‘NextGen’ air traffic control system hits turbulence

‘NextGen’ air traffic control system hits turbulence

SHARE

US: After a decade of work and billions of dollars spent, the modernisation of the US air traffic control system is in trouble. The Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, was promoted as a way to accommodate an anticipated surge in air travel, reduce fuel consumption and improve safety and efficiency. By shifting from radar-based navigation and radio communications — technologies rooted in the first half of the 20th century — to satellite-based navigation and digital communications, it would handle three times as many planes with half as many air traffic controllers by 2025, the Federal Aviation Administration promised.

Planes would fly directly to their destinations using GPS technology instead of following indirect routes to stay within the range of ground stations. But almost nothing has happened as FAA officials anticipated.

Difficulties have cropped up nearly everywhere, from new landing procedures that were impossible for some planes to fly to aircraft-tracking software that misidentified planes. Key initiatives are experiencing delays and are at risk of cost overruns. And the agency still lacks “an executable plan” for bringing NextGen fully online, according to a government watchdog.

The use of the GPS-based procedures has been slowed by unforeseen problems. It takes several years to develop each procedure airport by airport. At large airports, new procedures are used only sporadically. During busy periods, controllers don’t have time to switch back and forth between the new procedures, which most airliners can use, and older procedures that regional airliners and smaller planes often must still use. Consequently, older procedures are used because all planes can fly them.

At six large airports in Chicago, New York and Washington, only 3% of eligible flights have used the new procedures, Calvin Scovel, the Transportation Department’s inspector general, told a congressional hearing in July. Many other NextGen initiatives “are still in the early stages of development,” he said.

Source: The Spokesman