Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

US government industry advisory body RTCA has "strongly endorsed" phased modernisation of the National Airspace System (NAS), and has recommended sites for the initial deployment of the air traffic management systems that will form most of the "Free Flight Phase 1" effort.

The RTCA's Free Flight Select Committee has recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration proceed with the limited initial deployment by 2002 of six controller decision support software tools already being tested in prototype form.

As these systems will provide most benefit to airlines, the RTCA has recommended that the FAA proceed with the initial phase of the wide area augmentation system, which offers most benefit to general aviation, says US Airways' Margaret Jenny, Select Committee co-chairman.

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey says that the agency will base its revised NAS modernisation plan closely on the RTCA recommendations. Costs are still being calculated, but Garvey says that it looks "promising" that the phased programme will be affordable within budget. It was a lack of funds that forced the FAA to abandon its original plans for sweeping changes.

Jenny says that the phased plan emphasises "moving out" with deployment of the air traffic management (ATM) elements of the free flight concept, while continuing risk mitigation work on the communication, navigation and surveillance (CNS) aspects. RTCA advises using the FAA's planned Flight 2000 large-scale free flight demonstration "to address critical risk areas in CNS", she says.

The phased plan calls for limited deployment of ATM core capabilities by 2002, with wider deployment by 2005. Without modernisation, Jenny says, airspace "gridlock" will degrade scheduled airline operations from 2005. Phased modernisation "buys time", she says. The plan " the only thing we see that gives a path forward to getting the benefits while staying within the budget," Jenny adds.

Source: Flight International