of technology. The true challenge will be one of political will.
Will we act now to build the system needed to fuel economic growth, or will we abandon our leadership role to others and settle for the limitations of today's system? The choice is ours.

source - smartskies.org