Under Pressure, Senate Clears Runway For Air Traffic Control Modernization - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
4/29/2008
05:04 PM
Richard Martin
Richard Martin
Commentary
50%
50%

Under Pressure, Senate Clears Runway For Air Traffic Control Modernization

Breaking up an impasse as bad as rush hour over La Guardia Airport, the U.S. Senate this week is set to pass a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration that may finally pave the way for modernizing the nation's antiquated air traffic control system.

Breaking up an impasse as bad as rush hour over La Guardia Airport, the U.S. Senate this week is set to pass a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration that may finally pave the way for modernizing the nation's antiquated air traffic control system.Known as NextGen, the upgrade -- which would finally switch controllers from using 1970s-era ground-based radar to modern GPS tracking of aircraft in flight -- has been long delayed by a dispute over how to pay for it. Astonishingly, this isn't a partisan debate: Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, W. Va., chairman of the Commerce Aviation subcommittee, wanted to slap a $25 "user fee" on general aviation (i.e., noncommercial) flights, while Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, wanted to up the taxes on noncommercial-grade jet fuel. The big airlines, naturally, were seeking any way to avoid paying for the upgrade themselves.

In the end, under pressure after a series of debacles including safety-inspection issues at Southwest Airlines and thousands of passengers stranded for days after the cancellation of American Airlines flights (again because of inspections), senators agreed to a compromise that will raise the tax on fuel for general aviation planes to 36 cents per gallon from 21.8 cents a gallon.

"The deal would provide as much as $290 million in new funding each year for the Airport and Airway Trust Fund to finance the NextGen system," reported Rotor.com, a blog for the helicopter industry.

To say this is overdue is an understatement. The last fully funded FAA reauthorization expired last September. Frustrated by Vietnam War-era computers and lousy working conditions, air traffic controllers are now leaving the field at a rate of six per day. The FAA bill had been on the back burner, but as Aviation Week reported, "The intense public scrutiny FAA is receiving over the aircraft inspection issue has convinced senior Democrats they can't leave the FAA bill sitting on the back burner."

Now maybe the country with the most crowded airways in the world will get air traffic control computers adequate to the task of keeping those airways safe.

"NextGen will provide pilots and ground control crews with identical real-time displays of aircraft positions, enabling pilots to reduce congestion by choosing more efficient routes and separation distances," wrote Barbara S. Peterson in this Popular Mechanics article from last August that is a treat for aviation geeks.

The only holdup to the FAA bill passing the full Senate? Lousy weather across the Eastern Seaboard that could delay air flights and keep senators away from the Capitol.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Commentary
Why 2021 May Turn Out to be a Great Year for Tech Startups
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author,  2/24/2021
News
How GIS Data Can Help Fix Vaccine Distribution
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  2/17/2021
Slideshows
11 Ways DevOps Is Evolving
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  2/18/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you.
Slideshows
Flash Poll