The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released its NextGen air traffic control (ATC) modernisation plan, meant to take effect gradually through 2020.

"NextGen improvements will reduce delays by 41% compared with what would happen if no further NextGen improvements were made beyond what we have done already," says the plan, released on 21 June. The plan also anticipates reducing fuel consumption by 1.6 billion gallons and saving a cumulative $31 billion in benefits due to greater air traffic efficiency.

NextGen is one of the FAA's highest priorities. The plan entails moving from the current radio-based communications system, which uses technology dating from the 1940s, to satellite-based communications. It also involves allowing more direct flight routing and continuous ascents/descents, minimising fuel burn.

To accomplish those goals, the FAA has mandated that most aircraft in controlled airspace install Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transmitters, which will replace radar as the primary method of sensing aircraft.

As NextGen is an overarching term for a large set of improvements, various parts can be installed gradually, and some are already in the process. The new report details progress made in implementing the modernisation to date, which includes installing hundreds of ADS-B ground station receivers and allowing continuous-descent approaches (replacing step-descents) at several major airports.

Digital flightpath and weather data transmission - a crucial piece of the NextGen plan - will begin in 2016, though aircraft are not required to be fully equipped with relevant equipment until 2020.

The NextGen report lays out in some detail how components have progressed to date, and will progress in the near future.

Source: Flight International